Going places

March 02, 2006|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

Raised in Scotland and platinum in the U.K., singer/songwriter KT Tunstall is a lot more American than you'd think.

Most of her earliest memories are of the United States, she said. As a 4-year-old, she spent a year in the United States while her father, a physicist, completed a sabbatical at the University of California, Los Angeles. Decades later, music is her ticket to tour the country.

"For me, it's just all about facilitating a life where I can play and travel," Tunstall said. "To be able to travel around America, which I love and which I've done a little bit in the past, and be able to play shows and make a living is really exciting to me."

With a major-label debut barely out in this country, Tunstall has already built a solid fan base. Her performance at Rams Head Tavern Sunday sold out in late January - a couple of weeks before her album, Eye to the Telescope, hit shelves here.

Tunstall plays acoustic guitar and sings on Eye to the Telescope. The record is filled with earthy pop songs built around an elastic voice: gravelly at times, creamy at others.

The album's timing is one of several reasons for Tunstall's two-letter first name. A wave of female singers - including Katie Melua - released records in the U.K. about the same time as Eye to the Telescope (overseas, it came out in early 2005). Tunstall didn't want to share names with Melua.

"I just wanted to start my own mark," she said. "And I'm a big PJ Harvey fan, so I ripped it off."

While Tunstall lists the British Harvey as one influence, she also has a strong musical background stateside. She studied for a year at Kent School, a Connecticut boarding school. America is where she began writing music, performing on the street and at open-mike nights and seeing shows. The Grateful Dead, Suzanne Vega and 10,000 Maniacs were some of her first concerts.

"I've got a lot of nostalgic memories of music over here," she said.

Now that Tunstall's locked into a record deal, she sometimes misses the freedom of being a struggling musician. Unknowns can play whatever they want, but artists with record deals must play songs people come to hear.

"I was really conscious of that and made sure that I was going to make an album that I was going to enjoy playing for a while," Tunstall said.

Touring also sucks up a lot of free time. At first, Tunstall worried she wouldn't be able to write while traveling, she said. Instead, she composes new material in hotel rooms and at sound checks. Rather than test them live immediately, she stockpiles new tunes in her head.

"It's good, actually," she said. "It makes you more focused, because it means that the good stuff sticks. My theory is, if I have to write something down to remember it, then it's probably not good enough," she said.

Though touring might exhaust Tunstall, she would change nothing about her career, she said.

"This is quite an experience," she said. "It's great. You can get really tired, but it's really an incredible trip."

KT Tunstall plays Rams Head Tavern Sunday. The show is sold out.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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