Interview with singer/songwriter KT Tunstall

Mar 19, 2008 at 3:00 a.m. ET

Anyone who watched Katherine McPhee's meteoric rise through American Idol's ranks last season knows the girl showed off her musical skills by performing KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree."

K T Tunstall - singer/songwriter


Tunstall herself did not mind one bit -- especially as it resulted in increased record sales for her debut "Eye to the Telescope." "Black Horse" received a Grammy nomination -- and when Tunstall's sales were counted, she had sold over 3.5 million records worldwide.The singer-songwriter sat down with SheKnows exclusively to answer some questions about the "American Idol" phenomenon, her latest record, "Drastic Fantastic" -- and how her influences are wide in range, culled from a solo exploration of music borne of a house with parents without any musical desires.

Live from the UK! KT chats with SheKnows'NOISY FROM DAY ONE'

SK: We'd love to know about your inspirations growing up. I hear so many influences in your music. Do your tastes run the gamut? KT Tunstall: My folks didn't really listen to music, so my own collection started pretty late, around fifteen. I heard The Stone Roses, James Brown's music, and "Loser" by Beck, and then got into 'Blue' by Joni Mitchell and 'Bone Machine' by Tom Waits. Hearing Ella Fitzgerald for the first time was a huge influence on my singing. The Flaming Lips, Bowie, The White Stripes and PJ Harvey are among my favorites. I have to admit that if push came to shove, I'd have to take the Stones over the Beatles. SK: What drew you to pick up an instrument in the first place?

KTT: I was into playing anything that made a noise from day one, my parents tell me. I persuaded them to get me a piano at six, a flute at 11, and a guitar at 16. I played at home all the time.


SK: As you hit your teenage years, did you know that this was what you would be doing for the rest of your life? KTT: I didn't know it, but I definitely hoped it and intended to pursue it. I'd met some local musicians (now known as The Fence Collective) in my hometown when I was 16, and joined their band. So I had a taste of the life. I'd also joined a little local theatre group by the age of eight, and knew that performing was in my blood. A singer with explosive passion SK: After the success of the last record, in your head were there any trepidations heading into the studio to record "Drastic Fantastic" or did you actually feel free to do whatever you wanted? KTT: Both, really. I was very afraid I would somehow stray into repeating myself and wanted to do something different. Creatively, I was free to go where I wanted with it. There was quite a lot of time pressures which didn't help, but you can't complain about being successful! (laughs)


SK: I read that Katherine McPhee's success on ‘American Idol' provided you an interesting quandary. As she sang your instant classic "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," KT Tunstall was being heard -- yet your notes were the ones that aided her rise. What would be your thoughts be if one of "Drastic Fantastic's" songs ended up on this season's "Idol?" KTT: TV plays an enormous part in getting new music out into new worlds of ears these days. I would have been a fool to say no. People turn up at gigs in the States saying "I heard your song on ‘American Idol' and bought a ticket to your gig." That's all I need to hear to be convinced. SK: What do you make of the difference between the music scene in Britain and America, and how has each contributed to your development as an artist? KTT: My favorite artists of the last 50 years are a total transatlantic mix, but I suppose the big difference is that the US is the home of country and blues and has much stronger roots in those scenes.KT: Joan Jett meets Kiss The UK has a hugely rich indie band scene and will always produce amazing, raw, anarchic artists. But of course you can find everything anywhere now. I think due to my travels in America as a teenager with my guitar, I picked up some significant influences that you can still hear. SK: I also have to ask about the album cover for "Drastic Fantastic." It is so you, but it looks to me like there's a Kiss-meets-Joan Jett feeling. Am I way off?

KTT: No, you're on! It's tongue in cheek, embracing the theatrical side of gigs, and it wasn't actually intended to be the cover shot. I used it for a tour poster and the fans loved it, so I went with it. I want my album covers to be memorable, and I feel it does that while having a bit of fun. People have asked, "Why are you pretending to be Suzi Quatro?" And I'm like, "What do mean, why?! She rules!" I wanted it to look like a comic book cover. SK: Is there a performer in any genre of pop culture that you would like to work with? KTT: I'd love to write a song with The Flaming Lips. That would rule my roost and tickle me pink!