KT Tunstall on Haruki Murakami, Uummannaq and change
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
KT Tunstall on stage at The Assembly,
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on 28 Feb. 2011
"I'd never read a book like that before. It's the world of Murakami and you can enter it and get it and love being in it. And then you realize that there's this worldwide club of people who love going into it and adore his work--it's like reading your own dream," the Scottish singer-songwriter said during an interview for The Daily Yomiuri backstage before a show in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, earlier this year.
Dreams seem to have featured prominently for the 36-year-old recently, with the title of her latest album, Tiger Suit, inspired by a childhood memory.
"[It's] a recurring dream, where I'm a kid and I go out and there's a tiger in the garden and I'm petting it, and it doesn't mind. It's not until I'm in the house later that I see it through the window and I'm really, really fearful of it, so [the dream's] very much a message of going for it and worrying about it later, which I like," she said.
Tiger Suit is Tunstall's fourth studio album since her 2004 debut, Eye To The Telescope, spawned the hit single, "Suddenly I See," a tune that earned Tunstall global recognition when it was played over the opening titles of the Oscar-nominated movie The Devil Wears Prada. "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" was an even bigger hit in the United States after American Idol contestant Katherine McPhee performed the song in the finale of the show's fifth season. A stripped-down collection of songs, Acoustic Extravaganza (the clue's in the title), came out a year later, closely followed by Drastic Fantastic in 2007.
The seeds of Tiger Suit were sown after Tunstall visited Uummannaq, a village in Greenland, during an expedition she joined in 2008 that was organized by Cape Farewell, a charitable organization that promotes cultural responses to climate change.
"It was a really, really profound trip and it was the beginning of taking time out to make this record. It was hugely challenging, partly because I knew that I had a lot of work ahead of me to get to where I wanted to be and, secondly, because I was on the boat with about 20 other really, really great artists: Jarvis Cocker, Martha Wainwright, Feist and Ryuichi Sakamoto--who was incredible.
"[Sakamoto] absolutely blew everybody away with a recording of melting glacial water, and explained that he thought it was the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard, but the saddest as well, because we shouldn't be able to hear it. It was melt water that shouldn't be melting," she said, adding that the trip proved to be very inspiring.
"It was really enlightening. I came back from it having progressed to somewhere new, with a new song under my belt, which I wrote on the boat, beating a life preserver for the beat--'Uummannaq [Song]'--possibly my favorite place I've ever been."
As for a favorite track on Tiger Suit, Tunstall gave an unequivocal reply.
"'Difficulty.' Usually I'm a slave to the style a song is born in, and I'll feel intrinsically linked to that and not be able to change it. On that one, we decided to rip it apart and start again, and that was the song that took me into a relationship with electronica that I understood for the first time. I felt electronica is not going to jeopardize the intimacy of my sound. It could easily bolster it and actually make it more emotional, which was a new realization," she explained, recalling that her producer had been a major influence.
"When I got together with Jim Abbiss, he asked for a commitment and said: 'If you're going to change your sound, you need to stick to it. We can't do this and then go back, or you'll end up with half a cruddy album.' So, at that point, I absolutely made a pact: 'Yes, let's do something different, let's be experimental, let's introduce electronica and synthesizers, drum machines, whatever.' And that was really liberating, 'cause at that point I stopped caring and we just did anything we wanted, and that was great."
Tunstall's eye for change is not confined to music. An avid Tweeter, her thoughts are usually restricted to 140 characters, though Tunstall does harbor deeper literary aspirations.
"I've always kept journals, for years and years and years, since I was a teenager. And it's very much train of thought, rather than what I did today. I've started some cartoon sketches and I'm a big fan of graphic novels--I'm certainly not a connoisseur, but there's a few that I've loved--and I would love to put something together. Definitely, short stories appeal a lot, but I'm quite intimidated by it. I think that the art of writing is a very great one, and an acquired skill, and I wouldn't want to put out something crap," she said with a laugh.
KT Tunstall will play at Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, (06) 6281-8181, at 7 p.m. on Aug. 29; Club Quattro in Nagoya, (052) 264-8211, at 7 p.m. on Aug. 30 and O-East in Shibuya, Tokyo, (03) 5458-4681, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1. For more information, visit http://smash-jpn.com.
(Aug. 19, 2011)