KT Tunstall is the latest in a line of contemporary singer-songwriters from Scotland who offers listeners haunting melodies and gripping, biting lyrics. She says her songs are kitchen table songs, like conversations with one other person. After years of informal gigs and recording in little studios in the woods, she has signed on to a major record label. Her debut album has taken off both in England and the United States. Larry London sat down with KT Tunstall recently in the VOA studios.
KT Tunstall has been making music for years. Recently she topped the charts in England and America with her song, "Black Horse & The Cherry Tree".
Her music career started years ago as a teenager. "I started really when I was 15,” she said, “I was always writing stuff. I loved writing poetry. I always loved rhyming things."
Although KT grew up in Scotland, she is part Chinese.
She said, "I'm adopted, and I've always known from day-dot, and my parents have been wonderful about it. I've always made it something very special, being adopted." Tunstall said, "I don't look outrageously Chinese myself, being a quarter Chinese. It's always been something that's added a lot of mystery, and it's intriguing, and it's exotic."
And her new CD is certainly intriguing - her first recorded in a major studio.
"You're in this little weird room with headphones, with no guitar, with no band, with no audience, and you've got to sing,” she said. “And that's not how I sing. I sing to people and I was singing to a padded wall."
Singing in a studio and signing her first record contract were difficult for KT, who had always been free to follow her own path. She didn't want to become just another product.
"I had the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other,” she said, “and the good guy was just going, ‘This is really scary and you're going to have to be really, really careful.’ And this guy, the black horse, is just going, ‘Go for it, you could be really massive, you could be really rich.’ And I'm just going ‘shut up.’"
That contract produced the album, Eye to the Telescope. Tunstall said, "I very deliberately picked songs which were looking at relationships, and looking twists in relationships."
She prefers her relationships monogamous and stable. She's been dating her drummer for about four years now, however there was that incident a few years ago.
She said, "It happened once, I saw a cute boy and I was like, ‘Do you have a cigarette?’ I smoked at the time. Don't smoke anymore. He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Actually, I don't want a cigarette, I just wanted to meet you, you're gorgeous.’ And I was just so appalled at the whole idea of talking to someone just because they looked nice, and they might be just an idiot. That was my first foray into the one-night-stand and it was terrible."
Whether it's relationships or the music business KT Tunstall has no regrets. "It's been a great ride and it really teaches you to assert yourself, which is a very useful lesson in life," she said.