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In Conversation with: KT Tunstall

"There's no one like you in the universe, you're a one off." KT talks music, individuality and knowing your own worth.

In Conversation with: KT Tunstall

House of Coco’s Music Editor Emma Harrison spoke to musician and songwriter KT Tunstall about her new single, her involvement with the initiative ‘Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls‘ and why it’s so important to know your self-worth.

House of Coco

You are involved with an amazing new initiative called Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls, which is based on the book series. I love the ethos behind the programme which is so inspiring. It is about educating and instilling confidence in young women. How did you get to be involved with this project and why is it so important to you?

KT Tunstall

Well, they reached out to me to ask if I would like to be part of it. And it was an absolute no brainer.

I think that when we’re talking about the elevation of girls in society and women in society, at the root of all of it is confidence.

It’s about giving young women and girls the confidence to really follow their dreams, be what they want to be, feel like they’ve got opportunity to do whatever they want.

And I mean, in my lifetime, I’ve just seen that impact me and others where you know, for example, I was getting into doing film composition, at one point and I remember a really prevalent female composer telling me  if a composer gets booted off a film (which
is not that uncommon), they’ll often change the music and the male composer will go ‘They are idiots. They don’t know what they’re missing’. And the female composer will go, ‘what did I do wrong? Did they not like what I did?’

That resonated with me so much. And that is just about personal mindset and confidence in your own work and your own worth.

House of Coco

Exactly. I think it’s about knowing your worth, and being confident about talking about that.  I wish something like this programme was around when I was younger, to have it, would have been amazing.

KT Tunstall

Me too. I was a pretty confident kid. And, but at the same time, I would say that I was also a tomboy. I had brothers, most of my friends growing up were dudes. And so, I had that kind of masculine energy around me. And I think what we really want to build is a world where you don’t need to have a masculine energy to feel confidence.

House of Coco

I completely agree. Our audience is predominantly young women, confidence can be an issue for them. What kind of tips would you give to these young women to be more confident and to have more faith in themselves?

KT Tunstall

I think particularly with the advent of social media and the environment that young women and young girls have to grow up in now. The advent of social media has really put a lot of pressure on this subject as well. I think that a very, very important thing to learn at a young age is to not be concerned about what other people think of you.

That people pleasing, and that will to conform is really only going to take away from your power. So if you want to be an artist, for example, the thing that makes you different from everyone else is actually probably the thing that’s going to bring you success, because there’s no point in being the same as everybody else. Because it’s already been done.

There is no point in copying your favourite artists because they have already done it better than you’ll ever do. So, it is about learning how to do ‘you’ and celebrating that and being confident and having faith that the things that make you who you are, are incredibly special.

There’s no one like you in the universe, you’re a one off. So, don’t let other people tell you that they don’t like what that is and change you. Just walk away from those people. They’re not worth it. All they’re gonna do is make you smaller. And I think that making sure as a young person, you are able to walk away from the people who make you feel bad, and walk towards the people who want to see you do well. That’s incredibly important.

Photo Credit: Piper Ferguson

House of Coco

I absolutely love that. That’s the perfect answer and that is my mindset completely. You have to celebrate those little differences that make you so unique. And you’re right, that’s what makes you stand out, which is awesome.

KT Tunstall

You know, I think one thing I wish I’d heard when I was little, was it doesn’t matter if everyone does doesn’t like you. You don’t have to have everyone like you. You don’t have to be liked by everyone. It’s unrealistic, and it’s not going to happen. You’re not gonna vibe with every single other human being you meet. So, don’t waste energy on that! It’s a waste of time, you’ll just end up unhappy, but just gravitate towards the people who make you feel really good. 

 

House of Coco

You sang an incredibly beautiful version of ‘Hymn to Her’, which was originally released by The Pretenders, it was written by Chrissie Hynde’s best friend. It was about her relationship with her mother and it’s a really beautiful song. Maybe a little bit underrated in my opinion?

KT Tunstall

Yeah, I think if you look at Chrissie Hynde in the same way as you look at Bob Dylan, there’s these absolutely endless list of bangers that you just you know, word for word and that are just so up tempo and kind of, you know, life affirming.

But every now and then, they will sing songs where they really show their deep vulnerability.

For Bob Dylan it would be ‘Blood on the Tracks’ – ‘Tangled Up in Blue’.

I think with this song, it was really me paying homage to the way that Chrissie sang it on the tour that I was on with her. I would watch her every night and she just sang it completely stripped back with an organ and all the hardness, all the rock’n’roll edge kind of falls away.

And it’s just a very, very vulnerable, very beautiful, soulful song where you are completely let into her vulnerability.

I think that it is really amazing that she is able to do that for a start. Her voice is just extraordinary. And it just transports you listening to it. I really wanted to just celebrate that version that she sang on to the tour.

