KT Tunstall Brings Heart and Soul to the Mind on NUT

Photos by Cortney Armitage

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 21 – Fall 2022

“I feel there are two immediate, recognizable pillars of my style. I have this troubadour, acoustic guitar-driven emotional side. Then there’s definitely a rocker side of me with sharper teeth.”

Overnight sensation turned seasoned artist KT Tunstall has come a long way from her first album — 2004’s Eye to the Telescope — but also remains a fundamentally similar artist. Since then, Tunstall released several more studio albums before commencing on a seven-year undertaking: an album trilogy. This journey started with 2016’s KIN, a “soul” album, which inspired KT to write two more albums about the body and the mind. 2018’s WAX represented the “body,” and the trilogy concludes with NUT, focusing on the “mind,” which Tunstall says is “the final part of a trilogy of records that has spanned probably the most extreme and profound period of change in my life.” The album cover, decorated with a gorgeously eye-catching cover, portrays the mind as a garden to be tended. 

In the press release announcing the new album, Tunstall said of the album: “I made NUT completely differently from any other record I have ever made. But I wanted to do things differently. The reason I pursued music was because I had to avoid a repetitive job. I need to feel a constant sense of exploration in life. And I’ve realized you can absolutely fall into repetition even in this job. And so for NUT, I was like, ‘Come on, let’s do what we said we were going to do. Let’s push into something new.’ What’s most important is that I made an exciting, meaningful record that I love, and had fun while I was doing it.”

In her interview, Tunstall reflects on her first album and first mega-hits, growing up in Scotland, and the making of NUT.

Your hit song “Suddenly I See” just turned 17 — wow! Reflecting back on when that song came out, how have you changed as an artist?
Gosh, that’s such a huge question! It’s nearly 20 years of life and career. I’ve shifted my relationship to my work in a very fundamental way since I started. It used to come first before anything and anyone, including my own health, for a long time. I came to the realization that living that way wasn’t going to be a good recipe for my own happiness long term. So, I guess I’ve had to stop my artistic side becoming an absolute tyrant! And these days, I’m just so excited by making things. In terms of my artistic standards, I feel I’ve stayed pretty constant which I’m proud of.

Two of the songs from your 2004 album Eye to the Telescope — “Suddenly I See” and “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” were smash hits that are still universally known. If you could pick three more songs that you think everyone should have on their KT Tunstall Essentials playlist, what would they be?
Ooo, that’s a great question! Let’s think. I’m going to go for “Feel It All” from Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon, “The River” from WAX, and “Out Of Touch” from the new album NUT. But also “The Healer.” Always “The Healer”!!

You were born in Edinburgh, Scotland, which may be new information to some of our readers. What genres of music did you listen to most growing up in Edinburgh?
I didn’t listen to a lot of music growing up; my parents didn’t play music, really. I got into playing instruments at a very young age and then started getting mixtapes from friends when I was in my later teens. My brother did love Bon Jovi, though, so I would say they are vicariously my first true music love!!

Your newest album, NUT, is the conclusion to a trilogy of albums exploring the body, soul, and mind. How did you decide to write a trilogy of albums?
I made KIN in 2016 after being pretty sure I was going to take a long hiatus away from making albums, but this album had other ideas. It was such a ‘soul’ record, a rebirth from a metaphorical life car crash that saw me sell everything I owned and move to California. Then it just came to me; do three. One for each of the three aspects of ourselves. Soul, Body and Mind. I wasn’t loving how quickly albums disappeared in the new music landscape, and it appealed to me to do a larger and even more meaningful project.

Did you ever encounter difficulties sticking to the theme of each album?
No, it honestly made the writing much clearer and easier having themes to stick to. I really loved it. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about writing the next one if it doesn’t have a concept! 

Do you have a favorite song or phrase from NUT?
My favorite songs are “Canyons” for its confidence and power and “Synapse” for its honesty and great rhythm. I also really love the lines from “Three” that describe the making of the whole trilogy: “Here I am at the beginning / Here I stand at the end / As electricity dances / Take chances / These days there’s always three responses / My Mind, my Heart, my Soul”

The final song on NUT, “Brain in a Jar,” is labeled as a hidden track. Is there a story behind that?
Martin [Terefe], the producer, left the room, and I just went to his amazing old piano, and this whole film scene came to me of my brain being preserved in a jar and hooked up somehow, so I could still see and communicate, and I imagined my friends and family coming to visit me. The music just plopped out! And ended where it ended! 

What can we as fans expect next? Are you hitting the road, getting in the studio, or taking some well-deserved time off after the release of your wonderful new album?
Hmmm! Well, I’m currently very busy working on three different musical theatre projects! I’m loving writing for musicals; it feels very natural and, at the same time, is a huge learning curve for me. I also have an album of original duets with the amazing Suzi Quatro coming out next year, so there’s a lot going on. I’m sure I’ll manage a lie down by a pool at some point!   

If you could say anything to your 2004 self, what would it be?
You don’t need to please everyone. Don’t worry if you piss a few people off. Pick your battles and stand by your gut. And keep a close eye on how the money is being spent! 

NUT track listing

  1. “Out Of Touch”
  2. “I Am The Pilot”
  3. “Three”
  4. “Private Eyes”
  5. “Canyons”
  6. “Synapse”
  7. “Demigod”
  8. “All The Time”
  9. “Brain In A Jar” (hidden track)