Kate Victoria Tunstall (born 23 June 1975), known professionally as KT Tunstall, is a Scottish singer-songwriter and musician. She broke into the public eye with a 2004 live solo performance of her song "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" on Later... with Jools Holland.
Tunstall performing live for KCRW in 2016.
|Birth name||Kate Victoria Tunstall|
|Born||23 June 1975|
Born in Edinburgh to a Hong Kong-born exotic dancer, she was adopted by David and Rosemary Tunstall of St Andrews. At the age of four she started playing piano; later she learned to play other musical instruments. She attended the Lawhead Primary and Madras College in St. Andrews, High School of Dundee and Kent School in Kent, Connecticut in the United States. She earned her BA in Drama & Music in 1996 from the Royal Holloway, University of London. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by Royal Holloway in 2011.
Her debut album was named Eye to the Telescope - the name was inspired by her childhood experiences at her father's physics laboratory at University of St Andrews. Released in 2004, this album launched her music career. That album inspired her nomination for the Mercury Prize in 2005, BRIT Award for Best British Live Act and BRIT Award for Best Breakthrough Act in 2006, and Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2007. She eventually won BRIT Award for Best British Female Artist and European Border Breakers Award, both in 2006. The single "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" was given the Q Magazine Award for Best Track in 2005, and "Suddenly I See" won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song in 2006. "Suddenly I See" became a popular hit and has been featured in The Devil Wears Prada, Blind Dating, Ugly Betty, Grey's Anatomy, Love, Rosie, Thrillville, and as a campaign song of the US presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton in 2008.
She has released six albums internationally: Eye to the Telescope (2004), Drastic Fantastic (2007), Tiger Suit (2010), Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon (2013), KIN (2016) and WAX (2018). She has also appeared in two episodes of the comedy series This is Jinsy on Sky Atlantic.
Tunstall has written soundtracks for films: "Boy" for The Kid, "Miracle" for Winter's Tale, "We Could Be Kings" for Million Dollar Arm, "Float", "Strange Sight" and "1000 Years" for Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast, "Fit In" for About Ray, and "Bad Moms (Suite)", "Enough is Enough (Suite)", and "Get Your Tits Up (Suite)" for Bad Moms.
Tunstall was born to a half-Chinese, half-Scottish mother, Carol Ann, who was from Hong Kong, and an Irish father. Her parents met while her mother was working as a dancer in Penthouse bar in Edinburgh, where her father was a bartender. She never met her biological father. She was born at Edinburgh's Western General Hospital, but at 18 days old her mother placed her for adoption to a family in St Andrews, Fife, Scotland. Her adoptive father, David Tunstall, was employed as a physics lecturer at the University of St Andrews, and her adoptive mother, Rosemary Tunstall, was a primary school teacher. Tunstall's adoptive family also includes an older brother named Joe and a younger brother named Daniel. The family had no interest in music and owned no records; the only tape her father owned was a comedy recording by mathematician and musical satirist Tom Lehrer. This was largely because Daniel is deaf and they want to avoid anything that could interfere with his hearing aid. She has said: "My earliest memories are Californian", attributed to a sabbatical that her father took at UCLA in 1979. In spite of living in an academic family, she was musically oriented. Her adoptive parents supported her, and she recollected that she asked for a piano when she was four.
Tunstall grew up in St Andrews, Fife, attending Lawhead Primary, then Madras College in St. Andrews and the High School of Dundee, but she spent her last year of high school in the United States at the Kent School, a selective boarding school in Kent, Connecticut. She spent time busking on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont, and at a commune in rural Vermont. Tunstall studied at Royal Holloway, University of London. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama & Music in 1996. Royal Holloway conferred on her an honorary doctorate in science in 2011 for her works on environmental issues as a musician.
Tunstall tracked down her biological mother, Carol Ann, in 1996 and learned that her mother was married to cab driver David Orr. She has been critical of the British National Party. In 2010, she publicly disowned Orr because of his decision to run as a BNP candidate in the general election for Livingston. In 2019, she appeared in Series 9 of Long Lost Family. She learned that her biological father had previously died, but she was united with two half-sisters by her biological father's second marriage.
