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KT Tunstall finds joy after trial, creative burnout

‘Suddenly I See’ singer returns to the big pop sound that brought her success

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KT Tunstall, gay news, Washington Blade

KT Tunstall plays the Lincoln Theatre on Wednesday, Sept. 14. (Photo by Tom Oxley)

KT Tunstall
 
 
Wednesday, Sept. 14
 
 
The Lincoln Theatre
 
 
1215 U St., N.W.
 
 
thelincolndc.com
 
 
6:30 p.m.
 
 
$35
 

KT Tunstall’s hit 2005 single “Suddenly I See” from her debut album “Eye to the Telescope” was heard on every screen big and small from the film “The Devil Wears Prada” to being featured on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy.” That kind of success may have appeared like the best time in a musician’s life, but now following the death of her father and a divorce from her husband, drummer Luke Bullen, Scottish singer-songwriter Tunstall, 41, is the happiest she’s ever been. Her new album “KIN,” released on Sept. 9, reflects how she was able to come out on the other side with not only new material, but a fresh perspective.

Washington Blade spoke with Tunstall from the road on tour in promotion of her latest album about how she was able to turn pain into art, her distaste for sexuality labels and how she accidentally gained a lesbian following with a simple wardrobe choice.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What was the inspiration behind your latest album “KIN?” What was the recording process like?

KT TUNSTALL: It was a real rollercoaster ride actually and quite unexpected. The last record I made had been a down-tempo, folk record (2013’s “Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon”). During the recording my dad had died and my marriage broke up. So it was just this tectonic shift in life and it was very intense. I was very proud of the record, but it was the first time I had written a record that wasn’t very dynamic. I went on tour, mostly solo, and I’m wearing this amazing custom-made Dior suit and playing to seated audiences for the first time in beautiful theaters. But I just got completely burnt out and I felt that I was done really with making records for a good while and I didn’t want to make another record and I didn’t want to tour. And I just think that on a personal level I just had all of that stuff happen and I just needed to start again.

So I sold everything I owned and I moved to Venice Beach in California. I really intended to just focus on film music for a little while. I’d wanted to record music for film for many years and hadn’t had time. I trained with the Sundance Institute for a year, and built some relationships in the film industry and wrote for some short films. I was just loving life and finally finding life where I could be and not just do. Because it had just been 100 percent doing living in London and never finding any peace and tranquility in life.

So I really found sanctuary in Venice Beach. While living there, I really loved listening to music in the car and I’d be driving around listening to Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty driving around Laurel Canyon and the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). After about a year I just started writing these really big, muscular, emotional pop choruses. And they just started coming and my brain and my body were just like, ’No I don’t want to do it!” and really its up to the subconscious and the spirit and they took over and were like ‘Nope you’re gonna do it.” It’s definitely a very kindred spirit to the first album. It feels like I’ve taken three records to write my second album. Not to disrespect the other records because I’m really proud of them, but I just feel like for the first time since the first record I’m in a really carefree, unselfconscious, vulnerable, strong place again. And it’s that mixture of being vulnerable and being strong at the same time that I think leads to my best music personally.

I’d just become very self conscious, very guarded after becoming successful. And it took cutting the umbilical cord with needing to make records and being a record-producing solo artist completely defining who I was. I didn’t know who I was outside of being that and I needed to find out and I needed to let go of it to find out, and then I did find out, and it’s awesome. And now I feel like a total boss now and I’m ready to go. It feels like part two of a story.

BLADE: A lot of people after coming out of a rough personal patch could have come back and made a really angry or sad album. “KIN” is more happy and hopeful. Why did you decide on a more uplifting approach?

TUNSTALL: It’s what’s come out. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s such a journey and now I understand. I hadn’t gone through things like that before, the death of a parent and break up of a marriage and moving continents. And it was just the most liberating, transformative experience. Yeah, it was really, really hard at times. But I look at where I am in my life now and I love where I live. I have such great friends and family. My life is much simpler. I never would have found this place if that whole shit storm hadn’t hit me. I’d have never taken the time to take myself apart and look at the darkest corners. I deconstructed myself and put myself back together in a much healthier way. So really the record is for me to go and celebrate with the human beings that these really difficult times in your life can actually provide you with a clear path to something better than you had before.

BLADE: How did your lesbian following come about? How do you feel about it?

