By Paul Sexton
LONDON (Billboard) - At a recent media showcase in London, KT Tunstall offered an unusual description of the songs from her forthcoming third album: "Like Eddie Cochran working with Leftfield," she told the assembled press.
After hearing Tunstall's new release, the reference to such disparate artists as the '50s rockabilly great and the contemporary British electronica duo makes sense. "Tiger Suit" -- due October 5 on Virgin in North America and September 27 internationally on Relentless/Virgin -- still plays to Tunstall's strengths as a tunesmith and perceptive lyricist, it does feature more up-to-the-minute ingredients than her previous work, with several tracks harnessing electronic beats to her acoustic guitar.
The album follows a rare period of downtime for Tunstall, who worked almost nonstop from her word-of-mouth breakthrough, 2004's "Eye to the Telescope," through 2007's "Drastic Fantastic."
"I don't write on tour, so it was essential that I took time out," Tunstall says from a promo stop in Minneapolis. "I'd started my time off by traveling through the Arctic, South America and India, so I had locked into a very primal, indigenous spirit by the time it came to recording."
The album's range is demonstrated by the different lead singles on either side of the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, the reflective "(Still A) Weirdo" will be released as a single September 27, while the United States goes with the more upbeat and urgent "Fade Like a Shadow," a choice that should play better on U.S. radio, according to EMI North America executive vice president of marketing and promotion Greg Thompson.
"I just heard 'Fade Like a Shadow' in the restaurant where I was eating sushi, so the signs are good," Tunstall says. "I may lose some fans of the old stuff, but I get the feeling I've already made a few new ones by embracing a bit of experimentation."
SPICING IT UP
"There's been a sonic change in the market; everything's more rhythmic and electronic now," says Virgin U.K. president Shabs Jobanputra, who has worked closely with Tunstall throughout her recording career. "So it was important that KT wanted to take it on to something different. It's almost like a shop getting a new window, like, 'You know I'm really good, we just need to spice it up a bit.'"
"Telescope" has sold 1.3 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 1.6 million in the United Kingdom, according to the Official Charts Co., but follow-up "Drastic Fantastic" struggled to make the same connection. The sophomore set has sold 234,000 stateside and 280,000 back home.
"Sometimes if an artist doesn't sell more records, it's (seen as) not a success," Thompson says. "KT sold a lot of records and concert tickets, she has a substantial fan base in the U.S., and (the second album) further developed her as a career artist."
Tunstall herself is more blunt. "There's a load of soulless s--t out there that sells much more than many of my favorite artists," she says. "If someone considers lower sales a failure, they're entitled to that opinion. My own bar is set to fulfilling a drive to create music that means something to me, and then playing it for people."
She already has played the new songs at promotional events in the U.S. as well as intimate gigs in her native Scotland. ("I liked the Twa Tams gig in Perth, when a girl on crutches started climbing on top of the sound engineer's desk to get a better view," she says with a smile.)
Worldwide tour dates are being finalized for the fall, and will kick off a tour that will extend well into 2011.
"I definitely feel ready for the journey," Tunstall says. "I'm still loving it."
(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)