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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



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.
6:30 p.m.

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.


Music & Concerts

Musical icons and newer stars to rock D.C. this spring

Brandi Carlile, Bad Bunny, Nicki Minaj, and more headed our way



Brandi Carlile plays the Anthem this month.

Bands and solo artists of all different genres are visiting D.C. this spring. Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will team up to perform at the Wolf Trap in June, and girl in red will play at the Anthem in April. Some artists and bands aren’t paying a visit until the summer, like Janet Jackson and Usher, but there are still plenty of acts to see as the weather warms up. 


Brandi Carlile plays at the Anthem on March 21; Arlo Parks will perform at 9:30 Club on March 23; Girlschool will take the stage at Blackcat on March 28.


Nicki Minaj stops in D.C. at Capital One Arena as part of her North American tour on April 1; Bad Bunny plays at Capital One Arena on April 9 as part of his Most Wanted tour; girl in red performs at the Anthem on April 20 and 21; Brandy Clark plays at the Birchmere on April 25; Laufey comes to town to play at the Anthem on April 25 and 26. 


Belle and Sebastian play at the Anthem on May 2; Chastity Belt performs at Blackcat on May 4; Madeleine Peyroux stops at the Birchmere on May 5; The Decemberists play at the Anthem on May 10; the rock band Mannequin Pussy performs at the Atlantis on May 17 and 18; Hozier plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 17 as part of the Unreal Unearth tour. 


Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will sing soulful melodies at Wolf Trap on June 8; Joe Jackson performs at the Lincoln Theatre on June 10; the Pixies and Modest Mouse are teaming up to play at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 14; Maggie Rogers plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 16 as part of The Don’t Forget Me tour; Brittany Howard headlines the Out & About Festival at Wolf Trap on June 22; Sarah McLachlan plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 27; Alanis Morissette performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 29 and 30

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Music & Concerts

Grammys: Queer women and their sisters took down the house

Taylor Swift won Album of the Year



When the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, her answer was simple: Nine. She stated: “I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” RBG did not attend the Grammy’s last night, but her spirit sure did. Women, at long last, dominated, ruled and killed the night.

Cher, in song a decade ago, declared that “this is a woman’s world,” but there was little evidence that was true, Grammy, and entertainment awards, speaking. In 2018, the Grammys were heavily criticized for lack of female representation across all categories and organizers’ response was for women to “step up.”

Be careful what you wish for boys.

The biggest star of the 2024 Grammys was the collective power of women. They made history, they claimed legacy and they danced and lip sang to each other’s work. Standing victorious was Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, SZA (the most nominated person of the year), Lainey Wilson, Karol G, boygenius, Kylie Minogue and Victoria Monét. Oh, yes, and powerhouse Taylor Swift, the superstar from whom Fox News cowers in fear, made history to become the first performer of any gender to win four Best Album of the Year trophies.

In the throng of these powerful women stand a number of both LGBTQ advocates and queer identifying artists. Cyrus has identified as pansexual, SZA has said lesbian rumors “ain’t wrong,” Phoebe Bridgers (winner of four trophies during the night, most of any artist) is lesbian, Monét is bi and Eilish likes women but doesn’t want to talk about it. Plus, ask any queer person about Swift or Minogue and you are likely to get a love-gush.

Women power was not just owned by the lady award winners. There were the ladies and then there were the Legends. The first Legend to appear was a surprise. Country singer Luke Combs has a cross-generational hit this year with a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” When originally released, the song was embraced as a lesbian anthem. When performing “Fast Car,” surprise, there was Chapman herself, singing the duet with Combs. The rendition was stunning, sentimental and historic.

Chapman, like many of the night’s female dignitaries, has not been public with her sexuality. Author Alice Walker has spoken of the two of them being lovers, however.

The legend among legends of the night, however, was the one and only Joni Mitchell. Not gay herself, she embodies the concept of an LGBTQ icon, and was accompanied by the very out Brandi Carlile on stage. On her website, Mitchell’s statement to the LGBTQ community reads, “The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.”

