This is the Kit’s latest long player, Off Off On, is a record that quickly gets under your skin, somehow tapping into key themes of this testing year, despite being written pre-pandemic.
The alias of Kate Stables (guitar, banjo, vocals) – in this case joined by Rozi Plain (bass/vocals), Neil Smith (guitar), Jesse D Vernon (guitar/keyboards), and Jamie Whitby-Coles (drum/vocals) – This is the Kit seemed to be ahead of the curve in a year in which the old ‘normal’ was severely tested.
Kate also touches on mental health and ‘not so much mood swings as brain swings’ across 11 evocative tracks. How does she feel she’s coped amid all 2020’s thrown our way?
“These past few months have been quite a rollercoaster ride through all kinds of different emotional weather systems. I think this has probably been the case for most people. It’s an intense time of coming to terms with what is happening in the outside world, pandemic-wise but also politically, and environmentally.
“Lots to think about and lots to feel frustrated about. And lots of ways in which you wish you could help but can’t or don’t know where to start. Lots of time to think about all the problems but not being able to get out and do anything is really weird.”
Kate’s Lockdown #2 was spent at home in Paris, and got off to a rather inauspicious start.
“It started off pretty bad as me and my family all got Covid, so for a solid two weeks or so we were very much out of action and feeling ill. But looking back it was probably the best time for it to have happened. Although ideally it wouldn’t have happened at all!
“This year seems to be one huge year of learning how to roll with the punches.”
“Yes, luckily. Quite the fluke! We finished in the studio a couple of days before everything got clamped shut. It felt very lucky that we were able to get the recording done in time.
“It also just felt really lucky that we were able to have such a brilliant time together for a week before not being able to see each other for the best part of a year. One last hoorah before there was no more hoorah-ing for quite some time.”
With roots in Hampshire and a lot of time during her career in Bristol, has she managed to travel at all lately, or is it mostly phone or video calls with band, friends and family?
“Not really any travelling, apart from the odd trip in France. It’s actually been quite nice to just be here. I’ve been doing lots of cycling, which has been a lifesaver and a sanity saver.
“My partner Jesse runs a community orchestra here, and they organised an outside socially-distanced bike tour this summer. I was able to go on that, and it was brilliant. Cycling all day every day and playing outdoor gigs and camping for a couple of weeks in Brittany. I feel really lucky we were able to do that this summer.”
There are several recurring themes on this new record, and one you go back to time and again is water and power. Was that iniitally down to rehearsing in wintry, rural Wales, before recording at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios (near Bath)?
“Any reoccurring themes that are in my music and albums are always accidental. I never set out with a plan for a concept album or anything like that. Not yet anyway! It’s only after I finish the songs and start listening to the recordings that I start to notice reoccurring themes and ideas.
“But it’s true that water and power are mentioned in this record. I think, accidentally, water always makes its way into my albums and songs.
“I can see that I’ve been thinking about power a bit more recently though. Not just political power or power in terms of control over something or someone, but power in the sense of ability. Ability to do something. Self-belief. Inhibition. Emotional strength. Things like that.”
The promo video for the splendid single, ‘Coming to Get You Nowhere’ tells its own tale about those remote Welsh ‘cold-water’ album rehearsals.
“I like to think places play an important part in the outcome of the work that gets done. It affects the feeling and energy between the people working together in that place, so in that way it definitely affects the outcome of the work. But I like to think there are more mysterious hard to pin-point influences a place has as well.”
I get the feeling on some songs you must have been near some raging torrent or a hydro-electro power station.
“Ha ha! I hadn’t thought about it until now, but at Real World there’s a river and a lock, and it had been raining quite a lot – the river and floodgates were definitely quite raging in places. Hopefully it’s that you can hear. All those ions!”
“Yes, all the gigs that were originally planned for just after the release of the album have now been shoved to later dates. They’ve maybe even had a couple of shoves by now. Everyone is working on a kind of week-by-week basis, gig-wise, at the moment. It’s all pretty touch and go.
“I really hope all the amazing and important independent venues and promoters are able to tread water long enough to stay afloat through all this. There have been a few socially-distanced shows added in January though, which I wasn’t expecting. Fingers crossed they’ll go ahead!”
This latest long player makes it five albums in barely a dozen years, starting with Krulle Bol in 2007, then Wriggle Out the Restless (2010) and Bashed Out (2015), with Off Off On preceded by fellow Rough Trade release Moonshine Freeze, released a decade after her debut. Does each new record tell the story of where you’re at during that spell?
“I don’t think I’m someone who has really ever thought about where I’m heading. My main goal is just to keep at it and make sure I’m still enjoying it. There’s no beginning or end or arriving for if you ask me. There’s just doing it and still doing it or doing it differently to before. So in that respect I think each record tells its own story of that particular time.
“I guess lining them all up and looking at them analytically there’s probably some kind of journey that could be mapped. People do grow and change after all. But mainly each album is its own thing, I think.”
Was working with Josh Kaufman (Yellowbirds, The National, The Hold Steady, Muzz, Bonny Light Horseman, having also collaborated with Taylor Swift on both her Folklore and Evermore LPs in 2020) what you thought it would be? He seems to have brought something out of you that works, for sure.
“Yes! It was every bit as excellent as I’d hoped. Maybe even more so? He’s such a pleasure to hang out with and make music with. He really knows his craft and is great with people. A really great person to work with.”
And is Peter Gabriel still involved at Real World?
