Kate Stables, who performs under the moniker This is the Kit, talks about finding balance — and solitude — while touring, and how finding new meaning in old words is a big part of her songwriting process.
This interview was conducted on May 25, 2018 by Tori Bedford for WGBH, at the Boston Calling Music Festival.
What are you most excited about at this festival?
Kate Stables: I'm very excited to see Pussy Riot. Obviously playing it was exciting, but now that's done. The next thing is Pussy Riot. So that would be great. I just think they're brilliant. And I've never seen them play live. And I think it's important that we support anarchist culture and proactive politics.
Who are you listening to these days?
Stables: I'm listening to a guy friend, Jonah, who's playing baritone sax. We met him relatively recently and he has a really lush album called, I think it's called I Try to Remember Where I Come From. But he's called Jonah Paws and Johnson, and it's really beautiful instrumental sax and synth stuff at the moment that is worth listening to on tour. It's great looking out the window music.
Are there any other artists here that you’re particularly excited about?
Stables: Well it's always nice to see The National because they're good guys. To be honest I haven't studied the program enough; all I know is that The National and Pussy Riot are playing today. I know that Eminem and Jack White are playing on some other days, and that would have been quite good fun.
You’ve collaborated with The National a lot, how did that happen?
Stables: They were friends with my sister quite a long time ago, and so I've met them through that. And then because of that they came to a gig once I did, Aaron liked it and asked if we wanted to do an album together and we did. And we got on and now we're friends and it's nice.
What are you working on right now?
Stables: Well, it's hard working on stuff on tour because there's not much solitude, or sort of everything happens in kind of two hour bursts, so they seem to get stuck into stuff it's kind of tricky. But I'm writing you know words as it were on the road, and then when when I get off tour I'll shut myself away and try and write some music.
So that’s how you do your writing process — you come up with the lyrics first and then [write the song?]
Stables: Yeah. Although often I'll have lyrics that I think I'm going to make a song out of, and then I'll start putting music to and just write a whole new bunch of lyrics. There's no rules really, other than the fact that I need lots of time and lots of solitude. I'm not really good at doing writing in front of other people.
I wanted to ask you about some of the themes of your songs which are kind of dark and intense, and maybe it comes from that same need for solitude?
Stables: Yeah, I mean everyone has different solitude requirements. And I think when you're on tour — especially the type of touring we do anyway — I'm sure it's different for every band, but you're with amazing great people all the time which is sort of nourishing and really important sort of soul food. But then you have to sort of balance it with with being on your own. So that is important. But in terms of the stuff in my songs, I don't think that has so much to do with touring, it's just life. You know, life happens. Personal life, but also the life of the world and the stuff that happens. With human beings in general, there's a lot to think about.
I wanted to talk to you about your album Moonshine Freeze because there’s a lot of abstract themes — how do you relate those real-world life things into those more abstract themes?
Stables: Yeah it's true that I'm not someone that writes songs in a very straight forward — this is the start of the story > this is what the story is about > this is the end of the story — way. I think for me I really enjoy playing with words, kind of like Play Doh or something. I like sculpting them in a way, like making shapes out of them because then it's nice the sort of see the meanings that come out of those shapes, rather than trying ... it's almost like sort of letting go of the meanings to just use the sounds and then realize how appropriate the meetings are afterwards. But that's not the only thing I do. It's hard. I'm quite collage-y when I write songs. There'll be a lot of writing I'll take from different times and different notebooks, and I'll realize the connections between them and realize that they should be in a song together.
I think it's for me, I enjoy keeping it unspecific because for me I think it's nice when people interpret themselves and read into it their own stories because then they'll talk to me about it and quite often they'll have hit the nail completely on the head with a subject that I haven't even thought about. But it's very plainly definitely in the song, I just haven't noticed it yet.
Life is light and dark, and the songs are light and dark as well. I think with the songs the opposite is always true as well. When someone says one thing I think the opposite is often very true. Both things are true at the same time.
What do you mean, can you give me an example of that?
Stables: Even things like gender. You know saying he or she or they in songs. I like playing with that.
I've always really liked the Velvet Underground and that's one thing that I really appreciate from them for a long time, just the way Lou Reed plays with words. And also Bob Dylan. I think Bob Dylan is a nice person that will write lyrics that are often the opposite of what he's trying to say. And I like that in songs.
Maybe it’s more like… subtley political. Like there’s a message, but —
Stables: Well I know there is. But I also think that personal is political. I mean there's kind of this fractal structure to lives. You'll get some turmoil in one person's particular situation, but a bigger version of that is happening in that town, or equally in that country, or in the world. I think the patterns are often the same just on a different scale. I also think the personal is political in the way we act.
What’s next for you?
Stables: More touring until September. And then hopefully a long period of writing.
But there's some nice little bits of touring, most of it is in the UK and Europe. But in July we've got a week back in North America, and then in August we've got a week in Canada.
You have all these words now, saved up.
Stables: Yeah exactly. Time to sift through them, get the sieve out and see which ones make a song.
(Transcribed and condensed for clarity by Stacy Buchanan)