ONE day many years ago Kate Stables’ father returned from a car boot sale with a novelty item under his arm. A collector of musical instruments, esoteric and otherwise, he’d spied a banjo amid the bric-a-brac and stumped up on the spot.
At home his daughter, an aspiring songwriter, picked it up and started strumming. She liked how it sounded — warm but with an edge, familiar yet with hints of the open road.
“My dad acquires musical instruments from sales,” Stables explains, “A one point he got a banjo. I started writing on it.”
Fans of contemporary English folk-rock will bowled over by the music Stables records as This Is The Kit. Wispy and just the right side of ethereal, she has, across a 12-year career, taken her place alongside Laura Marling and The Unthanks at the top table of acoustic British songwriters.
Among her prominent fans, Elbow’s Guy Garvey was such an enthusiastic cheerleader that he fronted a BBC radio documentary in which he argued her 2010 LP, Wriggle Out The Restless, deserved a Mercury Music Prize nomination (it didn’t receive one).
The secret ingredient to her writing, it can be argued, is its intensity. There’s an edge to her playing and, especially, her voice that keeps at bay the tweeness often an unfortunate byproduct of middle-class, home counties types donning waistcoats and bashing banjos.
Her journey has, moreover, been circuitous and then some. It is a supreme irony that Stables had to move to Paris in order to hone a distinctly British sound.
“Living in a foreign country widens your perceptions a bit,” she says, “I’m not saying that not living in a foreign country narrows your perceptions. But you’re used to meeting new people in new countries — for me, I found that I’ve learned stuff.” [ . . . ]
Read More: Acoustic endeavours pay off for This Is The Kit
Effortless storytelling is at the heart of This Is The Kit. And the stories the band’s only permanent member, Kate Stables, weaves are profound but sweet with a tone that quietly reels you in.
“Bullet Proof” is the opening song at the Tiny Desk – and the opening track on her fourth album, Moonshine Freeze – a song that sees the darkest challenges in life as a way to begin again. “Everything we broke today/Needing breaking, anyway,” Kate Stables sings as she’s picking on her banjo with tides of percussion and bass flowing in. It takes two minutes before the perfectly punctuated guitar hits but completely worth the wait.
That gradual unfolding is the strength of these songs and this band. “Moonshine Freeze,” the last one they perform at the Tiny Desk, is the title track to the new album produced by John Parish. It’s a song taken from a children’s clapping game: Say “moonshine” three times, then freeze. But the song takes these images deeper, looking at patterns in the repetitive words, specifically patterns of three, which in Kate’s mind forms a triangle or a delta and it just gets deeper.
Lovers of Sufjan Stevens will appreciate the gentle ways Kate Stables can touch a heart with a song. And the band she plays with here is tightly in touch with how best to support these tunes.
- “Bullet Proof”
- “Hotter Colder”
- “Moonshine Freeze”
Katherine Stables, Rosalind Leyden, Jamie Whitby-Coles, Noil Smith, Adam Schatz, Jonah Parzen-Johnson
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Bronson Arcuri, Alyse Young; Production Assistant: Salvatore Maicki; Photo: Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR
For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.