KT Tunstall


    KT Tunstall has never been one for creative stasis. The Grammy-nominated Scottish Musician burst onto the music scene with her 2004 multi-platinum debut, Eye to the Telescope, which spawned the global hits "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" and "Suddenly I See." These songs established Tunstall as a dynamic Performer and Songwriter with a singular knack for balancing introspective folk and ferocious rock. 

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    KT Tunstall has never been one for creative stasis. The Grammy-nominated Scottish Musician burst onto the music scene with her 2004 multi-platinum debut, Eye to the Telescope, which spawned the global hits "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" and "Suddenly I See." These songs established Tunstall as a dynamic Performer and Songwriter with a singular knack for balancing introspective folk and ferocious rock. 

    "There are two immediate, recognizable pillars of my style," she says. "I have this troubadour, acoustic guitar-driven emotional side. Then there's definitely a rock pillar with rawness, teeth and fierceness." 

    In the last few years, Tunstall has expanded on these musical selves by focusing on a trilogy of records, where each album zeroes in on a single concept: soul, body and mind. The first, 2016's KIN, was the soul record; 2018's WAX was the body record, and the new NUT is the mind record. "NUT is the culmination of a seven-year project," Tunstall says. "It's the final part of a trilogy of records that has spanned probably the most extreme and profound period of change in my life. The personal arc of these three records has been pretty extraordinary for me."

    Tunstall started working on NUT at home during the pandemic lockdown, at the same time she was writing a musical. "I was writing songs for a full cast following a storyline, which I'd never done before," she explains. "It's exciting. You're writing songs for all these different characters, it’s totally collaborative, prescriptive and structured writing." But while words for this project came easily, lyrics for NUT were much more of a challenge. 

    "I found it completely impossible to connect with the place in my subconscious, or creative consciousness, that produces my lyrics," Tunstall says. "I just didn't have anything to say.” In hindsight, she chalked up this lack of lyrical conviction to not having a deadline ("I'm very good under pressure. And I'm very easily distracted if there isn’t an endpoint in sight") and to the stress and tension unfolding in the world at large due to the pandemic.

    "I'm a dreamer, and I've always been a dreamer," she explains. "And to write lyrics, you have to allow yourself to unhook from the day-to-day and go into this other realm. And I found that the present moment was holding on to the back of my shirt every minute and just would not let me go."

    She found her writing groove thanks to "Canyons," a song propelled by a grimy, heavy rock riff. In keeping with NUT’s theme, the song's lyrics are about the brain, and explore the parallels between humans developing unique identities, and the way nature evolves and is shaped over time. Elsewhere, NUT’s lyrics delve into the ways humans tick, and the way ourselves evolve through behaviors and life experience. "Private Eyes" grew out of Tunstall's experience with the vampiric downside of fame, while "Three," summarizes the arc of the trilogy, inspired by a journal practice where she would write multiple entries on one topic from the different perspectives of mind, body and soul.

    "I loved this ring-fencing of theme — I found that very comforting and freeing at the same time," she says. "I'd always visualize that when you come to make an album, and you can write about anything, it can be more fun if you're penned in and you have to dig down. I gave myself very clear parameters of what I was writing about."

    Tunstall also gave stylistic boundaries to NUT’s music. She envisioned the songs based on patterns and the idea of pattern learning and repetition. "I wanted to try and emulate the way that our brain works and what you're hearing. And so I knew that a lot of it was going to be about rhythm." Drawing on her love of West African music—she particularly admires the music of Guitarist Ali Farka Touré and Fela Kuti Musical Director and Drummer Tony Allen—Tunstall focused on music with straightforward riffs and grooves. The bustling, beat-heavy "Synapse" and the urgency, synth-driven "I Am the Pilot" in particular burst with explosive rhythms.

    To Produce NUT, Tunstall enlisted Martin Terefe, one of her "dear friends" and long-time musical collaborators; in fact, he co-wrote her 2005 global hit "Other Side of the World" and has appeared on nearly every one of her studio albums. "We're the perfect co-writing match," she says. "We've always loved working together. But I'd never actually done a record with him Producing. On every other album I've made, I am in the room 16 hours a day, overseeing every single part, every sound. But he's probably the only person that I would be able to allow to work on one of my records without me there."

