KT Tunstall: ‘I’m really grateful that I didn’t get famous for depressing songs’

Fourteen years have elapsed since KT Tunstall’s debut album was released. Eye to the Telescope would go on to sell more than five-million copies and contained her three best-known songs: Other Side of the World, Suddenly I See and her breakthrough track, Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, which she debuted on Later... with Jools Holland using only a guitar and loop pedal.

KT Tunstall
KT Tunstall

Sitting at the back of her tour bus, which will stop at Leeds’ O2 Academy on March 19, Tunstall states she still loves her hits: “I’ve had a very happy marriage with Suddenly I See and Black Horse,” she begins. “I’m really grateful that I didn’t get famous for depressing songs because you’ve got to play them, every single time.

“Suddenly I See, the song is in charge and it belongs to everyone; the energy playing that as the last song in the set, seeing everyone’s face means you can’t not have a good relationship with that. It’s interesting with Suddenly I See, because I probably wouldn’t write that song now. I might be a bit self-conscious to write something so innocently positive.

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“With Other Side of the World, I definitely did have a strenuous relationship with over the years. I went through stages of really not enjoying playing that song, so I found completely new ways of playing it in my solo set; changing the beat and adding some loops massively helped. Now, we’re back to playing it how it is on the record, so I just needed to go through a process with it.”Tunstall’s music has gone though many stylistic changes, ranging from pop, to folk, to electro. For her sixth LP, though, the Scottish singer-songwriter has adopted a no-nonsense rock edge.

Wax was released in October to favourable reviews and is the second in a trilogy of albums, focusing on soul, body and mind. This began with 2016’s Kin.

Not only does this record mark another change in style, Tunstall claims it also changed the way she wrote. “There’s always a nucleus as to why you’re writing an album, but in the past it’s always been song by song. Doing the trilogy has been really interesting because I’m setting myself the challenge of soul, body and mind – these three cornerstones of what the album’s actually about.

“I knew, for this record, that I wanted to make something that was centred around electric guitar, which is something I just hadn’t done before; it’s always about acoustic at the soul of it. With this one, electric guitar is really the soul of the record. It’s songwriting with teeth.”

Tunstall, who currently lives in Los Angeles, explains the idea for a trilogy came to her after meditating. In 2012, her life turned upside down with a series of life-defining changes occurring. This prompted her move to LA and adopt a new way of life: “I’d used meditation as a really important healing tool after all the s*** went down with my dad dying, getting divorced and selling everything I owned and moving continents to start again.

“I got very into yoga and eating very healthily; I needed to repair myself. That clearing of the mind, especially as a writer, can be very useful. I was in Nashville, outside in the sun, and I had this lightning bolt saying ‘you should make three records’. Kin was all about the spirit and the rising of your spirit, overcoming difficulty. Wax is the physical ‘body’ record and the next will be the ‘mind’ record.”

By chance, our conversation happens to be taking place on International Women’s Day. Tunstall, 43, has long stood for female empowerment in the music industry. When she won a Brit Award for Best British Female in 2006, she instructed ladies everywhere to “...disregard your limits.” Last year, she began writing and recording an EP with trailblazer Suzi Quatro, which is set for completion this summer.

The Wax tour marks a first for the artist, as her band consists of all-female musicians for the first time ever. The five-piece band includes former Ash guitarist, Charlotte Hatherley, as well as musicians who are going on the road for the very first time.

As Tunstall describes this line-up: “I was finding myself whinging that there weren’t any female musicians in rock bands. It’s not a usual situation, and if you take all the bands off a festival line-up that don’t have a woman in them, you’re left with about six acts.

“I just thought, hang on a minute, I’m a solution, I’m an employer; so I need to do something to help this. No one’s in the rehearsal room unless they’re good enough, and the reaction was just amazing. It really excited people that it was all women playing rock. We’re all used to playing gigs and every now and then, we’ll just look at each other and go ‘f****** hell, we’re all girls.’”

KT Tunstall plays at O2 Academy Leeds on March 19. www.kttunstall.com