Jane Mingay

When it comes to her art, KT TUNSTALL is a big believer in environmental impact. “I’ve always found where I’m working affects what I’m doing,” says the Scottish singer-songwriter, who made her last album, the electronic-tinged Tiger Suit, in the dance-music hub of Berlin. For her newly released Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon (Blue Note Records, $14), Tunstall found her muse in an altogether different locale, traveling to the Sonoran Desert to record in Tucson, Ariz. “I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery of the desert,” she says.

The album is an emotional epic midwifed by co-producer Howe Gelb, a member of the desert-dwelling band Giant Sand, who’d struck up a friendship with Tunstall while on tour. Tunstall cut songs in two sets at Tucson’s WaveLab Studio, recording in April and November of 2012.

Between the sessions, however, Tunstall’s life and work would be impacted dramatically by the end of her marriage and the death of her father. Looking back, she says the first batch of songs would come to have “a bizarre, fortune-telling quality to them. Only months later were they informing my life with a spooky prescience, as if my subconscious had been ahead of me.”

While recording the second half of the album last fall, the material began to take on a cinematic quality, something she attributes in part to location. “That’s the beauty of recording in a different city or country,” she says. “You’re never quite sure where the place you’re at will take your music.”