Photo by Phillipe Lebruman
By Lily Doolin, Blog Editor
This Is The Kit are a UK and France based band led by Kate Stables. Their new record is called Off Off On, and Kate kindly talked to our own Lily Doolin about recording just at the beginning of the pandemic, and which of her songs taught her the most about herself.
Lily Doolin: So we are super excited about the release of the new album for This Is The Kit Off Off On. Actually one of our on-air hosts, his name is Phil Jones, and he has called you guys his second favorite band of all time.
Kate Stables: Wow, what an honor.
LD: He was like, "Lily, you need to do this."
KS: Aw, thanks Phil.
LD: I was like, "yes, I will, no worries. I'm gonna make everything work out so fine."
KS: So this is for Phil!
LD: Yes, this is for Phil. So I wanted to start off asking you and talking to you a little bit about songwriting on the road. I know that you took a little bit of a break from This is the Kit, well not even a break, but you just went on tour with The National.
KS: Yeah. Yeah, can't do everything at once, had to pick one.
LD: Absolutely, so I was wondering if you could sort of outline for me the timeline of the writing of this record. When did you sort of begin, even if you didn't know at the time that these songs were going to be on this record. When did it sort of start, and when did you close off that chapter of writing?
KS: Well, I guess the first songs started emerging - sorry someone's making tea next door. Hope that's not too noisy. The first song started emerging while I was still touring Moonshine Freeze. There were even a couple of them that we sort of played on the road that were kind of, you know, getting established. So that would have been like 2018, and then I was just writing as and when I could right up until 2020 actually. So kind of over a year and a half, two years, something like that. Some songs for me really did take a long time to kind of settle in or for me to know what to do with them. So it took a while, but then I guess the main bulk of it happened in 2019 when I was kind of a mixture of being at home and able to work on stuff but also on tour with The National and also able to work on stuff because normally when I'm on tour with my band, there's no solitude or waiting around time. Whereas my role in that situation, and also the operation itself, being a different kind of setup meant that I had often a room I could just go into and work on stuff. It's great.
LD: You talked about having separation from your songs and from the band impacted your songwriting in a positive way and gave you that sort of separation of church and state from This is the Kit and from your songwriting. So, in what ways did that separation impact your writing?
KS: I think in everything we do, you need to sort of not to do it sometimes. Everything in moderation. So, I guess it was like I had to sort of step away from my songs and my band. I mean they probably needed a break from me big time because we had just been touring for so long. So it's good that everyone just had some down time and some space time. I was really ready to stop playing the songs from Moonshine Freeze. I'm pleased with the album and I like playing those songs, but we had just been doing it to death. I was really ready to have a break. So it was really good to have that break and to get a bit of distance and then leave a breathing time before then starting on new stuff and doing some more different explorations.
LD: So that timeline of production, so I know you said that you'd been writing these songs at the bulk of 2019, but also in '18 and '20. When did you guys start actually getting into the studio and recording and working on the production?
KS: February 2020, me and the band all went to a friend's little kind of isolated cottage in Wales. We spent a week there just working on the songs all day every day, which is really good because we all live in different cities and actually different countries as well. We don't get a huge amount of rehearsal time, or if we do it's just a day or two before we go on tour and then the tour is kind of the rehearsal itself. But to actually have this residency where we were working on stuff and there were no gigs, we were just doing one thing all day every day and that was just working on the songs. It was really great, and that felt really nice. By the end of that week, everyone knew the songs. Then a couple of weeks later, we went to Real World Studios in a village called Box in Wiltshire in the UK. It's quite a cool name for a village, and that was a week. That was the first week in March that we actually just recorded all the stuff. Then we all went home and it was like "boom" in the world.
LD: That's crazy. You got it just in time.
KS: Just under the sort of shutting, sliding door.
LD: Yeah, and talking about the pandemic, like you just said you got in just in time to finish everything. Do you feel like now, sort of looking back, you can see how even though times are totally different from the times that you wrote this, how this album translates to these times?
KS: Yeah, I mean just listening to it during the mixing process, because we kind of mixed it during the lockdown, sending the mixes back and forth and listening to the songs and stuff and just thinking "oh, wow. People are going to think that I've written it about COVID-19." Because you've got this filter of the sort of global situation that you're seeing everything through, you know. Anything you watch on the telly or listen to on the radio - we're all listening to it through this new set of ears in this new situation. And so all of a sudden all I could hear in my songs were things like me talking about breathing and coughing, like that's a bit spooky. I sing about coughing, breathing, hospitals, being shut up inside and needing to get outside. Just all of these things that made me think. I know people are going to think I was just like being an opportunist and cashing in on this horrible situation, but the songs had nothing to do with that when I wrote them. But now I feel like the universe has somehow acquired them for its own purposes.
LD: It always has a way. And so you guys have been together, This is the Kit, for almost over a decade now, which is so cool.
