Scottish tunesmith K.T. Tunstall, lunching on bagels at a tiny Manhattan deli, was thinking about a surreal Chinese dinner the previous evening, particularly the fortune in her cookie.
"It’s the best one I ever got," she says. "It said ‘Do not follow the path — make your own path, and leave a trail.’" Then who should stroll into the cafe but reclusive Strokes leader Julian Casablancas, who recognizes Tunstall, strikes up a conversation, and swears he’s such a fan he wants to record with her some day. Quite a trail, indeed.
Once the Stroke leaves, Tunstall is dumbfounded. "Can you believe that just happened? Who else is coming in for coffee? Timbaland?"
But it’s a great reminder of how far this whimsical singer has come in three years.
After struggling for ages to be heard, she was recruited for a U.K. variety show when rapper Nas canceled. Using her trademark AKAI Headrush looping pedal, the guitarist launched into a one-gal-band version of her "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," and the BBC’s phone lines lit up. Tunstall was a hit, and the song was quickly added to her debut, "Eye to the Telescope," which went quintuple platinum overseas, won her a Brit and Ivor Novello Award and a Grammy nomination, and found early airplay here in The City on KFOG.
She’ll return the favor by headlining KFOG’s annual Concert for Kids in Oakland on Thursday (David Gray is also on the bill), backing her new sophomore Virgin set "Drastic Fantastic."
"It recently dawned on me that this is a total comic-book existence, what I do," says Tunstall, 32. "You go to weird places, meet weird people, and you end up in these mad situations. It’s just crazy. Elton John says hello at a soundcheck, then the next morning you’re in a helicopter, flying to play a party in the French Alps. Then you finish the evening with a cup of tea, looking out your window at the Empire State Building, thinking ‘This isn’t really possible!’ It feels like time travel — a week feels like a month, a day feels like a week."
Naturally, Tunstall didn’t alter her winning folk-pop formula for "Drastic." "Hold On" was already a hit, and new single "Saving My Face" boasts an equally chiming hook.
It was inspired, in typically kooky K.T. fashion, by a television documentary, she says, "about these 60-year-old women who were having plastic surgery. Some of ’em were quite obviously looking in the mirror and going ‘Oh my God — I have a neck like a damned turtle!’ I’m just fascinated by our culture’s reaction to, and treatment of, beauty."
The artist doesn’t fear change, though. "I desperately want to see America with a Democratic president," she says, aware that her "Suddenly I See" was a final contender for Hillary Clinton’s campaign theme song.
A vegetarian, she’s gone green, touring in a biodiesel bus, helping found environmental group Global Cool, and offsetting album sales through Carbon Neutral, which has planted over 5,000 new trees in Scotland’s Carrifran Wildwood.
Where: Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $30 to $125