KT Tunstall and the extinction of the dinosaurs: An interview by Justin W. Price
After taking some time away from the music industry, Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall, now a resident of Venice Beach, California, is back with a comeback record of sorts, Kin. KT was kind enough to give me twenty minutes of her time from her tour bus in Washington, DC, just hours before the first show of her world tour promoting the record.
This was my first encounter with Ms. Tunstall and I found her to be funny, engaging and honest. I hope you enjoy getting to know her a little bit.
For the full interview, please check out the YouTube video at the bottom of this page. There is some fun banter and whatnot (as well as some grammar changes) that I had to cut out for the sake of space.
HP: Hello there KT.
KT: Hey there. How's it going?
HP: I'm well. How are you doing?
KT: I'm good, thank you.
HP: You're in Washington, DC right now?
KT: I am. We're just parked up in the tour bus outside the venue. Beautiful day.
HP: Just relaxin’ before the big show?
KT: First one of the tour!
HP: I'm based out of Portland, Oregon. And I'm interviewing you ahead of your show here on, I believe, the 28th, you're gonna be out here.
KT: Cool! Yeah. Awesome. I can't wait to get back out to Portland. It's always a great show.
HP: I actually have a few questions about Portland but I wanted to talk about the new album first, if that's alright.
HP: The new record is a lot lighter, both lyrically and musically, than the other record, the previous effort, Invisible Empire. So can you tell me how maybe writing Kin differed from writing Empire and was the lighter tone intentional?
KT: I suppose it's intentional but rather than intentional, it's just a reflection of where I'm at. So, it's, the, the last record was written. I started it just before by dad died and I got divorced. And my whole life turned upside and inside out and I finished it after the things had happened so, it was a very tumultuous, difficult, unsure time of my life.I was glad to make the record at that time. It was a real, it was very cathartic and a real sanctuary for me to be making music at that time. But it was super emotional.
This is the first time that I've written a record that was all really the same mood. Like, usually, my records always have up tempo stuff all the way down to ballads.
And then, here was this record. It was a real anomaly for me, the last record and so, in many ways, with this record I'm back to my usual, kind of dynamic, journey of an album where there will be up tempo stuff, there will be kind of, more relaxed songs and there will be ballads. So, it's um, it's more familiar in that sense. But I think that it's very different and the writing process was very, very different. Half of the stuff for Empire was written previously and then quite a lot of it was written in the studio and a bit with Howe Gelb once I got back to Arizona. And, this record, I wasn't even planning on making one. I'd sold everything I owned and moved to Venice Beach, California. And I was I intending on taking five or ten years’ hiatus from making records. I just felt very, very burnt out and I didn't really want to enter into that whole process: Of recording, releasing, promoting, and touring any more. And I needed a break. And I just wanted to throw everything on the fire: My personal life had gone upside down and I just wanted to do the same as my work life to start again. I'd become completely defined by music and being a musician and I knew that wasn't good. I needed to move who I was away from all of that. So I took some time out. I did the Sundance Film Institute Composers Lab and got more into scoring for movies and writing for movies and I loved working for the film industry. Did it for about a year. And I was driving around LA and driving through the Canyons and listening to Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and that was where they made a lot of their music. It just seeped into my bloodstream so a year after cutting ties with making records I just started writing these really big, robust, pop choruses and I couldn't really ignore it.
In the end, I just thought, “Okay if this is what my subconscious wants to do, then I should just do it because material like that doesn't come along every day.” With this record I very much put the time pressure on myself because no one knew that I was writing. I didn't have management, I didn't tell the label I'd started to write, or my publisher. So I just set to making…the greatest record I could make on my own and I put a lot of time pressure on myself because I know that I work very well under that pressure.
HP: What is your favorite track on "Kin" and why?
KT: I think at the moment it's "It took me so long to get here, but here I am." It's a very blissful song to sort of sing and it's very pleasing and it's got that kind of slightly more relaxed verse and then it has a really big, banging chorus and it has a half time section. Quite a thrill to play [with] all the different elements of it. But I also teach the audience the chorus before I play ‘cause not everyone's heard the song— I mean more will now that the record's out—but it's been really fun over the summer teaching everyone the chorus and then seeing people who have never heard the song before singing along and jumping up and down. It's really, really cool. It's such a universal experience of kind of coming of age and finding yourself. Coming out the end of something difficult into a much lighter, brighter world.
