Kate Victoria "KT" Tunstall (born 23 June 1975) is a Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist. She broke into the public eye with a 2004 live solo performance of her song "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" on Later... with Jools Holland. She has enjoyed commercial and critical success since, picking up three nominations before winning a BRIT Award, and a Grammy Award nomination. She is also the recipient of an Ivor Novello Award.
She has released five albums internationally: Eye to the Telescope (2004), KT Tunstall's Acoustic Extravaganza (2006), Drastic Fantastic (2007), Tiger Suit (2010) and Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon (2013). She has also appeared in an episode (S01E04) of the comedy series This is Jinsy on Sky Atlantic.
Tunstall has a contralto vocal range.
Kate has a half-Chinese, half-Scottish mother and an Irish father. She was 18 days old when she was adopted by a family in St Andrews, Fife. Kate never met her biological father. Her adoptive father was employed as a physics lecturer at the University of St Andrews, and her adoptive mother was a school teacher. Tunstall's family also includes an older brother named Joe and a younger brother named Daniel. Her parents had no interest in music and owned no records—the only tape her father owned was a comedy recording by mathematician and musical satirist Tom Lehrer.
Tunstall grew up in St Andrews, a town in Fife, attending Lawhead Primary, then Madras College in St. Andrews, and the High School of Dundee but she spent her last year of high school in New England at the Kent School, a selective boarding school in Kent, Connecticut. She spent time busking on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont, and at a commune in rural Vermont. Tunstall studied at Madras College in St Andrews, Kent School in Connecticut, and at Royal Holloway, University of London. She has said: "...My earliest memories are Californian...", attributed to a sabbatical that her father took at UCLA in 1979.
Throughout Tunstall's 20s, she played in indie music bands including Elia Drew and Tomoko. She focused on songwriting, as well as performing with members of the fledgling Fence Collective. KT Tunstall had lived with Gordon Anderson, (The Beta Band, and The Aliens), whom the song "Funnyman", on the album Drastic Fantastic, is about. She toured with the Klezmer band Oi Va Voi, and stayed with them while they were making their album, Laughter Through Tears.
British label Relentless Records heard about Tunstall through their scouts and quickly put forward an independent offer. However, Tunstall had decided to sign with a US major, and initially passed up the offer. That deal did not work out and so she eventually decided to go with Relentless.
Although he recognised the potential in the quality of her voice and songs, at this point Relentless co-founder Shabs Jobanputra's assessment was that she "wasn't ready yet" and so together with her manager, Jobanputra discussed "the process of how we saw her happening and how we would work, why we thought the songs were great, why we thought she was great, and why it could really work if we took enough time." After the signing, a lot of time was spent developing certain songs and honing her live performance before she was ready for release.
Her début album, Eye to the Telescope, was released in late 2004. Tunstall's style of music varies from folk to pop. In Edinburgh and St Andrews, she played in a band called Red Light Stylus, which was regarded as one of the better bands to emerge from the limited Fife scene.
Tunstall's first appearance of note was a solo performance of her blues song "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" on Later... with Jools Holland. The performance was notable as she had only 24 hours to prepare after scheduled performer Nas cancelled. Her performance caught the eye of many viewers, although she had previously performed it on French television only some weeks before, upstaging more established acts such as The Cure, Embrace, and The Futureheads; she then went on to top the post-show poll on the website for that episode.
Shortly after the Later appearance, Eye to the Telescope was re-released and shot up the British charts, eventually peaking at No. 3 (on its first release it had entered at #73); it was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize. It was released in the U.S. on 7 February 2006.
"Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" was one of the most successful singles and most radio-played songs of 2005 in the United Kingdom. On the UK Singles Charts, the single made number twenty-eight on the charts and on the US Billboard Hot 100, charted at number twenty. The next release from the album in the United Kingdom was "Other Side of the World" whilst "Suddenly I See" was released in the United States and used in the opening credits of the film The Devil Wears Prada. Further singles released from the album were "Under the Weather" and "Another Place to Fall" which were also successful.
Tunstall released a new acoustic album in May 2006, KT Tunstall's Acoustic Extravaganza, which was first only available via mail order from her website. The album was re-released in stores worldwide in October 2006.
Tunstall's North American break came when American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee contacted her asking to use "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" as her choice for a Billboard-themed week. At the time, the song was No. 79 on the Billboard charts. Tunstall had not been shy with her opinions regarding shows like Idol saying "The major problem I have is that it's completely controlled... they're told what to say. They're told how to sing." She chose to license the song as she felt that "no one on that show told Katharine McPhee to sing my song because no one knew it". Tunstall's belief was correct—the song was suggested to McPhee by Billboard columnist and author Fred Bronson.
