The Scotsman Sessions #100: KT Tunstall

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, from her home in Los Angeles, Edinburgh-born, Fife-raised singer KT Tunstall performs her new song, Anything At All

The Scotsman Sessions reaches its landmark 100th edition in style with some engaging, enthusiastic and encouraging words from KT Tunstall, who performs a brand new song, Anything At All, from her brand new home in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles.

Although the track wasn’t written in response to the Covid pandemic, its yearning to reach out feels very much of the moment.

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“I certainly have been through some really revealing periods of reflection during this time,” says the Edinburgh-born, Fife-raised singer. “It’s made me think about not being in proximity with people that I love but also about how much communication there is just being in the same room as someone and how much harder you have to work in conveying your feelings when you’ve only got a telephone or a camera on a computer.”

KT Tunstall performs the 100th Scotsman Session from her home in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

Nevertheless, Tunstall has embraced both the challenges and opportunities for musicians during this enforced live hiatus. The pandemic wiped out what was set to be her busiest touring year since making a splash with her 2005 debut album, Eye to the Telescope. Support tours with Hall & Oates, Squeeze, Rick Astley and her own headline shows tumbled but, by her own admission, she is relishing the break and the chance to live a simpler life, walking her rescue miniature pinscher Mini (“she’s like a little baby Yoda”) around her new hood.

“Topanga is this bubble from the rest of LA,” she says. “It’s still old wooden gates hanging off hinges and people building their own houses and some dude dressed like a wizard with a staff and a robe.”

Since moving in earlier this year, Tunstall has built a studio in her basement and, like many artists during lockdown, has invited her fans virtually into her home for house concerts and “KT raves”.

“I play remixes and we all dance together,” she says. “We’re so limited with what we can do at the moment but I’m a big believer that limitation breeds creativity, and all my fans are so creative - they’re all turning their rooms into nightclubs and making their own outfits.”

Inspired by self-sufficient peers such as Amanda Palmer, Tunstall has turned to the membership platform Patreon, where “patrons” subscribe directly to the artist for bespoke content, including on “KTreon” the opportunity to send and receive personal letters via Tunstall’s Topanga PO box.

“For a long time I’ve really loved the idea of having a more old school fanclub,” she says. “I really believe if streaming disappeared overnight, musicians would be a lot less well known and they’d be a lot better off. You’d just have a more localised, old school connection with people who like what you do and they’ll pay for it.

“Sharing who you are is extremely powerful for other people’s wellbeing. As a songwriter I regularly talk about actually being able to turn s*** into gold – you take a horrendous situation in your life and you literally make money from it because you write a song about it.

“And that got me thinking everyone’s got something to offer, so we started doing tutorials - we’ve had a samba tutorial, we’re doing a collage class together, another girl is teaching us how to knit. It’s turning into this really cool community hub where people from Dunfermline are making friends with people from Sao Paolo.”

Meanwhile, Tunstall is proceeding with plans to complete her “mind, body and soul” trilogy of albums – soul and body represented respectfully by 2016’s KINand 2018’s WAX. She’s working remotely with ex-Razorlight man Andy Burrows, Sneaker Pimps’ Liam Howe and her longstanding collaborator Martin Terefe, who co-wrote the never more appropriately titled The Other Side of the World.

This marks Tunstall’s first foray into recording since suffering sensorineural sudden hearing loss in her left ear in 2018. “The specialist says it’s the bottom of the sea in terms of ear science, they just have no idea. I’m sure it was a bit of nervous system breakdown from working really hard and not taking enough time out.”

Tunstall’s younger brother is profoundly deaf so she grew up with some lip-reading skills, now somewhat curtailed by face covering requirements. “It’s definitely made being a homebody more attractive because it’s a nightmare if you’re in a loud social environment,” she says. “Thankfully I was already in fairly speedy retreat from being social at all! I’ve loved lockdown because it’s so quiet.”

Happily, Tunstall reports that her hearing impairment hasn’t affected her playing – that much is clear from her brilliant Scotsman Sessions performance – and, as with her attitude to the pandemic, she is determined to adopt a can-do outlook.

“I just made a decision to flip it the bird and I’m not going to stop,” she says. “The only really annoying thing, apart from being half-deaf, is I’ve still got tinnitus in that ear. And you don’t have locational hearing anymore so I have no idea where my phone is ever….”

For more on KT Tunstall’s KTreon project, see https://www.patreon.com/KTTunstall

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