KT Tunstall and the Fear of Vulnerability

Scotland-born KT Tunstall had her two most recognizable hits right out of the gate with the singles “Suddenly I See” and “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” from her 2004 debut album, “Eye to the Telescope.” And while those hits have become the signature songs in her catalog, perhaps the most important work she has done would come eight years later with the release of 2013’s “Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon.”

Written during one of the bleakest periods of her life, the album has two distinct halves, as illustrated by the dual title. The opening half of the album deals with themes of mortality, brought on by the 2012 death of her father. The second half becomes more self-reflective in the wake of her divorce that same year. Dealing with two life-shaking events at essentially the same time opened Tunstall up creatively, and “Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon” became her best-reviewed album to date as a result.

“That’s something that people haven’t necessarily spotted,” she said in a phone interview. “I think that what was really nice (about the album’s reception) was it was vindication of a theory that I’d had for some time. I’d responded to the massive success of that first album by becoming more protective of myself. When you suddenly have the ears and eyes of 5 million people, that’s a weird thing to happen to you. So you put this sort of armor around yourself and close up.

“Now I can look at the following albums with some hindsight. And while they are still personal to me, the meanings of songs became more hidden over time because I didn’t want to be that vulnerable. The meanings of the songs were definitely more disguised. Then, with the advent of those two moments in my life, I really didn’t have a choice but to be vulnerable — or else it’s all just bullshit. Because those things will make you vulnerable.”

The experience of going through those events also helped transform Tunstall, both personally and professionally. She sold virtually all of her possessions, gave up her home in Britain and moved to Los Angeles where she has built a successful side career writing songs for movie soundtracks. That work is something she says is an enjoyable change of pace because she is given a specific set of parameters to work from for each film, as opposed to the “open range of emotion” that she starts from with her own material. Finding herself where she is in her life now, Tunstall can not say that she is where she expected to be when “Eye to the Telescope” was released, but the soon-to-be 41-year-old is pleased with where life has taken her.

“Turning 40 was just a very joyful time for me,” she said. “I was just so happy that I had made these changes in my life. I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been. I love this time of life.

And while “Telescope” may have given Tunstall her biggest hits, and she personally loves albums like 2010’s “Tiger Suit,” she will always have a special connection with “Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon.”

“I really enjoyed making that record,” she said. “Because even though it came from those dark times, it doesn’t feel like it’s a dark album. It is a cathartic album. It was such a great lesson to see how people responded to it. It was like, ‘Yeah, people care what I think and feel, not what I think or feel about someone else.’ It made me see very clearly that I must never be afraid of vulnerability.” CV

article originally ran in Cityview June 15, 2016