Burnout. It’s a real thing, particularly when it’s being applied to the creative process. It’s something that KT Tunstall can intimately speak of, having gone through it and being prepared to hop off the pop star treadmill. Not only was she coming off supporting Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon, but Tunstall’s marriage was splintering apart and her father had recently passed on top of all this. It was a major crossroads she was at and as such, the most immediate solution was to hit a metaphorical reset button. What this meant was leaving the UK, decamping to California and exploring her gnawing fascination with creating film scores.
“I had finished the last album campaign and felt really burned out. I really felt like I didn’t want to tour for a long time and I didn’t feel like I wanted to make a record for a long time. Flat-bang in the middle of a couple of huge things happening—my dad passing and my marriage breaking up…two huge tectonic shifts in life. The only thing to do was to throw everything on the fire and start again. I ripped it up. I sold everything I owned and moved to Venice Beach, CA. And it’s the best thing I ever did. I absolutely love it and it saved my life in some ways,” she recalled. “Quite soon after going to California, I realized that I had to do the same thing with my work, because I felt totally stagnant. I’d always wanted to work in film music, so I took a hiatus and Hollywood was a perfect place to be. I enrolled in the Sundance Film Composers Lab and did a very intensive couple of weeks.”
This musical shift proved to be quite a fortuitous turn of events as Tunstall got to be tutored by a number of seminal film composers including James Newton Howard, Harry Gregson Williams and Alan Silvestri. She eventually wound up having her music land on the soundtracks for Winter’s Tale, Million Dollar Arm, About Ray and Bad Moms. In the meantime, living in California inadvertently triggered a major spark of pop inspiration.
“After a year of living in L.A. and inevitably driving around, which is my favorite place to listen to music in the car—things like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Joni [Mitchell] and Neil [Young—where they made all that music in [Laurel] Canyon and seeing all the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway] vistas—I just started writing these really big, muscular, emotional pop choruses. If I’d been writing more folk music, I’m sure I wouldn’t be talking to you, especially if I’d been carrying on with what I was doing,” Tunstall explained. “But there was enough power in what was coming out to really make me stop and take notice of it. At first, the brain and the body were just screaming out about not wanting to do it. But pretty soon after that, me, myself and I decided that we should make an album, because this stuff was really good. It actually felt, in spirit, the closest to the first album that I’d written in a very long time. It was pop-rock choruses again, with the added bonus of having this confidence mojo from the last years of reflection that I’d never had before.”
The Scottish chanteuse’s initial foray back into the pop landscape became the Golden State EP, which came out this past June and eventually gave way to the recently released KIN, 11 songs bubbling over with harmonies, goods and solid state pop arrangements that were midwifed by producer Tony Hoffer (Beck/Belle & Sebastian). Fans will delight in the very ABBA-inspired lushness of “Everything Has Its Shape,” the infectious jangler of an opener that is “Hard Girls” and “Evil Eye,” which bristles with the same kind of vigor and spark reminiscent of her 2005 breakthrough hit “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” Suffice it to say, Tunstall is thrilled with the results and feels she’s come full circle to the sound and success she had with her breakthrough 2004 debut Eye to the Telescope. But this time, it’s with the confidence fostered by the experiences she’s had both on the road and in the studio.
“I just started it at home on Garage Band and by the time I got the demos together, I took it to my A&R guy and his eyebrows went through the ceiling. He told me that I’d written a massive pop-rock record and I told him that I knew that,” she said with a laugh. “This time around, I’ve had 12 years of record-making experience and a huge amount of experience gained by being on the road, playing with different musicians and meeting wonderful and creative people over the years. What’s funny is when you have a massively successful album, you think this is the big time and everything that you can wish for. But for me, it’s actually about now. Having that success a long time ago. Retaining a wonderful fan base who are willing to allow me to try out different things and test out the water in different zones of music. They’re behind me and they’re excited. I’m getting to the point now that I’m financially in a place now where I can absolutely call the shots. I’m trusted by the label to the point where I don’t have someone sitting on my shoulder. It feels really positive and a fantastic reaction from everyone across the board to the new stuff. It’s a very exciting time.”
KT Tunstall will be appearing on Sept. 19 at Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, NYC. For more information, visit www.livenation.com or call212-307-7171.