Kate Stables, the woman who records as This Is The Kit, calls her music folk, but the songs she writes don’t fit easily into any category.
The tunes on Off Off On, her fifth album, released October 23 on Rough Trade Records, are based on the sounds of acoustic guitars and banjos. However, the music on the record draws just as much on pop, rock, mellow jazz, and R&B—although there is a hint of Celtic folk lurking in the background.
The album was recorded with Stables’ touring band at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Wiltshire, England, but the ensemble crafted most of the arrangements during rehearsals in Wales.
“I had some things in mind, but the main bulk of what everyone plays was worked out in Wales,” Stables says. “We decided to get the band together for a week before going into the studio. We worked on the songs all day, every day until we knew what we were doing. I think it made everything quite different to times in the past, when it’s just been us working on songs here and there, in between gigs and sound checks. To fully dedicate time to non-stop rehearsing really helped the sound and vibe of this record.”
The band includes long-time collaborators Rozi Plain on bass and backing vocals, Neil Smith on guitar, Jesse D. Vernon on guitar and keyboards, and Jamie Whitby-Coles on drums.
The songs deal mostly with ambivalent situations and the uncertain emotions they give rise to. “Found Out” floats along on an effervescent, Celtic rhythm played on acoustic guitar. It describes the anguish one feels watching a long-time crush enter into a relationship with another person.
“Was Wizard” recounts the tale of a young woman discovering her personal power and wondering what she can do with it. Minimal notes from guitar and piano carry the melody, while Stables murmurs the lyrics in a barely audible tone. The title track describes someone lying in a hospital bed, hovering between sickness and health. Stables plays quiet banjo fills and sings almost inaudibly, exploring the inner dialogue of a patient wondering if getting better will be worth the effort.
“The song ‘Off Off On’ felt like the right title for the album for a few reasons,” Stables says. “The idea of moving forwards and then backwards, the flow of energy, or life, or light, the patterns we see in the world around us, and the way we interpret those patterns.”
Stables says the dilemma described in the song mirrored her creative method.
“My composing and arranging happens in any old order. It’s pretty chaotic and unplanned and accidental, but also takes a lot of time and work, and a lot of not knowing what the hell it is I’m doing. Somehow, what I’ve been working on eventually settles itself down into a song shape of some kind. Then, I start playing them at gigs to work out what needs to happen next.”
Stables has been playing as This Is the Kit for almost 15 years, slowly building a dedicated following, but she says she never planned to be a musician.
“My family always listened to a lot of music,” she says. “Everyone sang and played instruments, so I guess that’s a good basis for getting into music, but I think no one, not even me, saw [this career] coming. I was really shy and wasn’t really into people looking at me, so it wouldn’t have been an obvious career choice. Quite strange really, but there you go.”
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