Kate Stables of This Is the Kit

Just before the release of her new record 'Off Off On', Kate Stables of This Is the Kit talked with QRO....
Kate Stables of This Is the Kit : Q&A

Kate Stables of This Is the Kit : Q&A

Just before the release of her new record Off Off On (QRO review), Kate Stables of This Is the Kit talked with QRO.  In the conversation, the musician discussed making the new record just before everything shut down, being a Brit in Paris, touring as part of The National, having to recruit a new French band, playing actual shows during the pandemic, Ursula K. Le Guin, donating hair, and much, much more…

 

QRO: How are you holding up, with everything that is going on?

Kate Stables: I’m okay.  You know, it’s weird, but I’m one of the lucky ones.  It could be a lot worse.

I think it’s mainly watching the world kind of go to shit, and then nothing you can do about it much, that’s the hard bit, I think.  For me, anyway.

So, I’m lucky that I’ve got a place to live, a door that shuts, a sink that I can wash my hands in, and things like that, which isn’t the case for everyone.

QRO: How are things in Paris?

KS: They’re okay.  They just introduced a 9:00 PM curfew, so that feels a bit serious.

But I don’t know how much difference it will make on the spread of cases.  I hope it makes a difference; otherwise it’s a waste of time.

I feel like it’s a little bit of a trick, just so that they can arrest people at will.  So, I don’t know.  I hope it all goes okay.

QRO: Has there been any specific government help for musicians or music venues in France?

KS: In France, yes, kind of.

There’s been a bit of help for venues.  I don’t know so much about that, because I don’t know anyone who has a venue.

In general, venues are more government-funded, so they’ve already got that sort of ‘safety buffer’ anyway.  They’re looked after a bit more.

The artists – again, there’s this system in France, where you kind of have this ‘artist status,’ and you get a certain amount of financial help per month, if you keep up with the right number of work hours.  It’s really boring & complicated.

Anyway, they’ve been doing a few things to try to make it less difficult for people.  But I still think it’s quite hard for a lot of people.

QRO: Do you get that, even though you’re British?

KS: Yeah, I’ve got the artist status here.

I’ve lived her fifteen years, and the past year, I’ve had enough French working hours to get the status here.  But I’m probably gonna lose it now, because there’s no work for the next foreseeable…

QRO: I’d say, you got it at the right time – or the wrong time…

KS: I’ve had it once before, and it was a similar thing.  I had it, then lost it.  It was a fleeting little – but anyway, whatever… [laughs]

I think it’s mainly watching the world kind of go to shit, and then nothing you can do about it much, that’s the hard bit, I think.

QRO: As a Brit in Paris, are you worried about Brexit finally happening?

KS: Yep.  Definitely worried about that, because it’s a stupid idea.  It’s a really bad idea for everyone in Britain.

I think probably Europe will be pleased to get rid of the U.K.  Although I don’t know if they will actually get rid of them – it will still be this annoying…

QRO: Yeah – it’s not like Britain’s going anywhere…

KS: It’s not going anywhere.  It’s still as irritating, and fucked up, and doing everything wrong as it was before – more than it was before, actually.  More than it was before.

Anyway, yeah, a bit worried about Brexit.  I don’t know what I will do?  I think I’m allowed to stay here…

I think, probably, to be on the safe side, I should apply for French nationality, dual citizenship.  But that’s a whole world of agony and pain, in itself… [laughs]

So, who knows?…

QRO: How do things in America look to people in Europe?

KS: I know that America is filled with brilliant, sensible people, but the media does not do it any favors.  Like, it looks like a crazy country full of crazy people at the moment, because the media just feeds the most entertaining stories, or whatever.

Crazy president, crazy people, being quite racist and religious.  We don’t get fed a very balanced picture.  I know that there are many excellent things about the U.S.

QRO: And how are your bandmates doing?

KS: They’re okay, I think.  I hope they’re okay, anyway.

I chatted with them the other day, cause we had a little bit of a catch-up.  Neil [Smith, guitarist] was teaching us some guitar parts, via Zoom. [laughs]

They seem alright.  Getting on with their various bits & bobs.  But, yeah, missing gigs, like everyone, wishing there was some gigs to do.

 

 

QRO: How was making Off Off On?

KS: It was so great.  It was just a really enjoyable time.  It was ‘the last hurrah’ – but we didn’t even know it! [laughs]

We did it at Real World in Box, in Wiltshire.  Nice name for a village, ‘Box’…

It’s a residential place.  We stayed in there, sleeping there, eating there, and recording there all day.  It was just a really productive and enjoyable time.

It was exhausting and intense, but in the best way.  It was really nice.

QRO: So, you did it before the pandemic quarantine struck?

KS: Well, it was kind of as ‘the storm was brewing.’