House of Coco

It’s such a wonderful track, and I listened to the track earlier this afternoon. I absolutely loved what you did with it – it’s such a beautiful version of it. The interpretation and the phrasing were just really special. 

Was that the only song you had in your mind that you wanted to do or were there other options?

 

KT Tunstall

Thank you! Well, I knew I wanted to do a Pretenders track and because of the nature of the record being ‘Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls’, I also wanted to provide something really soothing. I think that it can be quite exhausting being a girl and it can be quite exhausting being a rebel. It’s something that’s worth getting exhausted over. But at the end of the day, you need a hug, you need support, you need love so I just I wanted to record something really tender.

House of Coco

Do you have plans to do any more recording for the initiative? I know you are a big advocate of the programme.

KT Tunstall

I feel I’m part of the movement. I’d love to think that there’s more to come in the future. For the meantime, I’m just delighted to be part of this incredible line up with acts like Ani DiFranco, Imelda May, Macy Gray, Skye and Joan Jett of course. I just want to go to the pub with all of them, let’s just go camping in the Joshua Tree desert, hang out for a week – that would be amazing!

House of Coco

So, you’ve been quite busy this year despite lockdown, you have released a couple of singles including the ‘Wash your Hands‘ single for Water Aid.

KT Tunstall
I do actually sing that chorus when I wash my hands because it’s 20 seconds long!

 

House of Coco

You have to! Everyone should do it!

 

KT Tunstall

I didn’t even realise that it was the perfect length and then Water Aid, who I recorded the song for got in touch and said ‘You do know it’s a 20 second chorus, which is the perfect time to wash your hands!’

House of Coco

It was clearly meant to be! It’s very, very catchy. You also released the single with Moella as well. It is a quite different sound, but still your passion and enthusiasm comes across. It was a great song. Are you going to be recording any other new material? The last album was a couple of years ago wasn’t it?

KT Tunstall

It was in 2018. I am at the end of making a trilogy of records about Soul Body and Mind, so KIN was the soul record and WAX was the body record. I am now making the mind record.

It’s been such a crazy journey because the soul record KIN came out in 2016 which was when my life totally imploded – I got divorced, and my dad died and I moved continents and it was just you know, a real rebirth. Then the body record, which I made with Nick McCarthy from Franz Ferdinand, which is great rock record – I actually lost my hearing halfway through that album, and you know, it’s an album about the physical body. So, I’m thinking to myself what the hell is going to happen on the mind record?! And here we are in the middle of a global pandemic!

I’m actually making that record remotely with an amazing team – Andy Burrows from Razorlight, Liam Howe from the Sneaker Pimps and Martin Terefe who I produced the ‘Other side of the World’ and ‘The River’ with.

We’re kind of working remotely and just, it’s sounding really great. I’m very pleased with it. So yeah, I’ve been kept busy!

 

One of the really nice things I’ve started in lockdown is as a Patreon account, and I would recommend any young artists to look into this.

It’s basically an old school fan club, people pay a subscription each month, and you decide what they get for their money. It’s been amazing because it’s meant really, that my name has become a place where we can all hang out.

It’s not just about music. We’ll do dance parties and collage days, and we’ve done a Brazilian percussion lesson. You can write to me, and I’ll write back and it’s really a beautiful community of people.

With everything going on with streaming and not being able to go to shows, it really feels like getting together and you have a proper community, so that that’s been fantastic.

The thing that I found that not one of us really realised until I started it was, no one pays to be a troll. It’s just such a lovely, safe community where there’s no negativity. It’s just people getting together wanting to have a nice time and you don’t get interrupted or bothered by people being idiots or mean.

House of Coco

There’s loads of exclusive content isn’t it and it’s from $10 per month?

KT Tunstall

It is! I just shared my video and audio download of Driftwood by Travis which is one of my favourite songs ever.

There are people in the group who have been following me for 15 years, there’s people who’ve only just got to know my music. It’s all ages, it’s families. It’s just fantastic because we’re in direct contact. So, messaging everyone every day and sending actual snail mail to each other with stamps and stickers.

I think that you know, the streaming culture has kind of stripped away some of the soulfulness and meaning to your relationship with music. It has become a very fleeting experience, whereas music is a force of nature and there is so much more to be had. Human beings relationships with music is a really deep connected tissue in life.

I would just encourage people to remember how wonderful it is, and, and to instead of just paying just £9.99 for all the music ever, but to reach out and see what your favourite artists are doing. This is the time when bands are really letting fans in more so than ever before.

Photo: Davis Bell

House of Coco

You’ve done some TV work as well. You have taken part in a documentary on Ivor Cutler, which I have not had a chance to see, but I am definitely going to check it out. Why was that so inspirational to you?

KT Tunstall

Do! I heard Ivor in my mid-20s, through a friend who introduced him to me. It’s quite absurd, surreal, very funny, very moving. He called himself a humourist, but he’s a musician and an actor. The Beatles fell in love with him and asked them to be in the Magical Mystery Tour movie. And the Beatles actually asked if they could cover of one of his songs. And he said, No!

