Kate Stables is a complex woman, which makes for a complex musician. A songwriter in the truest sense of the word, Stables songwriting is never wasted. Every word, every beat, every pause has a purpose and is intricately placed. Nothing in her music is fortuitous.
With the new This is The Kit album Off Off On ready to drop this week (October 23rd), Stables sat down with American Songwriter to discuss where it came from, where they are, and where they’re hoping to be heading.
Produced by Josh Kaufman, NY-based member of Bonny Light Horsemen & Muzz, Kaufman has also collaborated with The Hold Steady, The National and most recently Taylor Swift. The two first met when working with Anais Mitchell on a cover of the Osibisa song “Woyaya” and their paths crossed again at the PEOPLE residencies in Berlin and Brooklyn.
“We were on the same page about a lot of musical ideas, as well as doing things I wouldn’t do musically,” Stables explains of the partnership. “It was a lovely mixture of ‘you’re exactly in my brain and exactly at the opposite end of my brain.’”
Though the album is just now seeing the light of day, it’s been a work in progress for nearly two years. In fact, aside from the mixing of the album, the writing and recording was done under normal circumstances before Covid halted touring all over the world.
“Writing started in 2018 when we were still touring Moonshine Freeze, then it trickled all the way through 2019 while I was on tour sometimes with This is The Kit and quite a bit of times with The National,” recalls Stables. “The travelling was good for finding head space and being in new places is always good for writing, I think. In terms of actual physical space, it was a mixture of places; basements, hotel rooms, my flat. Standard stuff, nothing too remarkable. The headspace I was in was kind of low key but trying to stay positive and hopeful. Seeing magic and hope in people and places but also seeing a lot of despair and struggles and awful governments and political leaders. The usual.”
Being as the songs were written before the pandemic began its assault on the world, the songs are refreshingly not centered in the muddle our world has lived in for the past 9 months.
“I wrote them in a world where no one knew about Covid 19, but it was still a world where political leaders and people in positions of power and responsibility were taking advantage of people and being blatantly corrupt and unfair.
“But with any art form that uses words or symbols, there are always going to be spooky coincidences and strange parallels that appear between the work and reality. When I was mixing the album, it was right at the peak of the 1st wave of Covid and so I was hearing all my lyrics through this new filter and it was a pretty weird experience. All of a sudden, I was hearing myself talking about breathing and coughing and hospitals and being stuck inside and needing to get outside, but the original meanings and stories are of course still the main substance of the songs. Songs meanings and how people interpret them changes from day to day and person to person. that’s the nature of the beast.”
“Was Magician,” one of the three singles released prior to the album’s unveiling, has garnered a substantial amount of interest thanks in large part to the live performance video released earlier this month. With a slow build cresting with a complete, yet subdued, horn ensemble, Stables’ vocals blissfully walk the listener through the song. Acknowledging that it’s hard to explain her songs in conversation, Stables does her best to shine a bit of a light on “Was Magician.”
“I guess “Was Magician” is in part about the powers we have and how we choose to use them or even acknowledge them. Thinking about the gifts/skills and powers we have. Whether we like it or choose it or not. How we interpret them and how we use them. When do we realize that we have them? People who try and take them away from us or belittle us or what we do. Finding your own tools
“Also, about the powers we see in others, be it in a certain line of work or a specific skill but also just energy and how someone is with and around people. It’s also about managing through adversity. about persevering despite people not liking what you’re doing. It’s about liberation of ourselves but also helping towards the liberation of others. It’s about the spells we make with words or actions. It’s about certain people that I admire. Some of them I’ve met some of them I haven’t met. It’s about women. It’s about men.
“It was partly inspired by a set of books by Ursula K. Le Guin called Annals of the Western Shore. It’s about the younger generations who we have borrowed the earth from and who we have to give it back to. Mainly my explanations just turn into lists.”
And the title track?
“Off Off On” was a song that started off literally with the words off off on. It was to do with where I was placing the notes of the melody. Off beat, off beat, on beat, then the song grew out of that. The patterns we see in the universe, the coming and going of time and space and light and people and souls. The daily routine of a hospital ward. The light that changes throughout the day. The lights that turn on and off with the machinery. What it’s like falling asleep in a hospital room. What it’s like being awake in a hospital room. What we can do to help each other. The progress we make. then the progress we unmake. Two steps forward one step backwards. Assuming things instead of asking things. Saying good-bye. Freedom and responsibility.”
Artists invest so much into their albums in the currency of emotion, time and talent that once it is finally released, the hopeful leg of the journey comes to a close and the connection begins. In typical times, that means taking the songs out on the road and performing them live. Not just to fans but to new fans, prospective fans, people that perhaps have never heard of you, your band or maybe just not this new batch of songs. Breeding that bond between your creativity and absolute strangers is a privilege few get to experience, and even fewer are able to actually do and that’s the one thing Stables is looking forward to.
“Gigs. I do this job so that I can play music so that’s what I would like to be able to do once this album is out but also as I mentioned earlier, I want to make new music with people. To write some different bits and bobs. Some for This is The Kit and some things for other projects. I want to learn how to get better at what I do and also to learn some new things that I don’t know how to do yet.”