KT Tunstall is, by modern standards, a rarity. A singer-songwriter with staying-power, throughout changing media and the capricious nature of music fans, her career is showing few signs of slowing down. RTL Today catches up with the Scot ahead of her upcoming Luxembourg show.
Whilst KT Tunstall is a friendly interviewee, happy to talk about most things, and we do, there is a sense of the BRIT award winner being a touch world-weary and is a pro when facing certain standard questions...
So, as a result, we didn't touch on THAT performance of THAT song as, much in the same way that Radiohead don't like to discuss Creep and Kurt Cobain was sick of dissecting Smells Like, enough has been written about her past that it was only right to focus on the future.
The trilogy of records that comprises KIN, WAX and, the yet to be announced third instalment, was a happy accident rather than a conscious decision to release a thematically sealed structured series.
KT is a very spiritual individual taking her name from the KT-Impact (if you believe all that is typed into Wiki) and her more recent body of work centres on the soul, body and mind.
Having just completed the UK leg of touring on the back of promotion for 2018 LP WAX, KT is in a relaxed mood before heading off on a six date European run, including a stop at den Atelier on Saturday 30 March.
"It's relaxed right now, a chance to do a bit of other work, on the bus and chilling. Its nice," Tunstall says of her current respite. She and her band had a "really great show in London (The Roundhouse) last night (Monday 25 March) which was a lot of fun."
Heading over the Channel (more on this later) is equally exciting and challenging, with a set list that adapts to the audience rather than being the same throughout the burst of gigs.
"It was four weeks in the UK, and the Europe part, for us, just feels like a continuation of what we've been doing and it's been a fantastic run."
Speaking in that delightful Scottish lilt, KT Tunstall is wonderful to talk with. Engaging, charismatic, and fiercely intelligent, it is easy to see why the singer-songwriter's career shows little signs of winding down.
With WAX, Tunstall was always confident that the album would be a success...to a degree..."You have to know your record and that you are happy with it before you put it out there. You need that conviction that you have actually done what you set out to do."
In this case it was a different set of targets and goals for WAX, coming as it is as the second in the trilogy begun with KIN. "It's an exciting creative prospect doing a trilogy, as it is a much longer arc. It's going to be great to finally come out with the third one because you can really experience that trio of albums in their entirety."
WAX is perhaps Tunstall's preferred collection of tracks; "this second one, is maybe the favourite one I have ever done. I am really pleased with it. It feels like I have hit upon something really exciting and it feels natural and vital to what I want to do as a musician."
Tunstall is genial, erudite, and incredibly passionate about her craft and there must be times when the studio work and the live setting are two completely, not necessarily competing, beasts.
"Whenever I'm touring to support a new record, then that record is always going to take precedence, so there's probably six or seven from the new record in an 18-song set. And I do take notice what fans are asking for when I'm interacting with them online etc., they will ask for specific or certain songs, so it may be that some songs that would not normally be in the set end up going in because I can see that there's a hunger for them."
Does Tunstall feel the need to play songs that are for her rather than the audience? You can't please the crowd all the time..."Of course there are some tracks that I include, as I WANT to play them. But this album (WAX) has transferred particularly well from the recording to a live setting. This one feels like it was built to be played live."
Given that the trilogy came along in a natural process rather than a planned gradual release, was the spacing between KIN and WAX deliberate? Not so, says Tunstall, though acknowledging that three years is a long time in the music business these days. "The reason I wanted to do the trilogy came from the fact that I was quite tired of the amount of time it was taking between records. There's not really any downside to having, a kind of, success all over the world but one of the more difficult things to navigate is that you have got to play all over the world. You want to play in Japan, India, South Africa, Australia and try to get to China and all these places - and that can take a very long time."
The choice to go back in the studio was, then, a creative one rather than a business need.
"We could have toured KIN much longer than we did but I HAD to make a second record. Otherwise, it's like the Forth Road bridge - once you've finished painting, it's time to start again."
"It's quite the balancing act, to get the turnaround, working and touring. I definitely got tired of that roller coaster. You have to really restart the engine for that length of time. But with this record and the trilogy, it's been great as the momentum kind of continues."
© Piper Ferguson
We press for the title of the concluding chapter in the trilogy and KT wryly suggests that she will not be giving that way anytime soon but, like the predecessors, it will be a three-letter title and relate to the themes within both KIN and WAX.
With the writing process spread over three separate collections, are there times when she considered holding something over for a later date or even that a later track would have worked better on a previous album? "I write for the records as I go, so everything being created at that time is under that umbrella. Yes, I will go back and look at some things that I have not finished or I am able to take sketches and ideas from earlier sessions and really mould them to fit the theme of each record."
