Kate Stables is the staple of folk project This is the Kit, who, alongside long-time collaborator Jesse D. Vernon, perform ordinarily as a two-piece splitting their time between Bristol and Paris. Initially noticed in 2006 thanks to a Folk Off compilation featuring other nu-weird-folksters Animal Collective and Vashti Bunyan, This is the Kit were hailed as a refreshing British folk act; with BBC Radio’s Huw Stephens referring to Kate as one of the rising female stars of modern incarnations of the genre.
The debut album Krulle Bol, released in 2008 featured guest collaboration from an array of musician friends and this year’s follow up Wriggle out the Restless follows a similar suite with artists Rozi Plain, Portishead’s Jim Barr and Francois and the Atlas Mountains all offering time and talent.
Having toured in support of an impressive selection of bands and solo musicians such as The National, Jeffrey Lewis and Jose Gonzales I managed to catch up with Kate before a show at cosy London pub The Slaughtered Lamb.
“This isn’t a long tour” she informs me, “just a week and a day.” But for Stables it is the ability to play with a full band this time around which really excites her: “Usually it’s just me and Jesse [playing], but because of the album which came out in October, we wanted to do a full band tour. It’s hard to get hold of people, the people you want aren’t always free.” Fortunately a lot of Stables and Vernon’s musician friends from the thriving Bristol music scene (for this tour Rozi Plain and members of the Liftmen) were able to assist, and for This is the Kit “most of [the musicians touring with us] have played on the album anyway”, thus it made sense to use them. “At the moment I prefer playing with a band as the album is a bit bigger and bandier so it’s nice to play it bigger and bandier live…there’s just such a different energy.”
The album has a much fuller sound than her prior recording and dips in and out of aural textures, layering sounds as in “Spinney” whose tempo races away, its cantering melody evocative of a rural scurrying of rabbits from their warrens and flocks of birds from the bare treetops. This is one track which could succeed it its fuller lyrical form, and too, with simply the instrumentation – the pattering and layering of sound which listen after listen you can pick different instruments, voices and melodies from.
Stables’ draws her song writing from many realms: “I recycle, and other times I inadvertently end up being really closed in what I am describing.” This type of double meaning is particularly notable in track “Sleeping Bag” whose empty sound in comparison to other tracks lends it a loneliness, though in actuality it is a track of positivity and celebration of life, love, companionship. “It always makes it very interesting to hear what people think [my songs] are about.”
Dylan Thomas is counted amongst her favourite writers, and as one who defines a style that she really loves, a style which is characterised by “the sounds of words…that’s really important to me. I like alliteration and the noises that the words make.” Track “See Here” adheres to the alliterative, as the words twist and turn around each other, spilling into one another: “silent struggling, came silent, struggling, see here”. Likewise, the onomatopoeic titling of the album points to this tussling with words, and it is this tweezing and toying with language and syntax that often, even accidentally results in the spawning of a song, and may too account for the sad sounds/optimistic lyrical quality a lot of these sounds harbour.
There is a woodsy, autumnal feel to Wriggle Out the Restless, much of which can be imparted to the focus on the elements: the wind, sea, rain, sun – all of the things out of our control, which often are employed as symbols depicting personal situations out of our hands. “Sometimes the Sea”‘s “a few crumbling bridges between you and me” highlights this decaying (“I try to hold on to things that aren’t even mine”), but too, as the atmospheric opening accumulates there springs an optimism and sense of rebuilding out of what might have been lost along the way.
Songs that sound lonely, and stripped down in places provide a companion on a wintery walk, on some tracks she sounds as familiar as Joni Mitchell, though with a much more English slant in her intonations. Others, musically, have a murky Cat Power haze surrounding them (“Earthquake”), while the Celtic-fiddle conclusion to “Easy Pickings” mark the roots from which all of her music sprouts. The tracks centred around the simplistic, universal and familiar have a homemade, organic mood at their core, employing banjo, violin and trumpet. By building upon this folk-framework Stables has created a progressive and tightly bound spool of songwriting, capable of unravelling to the most simplistic and unadorned states, and coiling up again to encompase thick percussive sounds, an amalgamation of voices, instruments and talents that branch out into new realms.
This is an album which hangs in the balance as expertly as an autumn leaf just before it drops for the barrenness of winter. Colouful and warm, full of the liveliness and soul of the live band she played with on her recent tour, and of a thoughtful loneliness that does not wallow but holds promise for spring.
[audio:http://www.dreamboatrecords.co.uk/catalogue/wriggle/waterproof.mp3|titles=Waterproof|artists=This is the Kit]