Monday, October 7 2013
at Boulder Theater
2032 14th St
Boulder, CO 80302
Doors open at 7:00PM
KT Tunstall has had a recurring dream since she was a child. She sees 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. That she is wearing a tiger suit.
Tunstall has tapped into that childlike boldness in the making of her third album, Tiger Suit, which heralds the beginning of a new musical adventure for the multi-platinum, Scottish-born singer and songwriter. Organic instrumentation is blended with dance-friendly textures, the results of which Tunstall has dubbed as "Nature Techno" to encapsulate the album's collision of raw, upfront rootsiness and sleek electronic textures. "Think Eddie Cochrane meets [British electronic duo] Leftfield," she suggests. "The songs exist in other worlds for me, and I was trying to evoke a sense of place through how they sounded. I really went out of my comfort zone and wandered off further than expected. It made me realize I can do anything. There are no rules, there are no constraints, it's just about what you've got the balls to do."
But before all the ballsiness, there was self-doubt. Tunstall hadn't stepped off the merry-go-round since scoring with her platinum 2006 debut album Eye To The Telescope (which spawned three hit singles, the Grammy-nominated "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," "Suddenly I See," and "Other Side of the World") through its Top 10 follow-up, 2007's Drastic Fantastic (featuring the multi-week No. 1 Triple A airplay smash "Hold On"). She eventually faltered on an illuminating trip to Greenland as part of the Cape Farewell project, where she lived on a boat with a group of artists, writers, and musicians who were invited to create their own response to the harsh landscape and the specter of climate change.
"After years of touring and being babied, it was humbling to go somewhere where life is hard," she says. "I experienced one of my worst gigs ever in the town of Uummannaq. My confidence was so low, I felt like a jingle writer. I didn't want to be on stage and I've never felt like that. I just wished for a simpler life and not to be in this weird creative rat race. I wanted to get off the boat and live there."
So she did get off the boat, metaphorically, taking time out to travel with her husband (and drummer) Luke Bullen. Over the course of a transformative three months, Tunstall went horseback riding with gauchos in Chile, explored the wild nature of the Galapagos Islands, walked Peru's Inca Trail to the ruined city of Machu Picchu, visited the Barefoot College Of Tilonia in India, jammed with local musicians in the Rajasthani desert, and traveled the length of New Zealand in a vintage VW camper van, landing in Auckland just in time to participate in Neil Finn's 7 Worlds Collide jamboree.
"The whole trip was about locking in to something more primal," Tunstall says. "What I realized was that I've always felt feral and I still do. As a kid I wanted to be outside in the bushes or in a tent. I wanted adventure." But before the adventure could continue, she was persuaded to take a year off to write and reflect. "It was important to digest my own reaction to this massive shift in my life," Tunstall says. "Everyone says, 'Oh, you seem to handle success so well,' when, in fact, I don't think I've even really processed it. I don't know if I will until I'm an old woman looking back on it."
Suitably recharged, Tunstall began working on new material, demoing tracks in her newly built, solar-powered home studio. She reunited with her long-time collaborators Martin Terefe and Jimmy Hogarth, both of whom contributed to Drastic Fantastic and Eye To The Telescope. She then headed to the U.S. to work with songwriter-producers Linda Perry and Greg Kurstin, averaging a song per day.
Eventually, Tunstall amassed a staggering 75 new songs to choose from and decided to team up with Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele, Kasabian) to helped her sort through them and unlock a new sound palette. The pair bonded over a shared love of The Cocteau Twins, Bow Wow Wow, Ali Farka Toure and classic club sounds. "I love the rawness of dance music," Tunstall says. "I wanted to feel that excitement of losing yourself in the music when I listened back to my own stuff. Plus, I knew I needed to inject some fresh energy into the sound. It was actually Linda Perry who kicked my arse about it. She said, 'Your only problem is that you give a f**k about what everybody else thinks.' She was completely right. It was a sound piece of advice at the right time."
Tiger Suit was recorded in Berlin's Hansa Studios, where several legendary albums, including David Bowie's Heroes, U2's Achtung Baby, and Iggy Pop's Lust for Life, were made. "There's a lovely self-sufficiency in Berlin, where people are just doing whatever they want to," Tunstall says. "It really informed everything. There was an angular nature to what we were playing and a fierceness that I felt was very appropriate for what I'd written."
The Berlin odyssey set the scene for Tunstall's awakening to the wonderful world of synthesizers. "I was very scared of them because I felt that they would be an albatross around the music," she says. But that was before IAMX, aka former Sneaker Pimp Chris Corner, supplied her with a couple of "transporting" arrangements. "Then every synth came out of the box and I entered a world that I am completely smitten with now." Pride of place in Tunstall's armory went to the Yamaha CS-80 - Vangelis' weapon of choice on the Blade Runner soundtrack - which she describes as "a huge beast, like playing a couch."
Without sacrificing any of her personal storytelling touch, the sonic landscape of Tiger Suit shifts from the uninhibited tribal yelp of "Uummannaq Song," inspired by her Greenland foray, to the analog drone-meets-oriental chime and flutter of "Lost," by way of "Push That Knot Away," which she calls a signature track on the album. "It's about confronting fear rather than running away." Then there's the rollicking first single, "Fade Like A Shadow," which Tunstall explains is about a person who haunted her for many months. "The person is still very much alive, but my interactions with them led to these weird, almost visitation-like feelings that I found difficult to shake off."
Elements of all the influences that make up Tiger Suit come together on "(Still A) Weirdo." A beautiful acoustic guitar line floats through organic and electronic rhythm sounds, while the lyrics are some of Tunstall's most personal. "It's one of those rare moments where you can see yourself objectively and look into your own emotional machinery and realize what you are," Tunstall says. The journey continues through the extra-terrestrial blues of "Golden Frames" (featuring the formidable Seasick Steve), and the glam strut of the anecdotal "Madame Trudeaux," to the up-tempo swagger and hum of "Glamour Puss."
"Making the album felt a bit like an archaeological dig," Tunstall says. "I had to dig deep to uncover what most turns me on. The best way I can describe it is that I discovered the indigenous part of myself by going back to campfire dance music just as much as club dance music. When I grind my boot heel into the floor, it's connected to when I went clubbing in Berlin. Losing yourself in the middle of nowhere around a fire is no different to losing yourself surrounded by hundreds of people on a dancefloor."