Tunstall does admit that happenstance and serendipity play their part, when for example she looks back though demos and discovers a lyric that really resonates with today rather than when it was conceived. "The River was really one of those songs, it was very physical. A description of an experience and the metaphor within was a very physical one."
Tunstall says that, while there was no conscious decision to go for more beefed-up, muscular sounds on WAX, "you have to divorce yourself to a large extent from worrying about how you are going to present the album live. Yes it is definitely an important consideration when playing live but when you are in the studio making music, you really do need to concentrate on making what you think is good."
"The electric guitar, for me, is the most physical instrument...it's just an amazing instrument to play. So I was very excited about taking this album out. I knew it was going to be great and was going to connect."
Is this connection learned or by luck? "As you get older and gain more experience, you kind of get a feel for how to a write a good quality song - it's easy to write simple songs that are boring. It's a real challenge to construct songs that hit home and do the job of great songwriting. The thrill now is writing something that is familiar without being something that you've heard before, doing that something that is a little unexpected."
The familiarly unfamiliar?
2004 was when KT Tunstall first broke out into the big leagues and the market place is a very different thing to what it was then. Again, Tunstall takes everything in her stride. Matter of fact. "The market is always changing, any musician at any point in time has had to deal with that - it's the nature of culture. It's always going to shift."
Tunstall's ethos is simple: avoid the fashionable tropes and stay true to what is your signature sound. This is what she considers is vital in maintaining and sustaining a loyal fan base. "Fans can tell if what you are making is authentic and I think it is a mistake if you are going to look at what is fashionable or if you're going to make your music sound dated or date-able."
Tunstall is quick to note that you can of course be inspired by what's going on around you...and she laughs when RTL Today asks if we would be finding KT Tunstall collaborating with, say, Calvin Harris. "I'd love to. Listen, I'm all for it. I'm up for whatever. What I am saying is that when it comes to making a KT Tunstall record under my name, I'm driving that ship and I am going to make what I think is good."
Artists and musicians are more open and in the firing line than they used to be when using social media and it is easier to reach your idols. Tunstall is of the opinion that fan interaction can only be a good thing. "I love it, I really appreciate social media. In terms of the relationship with my fans, I am able to converse directly, i can hear what they have to say, I can have 'fun' with them in ways I could not before."
With the positives inevitably comes a downside, with the better means to contact fans and let them know where bands/acts are playing, such is the flooded marketplace, it is harder to stand out. "For some reason it doesn't necessarily translate. The internet is now a saturated place full of musicians wanting to play. With streaming, albums don't make as much money as they once did and all artists are looking to generate revenue from playing live."
It is not simply a case of people having more money and more time, it's that they have "a lot more to choose from. So the live market has definitely become more challenging. It is annoying in some ways, like, I have just played in Chicago and a few days later I am getting loads of messages saying 'when are you coming to Chicago?' and it's like GODAMMIT!, so yeah, it's a bit of a minefield."
RTL Today is loath to talk politics but as British musician embarks on an EU tour so close to Brexit, it makes sense. The Scot is, perhaps as you may expect, pretty clear on where she stands, "We're about to play Guildford and drive to Amsterdam and the 29th was meant to be the cut off date and we didn't know if we could get our truck of gear into Europe, as you need completely different paperwork. It's just a total nightmare and has already been a nightmare for music festivals who are trying to bring extremely exciting acts from other parts of the world and they've not been able to get into the country. It is, in my opinion, totally disastrous - for many reasons."
KT Tunstall's memories of Luxembourg are fond, she vividly recalls the first time she played den Atelier, "it was just a lovely place, it has a lovely layout. I love playing a venue that has the stage in the corner. It is a really cool way to set up the venue."
Aside from the show, Tunstall saw a home from home in Luxembourg's picturesque city. "As a Scottish person, it is great to go to a tiny little country and I love to visit new places and have memories of everywhere I have been and it is a pleasure to play there."
Some of KT's favourite places to play include the Eden Project and Glasgow's Barrowlands for their beautiful settings and spring loaded floor respectively, "the Geo-domes in Cornwall light up in time to your music and the Barrowlands is just legendary....Japan is a wonderful place to go - the fans do though clap for about 10 seconds very hard and then it's just silence but it's an amazing culture to experience."
Tunstall will be performing with an all-female band, her and four players and they are, as KT states "having an absolute blast!"
den Atelier, Saturday 30 March.
Doors open at 7pm, support comes from Laurel.