“I’ve always seen myself as this kind of rhythm package,” says Tunstall, who appears at the Chapel on Sunday in The City. “I was becoming known for up-tempo, uplifting, knees-up gigs, like, ‘Go see KT Tunstall! You’ll have such a good time!’ But now that I’ve made what is certainly my most emotional record, I’m actually singing, and it feels great.”
Her fifth album, “Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon,” which she recorded and co-produced with Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb in his native Tucson, Ariz., is divided into two aesthetic halves.
The first, “Invisible Empire,” revolves around sparse, acoustic-strummed chords in the melancholy reflections “Made of Glass, How You Kill Me,” and the career-reassessing title track.
The second, “Crescent Moon,” relies on a more loping, Southwestern feel, and rosier lyrics in “Honeydew” and “No Better Shoulder.”
The Londoner met Gelb during a Robyn Hitchcock session they attended, before he invited her to the Arizona desert for experimental recording.
After leaving the Virgin label after her last 2010 effort “Tiger Suit,” she says, “I really needed to do something that wasn’t formulaic, wasn’t planned and wasn’t being analyzed by anyone.” She went to Tucson in April last year, and within a few months, wrote nine songs. Back in Britain, Tunstall penned one new track, “Feel It All,” then returned to Tucson for the more improvised “Crescent” portion.
“I had a pretty crazy summer in 2012,” she says. “I lost my father and my marriage ended — it was a very strange and difficult time. And that’s why I ended up with a record in two halves. The first half was before anything had happened, and weirdly, that half is the more somber, brooding and questioning part. It had a weird precognizant nature.”
Tunstall’s father had been ill for a while, so she felt relieved when he was out of pain. Regarding the split from her husband (and former backing drummer) Luke Bullen, she allows, “Some people don’t pursue happiness and stick with something safe. But that wasn’t the right choice for me.”
Next up: An animated punk-rock movie for which she and “Tiger Suit” producer Jim Abbiss co-wrote a script and electronica soundtrack. “It’s just been such a joy to do something that’s totally free of agenda,” she says.