The following feature appears in the September 2016 issue of NYLON.
There’s a song on KT Tunstall’s new album Kin about the need to wear armor. “Hard Girls” basically sums up who she used to be: a guitar-wielding chick incapable of cutting the bullshit so she could just chill. “I felt like, ‘I’m a pop star. I should be drinking and partying every night and hosting enormous parties at my house that cost thousands,’” she admits while giving a tour of her sick pad in Venice, California, where she’s lived since 2014. “It was fun, but you don’t have to do that all the time.”
This home is no place for ragers. With its gray palette, wooden tables with raw edges, copious amounts of plants, and cool beach breeze, the house is a sanctuary, albeit a sassy one. On the wall in the living room is a framed temporary tattoo by Tracey Emin, Tunstall’s favorite artist. “It’s a little bird getting a ride on a cock,” she says, laughing. “No one ever notices it!”
Tunstall, 41, moved here from London in search of a place where calm and quiet could prevail. “I can sit on my balcony in the nude after a bath and look up at the stars,” she says, now barefoot and sitting on her couch in a black Michael Kors jumpsuit. “I can’t hear traffic at night, and there are no street lights. It kind of saved my life.”
After releasing four albums and feeling “burnt out for sure,” she’d vowed to quit recording solo albums. “The whole process of leaving the U.K. was like a spiritual, mental, physical clearing,” she adds. “I knew I had to start again because I’d fucked up.”
How exactly did she fuck up so badly? “Mentally I couldn’t handle anything,” she admits, adding that her insecurities also held her back. After Tunstall’s 2004 debut, Eye to the Telescope, went multiplatinum and her track “Suddenly I See” was featured in the opening credits of The Devil Wears Prada and used as Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign theme, she was everywhere. “It was so weird when four million people bought that record and you know they’re expecting something from you,” says Tunstall, who began playing the guitar at age 15 back in her hometown of St. Andrews, Scotland. “Suddenly I go from, like, playing on the fucking street and living in a shitty little house on the edge of town in Scotland with no heating while eating pasta covered in ketchup, to having 15 to 20 people on the road with me, two tour buses—a huge production. And if I want to take a break, 15 people don’t have wages, and they have children. It was not attractive to me to be in charge of all that.”
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All clothing by H&M, Tunstall’s own sunglasses.