By now, people have heard of KT Tunstall with stereotypes like “hippy,” or “that girl that sounds like Fiona Apple.” Even I fell victim to the impression that she was just another female pop star after seeing her video for the single, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.”
However, after a conference call with KT Tunstall during which writers from all over the country, myself included, got to talk to her about her career, her music and her aspirations, she painted a completely different picture of who she is. More importantly, she established that she does not fit into any mold of description.
Tunstall grew up in the university town of St. Andrews and has been playing music for her entire life in various bands and on her own. In the beginning, she had to beg her family to let her learn how to play the flute and the piano because “no one else in the family played instruments.”
As she grew up, her passion for music only grew. She attended Kent School in Connecticut and Royal Holloway College to learn more about music and played in several bands along the way.
“There was always a passion for wanting to play,” she said. “If I didn’t write, play and perform I became unhappy and frustrated.”
Finally, after playing countless shows with other musicians, Tunstall hit London and things began to fall into place for her professional career. She began writing projects with Swedish songwriter/producer Martin Terefe and London professionals Orcadian Jimmy Hogarth and Tommy D. With a set of over one hundred songs, she signed a record deal and started working with producer Steve Osborne.
“When I was first signed, many producers were offered, but his resume stuck out to me. He hadn’t done bad female pop; he’d basically only done male rock like U2,” she said. “I felt that was what I needed, someone to bring masculinity to the music.”
With the help of Osborne, Tunstall set to work her album, “Eye to the Telescope.” The album production process was definitely a learning experience for Tunstall, who was thrust into a completely different environment from the open mic stages she had grown accustomed to.
“When you have no experience with making albums, or having record deals, the album will never be what you expect,” she said. “With that inexperience, you can’t expect that what’s in your head will end up on the record.”
Even with all the work that was done, Tunstall is very happy with the finished product. She admits that the songs are really sensitive, so in a way it didn’t make sense to have such a hard sound, but instead have an album that moved smoothly and went together.
“The album is a piece of work in itself, not just a bag of songs,” she said. “It was important to me that all the songs made sense together. I wouldn’t say that I sat down and decided what to write but that they all go together and are relevant.”
Now that the album has been out for a while, Tunstall and her band have had the chance to turn the music into “a bigger, bustier beast than the album” at the many shows they have performed. Touring really comes across as the kind of experience Tunstall prefers, especially considering the fact that she played concerts with other musicians for six or seven years before signing her contract.
“The last three months have been stellar, constantly ascending with all these experiences. I’m enjoying, so much, playing live and having the opportunity to play for huge venues,” she said. “I think it’s a much different experience to see a show than sit at home and listen to a CD. We keep our eyes on the songs and make sure we’re not just going through the motions.”
After this whole journey, Tunstall still has the feeling she had playing music growing up. It is in no way a job for her but something much more significant. She is one of those rare artists that plays music for playing music and lives for every note of it.
“I always longed to be heard, and I didn’t mind how many people would be listening. Writing music and performing is a reason to be on the planet. I realized I could perform my own stuff, and it’s incredibly fulfilling and gives me a complete sense of fullness,” she said. “Once you’ve completed a song, sharing it with people and the art performing it on stage is the best part.”