With a vibrant, soul-laced voice and a strong sense of songcrafting and musicianship, KT Tunstall has won fans throughout the world. A Scottish singer/songwriter who is always open to exploring new musical directions, Tunstall is playing a rare solo show at Salt Lake City's State Room on Tuesday.
Her latest full-length release is "Tiger Suit" -- the title inspired by a dream in which she encounters a tiger and escapes unhurt. She realizes later that the fact she was disguised in a tiger suit when she encountered the big cat saved her from the creature's maw. The album hit No. 43 on the Billboard Top 200, and No. 13 on the Top Rock Album charts.
Tunstall also released a live album in March with her band.
And, as opposed to the more rocking outing that is "Tiger Suit" and "Live in London," on April 11 the prolific Tunstall released a digital download (at www.kttunstall.com) of her brand-new seven-song mini-collection, "The Scarlet Tulip EP."
As with "Tiger Suit," the EP's songs were culled from a year she devoted not to touring, but rather seeing the world and writing songs.
Tunstall describes her latest effort as a "bundle of gentle, acoustic finger-picked songs which I have brought out as a tour-only release." She said the EP marks the first time since she was young and learning her craft that she has recorded herself with voice and finger-picked guitar alone.
Tunstall took time out from her tour schedule to catch up with the Standard-Examiner in an e-mail interview.
Q: Where are you right now (April 11) in your travels?
A: I'm in Boston for the start of my solo tour. There was a fierce battle between the clam chowder and the very cold wind; the chowder won. I also can't get enough of the accent here, I love it.
Q: You played a recent show at our outdoor venue, Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City. That certainly won you a lot of fans in the area. Do you have any particular memory of that show, or perhaps any of Utah?
A: It was a stunning place to play, and a great gig. I also remember taking a hike into the canyon where you start off in this pretty, well-kept neighborhood, and end up in really wild landscape in about 15 minutes. Luke (Bullen), my husband and drummer, made me laugh as everyone started saying hello to us on the trails, and he said "Funny how the further away from civilization you go, the more civil it gets." It's exactly the same at home!
Q: For The State Room show, you are doing a solo performance. How do you feel about performing solo? Do you find it very different from performing with a band, or is just another facet of the same thing? Is the material you choose markedly different?
A: This is the first major solo tour I've ever done, so it's new ground for me. It feels very different from a band show; there's freedom to wander and play with the songs and timings and order, but at the same time, I want to keep an excitement and pace to the show, so I think it needs a real element of craft to the whole thing. I love performing solo, it's often easier and quicker to build the bridge between the audience and the stage.
Q: You took a year off to travel and regroup -- can you tell us one particularly captivating story from that year of adventure?
A: I traveled up the west coast of Greenland in the Arctic and stopped off in a settlement call Uummannaq. I was there with many other musicians with an environmental awareness charity, and we all played a song or two each in a bar that night. I had the worst confidence crash I've ever known, and was totally humbled by the landscape and the company. It forced me to build myself back up stronger, and I wrote "Uummannaq Song" on the deck of the boat surrounded by icebergs, thumping a life-preserver for the beat. It's the song that opens "Tiger Suit."
Q: You've said you wrote 75 songs to choose from for "Tiger Suit." Do you have a particular songwriting method, or certain things you need to get it done (i.e., a certain pen or instrument?) Also, with a collection so vast, how did you go about whittling those songs down to an album's worth? What were the deciding factors?
A: I need the right pen! And my journal. I've kept journals that serve as lyric books since I was quite young, and they provide a weight to new words as there's company for them in those pages. I usually finish a song pretty quickly; I can be a little lazy, so I have to watch that. The songs for "Tiger Suit" were quite obvious, out of the array I had -- they really gravitated toward each other.
Q: You've added some electronic elements to "Tiger Suit." Tell us about those choices. And were there other things new and different you experimented with on this record?
A: Experimentation itself, really -- it was the first time I've felt truly at home in a studio. Hansa in Berlin has such amazing history (Bowie, U2, Iggy Pop) and I felt able to get lost with an idea and run with it in a way I haven't before. I've always been interested in electronica but have also always been suspicious that it might jeopardize the intimacy of my music. But I found the opposite, it really augmented the emotion if you found the right instrument and sound.
Q: Tell us a little about your new "Live in London" album, and how that came about.
A: I was approached by Abbey Road Live, a company that records live shows -- and amazingly makes the show you've just been at available on CD at the merch stand 5 minutes after we come offstage! It was a challenge; the band and I knew that everything we played, good or bad, was going out into the world, recorded forever. Thankfully, it was a great gig and I'm really pleased with it.