TUNSTALL: I’ve always been very flattered and very happy that a group of people who have to deal with a load of shit on a daily basis, that they shouldn’t have to deal with, find meaning and attachment to my music. I think it’s a really big compliment. My gay followers have been incredibly loyal as well. I really relate to the gay community. I feel total indigenous that there is anything but support for human beings loving each other, getting married, living together and having children together. I just don’t fucking understand anyone having a problem with other people being happy. So I’ve always championed and fought hard for opinion to change on that.  I think it probably stemmed from the fact that, first of all, I’m not a female singer that bares a lot of skin when I play. I think that my fashion sense has always had an element of androgyny to it. So I think that probably had people questioning my sexuality. I know because I would read about it. And also, my first record cover I wanted to pay homage to Patti Smith on the cover of “Horses.” I love “Mork and Mindy” and I love Robin Williams’ rainbow suspenders. My stylist on the shoot thought this would be fun, a big child version of Patti Smith. We didn’t think twice about it and, of course, it was like a an absolute rainbow flag that I was gay when it isn’t meant to be that. It was a total oversight by everyone and looks like I’m gay, but I’m not. Although having said that, I don’t like to put labels on it. And I love the fact that the younger generation are refusing to put labels on it because at that age, I would absolutely relate to that feeling of not wanting to put myself in a box. I grew up in theater and music and it’s weird if you don’t kiss people who are girls or boys. It’s uptight not to. It was always pretty fluid in the community I grew up with as a late teenager and early 20s and all that. It’s exciting times I think that it’s becoming questions that these labels are as rigorous as they are.

BLADE: What do you want people to take away from your upcoming show?

TUNSTALL: Joy one hundred percent. That’s the goal. For me that’s the meaning of life, finding that in your life. And doing whatever you need to do to find it, and follow it and be aware of what brings you joy. Not to fight difficulty and confrontation and try and rise through the hard times with grace and love. The thing that’s so amazing for me playing this new material for audiences is I’m just seeing them feeling, grinning, laughing and dancing and maybe sometimes crying at the same time. It’s just a beautiful connection between human beings and recognizing that, yeah, life is shit sometimes, but we survived and we’re here and we’re dancing and we’re celebrating being here.

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Music & Concerts

The Atlantis to showcase musical legends of tomorrow

New venue, a near replica of original 9:30 Club, opens next month

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A look at the interior of the original 9:30 club. (Photo public domain/Library of Congress)

A new nirvana for music fans opens next month adjacent to the 9:30 Club. Dubbed The Atlantis, this intimate venue embraces a 450-person capacity – and pays homage as a near-replica of the original 9:30 Club.

The $10 million venue comes courtesy of I.M.P., the independent promoter that owns and operates the 9:30 Club and The Anthem, and operates The Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The Foo Fighters will inaugurate The Atlantis on May 30, which is also the 9:30 Club’s anniversary. Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl, during a concert in 2021, kicked off speculation that I.M.P was planning to open a new venue, noting that, “We’ll probably be the band that opens that place, too, right?”

Other big names on the inaugural 44-show run roster: Franz Ferdinand, Barenaked Ladies, Third Eye Blind, Spoon, and Billy Idol.

To thwart scalpers, The Atlantis utilized a request system for the first 44 shows when they went on sale two weeks ago. Within four days of the announcement, fans had requested more than 520,000 tickets, many times more than the total 19,800 available. All tickets have been allocated; fans who were unable to snag tickets can attempt to do so in May, when a fan-to-fan ticket exchange opens.

While I.M.P. oversees multiple larger venues, “We’ve been doing our smallest shows in other peoples’ venues for too many years now,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. “We needed a place that’s ours. This can be the most exciting step in an artist’s career.”

The 9:30 Club holds 1,200 people, while The Anthem has space for up to 6,000.

“This will be where we help introduce new artists to the world… our smallest venue will be treated as important, if not more, than our bigger venues. If the stories are told right, both the artists and the fans begin their hopefully longterm relationship. Its stage will support bourgeoning artists and the legends of tomorrow,” Hurwitz said. Hurwitz and the team developed a tagline for the new venue: The Atlantis, Where Music Begins.

Hurwitz got his start at the original 9:30 Club, originally located at 930 F St., N.W. He was an independent booker of the club for the first six years and then he bought it, and managed the move from its original location to its current location in 1996. The venue first opened in 1980.

Audrey Fix Schaefer, I.M.P. communications director, provides further insight. “We were missing small venues in our umbrella. Big acts don’t start in stadiums. We need a place for emerging artists and for the community to discover new acts. The Atlantis can help new artists grow.”

While design elements are still coming into focus, Schaefer says that the space will be intimate, with almost no separation between the artist and the crowd. “There will be energy on both sides of the stage,” she says.

Although The Atlantis is set to be a replica of the original 9:30, I.M.P. has spared no expense. Schaefer notes that the sound and light systems use the latest available technologies, similar to next door at the current 9:30 Club.