So, every morning, we’d read the papers and be like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t look very good – this is looking pretty bad…  Anyway, into the studio, on we get!’ [laughs] And we’d sort of crack-on…

And then we all went home the day we were supposed to – we didn’t have to cut it short or anything.  But then, as soon as everyone was home, it was just like, ‘Boom!’  ‘Wow, that was really lucky, that we got it done.’  I mean, it’s not lucky that the horrible thing happened, but it’s lucky that we got it done.

QRO: The masterings & stuff, and the album art, did you have to do that online, not in-person?

KS: Oh yeah, that was all remote.

The mixing, me & Josh [Kaufman, producer] just had to ping mixes back & forth to each other to do that.  Which is what a lot of people do these days anyway.  You can do it.  So, it was okay.  Slowed it down, but it didn’t make it impossible.

And then the artwork was done by a Bristol-based artist.  So, that was again, obviously remote.  That was always going to be remotely-done, anyway.

So, yeah!  It all managed to get done, miraculously…

Every morning, we’d read the papers and be like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t look very good – this is looking pretty bad… Anyway, into the studio, on we get!’

QRO: How was working with producer Josh Kaufman?

KS: Really great.  He’s just such a pleasure.  Musically, he’s a pleasure, and just socially, he’s a pleasure.  He was the magic ingredient, I think.

The band had got to quite a good place, where we were playing as ‘one organism,’ as it were.  And then he came, and was the perfect pair of external ears.  To just guide it, add bits in, take bits out, and sort of shape it, fill out the gaps & things.

It was really nice time that we all spent together.  My memory, anyway… [laughs]

QRO: It was said that “Was Magician” was inspired by the works of Ursula K. Le Guin.  Was that more Earthsea than Hainish Cycle?

KS: I guess the word “magician” is more just to do more with her, and the things that people associate with her.

The specific books that kind of got me writing this song, or that were, in part, included in this song is the set called ‘Annals of the Western Shore’. [Stables shows her copies] They were written more recently, in 2004.  The three books can be read separately, but they’re all part of the same series.

And they’re just really good.  I re-read them again, recently, and I’m amazed at how brilliant they are.  Which, I don’t know why I’m amazed – cause everything she writes, I find brilliant.

 

This Is the Kit’s video for “Was Magician”:

QRO: And how was making the video for “Was Magician” (QRO review)?

KS: It was good fun, but it was a strange…

Basically, the label had sent us a lot of video tasks to accomplish, that we were gonna do with the British band, together in the U.K., but then, because of the border rules, and the quarantine rules in the U.K., that became impossible.

So, then I had to call loads of favors in from French friends.  We managed to get a French band formed.

Miraculously, the drummer that had agreed to do it, lives with a sound engineer and a filmmaker.  So, he was just like, ‘Come and do it in my house!’  And we like, ‘Okay, yeah, great!’ [laughs]

So, then we just went and practiced for a few days, recorded some stuff.  But also, had been sent this challenge to make a live video session of “Was Magician”, but not in the same setting as the other ones.

So, we borrowed this venue down in Lyon called ‘L’Epicerie Morderne’.  And they were very nice to us, and let us use their space.  And it got filmed by Anne Loire Etienne, was the filmmaker.  But then it was kind of edited, directed, remotely by Marissa [Gesualdi] at Beggar’s.

It was just us, standing in a big circle, playing the song together.  Sort of simple in concept, but actually takes quite a lot of work to orchestrate in these times… [laughs]

QRO: Was the rest of your band bummed that they couldn’t come down for the video?

KS: Yes, some of them more than others.  They were bummed.  It was a shame.

Like, I was annoyed that I couldn’t go to the U.K., and they were annoyed that they couldn’t come.  It was a shame.

But, at the same time, if you’ve gotta try and find the silver linings, it’s really nice playing with different people sometimes.

Like, I miss playing with them, but to play with Romain [Vasset] and Lucien [Chatin], on bass & drums, it was a nice time.

It was like these festival sort of situations, and everyone was so happy to just be together, and to be listening to live music. That was really powerful.

QRO: And you only had to teach them one song…

KS: No, actually, I had to teach them a lot of songs.  Because there were these French gigs that didn’t cancelled, and there were some other video jobs we had to do, that involved many songs, and so, yeah, these troopers, they learned so many songs in such little amount of time.

A few gigs in France didn’t get cancelled – in September, those three shows.  And then, in theory, we’ve got three more gigs before the end of 2020 that may-or-may-not get cancelled.  They’re in Europe, so I have to do them with the French team.

QRO: What’s it like performing during the pandemic?

KS: We’ve done three gigs.  Two of them were outside, so everyone was able to be spaced out, and everyone had masks on.

