KT Tunstall – 'I felt I was writing something useful, because it was a positive and upbeat record and it felt celebratory'
- Fiona Shepherd
- 12 July 2017
As she prepares for a headline slot at Fringe by the Sea, KT Tunstall talks nicking lines from The Fast Show and being energised by her new audiences
In case anyone is wondering where KT Tunstall has been for the last few years, the answer is Venice Beach, California, where she relocated following the break-up of her marriage to drummer Luke Bullen in order to do some green-tea drinking and soul-searching. Writing her poppiest album to date was not on the agenda; in fact, Tunstall was close to quietly retiring from the pop business to concentrate on film composition in the movie industry's heartland. But the big skies and open roads of her new adopted home ended up inspiring the chunky choruses of her fifth album, KIN.
'I felt I was writing something useful, because it was a positive and upbeat record and it felt celebratory,' she says, embracing the feelgood characteristics of the Golden State. But that was before a certain astounding election result. 'Yeah, it used to be really cool to say I lived in California … now it doesn't sound quite so cool.'
As an expat in the bearpit, Tunstall is quite happy to share her perspective on the current US political climate. 'I think politics has probably been conducted like this for a very long time,' she says. 'But what you've got now is a businessman behaving in the job of the president in the way that the head of a corporation would, which is "we don't worry about it, we just pay them off. Yeah, we lied, but let them sue us; it's cheaper than us dealing with it". It's what record labels do. Instead of asking to use your song and paying the fee, they'll pay you off because it's cheaper.'
The one upside Tunstall can see in having Trump in the White House is that Americans have become more aware and active. 'This is certainly the most poignant political time I've ever experienced in my lifetime. But I think the amazing thing is it deeply politicises younger people. There wouldn't have been a Women's March if Hillary had got in; it would just have been a party. So in a way it's been very good for the country because it's made people wake up and realise what is important to them.'
Tunstall was one of half a million protesters who travelled across the country to take part in the Women's March on Washington DC in the wake of Trump's inauguration. But she has been cheerily leading by example since accepting her Brit Award for Best British Female in 2006 with a 'ladies: disregard your limits!' rallying cry. 'I don't know if anyone knew that it was nicked from The Fast Show,' she laughs. '"Ladies: know your limits!" Do you remember that sketch?'
Understanding that there is no more potent message than just getting up there and doing it, Tunstall is less about banging a drum and more about strumming her guitar. On a recent trip back to Scotland, she took time out to build confidence and creativity with groups of schoolgirls from difficult backgrounds. Her endless zest for communicating passion, spirit and identity through music is infectious and, late last year, she was the deserving recipient of the Inspirational Artist Award at the Music Week Women in Music ceremony. 'I really hope there doesn't need to be a Women in Music awards in ten years' time and that it doesn't really matter anymore because it's a bit more balanced. Still, it was really cool.'
Tunstall will return to her teenage / twentysomething stomping ground when she headlines North Berwick's Fringe by the Sea, the latest in a string of more intimate and informal solo shows she's been playing since the release of KIN. 'Touring can get really hard if you're not hitting some fashionable zeitgeist,' she says. 'So it's been a massive challenge for me in the last couple of years keeping in touch with the people who I know want to come and see me. I'm at the age now when I've got teenagers and 20-year-olds coming up to me at shows and saying "I've been listening to you my whole life".'
But Tunstall is far from discouraged. In fact, she plans to seal her return to the pop fray by recording another album in London this summer. 'I really want to make a stripped-back and raw rock record,' she enthuses. 'It's gonna be a physical record. It's about the meat and the skeleton.'
KT Tunstall, Palais Des Glaces Spiegeltent, North Berwick, 01620 890787, 7 Aug, 8pm, £35.