This Is The Kit Talks Playing Shows: “It’s just us with our instruments, sort of bare.” (2/23 at WCL)

Indie folk outfit This Is The Kit – the elegant moniker of Paris-based, UK-born singer/songwriter Kate Stables – is no stranger to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly...

Indie folk outfit This Is The Kit – the elegant moniker of Paris-based, UK-born singer/songwriter Kate Stables – is no stranger to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.  We first met This Is The Kit in October of 2017, but they were just in town last October, with support from Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys, who produced This Is The Kit’s latest LP, Careful Of Your Keepers, which dropped last June on Rough Trade.  Tonight, This Is The Kit kick off another US tour that will have them returning to Philadelphia this Friday, February 23rd.  However, while previous local stops have had Stables and company at Johnny Brenda’s, our favorite “mini rock n’ roll ballroom,” this Friday they will be getting a bit of an upgrade when they headline the Music Hall at World Café Live.  I recently got a chance to catch up with Kate Stables via Zoom and, after a few tech SNAFUs, she told me about playing the biggest shows of her career (debut Krülle Bol dropped in 2008), working with Super Furry Animals’ frontman, and the opportunity to embrace a new room in the 215.

Izzy Cihak: You released Careful Of Your Keepers the better part of a year ago.  What have been some of the highlights of that time for you, whether it be promoting the record or playing live?  I know you’ve played a lot of your biggest headlining shows in that time.

Kate Stables: Yeah, it’s been quite bonkers!  There’s been a lot of highlights, actually.  It’s just been a nice experience.  It’s been different from the last album, because that was in the heart of clampdown.  I love the promo week of going around and playing in record shops; that was brilliant.  A significant highlight was just touring the states with Gruff Rhys, because Gruff produced the album, and the fact that we got to do gigs together all up and down the East Coast was so lush.  I could never get enough of seeing him play live, and he’s a total pleasure to be with.  I loved it!  It felt like a real honor and a real pleasure to do that.

Izzy: How was it working with him.  He’s such a cool person and has such a great catalogue.  What do you feel like he brought to the sound, or even just the recording sessions?

Kate: He’s like a vibes-meister.  He just radiates excellent energy.  He’s really thoughtful.  He really is careful about what he says and how he says it.  He’s got very minimal ego.  He’s just a lovely person to be in a room with, and he’s got a good sense of fun, but also a good sense of taking it seriously, like the perfect balance of work and play existing together.  He’s got the experience to know how to choose certain things or guide it in a certain way.  Plus, he’s got very good people skills.  There were loads of us in the studio, and it’s not easy sort of herding that many frogs or that many ideas [laughs], but he was really good at letting everyone have the time and space and say their opinions.  And then he got more involved in the choices in the mixing process, when there was less of us in the room and it was easier to hear the big basket of stuff that we’d filled, and then like pick out what we needed.  Making an album, you want to do it with people that you want to spend an intense amount of time with.  You don’t really want to spend it with someone that’s just in it for their own ego or whatever.  Everyone had the best intentions for the songs on that album and it was just a total pleasure.

Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to the album so far, whether things that were written about it, things that fans have reached out to tell you, or even reactions the music’s gotten from live audiences?

Kate: That’s a good question!  I try not to dig too much into the internet reactions, because I feel like that’s a sort of slimy hole you can fall into [laughs].  But on this last leg of tour there has been some surprising audience reactions.  That’s the reactions [I most care about], at the live concert and the face-to-face reactions.  It just blows my mind when we play certain songs and loads of people start singing along with all the lyrics!  I just think, “How do you know this song?  And how do you know it well enough to sing it?”  It blows my mind and sort of makes me feel quite moved!  It’s very touching and it’s amazing.

Izzy: On a related note, do you happen to have a favorite album track at the moment, whether one that’s most fun to play live, or one that might signify where future sounds are headed?

Kate: I don’t know if there’s a song that indicates the next move.  But, linking on from the last question, I think at the moment it just feels really amazing when we play “More Change.”  Because, for some reason, that’s the song that people sing along to.  It just blows my mind.  I would not have expected that, but there’s been some really touching singalong moments during the gigs for that.

Izzy: You’re about to embark on a North American tour.  What can be expected of the live show this time around, in terms of setlist, production, and just the general vibe of the night?  You were just here not that long ago.

Kate: Yeah, it’s bonkers!  We were just there in October, but it’s nice that we’re going to some places that we’ve never been before.  Like, I’ve not been to Portland, Maine with This Is The Kit.  There’re a few places that we’ve not been before, so that will be nice.  But what can be expected?  I don’t know, because I don’t know myself [laughs].  Someone asked me this question the other day and I’m like, “Uhhhh…”  I think when we play live sometimes people are surprised at how different it is to the albums.  Obviously, it’s the same songs, it’s the same people, but I think it’s a different energy that gets across.  It’s a different situation.  It’s not us in a studio getting filtered through mixing and mastering and whatever happens in the recording process.  It’s just us with our instruments, sort of bare.  That makes a different energy, I don’t want to say more exciting, because I feel like albums are exciting, but it’s more involved with the audience than an album.