KS: [laughs] Just the numbers are sort of flying in front of my eyes like, "oh my God. Yeah, okay."
LD: That is a long time to work together! I wanted to know, any time that you guys come in and do an album, from the first one all the way to Off Off On, what is something that has consistently stayed the same either in your relationship or in the way you guys do a particular thing in production or on stage? What is that continuity?
KS: Well, it's a good question. I think the only continuity, well I don't know because actually if I think about it, the first album came out in 2006 or 7 and it was basically just me on my own and no real band members. But my partner Jesse played on the album and it's kind of the solo-ish album. Then the next album we recorded with loads of different people. No one was officially in the band, but it was just lots of friends recording on stuff. Then the next album was with Aaron Dessner. By that point the band had kind of become pretty regular. It was Jamie and Neil and Rozi mainly in the band when we toured, but they weren't there for the recording - well Jamie was there for some of the recording sessions - but the rest of it was just me and Aaron and whoever was around in his neighborhood where we recorded it. Then Moonshine Freeze was actually the first one where we actually fully had the established touring band in the studio for the whole time. So it's nice that that has then happened again for Off Off On, but yeah, it's almost like there is no continuity from album to album apart from my involvement in it. Maybe I'm the thread that kind of goes through them all. But also Jesse, Jesse. My partner's always been around doing horn arrangements and playing on the record even when it was just kind of me on my own, so that's lucky that he's always been up for joining in.
LD: I know you've talked a lot about the differences between Moonshine Freeze and this new Off Off On and how it's almost like a moving on period. What has sort of changed with this record, either in the process that you guys were using or just in the subject matter?
KS: Good question. I feel like there's a few factors that make this album sound different to the last one. I think one big factor is having a different producer. So the last one is very much kind of a John Parish sound. And then this one, we worked with Josh Kaufman and he just brought his own sound and playfulness and energy to it, which was really great. So I think you can hear him in it because he made lovely musical choices and quite often things that wouldn't have occurred to me. So that was nice. But also, it feels like the band has reached a place together where we're kind of playing as one organism now or something. It feels like we've homogenized - what a better word. Everyone's really grown into the space and has filled in all the gaps and now it's this sort of brain that kind of acts as one now. I feel like a lot of the sound of this album has to do with the fact that the band has really grown together more than ever before.
LD: Yes, I think it's interesting looking at, like you said back, there were sort of a rotating cast of characters, and now you have this solidified organism.
KS: Yeah, and it's still nice to rotate the cast. I really love playing with different people, and for me that's a really important thing. There's a fine line between making the band - you know, you want to make sure everyone feels valued and included, but I also love playing with different people. At the moment it's kind of sad because I can't play with my band because there's promo videos to do. I can't see them. I can't hang out. We can't do the promo together. But at the same time, there's amazing French friends here that have been up for stepping in and learning the parts and helping out with the promo and making videos and things. So that's been really nice, playing with some of the French pals. There's always a positive way to look at the sad times when you can't be with your band, and they're getting on with their own lives. They've got other stuff to do. They're pretty busy, so it's fine.
LD: Is there a mood that you need to be in to do songwriting? Is there sort of a vibe that needs to happen? Or are you one of those people that could like, you can sleep anywhere, you could song-write just about anywhere?
KS: Yeah, I definitely think I'm someone that can sleep anywhere, but I'm not someone that can song-write anywhere. I really need to be on my own for long amounts of time, long periods of time. I'd like to be someone that can just pull out of the bag whenever it's convenient. But yeah, I need solitude and in big, long doses. Because if I know that I've only got three hours, then I'll just spend the whole time watching the clock and not getting stuck in. Whereas if I've got a 24-hour stretch, then maybe I'll get something done in one hour, but it's only because I know that I've got so much time ahead of me. I mean, it's the same for a lot of people, probably, that have a weird relationship with time and productivity.
LD: Yeah, totally. My final question for you is looking at this album Off Off On, or even maybe a previous album, is there one song that you can pinpoint that for you has taught you something either about your songwriting process or just yourself as a person in general?
KS: Good question. Let me just have a look at the songs that are on this album. What has it taught me about me? Maybe I'll look at a list of some songs on another album. I don't know. To be honest, I feel like "Solid Grease" from the last album. I mean, there are definitely songs on the new album as well that have taught me stuff about myself and about my songwriting, but I don't know if I can tap into it right now. But "Solid Grease" from Moonshine Freeze, I think was quite an interesting time for me in terms of studying my interaction with other people and the boundaries of how far you're willing to put up with things before - or let them go. Or do you mention it? Do you not mention it? Do you just build up this kind of weird resentment, or is it fine? So that was an interesting bit of self-study. Also, it was kind of educational for me in terms of how I write songs because I think it was a bit different to how I sometimes write songs - like it kind of stops and starts and slows down and isn't as repetitive and trancy as some of my other ones. So that, in being different, kind of shone a bit of a mirror on what I normally do.