House of Coco

Really?! I did not know that.

 

KT Tunstall

He is a very special eccentric artist. In the documentary, I interview Noel Fielding, who I think is just one of Britain’s most precious talents. I think he’s incredible. He’s a big fan of Ivor’s as well.

It ties back into this Rebel Girls project. It’s all about celebrating someone who is very unique, and would just be seen as a weirdo, but who actually breaks through all the exterior hardness of your shell and touches you on a soul level and really is just, it’s just total treasure, to listen to this material and it just makes you feel like it’s totally okay to be you. I love that.

 

House of Coco

Making a TV show is a different process creatively. How did you approach that?

 

KT Tunstall

STV were working on it and Alison Pinkney was the director and wrote the documentary. She reached out knowing that I was a big fan of Ivor’s and asked, ‘Do I want to make the film?’ And I was like ‘Ah, yes, absolutely!’ You know, one of the songs that I sing on the programme (one of Ivor’s songs) is called ‘Women of the World’ and it says ‘women of the world take over. Because if you don’t…

Sings ‘because if you don’t, the world will come to an end. And we haven’t got long’. It’s an amazing song to sing right? In the world the way that it is. So, it was just a real passion project.

House of Coco

That sounds great! I think you must be like the hardest working person in the music industry because it seems like you do not stop. I was thinking Does she sleep? Does she have her food by intravenous drip?!

KT Tunstall

(Laughs) Definitely! Yeah, I was definitely feeling like, I wish my lockdown was more about pyjamas and watching Netflix. I haven’t done enough of that!

House of Coco

Going back to the Beatles thing, you took part in the Dear John concert as well and you have got a live streaming gig in LA which takes place on November 7th. You are based in LA now?

KT Tunstall

I have been here for about six years. Oh, wow. I do love California. Oh my god. I actually came here when I was four years old. My dad was a physicist and he worked for a year at UCLA. That was my first memories of life were California. I think it was just kind of imprinted on me a bit. It’s always felt very familiar. And I just love it. I love the nature – even in LA, I live in Topanga Canyon and there is a family of deer with a full-size stag that comes to the garden every day. There is a real there is a real wildness that I am I love.

 

House of Coco

So, you have got your gig and it is live streamed across the world. You have also got some gigs scheduled in for 2021. Do you think this is something that’s going to go ahead, bearing in mind the situation with the world, or will you just go down the streaming route?

 

KT Tunstall

I think with 2021, it is very much a wait and see. It is going to be a gig by gig scenario because some are outside, some are inside. They are just going to be completely a slave to whatever lockdown measures are in place. I am not holding my breath. I just really hope that they happen.

With the streaming you know, I’m finding my way. I’m just making sure that I don’t do anything that I don’t think is great quality, because I want to keep the quality control so that people are paying for ticket and having a really great experience.

This gig on the 7th November,  I think is going to be fantastic. It is me and a drummer, a full piece rock gig at the Whisky a Go Go in LA – an absolutely iconic venue.

The really cool thing about this gig is I am going to have a screen at my feet where I can read people’s comments in real time. So, it’s a bit like it’s a bit like the front row heckling me! I will be able to hear what they are saying, and I’ll be able to interact with people who are watching the show so that would be really cool. Yes, it’s Saturday November 7 and anyone can come, its ten bucks and I think that’s gonna be a blast!

House of Coco

I have missed live gigs so much. I think we are all missing them.

KT Tunstall

It’s just that I think people perhaps don’t have are starting to understand how important those nights are. When you have had a hard week. What is it that actually gets you re energised is going to see an amazing gig going and having a great night out with your friends feeling it feeling lifted up by these experiences? We can’t lose these venues because that’s where you go to get healed after a hard week.

House of Coco

Absolutely! What was the best gig you have ever played? And what is the best gig you have ever been to?

KT Tunstall

The best gig I ever played is really difficult because I have had so many ridiculous experiences from playing the Nobel Peace Prize to playing giant stadiums to 65,000 people at Live Earth. One of the most amazing gigs that I remember was that the Eden Project in Cornwall, and that was outdoors. There were 6000 geo domes that were lighting up in time to your music behind you. And there’s just a connection to the earth there because of the nature of what that place is. It was an incredibly special evening playing the Eden Project. I loved that.

My favourite gig was probably the Pixies. I went to see the Pixies do a little tour at Brixton Academy and it was just a masterclass in what is possible with three to four minutes songs on one album, it was blistering and mind expanding. I came out of that gig feeling schooled, but also feeling like there was much more possible. Amazing!

KT’s single ‘Hymn to Her’ a cover of The Pretenders track is out today. Taken from the upcoming album ‘Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls’.

Her live streaming gig at Whisky A Go Go takes place Saturday 7th November.

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