Izzy:  You have a pretty big catalogue at this point.  How do you decide which songs from your back catalogue you’re gonna bring out for any given run?

Kate: It’s a bit tricky, because now that we’re six albums in, seven albums in?  [Counts off on her fingers] I don’t even know [laughs]!  It’s a bit too many songs to choose from now, so I’m torn between playing the songs that I enjoy playing with a band or playing the songs that I know the audience always reacts really well to… and then there’s like the middle of the Venn diagram, where both boxes are ticked, and those are the ones we do go for!  I guess we mix it up, really.  It depends night-to-night.  I try to leave enough time and space for people to make suggestions, if they want to.  The audience can shout out a song, and if we can remember how it goes, we’ll happily play it.  But yeah, it is hard to decide.  We prioritize songs off our most recent album and then do a mixture of songs that we like and songs that audience members generally like.  It’s not rocket science [laughs].

Izzy: You’re gonna be playing the Music Hall at World Café Live, which is quite a bit bigger than Johnny Brenda’s, which is where you normally play…

Kate: It’s gonna be strange coming to Philadelphia and not playing at Johnny Brenda’s!  It’s gonna be shocking [laughs].

Izzy: Yeah!  How do you feel about playing music halls or nightclubs?  Like, it’s 650!  Do you like the bigger stages, the bigger rooms?

Kate: I’m up for the mix!  It is sort of daunting.  There’s a little bit more pressure, because you don’t wanna let the promotor down and you want it to be a nice atmosphere…  But I think it’s quite important for me to do the whole gamut of venue sizes.  I like it when I’m like in a cupboard with two other people, but the other day we did our biggest show ever.  It was 2,000 people and it went okay [laughs].  It sold out and it felt natural and comfy and sort of alright, so as long as everyone’s vibe gets lucky on the night, it’s usually good fun, and it feels exciting and that bounces back and forth with the audience.  I’m up for trying bigger gigs!  But it’s true that in America we’re less well known, obviously, than in the UK.  We’re on that journey again in a different way, and it’s quite nice seeing how it goes!

Izzy: Yeah, I’m like, I don’t know if I can imagine seeing you not at Johnny Brenda’s [laughs].  Like, I’ve seen you there two or three times and that just seems to be where you play [laughs].

Kate: Yeah, exactly!  I feel like a bit of a traitor playing somewhere else [laughs].

Izzy: But it’ll be a good show!  I like World Café Live!  It is quite a bit bigger, though.  And it’s a little more fancy…

Kate: Is it?  Well, we’ll be sure to get our capes and canes out!

Izzy: It’s definitely fancier, but it’s a cool space.  You’ll see what I mean as soon as you get there [laughs].

Kate: Okay, interesting.  We’ll try and make it our own!  We’ll scruff it up a little bit [laughs].

Izzy: You also play a lot of summer festivals, including some that you have lined up this year, like really huge spaces.  I’m curious, how do you approach playing that kind of setting, like open air, outdoor, in the middle of the afternoon?  Do you approach that any differently than headlining shows?

Kate: It approaches you differently, and you just have to adjust.  I’m a big believer in just being able to adapt to the situation.  With festival gigs, it’s quite quick, you’re rushed on, you do a line check, and you’ve just gotta start.  There’s no sort of soundcheck and climatizing to the situation.  And, again, I feel like that’s good to remind ourselves of that challenge and to master it and get the hang of it.  By the end of the summer, it’s like, “Yeah!  I got this!”  But at the beginning, it can be a bit wobbly.  I think with the out-in-the-open audience, it’s nice because the audience is behaved differently, and I guess that brings out a different behavior in us.  You get more sort of people doing tai chi dancing and stuff, and that’s just sort of quite fun, ya know [laughs]?  It feels like a different type of interaction, but it’s just good fun!  I like doing the festivals.  And then after you’ve done your gig you can sort of piss about and go and look at stuff!

Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you?  What are you hoping and planning for the second half of the year, after these festival dates over the summer?  Is there anything you’re especially excited about?

Kate: I wanna be quite strict at saying no to as many gigs as possible and just really concentrating on writing and working with people who I’ve wanted to work with for a long time.  I wanna do some collaborations, and then I wanna get out of my writing comfort zone a little bit.  I just want to challenge myself creatively, because at this point touring is such a safe, familiar existence.  I think it’s good to try to leave it for a bit and try to write some stuff and see what comes out.

*Get your tickets here.

Band InterviewsLive EventsMusic

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.