We all can sing along with KT Tunstall. The Scottish singer-songwriter's two early 2000s mega hits thrust her into the spotlight with her first studio album, “Eye to the Telescope.” Not only did Tunstall dominate the radio charts, her music lent itself as a pop culture plot device — think the “Fight Song” of back in the day.
If there was a television show about an ambitious woman with her eye on the prize, “Suddenly I See” most likely appeared in the trailer. Hillary Clinton nearly chose the song as her official 2008 campaign single (it was later rejected for its use of the word “hell”) while its predecessor, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” earned her a Grammy nom for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Tunstall churned out albums (2007’s “Drastic Fantastic,” 2010’s “Tiger Suit,” and 2013’s “Invisible Empire///Crescent Moon”), but nothing quite stuck the way her 2004 debut did.
“I decided not to make any records for a while,” the 41-year-old remembers. “I had gone through massive shifts in life that were difficult and some that were rewarding. I lost my dad and things had changed in London so I packed up, sold everything, and moved to Venice Beach.”
Tunstall had found herself pining for the sandy California town after passing through on tour. There she found new beginnings and the long commutes that began to inspire her to write again — but not for radio.
“I wasn’t attracted to the idea of writing another album,” she explains of her time at Sundance Institute’s Film Composers Lab. “I wanted to enter into film scoring; I did training for a year and wrote for films and loved it.” Tunstall’s film credits include “Bad Moms” and Disney’s “Million Dollar Arm” — but still, the winding roads of California, with a steady soundtrack of Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young eventually drove her back to writing tunes you could sing along to.
“At first my body and mind were like, ‘don’t do it, give us a break,’” she laughs. “But the songs kept coming, and I had to respect that. I would have been an idiot not to listen to them. I started writing in secret — I didn’t tell anyone, and by the time I told the label, I had done a bunch of demos on Garage Band and the [album] was close to done.”
The result is “KIN,” an 11-track repeat-friendly fifth LP recorded in L.A., out Sept. 9 through Caroline Records. The first two releases, “Maybe It’s a Good Thing,” and “It Took Me So Long to Get Here, But Here I Am,” are just as literal as they sound. Producer Tony Hoffer, known for his diverse catalog of work with Beck, The Kooks, Sondre Leche, Air, and M83, stepped in on this album. The opportunity to work with such a venerable producer, Tunstall says, was a pushing point she needed.
“I knew as soon as I met him,” she explains. “I’m a huge Beck fan. Anyone who can produce an album like [“Midnight Vultures”], I’d jump at the chance to work with them. Tony and I have similar work ethic — we want to work hard and right and quick.”
And Hoffer lived up to expectations: “One thing about that experience that I will say is that it was joyful,” she adds. “[In recording the album] I didn’t want to do it unless I would be enjoying myself. That doesn’t mean it had to be easy. It didn’t mean it had to be simple. It means that it has purpose and fulfillment.”
“KIN” sounds like effortless pop — in a wonderful way. The current single (the one with the very literal name) designates itself as a comeback; a label that Tunstall, frankly, is very comfortable with.
“’It Took Song Long to Get Here’ is the mission statement of the record for me,” she says. “I want to teach everyone that chorus line because everyone understand that journey to adulthood and discovering who you are. There’s a lot of relief and joy in that moment when you’ve reached a knowingness of yourself. That’s one of the really nice things about getting old.”