    In the end, not only did Terefe Produce NUT, but he enlisted other Musicians, including Sneaker Pimps co-founder Liam Howe and Razorlight Drummer Andy Burrows, to replicate and build on Tunstall's laptop demos. "Martin and I know each other so well and have such a great musical communication system, that he knows what I'm going to like—and he knows what I'm going to not like," Tunstall says. "He would always give me a heads up on what he was doing, and tell me to have a listen and see what I thought if anything he was adding was a little bit more out there. So basically, he would allow me to brace myself if he'd done anything mad."

    Tunstall's instinct to let him steer the project was entirely correct. NUT is an eclectic album that seamlessly weaves together disparate styles—the '80s new wave throwback "Demigod" segues into the meditative Americana of "All The Time," while the propulsive "Out of Touch" is brisk pop-rock with stacked vocal harmonies and perforated beats—and emphasizes Tunstall's melodic and composition strengths. 

    "On my part, it required an enormous amount of letting go and relaxing my grip on my own music," she says. "And I think the pandemic totally encouraged this shift, into me letting go of some of that control and allowing a much more collaborative experience to take place. Basically, when your world is turned upside down, you get perspective of what's important and what's not." 

    In the last decade, Tunstall has become used to upheaval. In fact, when she started the trilogy, she was in a much different place—figuratively and literally. In 2015, Tunstall sold everything she owned and moved to California, a bold move that came at the end of a three-year period full of change and transitions. "I remembered feeling like I can either patch over the cracks, and try and make everything the same and as familiar as possible, or I could burn the shit to the ground and start again," she says of that time. "And I went for the latter. It was a really, really wise decision."

    Among other things, she studied film composition with the Sundance Institute, after falling out of love with touring and recording.Making new albums was the furthest thing from her mind—a big change for someone who asked for a piano at the age of 4 and decided she wanted to be a Singer-Songwriter by age 15."I really had no idea what the future held at that point of personal change," she says. "And it was certainly not a sure thing that I was going to keep making records. I'd ended up very, very unhappy at the end of what should have been exactly what I wanted. I didn't want to make music. I didn't want to make records. I didn't want to be public. It was the closest I've known to a personal breakdown, really."

    The trilogy that emerged in the wake of this period also came with challenges. "The first record, KIN, was absolutely a Phoenix out of the ashes," Tunstall says. "It was the result of a profound personal shift, and finding my feet again, after some really hard shit." Among other things, Tunstall's father died—an event that made her realize she was unhappy in her marriage and led to divorce. More challenges awaited her upon the release of 2018's WAX. "Halfway through the tour for WAX, I completely lost hearing in my left ear, which never returned," she says. "I lost an extremely important physical part of my body during a record about the body." 

    Tunstall was understandably wary about what might happen while making NUT. And of course, it came in the form of a global pandemic. However, now that the trilogy is complete, she has the perspective to see the solace and healing she experienced as the songs unfolded. "I did not expect to be essentially recording such a colorful personal journey," she says. "When I started, it was more observational fascination with the subject matter and a sense of personal interest. I did not foresee how visceral an experience it would be making this music about myself. It became the audio accompaniment to a deeply transformative period of my life. It's the soundtrack to me becoming a new person."

    In light of this personal evolution, it's no wonder that NUT is such a step forward. However, it's clear Tunstall relished leaving her comfort zone and trying something new. "I made NUT completely differently from any other record I have ever made," Tunstall says. "But I wanted to do things differently. The reason I pursued music was because I desperately wanted to avoid a repetitive job. I need to feel adventure. And I've realized now you can absolutely fall into repetition within this job. And so for NUT, I was like, 'Come on, let's do what we said we were going to do. Let's try something new.' What’s most important is that I made an exciting record that I love, and had fun while I was doing it."

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