Q&A: This is the Kit on How Songwriting is Like Play-Doh
By Ryan Gibbs
British singer-songwriter Kate Stables has gained notice over the past decade for her witty story-songs performed under the musical pseudonym of This is the Kit. She plays banjo in addition to guitar. Released earlier this month, “Moonshine Freeze” is her highest profile release to date: It was issued on influential British indie label Rough Trade, produced by P.J. Harvey collaborator John Parrish and featuring instrumental contributions from Aaron Dessner of The National. This year, she made her Newport Folk Festival debut with a Friday afternoon slot on the Harbor Stage.
How do you think your performance went this afternoon?
I had a really great time. I think the audience were really warm and appreciative and generous. We played with friends from New York, which was really special to us. The Newport Folk Festival proposed a string quartet, who were up for joining us on the set, so they did. It was like lots of treats and privileges piled on top of each other. It was really enjoyable.
What is your songwriting process like?
It varies. I spend a lot of time writing in notebooks. Then when I get a bit of solitude and time to myself, I will hack it into songs and music. Often, words offer up certain musical suggestions, and equally certain bits of music that you might write then sometimes just attracts certain vowel sounds or words. It’s a bit like Play-Doh for me. I think that’s how I write songs.
What was the inspiration behind your song “Moonshine Freeze”?
Lots of different things, [like] our relationship with change, and having to deal with that, because it’s inevitable and sometimes we have a real problem riding the waves. The chorus actually came out of a clapping game that someone taught my daughter. At the end of the game, the words go “Moonshine, moonshine, moonshine, freeze!” and then you have to stop moving. It really got stuck in my head. I loved the phrase. The sound of the words in my ears really appealed to me.
Where did you film the video for your song “Hotter Colder”?
It was in a place called Warleigh Weir, near Bath in the west of England. It was [pouring] down with rain and it was so much fun. We got freezing, but it was really good. I think James Hankins, who directed the film, is really great. What he did was just make a video out of the hilarious out of the hilarious outtakes from the day. That was the video: It was all little bits of us having the best time. It was great.
What is the indie and folk scene like in the United Kingdom right now?
I don’t know, because I don’t feel like I’ve got necessarily the authority to generalize, but I feel like the definition of folk is getting a bit more blurred. Things will get billed as “folk” when it’s quite electronic, other stuff will get billed as folk when it’s quite rocky, and I think that’s a good thing. I guess, for me, it’s more about the definition of the word “folk music.” If it’s people telling a story through song, or even telling a story without words — just a tune that tells a story — that for is what folk music is.
Is there an artist this weekend that you’re particularly interested in seeing perform?
There is, but my mind’s gone blank! But I was really pleased to see Sidi Toure, because he was playing before us on the Harbor Stage and it was brilliant. I love what he does, and it was really a privilege to watch that.