KT Tunstall - Interview

  by Andrew Twambley

published: 24 / 12 / 2020

KT Tunstall - Interview

KT Tunstall talks to Andrew Twambley about her cover version of the Pretenders' 'Hymn to Her' and contribution to female-only compilation, 'Goodnight Songs For Rebel Girls'.


KT Tunstall is a unique and highly talented singer-songwriter, who is from Edinburgh originally, but is now based in California. After six brilliant studio albums and several live releases, she has recently become involved in 'The Rebel Girls', an international book series aimed at young girls with stories of inspiring women of throughout history. The album 'Goodnight Songs For Rebel Girls' features covers from some of the most electrifying and stimulating women in the music business, including as well as KT, Joan Jett, Ani DiFranco, Macy Grey and Imelda May. Pennyblackmusic spoke to KT about her contribution to the project, about how she locates a haggis in California and about the rumour that she loves Bon Jovi... PB: I am very excited about the release of ‘Goodnight Songs For Rebel Girls’. in fact I am listening to your track and cover of The Pretenders' ‘Hymn to Her’ as we speak. How did this amazing concept come about and how did you become involved ? KT: I wasn’t aware of the ‘Rebel Girls’ project until they got in touch with me, and I am very glad I know of it now. They reached out and asked if I would like to do a cover by a female musical hero of mine, and it wasn’t difficult. I chose Chrissie Hynde as she has always been my number one. I was lucky enough to go on tour with The Pretenders, and every night I was blown away by Chrissie singing this song completely stripped back with just very simple organ backing her. I wanted to pay respect to the power of the way she delivered the song on that tour. PB: You have put your own special signature overlaid onto what is an already epic song. Why did you choose that particular song? KT: Chrissie is the absolute quintessential iconic rockstar. She has inimitable talent, sounds incredible, looks incredible, has unbelievable stage presence and a fierce attitude. This song however, is a moment where I feel her tenderness and vulnerability steps forward, and I realise that she is in fact also human, and not a supernatural being...her voice is so extraordinary, and I love the space in this song to enjoy its depth I recall seeing a photograph of you, maybe two years ago, sporting a T Shirt with the names of a whole bunch of female artists - Debbie, Janis, Chrissie, Joan, Joni, Patti. So you are clearly a big admirer of female artists. Did this lead to the majority female presence in your band? KT: It was a very deliberate decision to employ all female musicians on my last tour. I’ve been playing with Charlotte Hatherley for years, who is one of my favourite guitar players on the planet. I’d also started working with a brilliant female drummer, Cat Myers. It struck me that, as an employer, I had the opportunity to really give female musicians a significant platform in a work environment where it is still a challenge for women to be considered and chosen for jobs over men. I was very happy to make the decision to take an all female band out on the road. PB: I see you have relocated to Venice Beach, California. That must be a bit different from Scotland. My question is….can you attend a Burns night there and where do you find haggis and neeps? KT: I’ve actually left Venice Beach now and moved up to Topanga Canyon, which is a bit of a cheat really because you don’t feel like you’re in LA at all. I have a huge stag with full size antlers and his family visiting the garden most days, so at least that helps me feel a little bit like I’m back in Scotland! I did actually go to a Burns Night dinner here with a friend a few years ago, and everyone in the restaurant was looking totally terrified as he approached the haggis with a massive carving knife in his hand… PB: Let’s go way back for a minute. When did you first realise you could sing and perform? KT: I started performing when I was eight years old at a local theatre group in St Andrews which I loved, and I really thought my calling was to be an actress. We put on little musicals and I did have a strong voice and often enjoyed landing lead parts. But at fifteen, I picked up a guitar, taught myself, started writing songs and decided that I much preferred the idea of writing my own lyrics and being my own boss. PB: I presume life changed for you in 2004 when you rocked up to Later With Jools Holland and nailed it with ‘Black Horse and The Cherry Tree’….the first time we had seen a ‘looper’ on TV. Wasn’t that a last minute, stand in gig? KT: Exactly. Nas the rapper had pulled out and I had been asked with twenty-four hours notice to go on the show as the unknown artist. Even though I’d been trying to get somewhere for over ten years, I still consider that performance being the equivalent of an overnight success. PB: It’s not widely known, but you also write music for movies, How did that come about? KT: I took a hiatus in 2013 and moved to Los Angeles. Film score composition had always been something I was interested in, and I was thrilled to be one of 6 composers per year to be accepted onto the Sundance Film Composers Lab in Northern California. It’s two weeks of intense tutoring and learning in the world of film score composing. It was a wonderful experience, and I’ve really enjoyed whenever I’ve had the chance to write for film ever since. PB: It has been tough for everyone since Covid, especially people in the music business, so what have you been up to since April 2020 ? KT: It’s been very challenging obviously; I had one of the busiest gigging years I’ve ever had planned for 2020. When it all came to an abrupt halt, I felt I ran the risk of devaluing live music by just playing and singing into my phone endlessly, so I decided to start an online platform via an organization called ‘Patreon’. It’s an old-school subscription fan club experience, which led to my name being much more of a community hub where lots of different things could take place, and feels more than just all about being a live or recording artist. I’m also writing the music and lyrics for a musical theatre project, and have started producing and writing material for other artists, so although it’s been tough, it’s been an exciting time of exploration and trying out some new creative pathways. PB: Let’s say in March this year, you retrained and became Prime Minister of The UK, what would you have done differently ( apart from imprison all bankers!) ? KT: I think the best answer I can give here is ‘See Jacinda Ardern’. PB: Rumour has it that you are the No.1 fan of Bon Jovi…True or false? KT: True! PB: Thank you. 'Goodnight Songs For Rebel Girls' is out now.

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Photoscapes (2019)
KT Tunstall - Photoscapes
Andrew Twambley photographs Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall at the Albert Hall in Manchester.

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