KT Tunstall came out of nowhere last year with the release of Eye To The Telescope, which pretty much launched her career into the stratosphere. Through it all, the British singer/songwriter has remained as humble as anyone you'd meet on the street. We got to talk to KT about her forthcoming album, Drastic Fantastic, tour buses and getting some love from "American Idol's" Katherine McPhee.
KT Tunstall: Hey Mike.
Bullz-Eye: Hey KT. How are you?
KT: Good. How are you doing?
BE: Good. So you were somewhat of an overnight success with the re-release of Eye To the Telescope. First of all, congrats on that.
KT: Thank you.
BE: Secondly, did you ever expect your career to take off like it did?
KT: No! I didn't at all. It's pretty crazy. It's a real dream realized because I really spent my formative years of learning songwriting and playing and gigging here (in the U.S.) when I was 17 or 18. And so there'd had always been a little part in my heart that would have loved for things to kick off in America and be able to get into a tour bus and play gigs. But for a British artist, it's virtually impossible. So it's been incredibly rewarding having that happen.
BE: Did you have a lot of success in Britain before you came over here?
KT: Yeah, yeah. The album was released a year beforehand. It was released December of 2004 in the U.K., and I think it was February of 2006 when it came out in the States. I think really it's so expensive for a label to promote an artist in America when they're not from America, that they've got to be convinced or something. (laughs)
BE: Yeah. They're real picky about artists here, too.
KT: Yeah, exactly. It's a hard place as a new artist to try and get through because there's so much going on. But that was important to me too, that I had a good grounding where I'm from. I think it must be quite hard if you get big somewhere else and you're not really recognized for what you do at home. I'm grateful for that.
BE: Sure. So do you feel that the success of the first record released here gave you a ton of momentum heading into the release of Drastic Fantastic?
KT: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I remember doing all the promotion before the first album came out and doing seven countries in 10 days in Europe, and totally ruining myself. It was all very novel and exciting. I really don't think I can do that again. (laughs) I think the human body has the capacity to do that once and then you just basically die. (laughs)
BE: (laughs) Absolutely.
KT: So this time around it's still totally hectic, but not quite to the madness level. And I'm pretty much staying to the fact that people are waiting to hear it, which is a huge pleasure.
BE: Yeah, and you probably have the power to call your shots a little more.
KT: Yeah, I do.
BE: So how does this album differ from the last one?
KT: Well the main difference is me having made a record already, because I never made a studio album before the first one. And secondly, being on the road with a band for three years. When I made the first one, I had the drummer and the bassist, but I've now got a keyboard player and a lead guitarist. And so going out and kind of experiencing the songs from Eye to the Telescope mutate and grow, kind of turned them into big stage versions. And the show is definitely a lot more raucous and a lot more raw than the album. And I think that's totally injected itself into the second one. So there's quite a few more up-tempo songs on this next one, and also it's a little more mysterious. With the first one, it's a deliberate attempt to be an old school singer-songwriter record. And I wanted to keep it within traditional singer-songwriter fare. And that immediately lead me to playing acoustic guitar more. On this one, I'm definitely cranking the electric a bit more.
BE: Cool. In fact, I just now, about a half-hour ago, got to check out the single.
KT: Oh, wicked.
BE: I was having some issues with the streams from the label.
KT: Oh sorry. Modern technology, eh?
BE: I know, no kidding. But the song is great and the video is cool.
KT: Oh thank you so much. I'm really glad you like it.
BE: Yeah, you're going to have lot of success with that I think. Just really upbeat and fun.
KT: It IS fun. It's totally derived from where I live in London where all the guys and girls as well just listen to…it's mainly Afro-Caribbean and Portuguese people where I live and everybody's just obsessed with dance hall music. So you've got this massive, fat beat coming out of every car. So that's kind of why I said, "Look, it has to be a dance video, because that's kind of where it comes from."
BE: (laughs) That's awesome. So who are your main influences as a songwriter and as a singer, and do you feel like those come through in your own music?
"On this one, I'm definitely cranking the electric a bit more." KT: Well there's so many. I didn't grow up a rabid fan of anything in particular. My parents didn't listen to music. My friends weren't really into music and I wasn't really mad into music. I was just into playing. I was just into getting classical training in piano and flute and just listening to shit pop when it was the 80s. Just listening to Limahl and Wham and stuff like that. And as soon as I got to 15, 16, I started meeting people my age that were really into music and introduced me to some brilliant stuff. Particularly when I came over to America at 17. I did my senior year of high school in America and that was a complete flip-top-head experience where I went to my first gigs, I had my first band, I went and did my own gigs for the first time. I went and played on the street and all sorts of stuff. That was a big deal. So since I got a lot of incredible music all at the same time, it's really difficult for me to say, "Oh yeah, do you know what? I think Beck is better than David Bowie."
BE: I got you.
KT: Or, you know what? Velvet Underground or Ella Fitzgerald. I don't know. But certainly the ones that stuck out to me were the first two albums that I bought which made a huge impact on me were Blue by Joni Mitchell and Bone Machine by Tom Waits.
And it's interesting for me because I still kind of feel like I'm trying to weld those two albums together.
