This weekend, KT Tunstall performs at Proms in the Park on Glasgow Green, backed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Tunstall has toured with Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra before, but this is the first time she has ever been backed by a classical orchestra.“It’s well posh, it just feels so fancy,” she says with her customary enthusiasm.
That infectious enthusiasm has been tested over the past couple of years. Her return to pop music with new album KIN was by no means assured when Tunstall found herself exhausted by the death of her father, the end of her marriage and a disillusionment with the pop industry. But a life-changing move to California rejuvenated her mojo and ultimately set her back on the pop path.
We met up with KT recently in Glasgow, when she returned to play the BBC Quay Sessions and found her ready and willing to talk about the highs and lows of the past few years. “I think it’s really important to be open about it because otherwise I’m just one of those really annoying artists that says ‘I was going to give up and then I didn’t’,” she says. So we let the tape run as KT talked us through her recent tumultuous times, starting with the circumstances surrounding the recording of her previous album, 2013’s Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon. “Basically I really enjoyed making that last record even though it was in the middle of massive upheaval and sadness in my life. I’d started it before my dad died and my marriage split up, and finished it after, so the record was massively cathartic and it was a lovely escape, I would just fly off to Arizona to go and finish the record.
“And then I went on tour and, who knows, maybe it was too much to put on myself to do that after all of that happening. It was the first time I’d really done solo touring, and it just completely exhausted me. I look back on it now and I understand what happened but at the time I just thought I’d had enough of touring. I didn’t have the energy for it, I was burning out, and I just wasn’t getting the buzz. And it’s such a sacrifice of your daily life that if you don’t really want to do it, then what is the point?
“My dad passing made me realise I had been appeasing parents and not necessarily making choices from my soul but from a more superficial place of what I thought I should be doing. All of these things that I thought were the ingredients for happiness I checked off and I was miserable. I didn’t understand how it had gone so wrong when I had made the decisions.
“And I had obviously read somewhere that, as a pop star, you are meant to have big houses, and fancy cars and loads of friends and throw £10,000 parties and there’s a lot of fun in that and I’ve got some good memories of that but it wasn’t meaningful and it didn’t lead to a deeper sense of fulfillment. For some people, maybe it does, but it didn’t for me.
“Life had been completely dominated by doing and no being so I basically just started again – threw it on the fire, sold everything I owned, moved to LA, to Venice Beach. Best thing I’ve ever done. I never considered moving there but actually I did live in LA for a year when I was four years old. My dad got a sabbatical to UCLA so my first memories are California, so there is definitely something familiar about it.
“London is too harsh and I’m too sensitive for it. I don’t give a shit if someone doesn’t mean it if they are saying ‘how are you, have a nice day’ – I like it, I like people being really nice to each other. I would find myself with a Wednesday off, sitting in Regents Park, getting evils from people because I’ve got nothing to do. Venice Beach was the first place I’d been where every day was Sunday. It’s a bohemian community, no one’s doing regular hours so there’s always the spirit of very present enjoyment of life and relaxation. It’s a very barefoot vibe community, and there’s no McDonalds, there’s no Starbucks, it’s just a really unique bubble in a metropolis.
“Weirdly, you’re quite close to nature in LA – twenty minutes away from the wildest hike, with coyotes and lions and raccoons and whatever you want. It’s definitely easier to access a wilder side of nature there and you can go any day of the week because it’s always nice weather. There’s tsunamis and earthquakes and all of that shit to deal with but, you know, I’ve had a good life, if I go I go!”
KT Tunstall plays Proms in the Park, Glasgow Green, Sat 10 September