interview

KT TUNSTALL: what it’s like to live with hearing loss

What was it like shooting with Bryan Adams?
Bryan has been a ubiquitous part of my aural world since I can remember. The whole thing was really exciting, it was fantastic.

Why did you decide to become an ambassador for the Hear the World Initiative?
Because it’s a great cause. I’m delighted to be part of a campaign that not only helps people find solutions that can improve their quality of life but also educates the population at large about the importance of preserving their sense of sound. My younger brother was born profoundly deaf so I’ve grown up extremely aware of what it’s like for someone with hearing loss to live in a mostly hearing world. I’ve always imagined what it’s like for my brother to come to my gigs, to help me understand what he experiences. It’s really interesting.

Have you ever experienced problems with your hearing?
I suffer from tinnitus and have slight hearing loss in one of my ears. Unfortunately, it’s only when you experience a problem that you really realize how precious our hearing is and how much we take it for granted. Sound is a very important part of my life and something I would hugely miss if it was ever encroached upon by my stupid behavior. It really highlights what I should have done growing up, and what I could be doing now, to protect my hearing.

Do you think your hearing problems have been caused by your career in music?
Of course, especially when you have got an ear to the cymbals most of the time. I don’t use in-ear monitors. I am a staunch wedge user (on-stage monitor) because I need to feel the volume. But you have to be very careful.

Do you think that being a musician has given you a deeper appreciation of sound?
Definitely! There was a point where my tinnitus got so bad, thankfully it is under control now, but you know you can feel helpless with a condition like tinnitus as there is nothing you can really do about it. There was a point where it became very difficult to tune my guitar because it got so bad…it’s also perversely interesting having it as well, because it is in C so I could always tune my guitar to C. (laughs)

If you could go back in time would you be more proactive in your attitude towards hearing care?
I think I would definitely be more aware. If I was on stage and it was painful. I would do something about it.

So you are definitely conscious about it now?
For sure!

Would you ever intervene if you saw a younger musician on stage playing music at potentially damaging high volumes?
I would certainly be happy to share my experience with someone and give them a bit of advice. It’s just through experience and learning that I have learnt a safe level because no-one is going to set that level for you. The monitor engineer isn’t standing in front of you, you have to ask him for what you want and then he does what you ask. So you have got to have a self-awareness.

What sounds do you love?
British birdsong is my favorite sound ever. There has been a massive influx of parakeets in London, which really piss me off because they are really loud and annoying, it’s like a screeching sound. I am like ‘shut up’! The local birds sound amazing. I love the sound of crows, and blackbirds are just incredible. When my younger brother got a cochlear implant a few years ago it was amazing the things he could hear all of a sudden but, because he was born deaf, he didn’t recognize the new sounds around him. He is hearing more, but he was like “what is that?!” There wasn’t always someone there to tell him – that sound is a lawn mower, that’s the washing machine. He’s a tennis coach and I drove home with him after work once. He parked his car and was like “what the hell is that noise?! Every time I come home and I hear it and I’m like, what is that noise? I don’t know what it is.” It turns out it was all the crows roosting in the trees above where he parks. Tons of them going rah rah rah rah…it was a completely new sound to him and because he didn’t look up, he never knew so (laughs) he was glad to know.

What sound do you dislike?
I dislike feedback, it’s really bad. The worst. I really dislike when people gather phlegm from deep inside their throat. Phlegm gathering