Got a call out of the blue, it was a lovely person called Janine from an agency called bluesparrow. Turns out they do promo for Friedrichstadt-Palast, the big place where they do all the revue shows.
When I first lived in Berlin many years ago I lived just around the corner from there and even though it’s pretty far from indie, I’d always had a secret hankering to attend one of the shows and see what it was all about. Never done it though, of course, just had the hankering.
Anyway so Janine informed me that KT Tunstall – Scottish pop songstress who was dead famous in the 80s, quite famous in the 90s, and more recently did things like provide songs for Devil Wears Prada and other films like that – was doing the music for the present extravanganza, called The One Grand Show – you know those posters all around town with the girl in revue costume, she’s holding her arm across her eyes and there’s eyes painted on the arm instead, you know the one I mean?
Course you do. That one.
KT had done the music for it, JP Gaultier had done the costumes and it was to all intents and purposes quite the thing. And what was more, KT was to do a live unplugged session for a small select group of important VIP press people. And us. And that we would get to chat to Ms. Tunstall after the gig and before the extravaganza.
How could I say no? Well of course, I didn’t.
After a very pleasant acoustic session as described above, we sat down with KT for a couple of questions.
indieberlin: You’re from Scotland?
KT Tunstall: Yup, St. Andrews in Scotland – born in Edinburgh.
indieberlin: But your accent has changed.
KT Tunstall: No, this is actually how we sound.
indieberlin: No, it’s not. I’ve been up there.
KT Tunstall: Yeah, it is. St. Andrews is really posh. Because it’s got the golf course and the university and…my mother and father were English. But I phone home and people say, you sound American.
indieberlin: Americans sound like people from St. Andrews.
KT Tunstall: Exactly. Because they’re from where I live.
indieberlin: Yeah. All Americans are really from St. Andrews.
KT Tunstall: Or they’re in St. Andrews. Place is full of them.
indieberlin: Yeah, in South Africa they speak very slowly and then when I was 22 I moved in with a guy from Glasgow.
KT Tunstall: Oh my god, that’s hard.
indieberlin: I know. It was.
KT Tunstall: I’m actually on tour right now with Simple Minds. And they’re Glasgow. So I phoned home and my friend was like, you’ve been talking to Scottish people.
Zere are naked women but zey have ze fans from plastic, zey are all made by Gaultier
indieberlin: Let me ask you a proper question.
KT Tunstall: Mmm….
indieberlin: How did you come to be doing, you know, this?
KT Tunstall: When Sony Publishing – who I’ve been signed to for my entire career – got in touch and said that Roland (Welke), the director, was a fan of my music and would I be interested in writing for this show…and then proceeded to explain to me what it was – which is basically impossible – and it sounded insane and so I said yes. And then Roland and I got on the phone. And it was so funny….I mean I said I’d do it, it sounded amazing, I loved the story, the premise was great…and he goes (adopts strange German accent)
So Katie – second song – ze whole stage turns into a cave and ze floor turns into vorter and ze whole cast get on a…a cruise ship, and zere are naked women but zey have ze fans from plastic, zey are all made by Gaultier….
…and I’m going, ah-ha, right…yup, yup….right, cruise ship, naked women, okay….and I put the phone down and I think, what the fuck is this? This is insane, it doesn’t make any sense…but he’d actually described the story to me so passionately about the characters, and the first song, the diva, she’s suffering, she’s this old woman and she’s breaking, and falling apart, and she sees this young man and realises that she’s been married to her theatre and neglected her own heart and having a relationship with this man, but he’s young and she’s old and….it’s a big theme.
The diva, she’s suffering, she’s this old woman and she’s breaking, and falling apart
And there are multiple themes above and beyond the basic show, and the job I had was basically to try and just go in a little deeper with the storyline and the characters, while obviously providing something memorable with the music, but…I’ve never done anything like this before and it’s been an amazing adventure, and I’m still like what!? – I was like, mum, is this my life? But it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done….
I’d already taken a hiatus from making records and I was writing for film
indieberlin: So it wasn’t something that you planned or anything…it just came out of the blue.
KT Tunstall: It came out of the blue to me, and I was in a place also where I was very, very eager to try other things. I’d already taken a hiatus from making records and I was writing for film, I’d studied film score at the Sundance Institute at the Composers Lab, and I’ve just finished a score for a short film which is completely ambient electronic…
indieberlin: What’s it called?
KT Tunstall: It’s called Be As You Wish To Seem. And I’ve found myself really craving to challenge my creative brain more, flex the muscles more, do different things, and so this was perfect.
indieberlin: I think there are a lot of singers who work in the more mainstream songwriting business that get to a certain point, and then they just keep going, whereas others go off and do more interesting stuff.
KT Tunstall: Yeah, it’s one of the things that’s probably harmed me, in terms of being more of a commercial success, is that I can’t do the same thing twice, and all of my colleagues that I see who didn’t used to sell as many records as me and who now are selling tons, and I’m like well yeah but you’re doing the same fucking thing again and again and again. And there’s nothing wrong with that but I can’t do that. I have to just keep experimenting and keep trying…
indieberlin: Well that’s good.
KT Tunstall: Yeah I mean my hardcore fanbase love that I do different things each time but you know, sometimes some people aren’t convinced by this or that, but this – this is really a win-win situation. It’s a completely different sphere of art.
Why the fuck have I never played in Berlin?
indieberlin: I’m sure that if you play music for enough years you get a devoted fanbase no matter what – if it’s bigger or smaller, there’s a certain bunch of people who will follow you whatever you do.
KT Tunstall: I really just have to follow my heart and do what I think is good and I never know what’s going to happen…like this! (gestures at the stage as they’re putting the set up)
indieberlin: Who knew…
KT Tunstall: …she says, as the trapeze ropes are coming out of the ceiling…
indieberlin: And how come you never played in Berlin then?
KT Tunstall: I have no idea…it makes no sense…I called my manager today and I was like why the fuck have I never played in Berlin? And it’s a new manager…I’ve always had the same booking agent, it’s his fault. I’ve played Cologne, Stuttgart, Hamburg…I made a record here, and I never played, so…it’s my booking agent’s fault, I’m going to have a fight with him. But my first ever show in Berlin was pretty special, so…
indieberlin: I agree, and I think it was great that we were at it. So, where are you living these days? Scotland?
KT Tunstall: I live in LA. In Venice Beach.
I can’t live in London. I love it, but it’s just too full on
indieberlin: Venice Beach? But that’s, like, so cool.
KT Tunstall: I know! It’s so cool…I feel like I’m on holiday every day. I moved there two years ago. I can’t live in London. I love it, but it’s just too full on and I just wasn’t resting ever, and just burning out…and Venice is just this great mixture of…it’s very creative, but it’s also super chilled out. So I can, you know, take a Wednesday off, and there are other people taking a Wednesday off as well….And despite the weather, I’ve actually been quite prolific as well.
indieberlin: Great, well thanks very much, good luck with it all.
KT Tunstall: Thanks, thanks very much.
Interview by Noel Maurice / Photos courtesy of bluesparrow
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.