The three sides of KT Tunstall 

KT Tunstall, with Charlie Mars, Sunday, Dec. 29, 7 p.m., Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave., $29.50, all ages; 227-7625, blacksheeprocks.com - PIPER FERGUSON
  • Piper Ferguson
  • KT Tunstall, with Charlie Mars, Sunday, Dec. 29, 7 p.m., Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave., $29.50, all ages; 227-7625, blacksheeprocks.com

In 1959, RCA released a greatest hits album called 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong. A decade later, Phil Ochs satirized the concept with an album cover that declared “50 Phil Ochs Fans Can’t Be Wrong.”

And now, based on the ongoing sales of her debut album Eye to the Telescope, we can safely assume that at least 5 million KT Tunstall fans are equally infallible.

With U2 producer Steve Osborne at the console, the Scottish singer-songwriter’s 2004 collection has gone five-times platinum, not least because of chart-topping singles like “Suddenly I See” and the Grammy-nominated “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” Tunstall, who numbers the Cocteau Twins, Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie among her primary influences, is currently at work on her seventh studio album, which will be the last in a trilogy that sequentially explores the themes of soul, body and mind. Recent months have also found her co-curating an all-female music festival, and releasing an orchestral remix of her latest single “Little Red Thread.” We caught up with the artist recently to talk about how she got to where she is today and what comes next.

Indy: I’m curious about the HearHer Festival you did back in October. I know that in the U.S., only 14 percent of music festival performers are women. Is that the case over in the UK, as well?
KT Tunstall: Yeah, I think it’s ever so slightly more in the UK, but it’s still under 20 percent. So basically, that means it’s five times harder for a woman to get a gig at a festival. And yes, I think it’s true that there are less female acts at the levels that festivals are looking for so that they can sell tickets. But there’s definitely a massive lack of confidence, from an almost entirely male booking agency industry, when it comes to putting female acts on the bill.

So I am very proud to be playing Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend next month. I know for a fact that when she put it on sale last year, she came up against a huge amount of pushback from men in the industry that she worked with, saying that it was going to be a disaster and she was setting herself up for failure and they wouldn’t support her. So she fired people. And she’s selling it out for the second year running. So it’s not founded on fact, it’s founded on fear. And it’s founded on a belief that, you know, “Shit’s working, so let’s just keep it the same.” And there’s no way anything can change if you are complicit with that.
You’re now two-thirds of the way through your trilogy. You’ve done soul with KIN and body with WAX, and the next one is mind. I don’t know about you, but when my mind gets involved in anything, it slows it down.
It’s funny you would say that, because I was hoping to get the record out next year, and it’s gonna be 2021. But I think it’s an endlessly fascinating subject, and I have a lot of material for the record already. Basically, I put in place thematic boundaries for these records, which is that they’re based on soul, body and mind. Each record is thematic, and I’ve not done that before. So it’s really interesting having those parameters in place, in terms of what I can write about. And it’s also about representing those themes musically, not just lyrically. So with the brain album — the patterns, the rhythms, the repetition, and the sequences — it all feeds back into brain behavior.

So given all those strings on the orchestral remix of “Little Red Thread,” should we be expecting to hear strings on the next album, as well?
Well, strings are definitely brainy, and we’ve been talking about them as a possible part of the sound of this next album. I’ve started work on one of the first pieces with Martin Terefe, who I wrote “Other Side of the World” with many moons ago — and many other songs since — and we’re already saying, “We need strings on this!”
I know you were really pleased when you got to hear what [arranger] Matthew Sheeran and the Budapest Scoring Orchestra did with your song. But have there ever been moments in your career where it’s been more like, “Oh Christ, how did it turn out like that?”
Honestly, I was really shocked with the mix of the first record. Because I didn’t know how it all worked, and so I wasn’t told who was mixing the record or where it was being mixed. You know, I listen to it now and I love it, and it’s my first baby, it’s a child, it’s like a kid. But I remember when I first heard it, it made me understand how important the mixing process is. Because I hated it. It suddenly felt like someone had just ironed all the texture and rawness out of it. And it does sound like a raw record, but I’m telling you, the rough mixes that Steve and I made sounded like it was a true indie record. So that was a pretty rude awakening, but it was a very good lesson in understanding how important mixing is. And, you know, it didn’t go badly. Five million records later, I can’t really complain.

There was a pretty sensational headline in [UK tabloid] The Sun back in 2013 that read, “KT Tunstall: I’m quitting music to work in movies.” Was it a surprise to you that you were quitting music?
Well, the headline really was drawn from me saying I was quitting music, so it wasn’t a surprise. I had lost my father, and the death of my father had made me realize that I’d made some really bad choices, and my marriage broke down very soon after that. And I then sold everything I owned and moved continents and moved to LA. And I just didn’t want to make records anymore. And I thought, I’m going to spend the next decade of my life doing something I wanted to do for a long time, which was to write film scores.

Why not do both?
I just didn’t want to make records anymore. I was really tired of being out front, and I just didn’t feel inspired to do that. I needed to get away from myself for a while. And I came back to it a lot quicker than I expected. So I was back with another record within two years. But I definitely had a moment where I was able to completely unplug — and at least know that I could walk away from it — which I think is the important thing.


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