KT Tunstall could say her new Tiger Suit album literally came out of left field. Or, at least a good chunk of it did.
Before starting the record, she told her producer she wanted the album to be a combination of British electronic dance duo Leftfield and rockabilly legend Eddie Cochran.
"I spent a lot of time thinking very deeply about what I wanted to make and what was exciting me," says Tunstall. "And it led to listening back to a lot of my record collection. And Leftfield's Lesson was the album that was floating my boat the most, going back to that record, which I'd loved all through the '90s, and going, 'Why is this so good?' And then also listening to a lot of old Eddie Cochran and going, 'Why is this so good?'"
What proved less fun and easy was figuring out how to reshape the blend of frisky folk and hooky pop found on her acclaimed 2006 debut album, Eye to the Telescope (which included the hits "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" and "Suddenly I See") and her 2007 follow-up, Drastic Fantastic.
The first setback came when Tunstall decided to participate in a boat trip to Greenland with the Cape Farewell organization. The voyage involved a number of artists from different disciplines creating art to raise awareness of climate change, and Tunstall hoped it would spark her creativity. Instead, the opposite occurred.
"I was just with all of these very, very hard-hitting, sensitive, very impressive people," she says. "And my ego got out a big machete and just started fighting me, chopping off each finger, going, 'You won't need that.' And there was just this moment when I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to feel competitive. I didn't want my ego."
Stung by her crisis of confidence, Tunstall decided to spend three more months traveling with her husband, drummer Luke Bullen, which helped keep the anxiety at bay. But not completely.
"I experienced it again during the year, of writing a couple of times, where I would suddenly be really taken down by self-doubt," she recalls. "I think with hindsight, really, it's just the nature of pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, that that will happen. You just wonder whether you're going in the right direction, and if you're capable of coming back with anything that made it worth it."
Tunstall ended up writing some 75 songs and bringing in new producer Jim Abbis. The result? The folk-pop foundation of her sound is still intact, but Tunstall does break some molds on Tiger Suit. "Uummannaq Song" has a bit of a Peter Gabriel flavor, with its world-beat elements. "Push That Knot Away" and "Glamour Puss" add a layer of electronic rhythms, while "Lost" and "Difficulty" delve even further into synthesic soundscapes. Still, Tunstall's rich vocal melodies keep it all accessible.
Once complete, there was just one more hurdle: The album's new sound meant shaking up the touring band she'd been with for seven years.
"It was really, really difficult because those guys were family and still are," says Tunstall. "Still I have days where I'm just going, 'God, did I do the right thing?' because I miss them horribly. But I think I did."