If you’ve been watching carefully (which you should be), you’ll have seen that I was rather glowing in my praise of the latest album from This Is The Kit on Friday. So what a pleasure it was to have Mrs This Is The Kit (otherwise known as Kate Stables) answer a few of my questions over email. I’ve been a fan of this band for a long time. If for some mad reason this is the first time you’re hearing of them, I strongly recommend you stop reading this interview now and go and listen to them. Or read the interview first, I suppose. It’s totally up to you. Away we go….
Fran Slater: Hi Kate – firstly, congratulations on the new album. I think it may be your best so far. I think I read that the album was written prior to lockdown, is that right? It must have been strange to release an album at this challenging time. Can you tell me a bit about how that process has been for you?
Kate Stables: Oh my, thank you.
Yes the album was written (kind of) between 2018 and 2019 and then we recorded it in the first week of March, just as things got pretty serious globally.
The process of releasing an album for me is always an odd one. Also, it seems to have been very different for each album I’ve put out. So there’s been no control test! But this one has actually been pretty enjoyable despite not being able to go out and play to people. I’ve actually really been enjoying talking to journalists on Skype and Zoom.
During these times of very minimal human interaction it was really nice to see new faces and to have some kind of an exchange. Also, I’ feel like I’ve been really lucky and the people who I’ve been talking to/interviewed by have been really decent and friendly folks. It’s been pretty nice. Very different to when the last record came out, kind of busier in fact. But without the showcases and gigs. I really miss the shows though and meeting people face to actual human face.
That’s great to hear, Kate – I’m glad you’ve been able to make the most of the situation in regards to the album release. One thing I personally really enjoy about Off Off On is that it seems to have added a couple of layers to some of your previous work in terms of the instrumentation. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the writing process for these songs – how much of it is on you and how much collaboration is involved?
Well my approach is always to just try and get some songs written that I can play to start to finish and that I feel are ‘song’ enough to exist on their own without anything else. And then to play them to the band for them to find what it is they’d like to play on them.
Then we work on it all together to find everyone’s parts and the arrangement of the song for the band. In this case we all spent a week together in a friend’s cottage in Wales working on the songs every day. During this time Jesse had also been writing horn arrangements for the songs but that hadn’t yet been tried out with any actual horns.
Then a couple of weeks later we went into the studio with producer Josh Kaufman and it was there that most of the layers and extra instrumentation got worked in. It was also there that jesse’s horn arrangements got played and tweaked and settled in.
We all tried to be as prepared as possible before going into the studio and then Josh was our wise guide as to what got added and what got left out. We all obviously had input and opinions but Josh had the skills to navigate and orchestrate everything so it all worked.
It definitely did work – and it’s interesting to how it all threaded together. This Is The Kit always seems like such a collaborative endeavour, even while also feeling like you’re always at its centre.
And speaking of collaboration, I am a massive fan of The National and was overjoyed to find the likes of yourself and Lisa Hannigan on their last album. Can you tell me a bit about that experience – from them asking you to get involved and how it developed? And do you feel it has brought your work to more people?
It was really fun. Bryce asked a bunch of us to try out some vocals on a few tracks that they were working on for a film and they just ended up using a bunch of these attempts.
It was a really nice project to be part of. Touring it was a real life-changer and so much fun.
The National’s production team and crew are all so incredible and dedicated and hard working. Everyone looks after each other and it felt like quite an amazing thing to witness. That and the fact that everyone in the band was a total pleasure to be on the road with and to play shows with. It was a real life-changer for me.
I suppose it did also introduce my work to a few of The National’s fans. They’re an attentive bunch and pay attention to who’s on stage.
But mainly it was just nice to be kind of an anonymous band member. I loved it.
I saw you with them on the tour – it definitely looked like you were loving it! Obviously you would now normally have been touring your own album at the moment and having seen you on your last few tours I can see how much live shows mean to you. How are you finding a year without them?
It’s harder than I expected. I really miss gigs and people. And I really miss playing music with my band.
I can feel the effect it’s having on my physical and mental wellbeing. I’m sure It’s the same for everyone. Whether it’s playing or watching gigs, we need it. It’s part of our nutrition and to go for so long without it takes its toll.
I just hope we’ll be able to get back on track soon and catch up on what we’ve been missing.
I feel you there for sure – I so miss being a part of a crowd at a show!
One thing I notice at your shows is that, despite the newest album, there are always a few fan favourites that the crowd are calling for. Do you feel there are any particular songs you need to include in your setlist? Or any you know the fans are desperate for you to bring back?
Mainly the set lists are made up of the songs that we’ve been rehearsing most recently as a band. It’s always amazing when people know my songs or have favourites that they feel inclined to shout out for, so I do try and do my best to oblige.
But sometimes I genuinely can’t remember how to play a song so I need a bit of warning to be able to re learn it. I’m not aware of any songs that anyone is desperate for me to put in the set, but people can always ask!
I will keep that in mind!
Off Off On has been your most successful album so far in terms of chart positions and early sales. Has that felt like a natural growth over your career, with a bit more attention after each release, or do you feel like there is an added momentum now?
Natural growth is all we can hope for as humans as well as artists, So I hope I’ve been growing personally and professionally.
Chart positions and sales aren’t why I do this job, but they are a kind of indicator of whether people are enjoying what you do, so that’s nice, if we’re bringing some enjoyment to folks.
As for future releases, who knows. The world is a weird one and the music business is a fickle eco system of hot air and hype. But there are many decent people out there working in the music industry in an honest transparent and human way, so there is hope. I didn’t mean to be too much of a Debbie Downer!
I think we do need to be realistic though about how anything can happen at any point. One minute you have a job and the next minute you don’t and that’s something that Covid 19 is teaching us all at the moment.
But yes, momentum, maybe. Who knows. I’m not sure how it works.
I always like to get an idea of what music is influencing the bands and artists I enjoy – could you tell me what you’ve been listening to in 2020? And what is your album of the year so far?
So far, my album of the year is Bucky’s The Stupid Years Volume 1 and 2. They’re an amazing band from Bristol who write the best songs ever and have the healthiest attitude and sense of humour towards life and love and the universe.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of Sleaford Mods and watching as many documentaries as I can find about them as possible.
I’ve also been enjoying All That Emotion by Hannah Georgas and Rachael Dadd’s album Flux as well as Ultra Mono by Idles. I’ve been watching their live at the Bataclan concert and finding a lot of hope and inspiration in that.
I have seen you shouting about Bucky on social media – I will have to make sure to check that out. That Hannah Georgas album is gorgeous – up there with my favourites from the year too.
Okay – thanks so much for your time Kate. Really appreciate it. Finally, I know we have just had a new album and will (hopefully) have a tour in 2021 – but I was wondering if there were any ideas about what we should expect next from This Is The Kit? Or any other projects you are working on?
I’m working on a few bits and bobs, but I’m quite a superstitious person when it comes to talking about projects. It feels like I say anything out loud it’ll jinx it into not happening.
One thing that is out and announced though is that I’ll be taking part in an interesting project launched by the Bristol Beacon. They’re inviting people to document (in writing or images or music) their experiences of living through 2020 and to donate their experiences. Then there are a number of artists involved who’ll be using the material that people offer up to make into music or song or visual art.
So it’s going to be interesting to take part in that and see people’s stories and experiences.
Lovely – thanks Kate, we will keep an eye out for that. And for all those reading this, we hope you enjoyed – if you haven’t spent some time with Off Off On as yet then please make sure that do!
Interview by Fran Slater