It felt amazing, because you really felt how much the audience needed it.  They needed to be at a gig.  It was like these festival sort of situations, and everyone was so happy to just be together, and to be listening to live music.  That was really powerful.

The last one we did, it was in a theater, but everyone was spaced out – and felt a bit weird.

Because a seated audience is already a bit of a difficult audience, cause everyone’s sort of lazy & snoozy, just like clapping a bit, then dozing off again.  So, already you kind of feel like you’re boring everyone’s socks off.

But then with the added mask factor, people react less.  They don’t shout, or whoop – you can’t whistle, since you’re just whistling into cloth.  And so, the reaction is different.

It’s easy to think, ‘Shit, they hate it, they hate it!!!’  But, at the end, they gave us a standing ovation, so I think they liked it.

But it’s a weird trip, isn’t it, when you don’t know what people are thinking… [laughs]

This Is the Kit’s video for “This Is What You Did”:

QRO: And how was making the video for “This Is What You Did”?

KS: That was quite cool because it was during actual lockdown in France – you weren’t allowed out of your house for more than an hour, or for further than a kilometer.  And so, it was quite a trying time, but I had these tasks to do.

James Slater, who made the video, was just like, everyday would send me a list of things to film myself doing, so that was quite a nice sort of ‘occupational therapy’ type of activity. [laughs]

‘Can you bite into an apple, and then turn a thing, do this?’  And I was like, ‘Okay, right, here we go!’  It was quite good fun.

And then seeing what he did with them was really fascinating.  Cause he did an amazing arts & crafts, sort of paper animation creation.

It was also interesting, because the song, itself, is quite a sort of ‘internal, round-and-round in circles thought pattern.’  And that was exactly what was happening – we were all stuck inside, and we couldn’t get outside.  Everyone was just living these loops in their heads.

And then, to be making a video about that song, in this context, in that time, it seems strangely pertinent.

QRO: At what point did you realize that the first two words in that song’s title are the same as the first two words of your band’s name?

KS: I didn’t realize it until quite late on.  Until someone asked me to record myself introducing it.

Or maybe it was Mark Reilly, I heard him say something like, ‘This is This Is the Kit, with “This Is What You Did”, or something like that.  Like, I heard the two things next to each other, and I was like, ‘Oh God, what have I done?!?’ [laughs]

QRO: That’s also the first two words of This Is Spinal Tap

KS: There’s something about those two words…

 

 

QRO: You have other dates coming up before the end of the year?

KS: Yes, strangely…

Basically, there’s a little festival in Vienna that may or may not happen.

There’s one show in Tourcoing, which is near Lille, in France, which may or may not happen.

And there’s one show in Eindhoven in Netherlands in December, which may or may not happen.

So yeah, who knows.

But it’s true, next year is the main album touring plan, if that happens.  We’ll see.

QRO: Are you bummed you can’t immediately tour off the record?

KS: Yeah.  I really miss touring.  I miss my band.  I miss doing digs.

I miss just being in a van and stopping at service stations.  It’s really strange, the things – I miss sleeping in places that aren’t my bed!

Like, it sounds really stupid.  Like, when you’re on tour, you’re like, ‘I just want to be in my bed…’  But now, I’m just like, ‘I just wanna be on the floor somewhere, under a table, like on a sofa…’ [laughs] This is really strange, the things that you miss…

So yeah, I’m sad that I can’t tour.  It’s a shame.

But it’s also an interesting opportunity to learn about a different way.  So, I guess I just have to look at that.

QRO: You’re still holding out hope that next year, you can do a full tour?  I guess if you’re already done dates this year…

KS: I don’t know if they even counted as gigs; they felt so weird & wobbly. [laughs] But I wanna get back into the rhythm of touring, and to get good at it again, because I feel that I’m not good at it anymore…

It’s just like one-off gigs, where you sort of play everything wrong, forget the lyrics, and then it’s the end of the gig, and you’re like, ‘Oh, damn…’ [laughs]

I miss just being in a van and stopping at service stations. It’s really strange, the things – I miss sleeping in places that aren’t my bed!

QRO: Are you doing something for the release day, like a livestream?

KS: What’s ended up happening is that there’s gonna be a livestream the day before.

People that have ordered the record beforehand – ‘preordered it,’ is that the word?  People who have preordered it.

My parents hate that word, because they think that technically it doesn’t exist.  You either order it, or you don’t order it.  You can’t ‘preorder’ it… [laughs]

Anyway, people have preordered the album get access to a livestream gig.

But then, the actual day of, the only thing that I’ve got planned for the release date is that me & the band are meeting up on Zoom to play a game, to celebrate the release of the album… [laughs]

QRO: Artists, they can’t their big release date parties anymore…

KS: Yeah, it’s really weird.