Throughout Tunstall's twenties, she played in indie music bands including Elia Drew and Tomoko. She focused on songwriting, as well as performing with members of the fledgling Fence Collective. Tunstall had lived with Gordon Anderson, (The Beta Band, and The Aliens), whom the song "Funnyman", on the album Drastic Fantastic, is about. She toured with the klezmer band Oi Va Voi, and stayed with them while they were making their album, Laughter Through Tears.
British label Relentless Records put forward an independent offer. However, Tunstall had decided to sign with a US major, and initially passed up the offer. But when that deal did not work out, she decided to go with Relentless. Although Relentless co-founder Shabs Jobanputra recognised the potential in the quality of Tunstall's voice and songs in the early 2000s, his assessment then was that she "wasn't ready yet" and so together with Tunstall's manager, Jobanputra discussed "the process of how we saw her happening and how we would work, why we thought the songs were great, why we thought she was great, and why it could really work if we took enough time."
2004–2007: Eye to the Telescope and Acoustic Extravaganza
Her debut album, Eye to the Telescope, was released in late 2004.
Tunstall's first appearance of note was a solo performance of her folk blues song "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" on Later... with Jools Holland. She had only 24 hours to prepare after scheduled performer Nas cancelled. She performed as a one-person band using a guitar, a tambourine, and a loop pedal.
Shortly after the Later appearance, Eye to the Telescope was re-released and shot up the British charts, eventually peaking at No. 3 (on its first release it had entered at No. 73); it was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize. It was released in the US on 7 February 2006.
"Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" was one of the most successful singles and most radio-played songs of 2005 in the United Kingdom. On the UK Singles Charts, the single made No. 28 on the charts and on the US Billboard Hot 100, charted at No. 20. The next release from the album in the United Kingdom was "Other Side of the World" whilst "Suddenly I See" was released in the United States and used in the opening credits of the film The Devil Wears Prada, as well as in Ugly Betty. Further singles released from the album were "Under the Weather" and "Another Place to Fall" which were also successful.
Tunstall released an acoustic collection album in 15 May 2006, KT Tunstall's Acoustic Extravaganza, which was first only available via mail order from her website. The album was re-released in stores worldwide in October 2006.
Tunstall's North American break came when American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee contacted her asking to use "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" as her choice for a Billboard-themed week. At the time, the song was No. 79 on the Billboard charts. Tunstall had not been shy with her opinions regarding shows like Idol, saying "The major problem I have is that it's completely controlled. They're told what to say. They're told how to sing." She chose to license the song as she felt that "no one on that show told Katharine McPhee to sing my song because no one knew it". Tunstall's belief was correct—the song was suggested to McPhee by Billboard columnist and author Fred Bronson.
2007–2012: Drastic Fantastic and Tiger Suit
Tunstall's second album, Drastic Fantastic, premiered on 3 September 2007 in Scotland, followed a week later on 10 September 2007 with the London release for Britain and 18 September 2007, in the US. In its first week, Drastic Fantastic reached No. 1 on the Scottish Album Charts, No. 3 on the British Charts, and No. 9 in the American Charts. The album's lead single, "Hold On", was released in the UK in August 2007, débuting at No. 34 there before peaking at No. 21. The song was also very successful in certain European nations peaking at No. 19 in Italy, No. 19 in Norway, No. 26 in Switzerland and No. 39 in Ireland. The album's second single, "Saving My Face", was released in December 2007. The song did not make the UK Top 40 Singles Charts, but however did managed to peak at No. 50 on the UK Singles Charts, managing three weeks on the UK Charts. Despite missing the UK Top 40, the song made the Top 40 in Italy, making No. 23 and in Switzerland peaking at No. 93. The album's third single and final worldwide single, "If Only", was released in March 2008, becoming the second single from the album not to make the UK Top 40, it managed No. 45 in audition.
