“I think I look better with a guitar. I should just walk around with a guitar all the time,” says KT Tunstall, “It’s like the attitude, there’s definitely a masculinity that comes out. I always thought that was a boy thing, but what I realised as I get older is that’s absolutely part of being a woman… and being on tour with Chrissie Hind is just the perfect example of that strength. People might say ‘oh she’s like a guy’ it’s like no she’s like a really badass woman.”
You could say the same thing of KT Tunstall herself. In preparation for her sixth studio album Wax she’s talking to singer-songwriter Rab Noakes as part of the In Conversation With… series in Edinburgh. She’s also been touring with The Pretenders most notably in Slessor Gardens in Dundee [where the photos for this piece were taken].
It’s always reassuring when celebrities talk about meeting their heroes, and KT isn’t afraid to admit that she was still a little intimidated by Chrissie, saying, “It’s just ridiculous my level of fangirling backstage is just about being kept in check, but I’m still finding it quite hard to talk to Chrissie Hynde. She’s like my number one so it’s really full on getting to actually spend some time with her.”
It’s odd seeing KT Tunstall as a support act, especially as she takes to the stage alone, but as she says to Rab Noakes, being able to build the sound up herself is important. “I just learnt that I can’t really get the energy unless I’m singing and playing at the same time, which is a nightmare for recording,” she says, “And what I realised with Tiger Suit my third record was it’s about pulse, it’s about beat, it’s about dancing, it’s about energy, the movement. And emancipation through rhythm.”
She explains how, like almost all Scottish children and teenagers, she has been unconsciously influenced by Scottish country dancing and ceilidhs – and how this floor to floor pulse has become part of her music. “I loved country dancing… there’s an element to it which is fully argy bargy,” she says, “It’s really normal as a kid in Scotland to hear full on floor to floor beat music that isn’t techno, it’s country music, and so its a really natural choice for a Scottish person or an Irish person to go for that beat.” She also jokes about how this stomping beat has ruined the left heel of her shoes.
For the last few years KT has been taking a bit of a break from being a rock star, instead spending her time writing film scores in Los Angeles. She feels that this move has helped her develop as a musician, particularly when she took part in a Sundance Institute Music and Sound Design Lab to develop her skills as a soundtrack composer, which she describes as, “the steepest learning curve of my adult life”.
She explains, “I think the most important thing was it taught me to write instrumentally in a lyrical way. I had always relied on the lyrics to tell you what the song was about and I liked that juxtaposition of the lyrics sometimes.
“I’ve got this song called ‘Another Place to Fall’ where it’s kind of like, there’s an edge to it, it’s quite a yearning chorus but it’s actually a really bitchy song and I like it when that mixture comes [through]…. I love middle eighths, they’re a really important part of a song for me, it can really take you somewhere really new and expand on what you’re doing with a song.
“On this new record there’s a lyricism to the melodies, the instrumental melodies that I think had been really helped by doing film work.”
The new album Wax is a bit… bland, and drifts into the area of easy listening a few times. The lyrics are pleasant enough, if vague, but the songs have a tendency to blend together. The best tracks are probably lead single ‘The River’, which has an electrifying pulse and a longing to the lyrics which should resonate with any listener, and ‘The Night That Bowie Died’ – a lovely tribute song to one of her personal heroes full of wailing guitars and sad, nostalgic vocals. ‘Tiny Love’ is also good.
KT Tunstall’s talent has always lain in her ability to write songs that have a universal quality and maybe with repeated listening the rest of the tracks will start to stand out. As it is though, this album may be a better soundtrack than an album in its own right. Let’s hope it gets picked up for a TV show or film soon.
Wax is out now on Spotify.com and on CD and vinyl from www.banquetrecords.com/kt-tunstall/wax/CDV3211 for £10.
Image Credit and words: Ana Hine