HP: So, is it pretty exciting to write something in the studio that translates so well to the stage?
KT: Yeah. For sure. I think in the past I've purposefully thought "You know, I'm not gonna think about how we do this live. It's all about just making the best stuff possible in the studio." I think I've definitely on this record gone back to thinking [about] how it would be presented live and making sure that we can present it in a really, really cool way.
HP: I was actually going to ask you about when you said you were going to quit the music industry I think, in 2013. I was gonna ask what brought you back, but you already explained that, but are you still working in the film industry?
KT: Yes. Absolutely. So, uh, I wondered if it would be something [that] I would be able to carry on while working hard on the new record and actually I recently just wrote some music for the Bad Moms movie, with Mila Kunis. The Hangover guys made a new movie and that was great because the composer, Chris Leonard, got in touch with me and said “Would you like to put some vocal arrangements over the top of what I've written?” And all I needed was my laptop, some headphones and a microphone and I could do that on the tour bus or in a hotel room or wherever I was. I think it's good to keep those different creative muscles flexing.
Nature is like medicine for me."
KT Tunstall, Live in Portland, Oregon
The K-T Event
Many millennia ago, there was a mass & rapid extinction of more than 70% of the earth’s animal population, including dinosaurs.
For years, Paleontologists have presented a variety of hypotheses about what could have caused this mass extinction, known, as the K-T event (Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction event).
In 1980, The Alvarez Team revealed that the curious sedimentary clay layer that was laid down at the time of the extinction showed a tremendous amount of the uncommon element iridium. The Alvarez team suggested this was the result of an asteroid impact, as most of these rare elements, including iridium and platinum, were carried down to the earth’s core when the earth was still a molten planet.
For more information, check out this link.
HP: Did you choose the spelling of your name in part because of the K-T Event? Is that true and, if so, why?
KT: Unfortunately that's not true! It's something I found out after I called myself KT. I was getting so bored of the question of why I was called KT rather than just Kate that it became much more interesting to say that I named it after the event that killed the dinosaurs.
I do think that I should maybe change my middle name. My middle name is Victoria and I think I should just change it to "The". Kate The Tunstall. That would explain everything.
HP: Earlier you mentioned that you were excited to get back to Portland. I had some questions about touring. When you're on tour, do you have much chance to visit the cities you are in?
KT: Well it depends on the schedule, because sometimes you wake up at nine o’clock and you're in town and you don't have anything to do until sound check at five o'clock. Those days are great! I mean, we all take bikes on tour—me, and some of the band and crew-- we got these great second hand bikes at this bike shop in Milwaukee and so we now have like this kind of, array of vintage of bikes that we take out on the road and so it's really cool when we have time to go out for a ride or, you know, find a trail. I'm also really big on mini golf, so, there's an on tour mini golf tournament. Is there a mini golf place in Portland?
HP: Oh ya. There's several of them.
KT: Okay, we need to find, like, we want really crazy ones. We have a tournament going so maybe we'll do that. But, you know sometimes you don't arrive until late, like, maybe one o'clock and I might have some interviews. Especially with a new record out. Sometimes your time is taken up. But you always get a bit of a flavor and it's really nice to visit somewhere and know if you want to go back. But Portland had always been a favorite stop off on tour, for sure.
And also, Voodoo Doughnuts is in Portland, right?
HP: Yes it is!
KT: See, that's the other thing. There's these places that enter into rock n roll folklore where you get like obsessively excited about Voodoo Doughnuts [laughs] when you get to Portland, 'cause that's what you do.
By the time you get an opportunity that can actually propel you in a career way, you knock it out of the park. "
HP: I was also going to ask what places in Portland you liked to visit. You mentioned Voodoo. Are there other places you like to visit when you're out here?
KT: Well, you know, there was a really, really cool I hike I went on with a friend just outside Portland. I can't remember where it was but we went skinny dipping in the river and it was just one of the most beautiful days and the scenery and topography of Oregon is just one of the most beautiful places on the planet so any opportunity to go and see some of the nature found in Portland is where I'll be.
HP: Might be a little cold to skinny dip when you're out here in a few weeks, though.
KT: Now that I've told people that I do that, maybe I shouldn't do that.
HP: Have you been to Powell's Books? If you're a book person that's a great place to check out.
KT: What's it called?
HP: Powell's Books and then right around the corner is an actual record store [Everyday Music] that sells records.
KT: Oh, well, absolutely, one hundred percent I'm up to going to a record store definitely.
