SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Until recently, you'd have to live across the pond to hear and see K.T. Tunstall. K.T., that's capital K, capital T, is a one-woman band, and that is no metaphor. The percussions, the strings, the harmonies, even the claps of the hand are all her. For most of the last year K.T. Tunstall has been on the top of the charts in the U.K., and now she's releasing her album in the USA. It's called “Eye to the Telescope.” She's in our studios here at NPR to perform for us this morning. Thanks so much for being here.
K.T. TUNSTALL (Singer/Songwriter): Pleasure.
SIMON: And I mean it. There's no one else in the room.
Ms. TUNSTALL: No, there's…
SIMON: …except you and me. Yeah.
Ms. TUNSTALL: It's just me and some electricity and some machinery which deals with it.
SIMON: Quite a lot of machinery, as a matter of fact.
Ms. TUNSTALL: Yes
SIMON: Well, let's give people an idea of what you do. You want to do something from the album. If we can ask you to do “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.”
Ms. TUNSTALL: No problem. But basically and my little loop pedal, I'll be playing all of this live. There's nothing on backing track.
Ms. TUNSTALL: And it's all just -- I'm recording it in and it's coming out at you.
(Soundbite of Song, "Black Horse & The Cherry Tree")
Ms. TUNSTALL: (Singing) Well, my heart knows me better than I know myself, so I'm gonna let it do all the talking. I came across a place in the middle of nowhere with a big black horse and a cherry tree. I felt a little fear upon my back; I said, don't look back, just keep on walking. The big black horse said look this way, said hey there lady, will you marry me? But I said no, no, no, no, no, no, you're not the one for me. No, no, no, no. No, no, you're not the one for me. No, no, no, no. My heart had a problem, in the early hours, so it stopped it dead for a beat or two. But I cut some cord, and I shouldn't have done that, and it won't forgive me after all these years. So I sent it to a place in the middle of nowhere with a big black horse and a cherry tree. But it won't come back 'cause it's oh so happy and now I've got a hole for the world to see. And it said no, no, no, no-no-no, no, no, you're not the one for me. No, no, no, no-no-no.
No, no, you're not the one for me. Not the one for me, yeah. Said no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, you're not the one for me. Big black horse and a cherry tree. Can't quite get there 'cause my heart forsaken me. Big black horse and a cherry tree. Can't quite get there 'cause my heart forsaken me I said no, no, no, no. Can't quite get there 'cause my heart forsaken me. No, no, no, you're not the one for me. Big black horse and a cherry tree. Can't quite get there 'cause my heart forsaken me. Big black horse and a cherry tree. I can't quite get there 'cause my heart forsaken me.
SIMON: That was wonderful.
Ms. TUNSTALL: Thank you.
SIMON: I feel like there should be a chorus of people applauding because it sounds like there's so many people in the studio. How do you do that? That's just you.
Ms. TUNSTALL: Yeah, it's just me.
SIMON: How do you do that? Or the easiest thing that I can see is that you're stomping on a tambourine.
Ms. TUNSTALL: Yeah.
SIMON: But, I mean, how do you get the multiple voices? How do you…
Ms. TUNSTALL: Well, I'd seen a blues singer use this loop pedal when I was in London. And I think he was a Canadian guy called Son of Dave. And he didn't have any instruments, he just had a shake -- well, he had a shaker and a harmonica, but he didn't use like a piano or a guitar. And he would beat box. He would like sing drums, if you like, you know, booch-ee-kosh, and he'd loop his own voice in this little pedal so he'd have a drum beat, and then he'd do his shaker and his harmonica, and then he'd do his crazy kind of -- “standing on the crossroads, whoo!” -- and doing all this weird blues singing over the top. And it was so fantastic. It was just him on his own.
And I was spending a lot of time doing gigs alone as well, and feeling sort of quite limited by just the guitar, because, you know, there is this sort of fragile…
SIMON: Right, yeah.
Ms. TUNSTALL: …stigma that's attached to the girl with the guitar. Which I think there -- I love that too, but there needs to be a balance. And this is great. When you play on your own, you can just really be louder, which is good.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, there are some tracks on your album which are even more lush and intricate.
Ms. TUNSTALL: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
SIMON: I mean do you resort to using other musicians? Or is that still all you?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. TUNSTALL: Regularly. Regularly. But I always use the pedal, even with -- I have a band at home. I have four guys that play with me, and I still use the pedal within that. It's really --the band is kind of an extension of how this sounds. It's still got that raw energy. But it just means that you can play around a bit more. You've got a bit more freedom.
SIMON: We'd like you to play, it's the first track on your album. It's called “The Other Side of the World.”
Ms. TUNSTALL: Yeah. Sure.
(Soundbite of Song, "The Other Side Of The World")
Ms. TUNSTALL: (Singing) Over the sea and far away she's waiting like an iceberg, waiting to change. But she's cold inside. She wants to be like the water. All the muscles tighten in her face. Buries her soul in one embrace. They're one and the same, just like water. The fire fades away. Most of everyday is full of tired excuses, but if you had to say I wish it were simple. But we give up easily. You're close enough to see that. You're the other side of the world to me. And on comes the panic light, holding on with fingers and feelings alike. But the time has come to move along. And fire fades away. Most of everyday is full of tired excuses.