In the United States, "Hold On" was moderately successful, charting at No. 95 on the US Billboard Pop Chart and No. 27 on the US Billboard Adult Top 40. However, on the main Billboard Hot 100 charts, it stalled, failing to make impact inside the Top 100, causing it to chart at No. 104 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Drastic Fantastic became one of her best charting albums to date, charting at No. 3 on the UK Album Charts, topping the Scottish Album Charts and making the top ten of the US Billboard 200 album charts, charting at No. 9. Further singles released from Drastic Fantasic were "Saving My Face" and "If Only" which were moderately successful, charting at No. 50 and No. 45 on the UK Singles Charts respectively.
Tunstall commented that the photograph for the album cover was influenced by the rock star Suzi Quatro.
On 5 October 2007, the US discount department store chain Target, in association with NBC, released a special KT Tunstall Christmas EP on CD, Sounds of the Season: The KT Tunstall Holiday Collection. On 10 December 2007, it was released in Europe through Relentless under the title Have Yourself a Very KT Christmas.
In 2008, Tunstall recorded a song for the album Songs for Survival, in support of the indigenous rights organisation Survival International. In a video for Survival International, she speaks of music as being a force for good, and about what she has learned about tribal people on this project. She also discusses various issues concerning our culture of consumption and greed, our relation to the earth and the importance of indigenous rights in the world today.
Tunstall also worked with Suzanne Vega on her 2007 album Beauty & Crime, singing backup on songs "Zephyr and I" and "Frank and Ava". It was revealed in the booklet by Vega that the two had never met during the process of making the album.
Over the Christmas holidays in 2008, Tunstall joined Neil Finn's 7 Worlds Collide lineup in Auckland, New Zealand to record a studio charity album for Oxfam. The album was recorded in Finn's New Zealand studio over three weeks and featured all-new material, with singing and songwriting contributions divided amongst the group. Most of the participants from the original 2001 7 Worlds Collide lineup returned, along with several new additions including Jeff Tweedy, Glenn Kotche, John Stirratt and Pat Sansone of Wilco, New Zealand songwriters Don McGlashan and Bic Runga, and Finn's son Elroy Finn. The album, titled The Sun Came Out, was released on 31 August 2009.
On 11 February 2010, the Daily Record reported that Tunstall had recorded her new album in Berlin's Hansa Studios. Located near the former site of the Berlin Wall, the studio was used to make legendary albums including David Bowie's "Heroes" and U2's Achtung Baby. Tunstall said, "I had an amazing three weeks recording in Hansa in Berlin in January and am finishing it all off in London." Her third album, titled Tiger Suit, was released in the United Kingdom on 27 September 2010 and in the United States on 5 October 2010.
Tunstall said that Tiger Suit's title is inspired by a recurring dream she had, before discovering that 2010 is the Chinese Year of the Tiger. The dream is about her, seeing a tiger in her garden and goes outside to stroke it. She returns indoors and is seized by the fear that she could have been killed. Over the years, it has occurred to her that the reason the tiger responds so passively is that she herself is disguised as a tiger, wearing a tiger suit. She said that while writing and recording the album, she experimented with a new sound she called "Nature techno", which mixes organic instrumentation with electronic and dance textures, similar in style to the work of Björk. At a media showcase in London, Tunstall offered an unusual description of the songs from her forthcoming third album: "Like Eddie Cochran working with Leftfield".
2013–2014 Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon and other ventures
On 20 March 2013, Tunstall announced that her fourth album would be titled Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon, considered as her best by most critics and her most melancholic album to date. The title is inspired by the two batches of songs from the album: Invisible Empire, recorded in April 2012, is the melancholic half that deals with her father's death and the theme of mortality, while the Crescent Moon half, recorded in November 2012, is full of songs that are more ethereal. These thirteen songs formed an album that Tunstall qualified as "from the heart," inspired by her divorce from Luke Bullen and her father's passing away.
Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon premiered in the United Kingdom on 10 June 2013, while it was released in Germany and Australia on 7 June, and in Japan and Canada on 11 June. However, the release date was pushed back to 6 August 2013 in the United States. Meanwhile, the lead single, "Feel It All", was released worldwide on 10 June, and its music video on 29 April.
In its first week, the album entered the UK charts at No. 14 and it was a modest commercial performer in Europe: it peaked at No. 52 in Belgium, No. 84 in Netherlands, No. 240 in France, No. 7 in Scotland, and No. 56 in Switzerland. On the other hand, the album received the best reviews and ratings Tunstall has ever received.
In 2013, Tunstall worked with Howe Gelb in Tucson, Arizona for his album The Coincidentalist, and recorded a duet on the song "The 3 Deaths of Lucky". Also, she plays in a second episode of This is Jinsy on 5 February 2014, as bearded folk musician Briiian Raggatan.
Over a year after the album release, Tunstall left Edinburgh to move to Los Angeles and started a new musical career of soundtrack composer. She studied composing soundtracks at the Skywalker Ranch and composed and performed the following soundtracks:
- "Miracle" for the movie Winter's Tale, featuring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, and Will Smith. The song was released on 14 February 2014.
- "We Could Be Kings" written with A. R. Rahman for the Disney movie Million Dollar Arm' on 14 May 2014. The song is included in the Million Dollar Arm: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, among other songs featuring Iggy Azalea, Sukhwinder Singh, and others.
- "Float", "Strange Sight", and a duet with the musician Bleu on "1000 Years" for the UK version of the Disney movie Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast". It was released on 19 February 2015.
- "Fit It" in September 2015 for the movie About Ray, featuring Naomi Watts, Elle Fanning and Susan Sarandon.
2015–present: The KIN album trilogy
From August to September 2015, Tunstall embarked on a small US Tour, made up of eleven dates, playing songs from her various albums and EPs, such as The Scarlet Tulip EP.
On 16 June 2016, Tunstall released the Golden State EP before the album release. It is made of the lead single "Evil Eye" and its remix, and two other tracks: "All or Nothing" taken from the French TV series Sam and "The Healer".
Tunstall released her fifth album, KIN, on 9 September 2016. The album was produced by Tony Hoffer, and recorded in Los Angeles. Four singles were released from this album: the lead single "Maybe It's a Good Thing", plus "Hard Girls" in which Melanie C from the Spice Girls made an appearance, "Love Is an Ocean", and "It Took Me So Long to Get Here, But Here I Am"
Tunstall co-wrote the songs "Bad Moms (Suite)", "Enough is Enough (Suite)", and "Get Your Tits Up (Suite)" for the soundtrack of the 2016 comedy film Bad Moms.
In 2017, Tunstall announced a trilogy of albums following the themes of soul, body and mind. KIN was the first, with the theme of soul. She released the second, WAX, with the theme of body, on 5 October 2018.
Tunstall has a contralto vocal range. Tunstall is known for her live performances, in which she combines use of an Akai E2 Headrush loop pedal, which she affectionately calls "Wee Bastard", with a full four-piece backing band (Luke Bullen on drums, Arnulf Lindner on bass, Sam Lewis on lead guitar and Kenny Dickenson on keyboards, trumpet, percussion and various other instruments), as well as her two backing singers (Cat Sforza and Ami Richardson).
Similar to her initial début on music show Later... with Jools Holland, Tunstall has performed on various American talk shows, including The Ellen DeGeneres Show on 21 September 2007. Since her talk show days, she has performed at numerous large concerts such as the Hogmanay Edinburgh Concert in 2005, the American leg of Live Earth in 2007, and the Nobel Peace Prize Concert also in 2007. Tunstall said prior to the Hogmanay performance that "This is the gig of a lifetime... This Hogmanay party is probably the best-known and best-loved in the world, and I've been here a few times over the years dreaming of being the one entertaining the crowds. Until we're on that stage I won't believe we're allowed on it."
