The last three years have changed me as an artist," says KT Tunstall. "My bar has been raised. I've realized what's possible through making an album, touring behind it with a band, seeing how that album can turn into something else on stage, and how we can actually make it better."
It's hard to imagine how the Scottish-born singer-songwriter, known to her family as Kate, could do any better. Within six months of its February 2006 re-release, Eye to the Telescope, Tunstall's gritty, soulful debut, was certified gold in the U.S., and her music - a provocative sonic mesh of heartfelt pop, rootsy electric blues, and left-field alt-folk - became omnipresent all over radio, television, movies, and the Internet. Thanks to the multi-media exposure of its three singles (the Grammy-Award nominated "Black Horse the Cherry Tree," "Suddenly I See," and "Other Side of the World") Eye is now certified platinum in the U.S. and quintuple platinum in the U.K., with worldwide sales exceeding 3.5 million copies.
With that kind of success, what does this 31-year-old, who has been hailed as "a folk-rock goddess" by Rolling Stone, do next? "You can't allow success to become an albatross," she says. "It's easy to be too frightened to move on, but you can't just go out and slavishly recreate what people liked."
Tunstall knows a lot about peculiar journeys. She grew up in the university town of St. Andrews on Scotland's east coast, the daughter of a grammar school teacher and a physicist. The family would often take off to go camping or hill walking, and consequently young Kate was instilled with a deep-rooted attachment to landscape and travel. There wasn't much music in the Tunstall household; her younger brother is deaf and having the stereo or TV on made it difficult for him to join in conversations. Tunstall thinks that the lack of music in her childhood "stopped me being cornered by anything. If your parents only listen to jazz or folk or something, you're like one of those trees you see in botanic gardens that have wire frames on them - you grow into that shape. But I didn't have influences to embrace or kick against."
By age 16, Tunstall had fallen in with a group of local musicians and spent the next few years learning about folk music, living in cottages, scraping a living, and keeping warm by strumming her acoustic guitar extra-vigorously. "It was a very formative time for me," she says. "Eyes and heart wide open. I learnt about being a musician." Tunstall's musical journey eventually took her to Edinburgh, where she hosted her own acoustic nights, dubbed Acoustic Extravaganza (from which she took the title of her 2006 CD/DVD KT Tunstall's Acoustic Extravaganza). Finally, after deciding that opportunities for a career in music were passing her by, she moved to London.
KT released her follow-up, entitled Drastic Fantastic, on Virgin Records September 18th, 2007. It showcases the 31-year-old's growth as both a songwriter and musician on songs like the thumping "Hold On," the rollicking "Saving My Face," the jazz-inflected "Someday Soon," and the frisky pop gem "I Don't Want You Now." "I wanted to be braver," Tunstall says of the album. "I wanted to push the musicality. You can't let previous success scare you away from moving on."