The song immediately jumped to No. 23 on the Billboard charts the week following McPhee's performance. She has later said "My status as a musician in America is pretty much cemented by Katharine McPhee, which is really interesting and funny for me because I've never been polite about how I feel about shows like that."
Tunstall sang with Scottish band Travis on their 2007 album The Boy with No Name, on the track "Under the Moonlight", a song written by Susie Hug (late of Katydids).
Tunstall's second album, Drastic Fantastic, premièred on 3 September 2007 in Scotland, followed a week later on 10 September 2007 with the London release for Britain and 18 September 2007, in the US. In its first week, Drastic Fantastic reached No. 1 on the Scottish Album Charts, No. 3 on the British Charts, and No. 9 in the American Charts. The album's lead single, "Hold On", was released in the UK in August 2007, débuting at No. 34 there before peaking at #21. The song was also very successful in certain European nations peaking at No. 19 in Italy, No. 19 in Norway, No. 26 in Switzerland and No. 39 in Ireland. The album's second single, "Saving My Face", was released in December 2007. The song did not make the UK Top 40 Singles Charts, but however did managed to peak at No. 50 on the UK Singles Charts, managing 3 weeks on the UK Charts. Despite missing the UK Top 40, the song made the Top 40 in Italy, making No. 23 and in Switzerland peaking at #93. The album's third single and final worldwide single, "If Only", was released in March 2008, becoming the second single from the album not to make the UK Top 40, it managed No. 45 in audition.
In the United States, "Hold On" was moderately successful, charting at number ninety-five on the US Billboard Pop Chart and number twenty-seven on the US Billboard Adult Top 40. However, on the main Hot 100 charts, it stalled, failing to make impact inside the Top 100, causing it to chart at number one-hundred and four on the US Billboard Hot 100. As for Drastic Fantasic, it became one of her best charting albums to date, charting at number three on the UK Album Charts, topping the Scottish Album Charts and making the top ten of the US Billboard 200 album charts, charting at number nine. Further singles released from Drastic Fantasic were "Saving My Face" and "If Only" which were moderately successful, charting at number fifty and forty-five on the UK Singles Charts respectively.
Tunstall commented that the photograph for the album cover was influenced by the rock star Suzi Quatro.
On 5 October 2007, the U.S. discount department store chain Target, in association with NBC, released a special KT Tunstall Christmas EP on CD. Sounds of the Season: The KT Tunstall Holiday Collection contains six exclusive tracks:
On 10 December 2007, it was released in Europe through Relentless Records as a digital download only, under the title Have Yourself A Very KT Christmas.
In 2008, KT Tunstall recorded a song for the album Songs for Survival, in support of the indigenous rights organisation Survival International. In a video for Survival International, she speaks of music as being a force for good, and about what she has learned about tribal people on this project. She also discusses various issues concerning our culture of consumption and greed, our relation to the earth and the importance of indigenous rights in the world today.
Tunstall also worked with Suzanne Vega on her 2007 album Beauty & Crime, singing backup on songs "Zephyr and I" and "Frank and Ava". It was revealed in the booklet by Vega that the two had never met during the process of making the album.
On 11 February 2010, the Daily Record reported that Tunstall had recorded her new album in Berlin's Hansa Studios. Located near the former site of the Berlin Wall, the studio was used to make legendary albums including David Bowie's "Heroes" and U2's Achtung Baby. Tunstall said, "I had an amazing three weeks recording in Hansa in Berlin in January and am finishing it all off in London." The album, titled Tiger Suit, was released in the United Kingdom on 27 September 2010 and in the United States on 5 October 2010.
She stated down the line from a promo stop in Minneapolis that she doesn't write on tour, "so it was essential that I took time out" from her previous album Drastic Fantastic. She had started her time off by travelling through the Arctic, South America and India, so she had locked into a very primal, indigenous spirit by the time it came to recording.
Tunstall said that the album's title is inspired by a recurring dream she had, before discovering that 2010 is the Chinese Year of the Tiger. The dream is about her, seeing a tiger in her garden and goes outside to stroke it. She returns indoors and is seized by the fear that she could have been killed. Over the years, it has occurred to her that the reason the tiger responds so passively is that she herself is disguised as a tiger, wearing a tiger suit. She said that while writing and recording the album, she found a new sound she called "Nature techno", which mixes organic instrumentation with electronic and dance textures, much like Björk has been doing since 1993. At a media showcase in London, KT Tunstall offered an unusual description of the songs from her forthcoming third album: "Like Eddie Cochran working with Leftfield".
The album's first single was "Fade Like a Shadow" in the United States and "(Still a) Weirdo" in the United Kingdom. These lead singles were released before the album.