HP: Now, back to touring a little bit. What's the best part of touring, and what's the toughest part?
KT: The best part of touring has to be just connecting with people across the country and just stopping in on all these places with their different characters and different tastes and background and all that stuff. Just connecting with fans, sometimes people who haven't seen you for a while, sometimes people who've never seen you before. Just that kind of feeling that you're plugging into a community of people who love what you do and you're hitting all these different places and there's a real deep feeling of connectivity between people when I'm on tour.
I guess the toughest part is just home comforts. Just being away from home. And, missing friends and family. I just love my life in Venice Beach. I get up in the morning, I eat my breakfast on my porch. I get on my bike and cycle down to Abott Kinney [Boulevard], get a juice. It's a beautiful place to live and I do miss home.
But I've also got a terrible memory so, it's like I can enjoy things for the second time as if I've never done them before. "
HP: You kind of touched on this already but when you are on the road, how do you spend your time? You mentioned hiking and nature. Are there other things you like to do?
HP: I mean, days off, I'm a huge movie fan, so, I would always vote to go to the movies. You know, it can be pretty exhausting being on the road. You have to look after yourself a bit and, so, I tend not to put too much pressure on myself to do anything because the most important thing is the show. So, if I'm feeling a little worn out, then, the most important thing to do is just chill the fuck out and put on a really good show that night. But, definitely I mean, for me, especially when we're travelling all the time, nature is like medicine for me. I will even just get into a local park and take a walk. But, I love taking a look around towns and I'm also, on the right day, a total fan of going shopping, as well. So I'll find some interesting stores. I love vintage stores and like you said, record stores are always fun.
HP: Well you're gonna love Portland!
KT: I have in the past! I must have been to Portland like, God, I don't know, ten times or something and I love it. But I've also got a terrible memory so, it's like I can enjoy things for the second time as if I've never done them before.
If I was God for a day, I would just make animals never grow up and always be babies."
HP: Most of my audience is young, late teens, early twenties, college age. So what advice do have for people like that are aspiring or even struggling artists i
KT: Well, I think that there's a lot to be said for gaining experience. First of all, there's that 10,000 hours’ theory isn't there, that if you do anything for 10,000 hours that you're likely to succeed at doing it because you become so proficient at it. I mean, for me, I gigged for probably fifteen years before I got my record deal. So by the time I got the deal, I really knew what I was doing. I mean, I've still evolved and improved massively over the twelve years of professional gigging, but, you'll be striving constantly for opportunities to be heard and to be seen and there's no point in having those opportunities if you don't really blow people out of the water and own the moment that you're given. So, it's essential that you rehearse and practice and get out there and gig and do shows whether it be stand-up comedy, whether it be acting, whether it be whatever. But, get experience in front of an audience so that by the time you get an opportunity that can actually propel you in a career way, you knock it out of the park.
HP: Now I've got one more question, and it's kind of a fun one. I hope these have all been fun.
KT: [laughs] They have!
HP: I'm in my office here and I've got my two dogs on the couch and they're being very good. Usually they bark. I wanted to ask you what your favorite animal was?
KT: My favorite animal? That's an amazing question! Let me think now. I have to say, I think it's a puppy!
Basically, if you're talking favorite animals, it's baby animals. If I was God for a day, I would just make animals never grow up and always be babies. There's just nothing that much finer than a baby dog. But If I was looking at animals, like more exotic animals, I love bats!
HP: If you get a chance to visit our zoo we have a great bat exhibit!
HP: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
KT: I suppose, just that for me this record's really important because I've written the whole thing myself. And usually I would do some co-writing with other people, There'd maybe below like two, three, or four tracks that I've written with other people. And as much as I think I can write really good songs with other people, there's something about the dilution of the creativity that takes a little bit of the emotion away, to a degree, and so it's really important for me that this record that I've written entirely on my own, apart from one track with James Bay, who I love and is just a phenomenal talent and I'm very, very, pleased to have him on the record. We do a duet, which was a joy to work on despite the fact that he has nicer hair than me.
HP: Well, thank you for your time KT.
KT: Awesome. Thank you! Bye!
Hear the full interview here
"Hard Girls" by KT Tunstall
KT Tunstall playing the Wonder Ball Room in Portland on 9/28
Catch KT at the Wonder Ball Room in Portland, Oregon on 9/28
Catch KT Tunstall on tour near you!
© 2016 Justin W Price