Tunstall Scopes Out U.S.
"Have guitar, will travel" has been the motto of many an itinerant singer/songwriter, but it has rarely produced such dramatic dividends as in the international success of KT Tunstall."Have guitar, will travel" has been the motto of many an itinerant singer/songwriter, but it has rarely produced such dramatic dividends as in the international success of KT Tunstall.
The Edinburgh, Scotland-born artist spent some of her early childhood in the United States and formed her first band there. Now, after relentless gigging started the word-of-mouth that led to the million-selling U.K. performance of her debut Relentless/Virgin album, "Eye to the Telescope," she is looking across the Atlantic again.
Virgin will release "Eye to the Telescope" Feb. 7 in the United States, on the heels of strong radio support for lead track "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree." The song is No. 1 for a second week on Billboard Radio Monitor's Triple-A chart. As previously reported, the video of Tunstall's performance of the track on NBC's "Today" will be available beginning Feb. 25 on iTunes for free download for two weeks.
The album was issued in the United Kingdom in December 2004, and after constant touring and four successful singles in 2005, it sold its 1 millionth copy on Christmas Eve, according to Official U.K. Charts Co. data.
"Telescope" was the seventh-best-selling album of the year in the United Kingdom, and total international sales to date are 1.5 million, according to EMI, with France and Italy Tunstall's next-strongest markets.
Tunstall, who is nominated for three Brit Awards, will perform at the Feb. 15 ceremony at London's Earls Court.
It is a dizzying climb for an artist who had spent about 10 years aspiring to such heights. "I totally maintain that what's kept my head screwed on is having done some work [in order to] achieve stuff," she says.
Many first heard Tunstall when she was a late replacement on the BBC 2 live music series "Later With Jools Holland" before the album's release. On the show, she played "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" solo on acoustic guitar, with the pedal that has since become a focal point of her gigs.
"We've gone from me on a pedal to me with a three-piece, then four-piece, then five-piece band. Very gradually over the course of the year, the live show [was] constantly changing."
On her international forays, including 2005's South by Southwest Music and Media Conference and more recent U.S. promotion, the pedal has been a remarkable icebreaker.
"I'm a girl with a 'boy toy,' and it's something a lot of people haven't seen or heard before. It was a very innocent way of trying to make more noise than I actually was, and it's turned out to be an intrinsic tool."
New Virgin U.S. chairman/CEO Jason Flom views the project as an early opportunity to test himself and his new label structure. "The buzz here is fantastic, and she's a giant priority for us," he says.
"The staggered timing really works for us," he adds. "One, for practical reasons, and two because things that break in England come over here with a little different cachet. There's a ton of hard work to do after that, but it gives you a hell of a chance."
Tunstall played industry showcase gigs late last year, including the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, and has had upfront press in such publications as Details and Paste. Further U.S. promotion is scheduled for March. "We've got her very busy," Flom says.
Despite her U.K. stardom, Tunstall is willing to start over in the States. "Success in America for me would be to tour as long as I would like to," she says. "And I don't care a jot if that's to 500 people per gig, or 1,000 or 5,000 or 10,000. If people are there because they want to be there, you can play to 10 people and have a really incredible experience."