On 20 March 2013, KT announced on her Facebook page that her fifth album would be titled Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon. Considered as her best by most critics, it is her most melancholic album to date. The title is inspired by the two batches of songs from the album: Invisible Empire, recorded on April 2012, is the melancholic half that deals with her father's death and the theme of mortality, while the Crescent Moon half, recorded in November 2012, is full of songs that are more ethereal. These 13 songs formed an album that Tunstall qualified as "from the heart," inspired by her divorce with Luke Bullen and her father's passing away.
Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon premiered in the United Kingdom on 10 June 2013, while it was released In Germany and Australia on 7 June, and in Japan and Canada on 11 June. However, the release date was pushed to 6 August 2013 in the United States. Meanwhile, the lead single, Feel It All, was released world wide on 10 June, and its music video on 29 April.
In its first week, the album entered the UK charts at number 14 and it has known a modest commercial performer in Europe: it peaked at 52 in Belgium, 84 in Netherlands, 240 in France, 7 in Scotland, and 56 in Switzerland. On the other hand, the album received the best reviews and ratings Tunstall has ever received.
Tunstall is known for her live performances, in which she combines use of an Akai E2 Headrush loop pedal, which she affectionately calls "Wee Bastard", with a full four-piece backing band (Luke Bullen on drums, Arnulf Lindner on bass, Sam Lewis on lead guitar and Kenny Dickenson on keyboards, trumpet, percussion and various other instruments), as well as her two backup singers (Cat Sforza and Ami Richardson)
Similar to her initial début on music show Later... with Jools Holland, Tunstall first débuted in the United States performing on various talk shows, although it was not until The Ellen DeGeneres Show that she was interviewed. Since her talk show days, she has performed at numerous large concerts such as the Hogmanay Edinburgh Concert in 2005, the American leg of Live Earth in 2007, and the Nobel Peace Prize Concert also in 2007. Tunstall said prior to the Hogmanay performance that "This is the gig of a lifetime... This Hogmanay party is probably the best-known and best-loved in the world, and I've been here a few times over the years dreaming of being the one entertaining the crowds. Until we're on that stage I won't believe we're allowed on it."
In Tunstall's breakthrough year, 2005, she received a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize, which eventually went to Antony and the Johnsons; and was awarded Best Track for her composition and performance of "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" by Q magazine.
In January the following year, 2006, she received three BRIT nominations – British Live Act, British Breakthrough Act, and British Female Solo Artist – eventually gaining the award for British Female Solo Artist, remarking that she wished to share it with fellow nominee Kate Bush. Later the same month she was given a European Border Breakers Award, which recognises the top-selling European Union artists outside their home country. Also, in 2006 she won the Ivor Novello Best Song Musically and Lyrically for "Suddenly I See", along with Scottish Style Awards "Most Stylish Band or Musician".
She gained more nominations in 2007 and 2008: a 2007 Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" (eventually going to Christina Aguilera for "Ain't No Other Man"), and another BRIT nomination for British Female Solo Artist – the same accolade she had won in 2006.
Although her first name is Kate, she chooses to go by KT as her first name, saying "[Kate] just makes me think of a buxom lass baking bread for her man working in the fields. I have no problem with that, but it's just not really how I pictured being a rock star." Also, Tunstall spells her first name KT (as opposed to Katie) to differentiate herself from fellow singer Katie Melua.
In 2003 Tunstall began dating Luke Bullen, the drummer in her band. On Christmas Day, 2007, Bullen proposed to her at her parents' home in St Andrews, Scotland, and the couple were married on 6 September 2008 at the Flodigarry Country House Hotel on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. They divorced in May 2013, after separating the year before.
Tunstall sparked some controversy in 2005 when she publicly criticised singer/songwriter Dido, stating that the artist "can't fucking sing" after several fans compared the two musically. Tunstall later apologised, stating that she did not want to be involved in a public feud. Later, she denied rumours or assumptions concerning her sexual orientation and said the rainbow-patterned braces on her début record cover were not intended as a statement of identity or politics as she was unaware of the symbolism at the time.
In April 2007, Tunstall underwent surgery to correct an undersized kidney, a problem caused by a childhood infection.
In 2007 Tunstall gave her backing to climate change campaign Global Cool and joined the Disko Bay Cape Farewell expedition to the West Coast of Greenland in September 2008. Cape Farewell is a British based arts organisation that brings artists, scientists and communicators together to instigate a cultural response to climate change.
In 2010, Tunstall publicly disowned David Orr, the husband of her biological mother Carol Ann Orr, who gave her up for adoption just days after she was born, because of Orr's decision to run as a British National Party candidate in the general election for Livingston.
In August 2012 she pulled out of a festival appearance following the sudden death of her father.
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Image from Discogs