KT Tunstall Talks Music, Guitars, and Women in Music
By Team HC |
by Anne Erickson
KT Tunstall is one of pop-rock’s biggest stars, and while she’s known for her hit songs with catchy melodies and relatable lyrics, it's also worth noting that she’s quite a force as a guitarist. On her new album, KIN, Tunstall shows off those compelling guitar chops and an upbeat spirit on what she calls “a real celebration.”
Tunstall talks to HC about music, guitars and women in music.
Listening to the album KIN, it seems like a really personal release.
Absolutely. It's weird, because it's not as personal as the last record but almost like the other end of the spectrum. The last record I released was a down-tempo, melancholy funk record when things were going badly in my life. My dad passed away and my marriage broke up, and my life was totally upside down. Music was a real sanctuary at that time. I made an unusual record for me, because it was a quiet folk record. Then, I was just incredibly surprised to come out a few years later with the other end of the spectrum, which is just as personal an album but a real celebration of coming out on the other end of that difficult time. This album has really bombastic pop-rock choruses and very honest lyrics. It’s a real pop-rock record, which I didn't see coming.
What are your earliest memories of playing guitar?
My earliest memories of playing guitar are really of other people playing it. My kindergarten teacher would play guitar for us, and apparently, I would constantly be snatching the guitar out of my teacher’s hand. I was desperately wanting to play this instrument. My mom also found these drawings I had done when I was about the same age, probably 3 or 4, and I was trying to draw musical notes and have all these little baby drawings of tiny guitars. It's so weird, because I didn't actually start playing guitar properly until I was 15, but I was really drawn to guitars when I was really young.
What draws you to acoustic guitar?
I'm a huge fan of playing an acoustic guitar in the same way that you play a bass, so I’ll often be playing bass lines instead of just regular guitar chords, and I would find that with any other guitar I was playing, I couldn't get that force of bass and that real richness of the bass tones that I could get on the Dove. I find that most other acoustics besides Gibsons that I play are really jangly and bright. So, I fell in love with the acoustic Dove immediately. It became my signature guitar. Fans loved the look of it, and it was always a talking point. The other thing that was super important was that it got a breadth of tones that I found very difficult to get on any other guitar.
You worked with Gibson Montana to put together a Custom White Dove. What specifics did you want in the design of this guitar?
It’s a Gibson Custom White Dove, and it's probably the most beautiful acoustic guitar I've ever seen. Fans really enjoy when you have a signature guitar, because they can see the guitar and know it’s you before you're even on the stage. With the Dove, I really wanted a guitar to mark the moment of this record, because it feels like the beginning of a second chapter in my career. It’s like a rebirth. Southern California has been an incredibly important place for this record. I did a lot of writing there and also went back to New Mexico, so that Southwestern aura is a really big part of this record, and I wanted to use some of the symbolism in the design. The Phoenix is definitely symbolic of this rebirth, and I really wanted to use that with the artwork, and it’s all very geometric. The white, for me, is so nice, because it’s the opposite of the Black Dove. The white looks absolutely stunning and quite retro.
What initially drew you to guitars ... especially the Gibson?
I love the designs and aesthetics of Gibson guitars. I think it also has a classic history of pairing with great musicians over the years. It's a very authentic brand, and it's a quality control brand. I don't feel like I'm ever going to pick up a Gibson guitar and be disappointed in the quality. I think that reliability when you’re a musician and relying on your instrument to sound good is incredibly worth it.
What’s your experience like being a woman in music?
From my personal experience, it's been a very positive thing, because being a woman, I’ve found that there's lots of respect coming my way. There's been a lot of celebration of me doing what I'm doing as a woman in a male-dominated environment. I'm certainly aware that there's still very deep sexism in the music industry, as there is in many industries, but thankfully, I haven't been on the receiving end of that. It’s actually been a very positive thing for me. Also, when I get young girls who say, “I've listened to your music since I was a baby, and you made me start guitar,” that makes me the happiest. -HC-
Anne Erickson holds years of bylines in Gannett Media publications, as well as music magazines Premier Guitar, Guitar Edge and more. She also hosts radio shows with iHeartRadio and has been syndicated in Seattle, Dayton, Central Coast California and beyond. Anne is a loyal Spartan and holds a Master’s degree from MSU. She resides in Lansing, Michigan.