Kate Stables alias This Is The Kit, was lucky enough to record her fifth album Off Off On (and the second one via Rough Trade Records) just before the world closed its doors. Spending time with her band, Rozi Plain (bass/vocals), Jesse D. Vernon (guitar/keyboard), Jamie Whitby-Coles (drum/vox) and Neil Smith (guitar), in a hut in Wales ‘did us a lot of good’, she says. And so it did for her fans because the record turned out to be a beautiful time capsule of 2020. Therefore, in true 2020-style, we’re sitting in front of our laptops to talk about how weird and unpredictable everything that we’ve thought we knew has become.
‘On the album there are so many references to death, hospitals, breathing, coughing and infection, and I wrote all of these songs a year before anyone had even heard about Covid-19. It’s just really weird that now I’m releasing this album and it sounds like I’m talking about this pandemic but actually, that wasn’t the case. That doesn’t mean that it’s not the case, though. The universe just intervenes in its own way that is out of our hands really as the writers, it’s really strange.’
Writing the Future
It is so interesting to me how more and more people are realising the power of their own unconscious prediction. Often, artists and musicians are the ones holding this power in a concentrated form and Off Off On is another example. But the record does not only centre around this; it is, in comparison to This Is The Kit’s previous work, a more experimental, jazzy, and extroverted exploration. While Bashed Out (2015) as well as Moonshine Freeze (2017) feel like collections of letters, folklore, and anecdotes one keeps as a reminder, the energy on Off Off On seems directed at the outside world. Kate Stables says that she never plans for a certain outcome when she is creating:
‘I don’t really know what I’m doing beforehand, I just write the songs and then choose the people I want to work with, then we get together. The chemistry of what happens in the studio is a big part of what makes the sound and the energy of the songs. I do think this album is more personal than the last one but I find it really hard to pin down concrete differences because part of me feels like I just do the same thing every time while another part of me thinks – ‘Oh, it’s really different this time’.’
This is a phenomenon I think about a lot – to create without having a specific idea of the outcome. As a writer (and all too often an obsessive over-analyser), I feel the urge to plan what the reader should be going through and it is something that leads to more obstacles. There is a correlation between the creation process and the lessons of this year, Kate Stables explains it like this:
‘Making albums is always an interesting time of self-growth. There’s a lot of stuff that I’m anxious about and worried of not knowing how it’s gonna go. And then it just goes however it goes, you realise that you have no control over it and everything is usually fine in the end. We have to remind ourselves that we don’t actually have any control over anything. This is also what we’ve learned in these strange time. We’ve never been sure of the future, we just felt sure of the future and now the reality is that we don’t know anything about the next day, week, hour. Everyone has to re-learn, everyone has to adapt, and get better at adapting and changing plans, being ok with whatever pops up whatever unexpected stuff happens.
A 21st Century Guide to Adapting
‘How to get better at adapting: A guide for the 21st century’ could certainly be the most sold self-help guide of this year and there are endless articles on psychological, spiritual, fitness, or business websites which package the same steps in different lists. The truth is that each one of us has to find their personal way of dealing with the consequences of being alive. One of the ways to question and reflect my own existence is the Tarot. So, when I first listened to Off Off On, I noticed many references and symbols used on the cards that I was quite sure that Kate Stables was also a Tarot reader but:
‘I’m interested in Tarot but I don’t know much about it. [I’m interested] in anything related to divination, projection, insight, or reflection, especially when there’s symbols involved. I feel like symbols and certain words and images have a particular power to explain stuff. That’s something that is always a part of song-writing whether you choose to or not. You, as a writer, probably come across when you accidentally predict the future. You write something and then, a year later or a week later, two years later, that exact situation will happen, even when at the time you were just using it for the symbols, for the rhyme, the sound of the words, or a different story altogether. I feel like that is inevitable – you can’t avoid this strange relationship with the universe and with messages that are kind of hidden and not necessarily first degree if that makes sense.’
Hearts, Spades, Clubs, and Diamonds
This ties in with the opening of the interview, so we can officially announce now that it is This Is The Kit’s new record’s accidental fault that we are in this mess. Well no, but what made this even more compelling for me was that accompanying the album, Kate created a card game with its own suits. Suddenly we were in the middle of an exploration process because I asked her if she also chose elements for her own suits. Anyone who has listened to any record Kate Stables has ever made, probably noticed that she uses a lot if imagery from the natural world and representations of their elemental forces so I, again, assumed that this might have been on her mind while working on the design with illustrator Joff Winterhart. There is a lot of history behind the traditional deck and suits of card games as well as their relation to the Tarot which would absolutely go beyond the scope of this article but here is a little summary and an overview of what we figured out in the process:
‘I think soap would be water, I feel like bones would be earth, I feel switches would be fire and scissors would be air. But also scissors for me, on this album anyway, have a lot to do with freedom and liberating yourself or cutting yourself loose. So for me that goes along with air. This is great, that means that soap is the equivalent of hearts, scissors is the equivalent of spades, so earth is bones so diamonds and then fire, light switches is clubs. It’s funny cause in certain songs I mention these objects and in other songs I feel like they’re present even though I don’t mention them.’