Mitchell performed her longtime classic “Both Sides Now.” The emotion, insight and delivery from the now 80-year old artist, survivor of an aneurism, was nothing short of profound. (To fully appreciate the nuance time can bring, check out the YouTube video of a Swift lookalike Mitchell singing the same song to Mama Cass and Mary Travers in 1969.) In this latest rendition, Mitchell clearly had an impact on Meryl Streep who was sitting in the audience. Talk about the arc of female talent and power.

That arc extended from a today’s lady, Cyrus, to legend Celine Dion as well. Cyrus declared Dion as one of her icons and inspirations early in the evening. Dion appeared, graceful and looking healthy, to present the final, and historic, award of the night at the end of the show.

Legends did not even need to be living to have had an effect on the night. Tributes to Tina Turner and Sinead O’Conner by Oprah, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor and Annie Lennox respectively, proved that not even death could stop these women. As Lennox has musically and famously put it, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.”

Even the content of performances by today’s legends-in-the-making spoke to feminine power. Eilish was honored for, and performed “What Was I Made For?,” a haunting and searching song that speaks to the soul of womanhood and redefinition in today’s fight for gender rights and expression, while Dua Lipa laid down the gauntlet for mind blowing performance with her rendition of “Houdini” at the top of the show, Cyrus asserted the power of her anthem “Flowers” and pretty much stole the show.

Cyrus had not performed the song on television before, and only three times publicly. She declared in her intro that she was thrilled over the business numbers the song garnered, but she refused to let them define her. As she sang the hit, she scolded the audience, “you guys act like you don’t know the words to this song.” Soon the woman power of the room was singing along with her, from Swift to Oprah.

They can buy themselves flowers from now on. They don’t need anyone else. Cyrus made that point with the mic drop to cap all mic drops, “And I just won my first Grammy!” she declared as she danced off stage.

Even the squirmiest moment of the night still did not diminish the light of women power, and in fact, underscored it. During his acceptance of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Jay-Z had a bone to pick with the Grammy voters. He called out the irony that his wife Beyoncé had won more Grammys than any other human, but had never won the Best Album of the Year. Yeah, what’s with that?

But then, it brought additional context ultimately to the fact that the winner of the most Grammys individually … is a woman. And to the fact that the winner of the most Best Album of the Year awards … is a woman.

Hopefully this was the night that the Grammys “got it.” Women are the epicenter of The Creative Force.

Will the other entertainment awards get it soon as well? We can hope.

Most importantly, in a political world where women’s healthcare is under siege. Will the American voters get it?

A little known band named Little Mix put it this way in their 2019 song “A Woman’s World.”

“If you can’t see that it’s gotta change
Only want the body but not the brains
If you really think that’s the way it works
You ain’t lived in a woman’s world

Just look at how far that we’ve got
And don’t think that we’ll ever stop…”

From Grammy’s mouth to the world’s ear.

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson returning to D.C, Baltimore

‘Together Again Tour’ comes to Capital One Arena, CFG Bank Arena



Janet Jackson is coming back to D.C. this summer.

Pop icon Janet Jackson announced this week an extension of her 2023 “Together Again Tour.” A new leg of the tour will bring Jackson back to the area for two shows, one at D.C.’s Capital One Arena on Friday, July 12 and another at Baltimore’s CFG Bank Arena on Saturday, July 13.  

Tickets are on sale now via TicketMaster. LiveNation announced the 2023 leg of the tour consisted of 36 shows, each of which was sold out. The 2024 leg has 35 stops planned so far; R&B star Nelly will open for Jackson on the new leg. 

Jackson made the tour announcement Tuesday on social media: “Hey u guys! By popular demand, we’re bringing the Together Again Tour back to North America this summer with special guest Nelly! It’ll be so much fun!”

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