“Ha ha, yes it’s still his studio, I believe. And the Womad offices are based there as well. I don’t think he lives there any more though. He wasn’t about when we were there. Not that I was aware of anyway. All the staff and engineers who work there are so great, so welcoming and friendly. A really top troupe. We were working with an engineer called Oli (Middleton), who was a frickin’ angel.”
It’s one of my favourite LPs of 2020, and opening track ‘Found Out’ sets the bar high. For me, there are echoes of Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention through to Judie Tzuke and onwards, but with that sense of quirk we expect from Kate and co. It’s very much a This is the Kit record.
‘Started Again’ is another that soon resonates, ‘rocks and water’ at its heart. And while she talks about ‘This is What You Did’ as a ‘bit of a panic attack song’, isn’t it also another about coming to terms with how things are, taking strength from that?
“Yes, for sure. Coming to terms with things. But also saying them out loud to kind of exercise any negative thoughts. Things like that. We can get in a bit of a funk sometimes when we don’t talk about things enough or get outside enough. That song speaks a lot about that.”
‘No Such Thing’ offers further moments of multi-layered subtle beauty, with lovely vocals from you. There’s a real band feel here and elsewhere. And this time the water turns into electricity between people. I first heard it as ‘feed the current between you and me’, and I guess there’s a link. Then, ‘Slider’ has a more reflective late-night feel, ripe for further soul-searching. Was that part of the appeal of Paris for you – the place it becomes after dark?
“Ha ha. Paris after dark is nice. But for me it’s particular neighbourhoods in the daytime I love. Neighbourhoods where people are out using shared public space and kind of reclaiming the streets. Using the benches, parks and basketball courts and just hanging out, as often there’s not much space inside.”
Are you missing the human interaction of nightlife right now?
“Missing human interaction of any time of day! Missing human interaction in general. But it’s true that there’s something about being at a gig and being with people in that way that I really miss. There is something really great about being out with people at night and sharing the experience of a gig. I really miss that.”
“Yes, sure. But it’s also just about our relationship with time and how we use it, and how disciplined we are with ourselves. There’s a great Jeffrey Lewis song, ‘Time Trades’, which sums it up very well indeed. He wrote a perfect song about it. All I could manage was the phrase ‘making time, losing time, making time’. Ha ha!”
‘Coming to Get You Nowhere’ is gorgeous, and you never lose that strong sense of melody throughout. And while you ask for ‘energy, energy please’, it seems you’ve already got it here.
“Ha ha! That line has a few different meanings, I guess. Yes, asking for more energy but also asking people to tone it down a bit and not give off such chaotic high energy. To consider the other people in the room and their feelings and energy.”
‘Carry Us Please’ is an important part of the LP’s more inspirational ethos, I sense. ‘But you won’t make this change by slagging things off, go get some ideas’. Is this the most political song here?
It is a political song, yes, but there’s other political songs on the album too. Hard to say who wins the election, so to speak. But yes, ‘Carry Us Please’ does talk about social and political responsibility, and that line in particular is about how bitchy society has become. Especially with things like Twitter. People spend so much energy on feeding each other negativity and bullying each other. No problem is going to get solved that way. It’s a waste of time energy and server space.”
On the title track, there are echoes of your namesake Kate Bush. It’s clearly deeply personal, but – like t’other Kate – you look at things differently, with a call to move on, despite contrasting emotions.
“It’s about patterns and cycles and the way we as humans explain the universe to ourselves. Patterns of lights, cycles of activity. Daily routines. Sun up, sun down. Things like that. And to not take things for granted. ‘To assume makes and ass out of you and me’, as the saying goes.”
‘Shinbone Soap’ seems to be a further example of your ‘night-time mind race and morning day dread’, yeah? And I note that the water’s turned to quicksand here!
“Ha ha! Good liquid to not quite solid spot. It’s actually for me quite a calm and contemplative song. Not so much panicking. It’s thinking about our actions and the things we do that get us stuck, even though we know we shouldn’t be doing them. It’s about memory and physical sensations. Smell, taste, temperate touch. And a sense of belonging or not.”
Then, ‘Was Magician’ sets us up nicely for the climax, and this time it seems to be about inner power –
‘But the power, it was in her, to control it and to use it’.
Yes, again the idea of ‘pouvoir’, the ability to use your own forces, will, strength. It’s only just occurred to me but a while ago I did a cover of a friend’s song and the song was called ‘Du Pouvoir’, and my understanding of her song – a brilliant artist called Halo Maud, on Heavenly Records – is in part of the ability we have and the acknowledgement of that ability and of the power we have. Very similar to ‘Was Magician’. I’d not thought of that before.”
And then we’re away on the splendid ‘Keep Going’. In a sense it’s part three of a trilogy on this record, after ‘Carry Us Please’ then ‘Was Magician’ – finding ways forward, then getting on with it, overcoming all barriers; that resolute thinking behind ‘This love has been ours, this love is ours, this love is still ours’.
“Yes, I hope so. Resolute thinking and finding ways forward. Very nicely put.”
And when the vaccine finally does its job, the virus is done for and we’re free again, what’s the first thing you think you’ll do as the shutters come up and we return to the outside world again?
“I really miss swimming! I just want to go to one of Paris’ many excellent municipal swimming pools and plough up and down for as long as possible. I really miss swimming pools. And libraries. I miss all the public services and amenities! Libraries, pools, community centres! We need them!”