This Is The Kit, the nom de plume of Kate Stables, has been in existence since the 00s, when Kate moved to Bristol and started playing and collaborating with local musicians. Now four albums in, and based in Paris, the story of This Is The Kit is itself one of time and change and listeners. It has carried Kate Stables from Winchester to Bristol to Paris, across tours and festivals and the admiration of critics and her peers. Among these are Sharon Van Etten, The National (Aaron Dessner appears multiple times on Moonshine Freeze), Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, and now the host of A Prairie Home Companion), as well as Guy Garvey and much of BBC 6Music.
Kate Stables’ group This Is The Kit have created a name for themselves with songs that untangle emotional knots and weave remarkable stories. Their second album for Rough Trade Records, Off Off On, (October 23, 2020) is a beautifully clear distillation of Stables’ songwriting gifts. Recorded just before the pandemic forced the world to hit the pause button, the songs are exquisitely astute, the album title suggesting life’s glitchy rhythms – “two steps backwards, one step forwards… Swinging between good places and bad places inside and out.”
Off Off On is about “events catching up with you and how you catch up with events,” explains Stables, “not so much mood swings as brain swings, the here and there that your brain tugs you on.” Stables’ words – lyrical but always lucid – chime with a world tilted on its axis, from the flickering ‘This Is What You Did’, a testament to what Stables calls the “night-time mind race and morning day dread”, to the uninvited vampires hovering on the threshold in ‘Shinbone Soap’. The title track is about “a friend who got very ill and then didn’t make it. But I remember visiting him in hospital and seeing everything differently there. The people working there, the other visitors, the buildings, the grounds.”
By the end of 2018, This Is The Kit had finished touring their last album, Moonshine Freeze, and begun to write Off Off On when Stables was invited to join The National on the road for multiple tours and TV appearances – a continuation of her contributions on their album I Am Easy To Find. “I think it did me loads of good,” laughs Stables. “It was so brilliant when I was writing to be away from my songs and the responsibility of being in charge of a band or a project – just to forget about that for a while and be a minion in someone else’s band was brilliant, I loved it. I think it really helped my writing and my getting through whatever I needed to get through.”
As the songs coalesced, she decided to work on the new record with producer Josh Kaufman, a New York-based musician, Hold Steady collaborator and member of Bonny Light Horseman and Muzz. Stables first met him when working with Anais Mitchell on a cover of an Osibisa song, their paths crossing again at Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner’s PEOPLE residencies in Berlin and Brooklyn. “We were on the same page about a lot of musical ideas, as well as doing things I definitely wouldn’t do musically,” Stables says. “It was a lovely mixture of wow, you’re exactly in my brain and exactly at the opposite end of my brain.” After the band – completed by Rozi Plain (bass/vocals), Neil Smith (guitar), Jesse D Vernon (??), and Jamie Whitby-Coles (drums), – rehearsed the songs at an isolated cottage in Wales, they headed to Wiltshire’s Real World Studios in the UK, finishing just in time for everyone to get home for lockdown.
The result of their work together is Off Off On. Richly illuminating and acutely sensitive to the pulses and currents of life, the album shows This Is The Kit overflowing with ideas, energy and power.