Considering the story behind its creation, it makes sense that KT Tunstall’s fourth album is a record of two halves.
Back at the start of 2012, not long after coming to the end of a long touring schedule for her previous album, Tiger Suit, the Scottish singer was enjoying some well-deserved time off, and had no plans to start thinking about the next project.
Then she met Howe Gelb, of Americana band Giant Sand, and everything changed.
Before long, Tunstall was out in Tucson, Arizona, writing and recording songs for what would become the first half of Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon. She was only there for 10 days, but it was a start, and Tunstall found herself with a handful of songs more stripped back than anything she’d written before.
Influenced by her surroundings and new producer, they were also rooted in alt-country, a genre she’d always loved but never explored. The songs were about love, death and loss. Satisfied, Tunstall returned to the UK.
Then her father died, almost mirroring the themes of her recordings. “It was eerie,” she says, singling out Carried, a song on the first half of the album, as being particularly prescient. It’s about how the place in which somebody died is not the place they’ll be laid to rest, and a third party has to make that final journey for them.
“Three months later, I’m carrying my dad’s ashes in a backpack on a train to London,” says 37-year-old Tunstall.
The turbulence didn’t end there. Tunstall also split from her husband, Luke, the drummer in her band, soon afterwards, saying her father’s death gave her the courage she needed to make the change.
“So my personal life went crazy, there was a seismic shift in my life...” she says, tailing off. By the time I went out for the second recording session in November, I felt like completely different person.
“Life had changed, and that’s why there’s a real noticeable difference between the two halves of this album.
“The first half is small-sounding, and introverted, and then the second half goes widescreen.”
Tunstall says her priorities have completely shifted in the last year or so.
Work was once the most important thing in her life, but now other factors - like her own happiness - matter far more.
Tunstall played her first ticketed gig since November 2011 about a month ago, in an open-air Cornish theatre carved into the cliff-face, and could barely remember the words and chords to her old songs beforehand.
Tunstall also chose to work on old-fashioned analogue recorders, eschewing the computer technology used by so many today.
Tape is vastly more expensive than recording to hard drives but, more often than not, it takes much less time. The resulting sound is far warmer too, something Tunstall’s very proud of.
“I’ve been listening to a lot more vinyl records lately,” she says. “This record is coming out on vinyl, which I told the people at my label was very important to me. I love turning a record over when you’ve finished one side. In homage to that, there’s a three-second gap halfway through the CD version of this album,”