KT Tunstall has never been one for creative stasis. The Grammy -nominated Scottish musician burst onto the music scene with her 2004 multi-platinum debut, Eye to the Telescope, which spawned the global hits “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See.” These songs, paired with her pioneering looping skills, established Tunstall as a captivating and dynamic must-see performer, as well as a songwriter with a singular knack for balancing introspective folk and propulsive rock. “I feel there are two immediate, recognizable pillars of my style,” she says. “I have this troubadour, acoustic guitar-driven, emotional side. Then there’s definitely a rocker side of me with much sharper teeth.”
In the last few years, Tunstall has expanded on these musical selves by focusing on a trilogy of records, where each album zeroes in on a single concept: soul, body and mind. The first, 2016’s KIN, was the soul record; 2018’s WAX was the body record, and the new NUT is the mind record. “NUT is the culmination of a seven-year project,” Tunstall says. “It’s the final part of a trilogy of records that has spanned probably the most extreme and profound period of change in my life. The personal arc of these three records has been pretty extraordinary for me.”
KT describes the album name; “Growing up in Scotland, if someone was losing their temper you would say, ‘Dinny lose yer Nut!’ I love that the word also means a seed. The album artwork is all about the brain being a garden; you reap what you sow, you need to keep the weeds at bay, and there is an almost supernatural beauty to when things blossom. But it all needs constant tending; it’s always changing and able to change.”
Tunstall started working on NUT at home during the pandemic lockdown, at the same time she was writing a musical. “I was writing songs for a full cast following a storyline, which I’d never done before,” she explains. “It’s exciting. You’re writing songs for all these different characters, it’s totally collaborative, prescriptive and structured writing.” But while words for this project came easily, lyrics for NUT were much more of a challenge.
“I found it so impossible to connect with the place in my subconscious or creative consciousness, that produces my personal lyrics,” Tunstall says. “I just didn’t feel I had anything to say.” In hindsight, she chalked up this lack of lyrical conviction partly to not having a deadline (“I’m great under pressure; I’m very easily distracted if there isn’t an end point in sight”) but mostly due to the stress and tension unfolding in the world at large due to the pandemic.
“I’m a dreamer, and I’ve always been a dreamer,” she explains. “And to write lyrics, I have to allow myself to unhook from the day-to-day and go into this other realm. And I found that all through the pandemic, the present moment was holding on to the back of my shirt every minute and just would not let me go.”
She found her writing groove thanks to “Canyons,” a song propelled by a grimy, heavy rock riff. In keeping with NUT’s theme, the song’s lyrics are about the canyon-like physiology of the brain, and explore the parallels between humans developing unique identities and the way nature evolves and is shaped over time. Elsewhere, NUT’s lyrics and sound delve into KT’s own personal evolution, and the way our selves evolve through the repetition of behaviors and our responses to life experiences.