BE: Cool. And you didn't grow up in a family of musicians like you said.
BE: How does your family feel about all the success you've had?
KT: They're really, really cool about it. They're very, very pleased because they were very worried. I was still completely penniless and unemployed at 27. And my parents were…you know my parents are academics. My Dad's a physicist and my Mom's a teacher. They were both just going, "What are you doing? You've got a really good education and you're not getting a job." And because they didn't grow up with music, they didn't listen to music, really they didn't know really that it was potentially if you're any good as viable an option as going for a job.
BE: Sure. Or more so in this case.
KT: Or if it does happen, then it really happens. Or you know, potentially. And so I had a bit of a fight on my hands in terms of making them believe in me that it was something that could happen. And it wasn't through their lack of faith in me as a person, it was just their lack of knowledge of whether I was any good or not.
KT: And where they were from as kids, they were working class kids from the north of England, and so the Beatles are pop stars, not you. But having said that, they were massively supportive and paying for all my music lessons, coming to all my shows that I did. And now my parents are spending their retirement coming to backstage parties at Webster Hall in New York, so they love it.
BE: That's awesome.
KT: Yeah, they're having a blast.
BE: And you said you spent your senior year of high school here?
BE: What part of the country?
KT: At Kent School in Connecticut.
BE: Oh, OK. That's cool.
KT: I got a scholarship there just for my senior year. It was wicked. It was really great. I met some lifelong friends there.
BE: And where did you go to college?
KT: I went back to London and ended up at one, it was kind of out of town. It was part of London University but it was a campus out of town. I was so looking forward to finding a band and really doing something exciting with music. And I found about one banjo player and a bunch of Goth bands. (laughs). So I ended up going straight back to Scotland where there's a really, really good folk scene where I lived.
BE: Cool. And what would you say the main difference for you between touring in Europe and touring in the States?
KT: (sighs) The buses are so much better in America, oh my God.
KT: American tour buses have it going on. I feel really sorry for American bands who go through Europe and go on tour and are used to their American tour buses because our buses are grim.
BE: Are they just older?
KT: They're just mangy. It's that whole kind of British dirty rock kind of attitude where the buses just don't have pictures on the walls like the American buses do. (laughs)
BE: (laughs) Yeah, tour buses are big business here.
KT: Yeah really.
BE: I live in Nashville so there's a lot of tour bus companies.
KT: Oh, well that's somewhere where I could live if I lived there. But certainly I could easily live on an American tour bus. No fucking way would I live on a European one. (laughs)
BE: (laughs). Did you get to see Katharine McPhee from "American Idol" perform your song?
KT: I did! It was truly one of the more bizarre things that I've experienced. Not her doing it, but me watching her doing my song.
KT: Having said that, I was very disturbed when someone said, "You have to watch it. She performed it on her knees." I was like, "Why would my song provoke someone to do that?" It was kind of a concern. And then I watched it, and to be honest I've seen people butcher stuff much worse than that, and I think she did pretty well!
KT: I'm sure it was her idea to do it because no one really knew that song at the time.
BE: Yeah, I think it was a situation where the producers gave her the choice of song.
KT: And honestly, I owe her beers for life for deciding that that was what she wanted to do because it made a massive impact for me as a touring musician. And I'd really like to shake her hand. (laughs)
BE: (laughs) Cool. So what are you listening to now?
KT: I'm listening to the new White Stripes album and the new Arcade Fire album. And I'm really enjoying a new Australian band called Howling Bells.
KT: And I'm trying to get a hold of Elvis Perkins. I haven't got a hold of him yet. He's a singer-songwriter from the east coast I think. Willy Mason as well. I really like his new album.
BE: Cool. I haven't heard all that stuff, but I've heard of it.
KT: Yeah. There was a time when it seemed everyone was doing one album and then they'd disappear. And I'm really so excited that bands are putting out brilliant second albums and third albums.
BE: There's a lot of great stuff. Even a lot of unsigned stuff that is really great.
"American tour buses have it going on. I feel really sorry for American bands who go through Europe and go on tour and are used to their American tour buses because our buses are grim." KT: Yeah, absolutely. I think as long as you don't turn the television on, music is in a really great place. Well having said that, apart from things like the shows that promote me, like "Grey's Anatomy," I think that's amazing that they'll go out on a limb and really push new artists. Yeah, but keep away from the nastiness.
BE: (laughs) And finally, what are some hobbies you have outside of music?
KT: I'm completely obsessed with going to the cinema.
KT: That's my favorite thing to do. Cook at home and go out and see a film, and I don't care if it's a weird, foreign art film or if it's a really cheesy, big blockbuster. I'm into all of it.
BE: What have you seen lately?
KT: I just watched "300" the other day. It's brilliant. I thought it was great. I'm a big Frank Miller fan too. It's so amazing to see what they can do with film, when they do effects well. But then I watched "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" the other night. The effects are brilliant! They had it going on.
BE: Definitely. That's all I've got. Do you have anything else you want to add or plug?
KT: No, I mean I'll be back in the states to tour in November and December.
KT: Wicked. Thanks ever so much!