"Suddenly I See" made the Scottish singer a household name, but this vagabond chanteuse never needed pop stardom
A few years ago, KT Tunstall was ubiquitous — on radio, on tour and on iPods. Her song “Suddenly I See,” played over the opening scene of the movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” became a “girl power” anthem. There were more hits — “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Other Side of the World” — and nonstop concert dates. Then she vanished. Her record label told her, politely, to take a break and “get lost,” which is exactly what she did.
Now, after roaming the world with her husband, drummer Luke Bullen, and focusing on her songwriting, she’s back — with a new album, “Tiger Suit,” and a wry perspective on her sudden fame. Tunstall charms “Quick Hits” with three new songs and talks to Mirissa Neff about staying “unglam” and authentic in the crazy world of pop.
This song, “Fade Like a Shadow,” is “an exorcism of a bad relationship,” KT Tunstall told us. She said that with a smirk and followed it with a throaty laugh. She’s an easy one to like. You can imagine sharing a single malt whiskey with her at one of the old pubs in Scotland where she learned her craft.
Just watch out, as she warns in the song, for that seducer with “snake hips swinging.” Could be dangerous.
This is the single from her new “Tiger Suit” album and you can see why. It’s driving, catchy, radio-friendly. And Tunstall sings and plays it like she means it, especially in this acoustic version she did for us.
Imagine if first lady Michelle Obama ran off with Jay-Z on the eve of her husband’s reelection. Preposterous. Yet, back in the ’70s, the young, attractive wife of Canada’s suave prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, did disappear on his reelection night and turned up dancing at Studio 54 in New York. Rumors spread of escapades with the Rolling Stones.
It’s the kind of story — “an act of female rebellion” — that caught KT Tunstall’s imagination, and the result is this quirky, rocking ballad about the adventures of the free-spirited Margaret Trudeau.
Here’s KT Tunstall onstage at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco during her current U.S. tour. This is KT in full “tiger suit” — the term she uses to describe the “armor” of confidence and swagger she puts on to perform. It’s also the title of her new album.
Like her heroes, Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith, the Scottish singer likes to rock the house with a song that has something to say. “Uummannaq” is about the Arctic in a time of global warming “as the temperature rises all around/To the sound of a ticking bomb.”
For nearly a decade, KT Tunstall was a scruffy busker, singing on the streets and on the pub circuit in England and Scotland. And then, there was that moment, a fluke really, when the rapper Nas dropped out of a London TV appearance and Tunstall was his last-minute replacement. Her 2004 television debut on the BBC’s “Later … with Jools Holland” made her an overnight sensation — a strange (but welcome) feeling for someone who had been slogging away in obscurity.
Tunstall opens up to Sound Tracks “Quick Hits” reporter Mirissa Neff about the rocket ride of success and her own doubts and feelings of vulnerability in this era of hard times.
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Quick Hits, presented in partnership with PBS Arts, showcases the most dynamic sounds from around the globe. Every week, we'll introduce you to a new musician, visit with them in places that inspired their sound, and capture their songs on stage in performances you won't see anyplace else. Produced by The Talbot Players.