The singer returns with a new album, 'KIN'
Credit: Tom Oxley

A few years ago, KT Tunstall nearly gave up on her recording career. “The feeling that I had was, ‘I need to burn the house down,’” says the Scottish singer-songwriter behind hits like “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See.” “My dad had died, I got divorced, I felt very lost at sea. I didn’t know what I wanted. I’d done everything I thought it wanted, and it hadn’t made me happy.” So she moved from London to Los Angeles, enrolled in the Sundance Institute’s Film Composers Lab, and started her life over. She had no plans to make an album again.

But it wasn’t long before sunset drives through the canyons, set to a soundtrack of Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell, put her on the path to writing pop-rock anthems again. “I’m not kidding for a second, it was driving around listening to music in a car that made me write this record,” she says. This time, however, the songs were more candid and direct, with Tunstall resisting the urge to disguise her feelings in metaphors and clever wordplay. She also felt liberated from the usual expectations of fans and record labels. “I just really recalibrated my relationship with being a musician,” she says. “It completely defined me before, but now I don’t need it in the same way. I do it, and I really enjoy doing it, but I also know I would be absolutely fine if I didn’t do it anymore. And that’s a really important shift. Now I do it for joy.”

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Tellingly titled songs like “It Took Me So Long to Get Here, But Here I Am” and “Maybe It’s a Good Thing” reflect her new lease on life, and also how fun much she had making the record in the studio. Tunstall teamed up with producer Tony Hoffer, who most notably worked on Beck’s Midnite Vultures and added funky synth breakdowns to tracks like the buzzing “Hard Girls.” “He’s a complete prankster,” Tunstall says. “He just kept turning the f—king heating up to a 100 degrees and waiting to see when we would notice. We just laughed our way through the whole record, and that was what I really wanted. I wanted to make sure everyone involved was bringing a real sense of positivity to it.”

Though it’s her fifth LP, Tunstall calls KIN, out this Friday, the spiritual follow-up to her 2004 debut, Eye to the Telescope. “This [album] was more like who I was then: carefree, unselfconscious, writing music because I enjoyed it,” she says. It took her four albums to get there, but here she is.