Already, for me, releasing albums has always been a bit weird, because it’s like, ‘Build up, build up, here it comes, the album’s coming out, the album’s coming out!’  And then it comes out, and it’s just like, ‘Well…’

Even with a gig, it feels a bit of an anticlimax.  So, without even a release show, it’s gonna be a real damp squib…

 

 

QRO: Previously, you toured as part of The National (QRO live review with Stables)?

KS: Yes, that’s true.  Last year.  Doing some singing with The National.  It was really nice.

QRO: How alike, or how different, is touring as part of an act like The National compared with your own touring?

KS: Well, what do you think?… [laughs]

It’s really different.

Firstly, it’s different cause I’m not in charge.  So, that’s really like being on holiday.

Secondly, it’s different cause you get hotel rooms, so that’s also like being on holiday.  You get catering, more holiday – like, it’s like really nice conditions…

Like, I love touring with my band, and I also don’t mind the conditions that it is, but the reality is, is less of a holiday.

When you’re just singing some of the lyrics on some of the songs in someone else’s band, it’s just a different type of tour.  And it was really lovely.  I loved it.

I mean, I wouldn’t trade it for touring with my band, but it was just nice to have the difference, to mix up a little bit.

QRO: A few months ago, I interviewed Hannah Georgas (QRO interview), who mentioned that she sang with you in The National…

KS: Oh great, Hannah!

I was really happy to meet her.  That was one of the excellent things that happened on tour with The National as well, getting to meet Hannah, and hang out, and just sing together & have a nice time.  It was really good.

And their crew is incredible.  The team that organizes and executes all the shows, and the tours & stuff, they’re just so decent and so good at what they do.  They’re real superstars.  That was a real privilege, just to witness how well people work together and look after each other, and get the job done.  It’s really good.

QRO: When The National toured, they had you and Hannah, and Mina Tindle?

KS: Mina Tindle, exactly.  She was doing it when she could.

It was a shame.  Cause we did a few shows together, but mainly, I was unavailable when she was available, and then vice-versa.

We did do a fair few number of shows together, but I wish there would be more… [laughs]

 

I love touring with my band, and I also don’t mind the conditions [of touring as part of The National].

 

QRO: During this lockdown, have you been writing/making any new music?

KS: Unfortunately not, no.

I mean, if I sort of look back, if I sort of dig through, there’s been a few things.  A few little creative projects, often with other people.  They’ve asked me to do a bit of singing, or a bit of co-writing, or something.

So, that has happened a bit, but it’s always been initiated by someone else.  Which is great, because I have ended up doing it, and then feeling nourished from having done a creative project.  But I need to start initiating some things myself.

QRO: I guess, when you have the record, you’re just focused on that.

KS: Yeah, but it’s easy to kind of use that as an excuse.

The reality is, I’m really bad at managing my own time.  That’s what it comes down to.

QRO: Do you have any sort of home studio, or access to a studio?  Can you go to studios in Paris/Europe?

KS: We have mikes, and we have computers, you know, same as anyone these days, we can have a sort of ‘home studio set-up,’ but we don’t have a dedicated room or anything.

We’ve only got sort of three rooms, so each one is multi-purpose… [laughs]

The reality is, I’m really bad at managing my own time. That’s what it comes down to.

QRO: During this time, have you picked up and/or accelerated any bad habits?  Like I only just got my first pandemic haircut…

KS: I did a pandemic haircut, so that was fun!

I did a plat in the back, what’s it, a braid in American?  And then I got some scissors and went [snip].  And so now, my hair looks like this… [laughs]

It was long enough that I was able to send it to a wig-making charity.  I just got sent my certificate, by e-mail now, they were like, “Thank you, Kate Stables, for your hair donation.” [laughs]

I guess that’s not a habit; that was just a one-off act.

Bad habits?  Just not getting up early enough, and eating too much sugar?  They’re not really necessarily ‘pandemic-based’ habits, but they’ve kind of been encouraged a bit by the pandemic.  You feel like you need a treat a bit more often, which is silly.  It’s not a treat – it’s just sugar…

QRO: As you’re not going anywhere…

KS: For a while, actually, me & Jesse [Vernon], my partner, we were doing daily exercises every day.

In the lockdown, we were doing that thing – I don’t know if it reached America, but there was a guy in the U.K. called Joe Wicks, who was doing ‘P.E. with Joe’ every day.  For the kids, basically, that can’t leave the house or go to school.

So, he was doing a P.E. class, every day, and it was livestreamed.  And it was just enormous!  He nearly had a million livestreams once, in one go.  It caught on.

And it was so moving.  This guy just dressing up in silly clothes, and doing ‘Fancy Dress Fridays’, and doing all this sport for kids.

We were doing that every day, and then, even when he stopped doing that, when lockdown was easing off, we still were doing his exercise routines. [laughs]

For a while, we had some good habits…

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