Hearts ♥ = Water = Soap
Spades ♠ = Air = Scissors
Clubs ♣ = Fire =Light Switches
Diamonds ♦ = Earth = Bones
View this post on Instagram
Would you take a look at these! Our very own This is The Kit card deck, available with the 'Off Off On' album over on our shop. the deck is made from 'offoffon' themed illustrations from the genius hand of #joffwinterhart who generously was up for me turning them into a deck of cards. thank you Joff! Send us your best tricks and shuffles! #thisisthekit #playingcards #offoffon
Between Illusion and Reality
It is a wonderful thing to build one’s own world, be it through music, visual art, writing or any other way of creation because every time you look at it you notice a different thing about yourself. Something that might represent the emotion or mindset you were in while you were working on it. It is the same with the art that we surround ourselves with. One of my favourite songs on the record is No Such Thing. It struck me because of its back-and forth harmonies and the topics it touches on. For me, the song describes the precarious balance of compromise in relationships with other people.
‘I hope it gets easier [to compromise]. I think that you can still come up against really difficult choices, even when you feel really experienced at it. I think that every choice and every compromise that arrives in your life is different.
That song is a lot about how we choose to represent ourselves or the fact that we even choose to represent ourselves. So many people are like ‘Oh yes, I always wear this, this is what I look like, this is what I do, this is my character, this is my personality’ and maybe some people need it because they need to define themselves. I feel like it’s all kind of an illusion and reality doesn’t even exist. There is a way of finding inner peace and letting things be. It’s really good when that happens but otherwise…. Sometimes it’s frustrating when you see other people and also feel yourself suffering from this ‘identity disease’ that people are stuck with.’
“A bit more Solidarity’
The ‘identity disease’ has been a prominent feature of our society since forever and the need for people to define themselves has hit its peak when branding personalities became the new goal of advertising. Humans like to categorise and build systems to put other people into. It is a necessary action to stay healthy since otherwise we would constantly be overwhelmed by the amount of uncategorised information we receive on a daily basis through our interactions with strangers, colleagues or friends and the amount of digital information but right now, and times before, it is also one of the most problematic issues we have.
“I think probably everyone carries experiences and knowledge and know-how within but sometimes it needs to be unlocked or woken up by a certain situation and sometimes we have to re-learn stuff. Quite often as human beings we forget the lessons we learn and we forget the skills we’ve acquired through our lives but also throughout the history of mankind. I feel like there are so many things that we could be doing and be aware of but we choose not to.
It’s really easy to feel like it’s futile and we’re just going around in circles but I actually think that it’s a spiral: we sort of come back to the same point as before but we’re a little bit further along. We go round and we’re kind of in the same place but we have made some progress. It does feel quite repetitive, though and we’re like ‘Oh god, really?! We’re in this political situation again, hasn’t anyone learned how to do this yet.”
So, we’re kind of screwed?
‘Ha yeah, it’s a screw of getting screwed. But I think there’s hope, I think we are getting better as a species.’
It depends on who you’re talking to when it comes to optimism about the future and the times we’re living in: How privileged a person was growing up, how loved and cared for they were and if they had the opportunity to learn how to tackle social, racial or any other conflict resulting out of categorisation, so that it becomes a part of their life but not its definition. We agree on the essential prerequisite:
‘I think, as you say, it’s a choice. We can choose to have hope and to proactively try and be the positive change we want to see or we can sit there on Twitter just slagging things off and complaining all the time. I think it’s good if we can try and learn to be proactive and constructive and to help each other. A bit more solidarity!’
It is all about questioning the things that we know, the things that we think we know, the things that we don’t know and the things that we know how to learn. And in the digital age, there is very little I can think of that we would not be able to learn, even from the comforts of our homes. So what is the next thing you’d like to learn?
‘I mean I got such a long list of things I like to learn: I’d like to learn sign language, I’d like to learn to play the drums, I’d like to learn to speak French better. There’s loads of things I’d like to learn. I’d like to be better at breathing while I’m singing but that sounds a bit boring. I’m always worried that when I say goals out loud, I won’t do them so I’m a bit superstitious about like saying ‘I wanna make a tent!’ and then I’m scared that – now I’ve said it, I won’t do it.
But yes, I really hope that one day I do learn sign language and I hope that it’s soon because I would love to be able to speak sign language.’
I’m a bit sorry for revealing this but now you’ve said it and all superstition aside, I can already see Kate Stables signing her songs while singing them. So here is a link to a video showing how to sign the elements.
And as promised another special shoutout to Joff Winterhart:
‘I would definitely recommend everyone go and find the books of Joff Winterhart who did the artwork for the album. He writes really beautiful graphic novels and I just love them, they’re very good. I think if anyone likes reading books or reading graphic novels, they should find him. His last book was called ‘Driving Short Distances’ and it’s really, really great, I love it.’
This Is The Kit‘s new record Off Off On will be out October 23 via Rough Trade Records