The undimmed desire not to drown in the “soup” of modern music was motivation enough for KT Tunstall to make her spirited sixth studio album WAX, released by Virgin EMI on October 5, 2018. The chance to make it the second record in a trilogy and give it what she calls a “sexy, sensual” feel didn’t hurt, either.
Many critics described WAX as a return to form by the enduring Scottish singer-songwriter. While every record in her catalog boasts many charms, it’s fair to say that the album captured much of the trademark spark that had lately been challenged by some personal issues. She has, by her own description in another interview, got her mojo back.
Tunstall enthused: “When I wrote the last record [2016’s Kin], I’d just come through some really heavy stuff. My father had passed away, my marriage had broken down, I’d just got divorced, I’d sold everything I owned and moved continents [to live in Los Angeles] and I wasn’t going to be releasing records for a while.
‘This could be a trilogy’
“I’d really immersed myself in writing film score, and actually I thought I was going to do that for a good long while instead of making records. So it was a really amazing moment on tour with Kin, I was sitting in a park in Nashville and suddenly went: ‘This could be a trilogy.’
“That record [was] about the soul and the spirit and coming through difficulty and trauma and coming out victorious, and more than that, coming out stronger than you were before and being glad of it. Then I knew that the next one I wanted to make would be about the body. I thought, ‘Soul, body, mind,’ and make three records.”
The lead single from WAX, “The River,” written with Martin Terefe, swiftly became a favorite with both fans and media. “It’s an old song I wrote ten years ago, but I didn’t quite have the chorus right,” she said. “I always knew it was a cracker. The way it’s written, it suggests it should be a bit of a torch song and because this record is a real electric guitar album, I was like ‘Oh, we can turn it into a total beast,’ and it really made it better,” she says.
“This record is all about how as human beings, we’re limited by our body and what we need and what we desire,” Tunstall goes on. “So it’s quite a sexy, sensual record which is different for me, and electric guitar is definitely the instrument that is most physical, for me, it’s such a potent instrument.”
Working with co-producers including former Franz Ferdinand guitarist Nick McCarthy, she captured a rawness born of recording live in a garage with an all-female band. They also went out with Tunstall on the road, including at an outstanding London performance at the Jazz Cafe on August 26, 2018. The album debuted at No.15 on the Official Charts Company’s UK chart in October.
KT’s ultimate hero
That London show, and others around the release, followed tour dates with the Pretenders and Simple Minds that she says were “back to school for me. It’s such a pleasure watching those guys do their thing, and Chrissie Hynde is my ultimate hero.” An extensive North American followed in the autumn, with a major UK and European itinerary in the spring of 2019.
WAX came 14 years after Tunstall first served notice of her unique creativity with the False Alarm EP, swiftly followed by the astonishing success of the debut album Eye To The Telescope. Other less durable voices have come and gone in their droves since, but her focus is sharper than ever. “It feels like as a musician, you’ve just got to completely stick to your guns,” she says, “and not get diluted and join in the soup that’s out there.”