But it's too hard to say, I wish it were simple. But we give up easily. You're close enough to see that. You're the other side of the world. Can you help me? Can you let me go? And can you still love me when you can't see me anymore? And the fire fades away. Most of everyday is full of tired excuses, but it's too hard to say I wish it were simple. But we give up easily. You're close enough to see that. You're the other side of the world. You're the other side of the world. You're the other side of the world to me.
SIMON: K.T., that's wonderful. Thank you. As may be obvious from the way you speak, you're from Scotland.
Ms. TUNSTALL: I am.
SIMON: St. Andrews.
Ms. TUNSTALL: Yes.
SIMON: I've read interviews where you've been quoted as saying that Ella Fitzgerald was your singing teacher.
Ms. TUNSTALL: Yeah. Well, I was a real late-comer to listen to music, actually, because my parents--first of all, my parents weren't big music fans. They didn't listen to music. We didn't really listen to stuff in the house. And also when my younger brother was born, he's profoundly deaf, so it just wasn't something our family did. You know, we were outdoorsy types, my folks, and one of the first tapes I got, a friend gave me a cassette tape of Ella Fitzgerald singing with the Count Basie orchestra. And it was the first time, really, that someone's voice had really spoken to me, and it was just so pure.
You know, I was an ‘80's kid so--I was born in ‘75, but you know--so I had Whitney Houston and Boy George and all these people who were, you know, very flouncy singers and very, you know, there was lots of ornamental gymnastics going on. And it was the first time I'd heard one that was just really straight toyou and not mucking around.
SIMON: I hope you don't mind me asking, but this appears in publicity. Could you tell us how you happened to come into your parents' life?
Ms. TUNSTALL: Yeah. Well, it's a good story. I was adopted. I was born in Edinburgh, and adopted when I was about two weeks old. And it's a good thing, I think, really, that back then, in ‘75when I was born, you were really given a lot more information than you're given now when you're adopted. And you know, you can access that information when you're older. But I grew up always knowing that I had Chinese heritage, that my maternal grand mother was from Hong Kong and that my birth father was Irish. And so I had this quite mixed heritage --Chinese, Scottish and Irish. And I, you know, knew my name, and I knew all these things and it really kind of fueled my imagination as a kid.
It was quite an amazing slice of my life. And my parents always, you know, it was very transparent and they would always say, you know, Everyone else just gets what they're given, but we came and chose you. So it was always sort of made to be a really special thing.
SIMON: Yeah. Have you written about it?
Ms. TUNSTALL: Not specifically. It doesn't - it's the kind of thing I imagine you would write about if you had deep issues with, and it would, you know, there would be a sort of feeling of catharsis writing about something like that. And I'm sure - you know, I decided to talk about it publicly because it feels like a really intrinsic part of me. And I'm sure it influences my songs and it appears in threads. But I can't say - there's maybe one song that I've written that I haven't recorded yet that I wrote along time ago about it, but it's not, it's certainly not something that I use as a muse often.
SIMON: We'd like you to play us out of this interview with another track from your album. This one's called Mminiature Disasters, but before we do, thank you so much. It's been wonderful talking to you.
Ms. TUNSTALL: Total pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SIMON: K.T. Tunstall. Her new album is called “Eye to the Telescope.” And to see K.T. perform, to hear more of her music, including songs you may not hear here this morning, you can come to our website, npr.org.
(Soundbite of song "MINIATURE DISASTERS")
Ms. TUNSTALL: (Singing) Whoa, whoa, whoa, don't wanna be second best, I don't wanna stand in line, don't wanna fall behind. Don't wanna get caught out, don't want to do without. And the lesson I must learn is that I've got to wait my turn. Looks like I'm gonna be hot and cold, gotta be taught and told, got to be good as gold. But perfectly honestly, whoa, I think it should be good for me. 'Cause it's a hindrance to my health if I'm a stranger to myself. Whoa, whoa, miniature disasters and minor catastrophes bring me to my knees. Well, I must be my own master, or a miniature disaster will be, oh, will be the death of me. I don't have to raise my voice, don't have to be underhand, I just got to understand that it's gonna be up and down, going to be lost and found.
And I can't take to the sky before I like it on the ground, oh, and I need to be patient, And I need to be brave, need to discover how I need to behave. I'll find out the answers when I know what to ask, but I speak a different language, and everybody's talking too fast. Miniature disasters and minor catastrophes bring me to my knees, yeah. Well, I must be my own master or a miniature disaster will be, will be, oh, I've got to run a little faster or a miniature disaster will be, will be, oh, yes. I need to know I'll last if a little miniature disaster hits me. It will be the death of me.
SIMON: K.T. Tunstall, accompanied by K.T. Tunstall.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.