At the end of the tour for her previous album Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon, KT Tunstall was ready to turn her back on the recording and touring treadmill.
It marked the end of a tumultuous period for the multi-platinum selling singer-songwriter – while writing the album her father died and her marriage ended.
As a result, she upped sticks to LA and threw herself into writing music for films.
Happily for her legions of fans, the move rekindled her love for music and her fifth album Kin went straight into the top 10 on its release last September. She is now getting ready for a string of summer festival shows, including Wickham’s opening night on August 3, and Victorious in Southsea on August 27.
When The Guide caught up with her, KT was in France, supporting Simple Minds on their European tour.
‘I’ve been having the best time ever – it’s phenomenal,’ she says, her Scottish accent undimmed by living in America. ‘They’re amazing guys and it’s great to watch them at work.
‘It’s the first support tour I’ve ever done in 13 years, and I’m now wondering what I was thinking, because it’s great! There’s no pressure, don’t have to worry about everything, and then you play for half an hour, so you’ve still got the energy to go and check out all of these amazing places – it’s been bloody great, like a holiday with a bit of jamming.
‘I’ve got about 36 hours from the end of the last Simple Minds show to my first headline show, but I’m really forward to it, it’s going to be fantastic.’
KT definitely has her mojo back after the end of the Invisible Empire tour.
‘I just got totally burnt out, and I hadn’t really dealt with everything that had happened - my dad passing and my marriage breaking up and all of that. I just wasn’t excited about making records, but I was excited about working in film music, which was something I’d wanted to do for a long time.
When it comes to putting a record out you can’t dip your toe into it, you’ve got to live itKT Tunstall
‘So I literally sold everything I owned and moved to California. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, no looking back, it was incredible.
‘I knew I needed a change – you don’t foresee these things coming in your life, these massive upheavals, it was just in response to knowing something had to change. One thing I realised was that I don’t think I ever particularly enjoyed living in London. It’s an amazing city and I adore being there, but I don’t want to live there.
‘I don’t find myself able to switch off and constantly feel guilty if I’m not working. It’s a complete deathwish, you don’t ever relax, particularly in this job – it’s 24/7. When it comes to putting a record out you can’t dip your toe into it, you’ve got to live it.
‘It was only after I went back to London after touring for 10 years that I thought London wasn’t a good place for me, my mental health, I don’t feel like I’m getting a balance between enjoying my life and being too productive.’
She now calls Venice Beach in LA home, but travelled around while writing what became Kin – hitting places like the Joshua Tree Park, Big Sur and New Mexico. It’s a continuation of the travels she’s undertaken since early in her career.
‘It started with my second record, the record company packed me off to a cottage in Dorest. It was really weird. I was in this ancient stone cottage by myself in the middle of nowhere with my Gretsch Falcon and an 18in amp that was really messed up and had this massive reverb on it, I had like this pagan experience of songwriting in the middle of the night and I think that taught me the value of uprooting yourself and putting yourself in an inspiring situation.
‘The same goes for making the record – the third one I recorded at the Hansa Studios in Berlin, the fourth one I made in Tucson, Arizona. I feel that travel and the landscape are very important for my creativity.’
Working in film has proved to be an inspiration for the Suddenly I See hitmaker too – she’s worked on Bad Moms, 3 Generations and Million Dollar Arm among others. But she has also found it has given her the chance to try out new ideas and directions.
‘I’ve just scored a short film, which should be coming out later this year and that’s a really dark, totally electronic score, which is something totally different to what I normally do, and I really enjoyed it. I can go on a proper creative walkabout with film, it’s really liberating. I think it teaches me to be braver with my own stuff as well.’
And it’s an approach that appears to have paid dividends – Kin has been well received by the public and critics alike.
‘I’ve been over the moon. I think just to be a British female artist releasing album number five and to still be having a top 10 record is something I’m really proud of, I’ve been feeling really good about it, and it’s had a lovely response from the press and the fans.
‘It’s definitely a more sort of spiritual record about getting through your problems and finding your peace at the end of the day and finding that you’ve benefitted from going through the bad times.’
*Wickham Festival runs from Thursday August 3 to Sunday August 6, and also features 10CC, The Levellers, Seth Lakeman, Eliza Carthy, Lau and many more. Weekend tickets are £160. Go to wickhamfestival.co.uk