Although her first name is Kate, she chooses to go by KT, saying "[Kate] just makes me think of a buxom lass baking bread for her man working in the fields. I have no problem with that, but it's just not really how I pictured being a rock star." Also, Tunstall spells her first name KT (as opposed to Katie) to differentiate herself from fellow singer Katie Melua. She also asserted that she derived "KT" from K-T impact, the name of a geological event that caused extinction of dinosaurs.
Her father, David Tunstall, was a lecturer of physics at St. Andrews University. The title of her debut album, Eye to the Telescope, is a reflection of her experiences with scientific equipment at her father's laboratory.
In 2003, Tunstall began dating Luke Bullen, the drummer in her band. On Christmas Day, 2007, Bullen proposed to her at her parents' home in St. Andrews, Scotland, and the couple were married on 6 September 2008 at the Flodigarry Country House Hotel on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. They divorced in May 2013, after separating the year before.
Tunstall sparked some controversy in 2005 when she publicly criticised singer/songwriter Dido, stating that the artist "can't fucking sing" after several fans compared the two musically. Tunstall later apologised, stating that she did not want to be involved in a public feud.
In 2007 Tunstall joined the Disko Bay Cape Farewell expedition to the West Coast of Greenland in September 2008. Cape Farewell is a British-based arts organisation that brings artists, scientists and communicators together to instigate a cultural response to climate change.
Awards and nominations
In Tunstall's breakthrough year, 2005, she received a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize, which eventually went to Antony and the Johnsons; and was awarded Best Track for her composition and performance of "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" by Q magazine.
In January the following year, 2006, she received three BRIT nominations – British Live Act, British Breakthrough Act, and British Female Solo Artist – eventually gaining the award for British Female Solo Artist, remarking that she wished to share it with fellow nominee Kate Bush. Later the same month she was given a European Border Breakers Award, which recognises the top-selling European Union artists outside their home country. Also, in 2006 she won the Ivor Novello Best Song Musically and Lyrically for "Suddenly I See", along with Scottish Style Awards "Most Stylish Band or Musician".
She gained more nominations in 2007 and 2008: a 2007 Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" (eventually going to Christina Aguilera for "Ain't No Other Man"), and another BRIT nomination for British Female Solo Artist – the same accolade she had won in 2006.
|2005||Q Awards||Best Track||"Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"||Won|
|BBC Sound of 2005||Sound of 2005 (Sixth)||Herself||Nominated|
|Mercury Music Prize||Album of the Year||Eye to the Telescope|
|2006||European Border Breakers Awards||UK||Won|
|Ivor Novello Awards||Best Song Musically and Lyrically||"Suddenly I See"|
|Scottish Style Awards||Most Stylish Band or Musician||Herself|
|Brit Awards||Best British Female Artist|
|Best British Breakthrough||Nominated|
|Best British Live Act|
|World Music Awards||World's Best New Artist|
|World's Best Pop/Rock Artist|
|2007||Grammy Awards||Best Female Pop Vocal Performance||"Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"|
|BMI London Awards||Pop Award||Won|
|"Suddenly I See"|
|"Other Side of the World"|
|Brit Awards||Best British Female Artist||Herself||Nominated|
|UK Music Video Awards||Best Telecine||"If Only"||Won|
|2016||Music Week Awards||Inspirational Artist of the Year||Herself|
|2017||Hollywood Music in Media Awards||Original Song - Animated Film||"You Will Always Find Me in Your Heart"||Nominated|
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- Edward Black (11 October 2005). "KT Tunstall caps year of success with Q award". The Scotsman. Retrieved 30 August 2007.
- JH. "Tunstall Breaks Borders". MTV UK. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
- "Tunstall single tops Ivor awards". BBC News. 25 May 2006. Retrieved 29 August 2007.
- "KT Tunstall interview at Scottish Style Awards 2006". Scottish TV.
- "Complete list of 2007 Grammy winners and nominees". The Baltimore Sun. 12 February 2007. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 29 August 2007.
- "Brit Awards British Female Solo Artist". BRIT Awards. 14 January 2008. Archived from the original on 7 September 2008. Retrieved 14 January 2008.
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