The Atlantis takes over the footprint of now-closed Satellite Room. The venue will have at least two bars flanking the stage; cocktails but no food will be available.

Schaefer notes that since its early days, 9:30 Club and I.M.P. “has always been a place where people are welcome. People come and feel safe with us.” 9:30 Club has hosted several LGBTQ Pride parties, the BENT dance party series, and other events for LGBTQ patrons. Particular acts of note during the kickoff run include Tegan & Sarah and Tove Lo.

The Washington Blade was a neighbor to the 9:30 Club at its original F Street location back in the 1980s. Despite their proximity, noise wasn’t an issue for on deadline nights, when Blade staff worked late hours.

“We would of course work later hours back then,” said Phil Rockstroh, a longtime Blade staffer, in a 2016 Blade interview. “Everything was typeset and done by hand without computers and fax machines so getting through deadlines was much more time consuming.”

Rockstroh said the noise wasn’t a distraction.

“It wasn’t too bad as older buildings were constructed more solidly,” Rockstroh said. “There was only one entrance to the building and you entered so far to the elevator that went up to the other floors and then continued down the hall to the entrance to the 9:30 Club. Frequently at night if I was coming or going, there were people spilling out the doors.”

“The Blade has always had a friendly relationship with the 9:30 Club,” he added.

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Music & Concerts

National Philharmonic to perform classical, contemporary works

Violinist Melissa White returns

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The National Philharmonic will host “Beethoven’s 7th” on Saturday, April 15 at 8 p.m. at Strathmore.

Past and present will collide in this performance of contemporary works and classical masterpieces. Maestro Piotr Gajewski will direct Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem for Unity for Orchestra” Violinist Melissa White will also return to the Philharmonic to perform Florence Price’s sweeping, melodic “Violin Concerto No. 2.”

Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased on the Philharmonic’s website.

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Music & Concerts

Bruce & Janet & John Legend, oh my!

Slew of iconic acts hitting the road after pandemic cancellations

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Janet Jackson is among the iconic acts touring this spring.

Pop and rock icons are releasing their pent-up pandemic frustrations by mounting huge tours this spring and summer. After three years of canceled and postponed shows, everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Janet Jackson is hitting the road at long last. But save your coins because the TicketMaster algorithms are driving ticket prices to astronomical highs. Here are a few highlights from D.C.-area venues this spring. Although some of the iconic acts aren’t coming until summer — Beyonce, Madonna, Pink — several others are hitting the road this spring.

ANTHEM
Betty Who plays March 10; Keyshia Cole headlines the All Black Extravaganza 20 Year Anniversary tour on March 18; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come to town on May 3; Seal brings his world tour to town on May 10; and the beloved Pixies are back on the road with a new North American tour stopping here on June 10.

9:30 CLUB
Don’t miss Gimme Gimme Disco, an Abba dance party on March 18; Inzo arrives on March 31, followed by Bent on April 1; Ruston Kelly brings his The Weakness tour on April 17 along with Purr; The New Pornographers show on May 19 is sold out but there are tickets available for the May 20 show; The Walkmen have added a fourth show on May 23 because the other three shows are sold our;

CAPITAL ONE ARENA
Living legend Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are back with a vengeance, playing one of four area shows on March 27. (They’re in Baltimore the night before.) If you missed out this time, don’t worry, Bruce is playing Nats Park in September as well as at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. April 1 brings the R&B Music Experience, including Xscape, Monica, Tamar Braxton, and 112. Blink-182 comes to town on May 23. And this summer watch for Sam Smith to continue his hot streak, bringing his “Gloria” tour to town on Aug.4.

JIFFY LUBE LIVE
Janet Jackson makes her highly anticipated return to the stage this spring, arriving in our area on May 6 along with guest Ludacris. The LGBTQ ally and icon has promised new music on her upcoming “Together Again Tour,” which follows the pandemic-related cancellation of her “Black Diamond Tour.” Jackson also plays Baltimore’s newly renovated CFG Bank Arena on May 13.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
John Legend plays two nights at Wolf Trap on June 2 and 3; Charlie Puth follows on June 4. Wolf Trap also hosts the Indigo Girls on June 7 just in time for Pride month. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Smithereens at the Birchmere on March 17. Fans of ‘80s alternative will be lined up for the Church also at the Birchmere at April 4, followed by Suzanne Vega on April 26. Amy Grant returns to the stage this spring and plays the Birchmere on May 2. Echostage plays host to a slew of buzz worthy shows this spring, including Ella Mai on April 8 and Fisher on May 12.

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