I spent a delightful morning sipping tea and chatting with Kate Stables, the heart of the musical project This Is The Kit, in which she sings, and plays guitar, banjo, and trumpet. Kate embraces change and playfulness to grow and learn, and I was struck by her gentle poise and confidence in her creative journey. What also stood out was her gratitude for the flow and people in her life – without denying life’s difficulties, Kate seems to skip along her path as an artist with an organic sense of acceptance and grace.
Kate is currently on tour with This Is The Kit, following the release of their latest album, “Bashed Out,” which has received 8/10 album ratings in UNCUT, Drowned in Sound, The Line of Best Fit, and The 405.
Kate, can you introduce what you do – how are you an artist, a creative person?
Mainly, I am a musician – I play music, and I write songs. But I’m also someone who makes things, with words, or textiles, or whatever’s around. It’s in my nature to fiddle around with stuff and make things, but music is the main thing I do at the moment.
So you’ve always been creative?
Yeah, I guess so…
How did that longing for creative expression first manifest?
I don’t know if I remember, because I feel like in most people, it starts pretty young. I feel like creativity is part of how we develop as human beings, and that starts really early. Anyone who’s ever watched children grow and learn and teach themselves about things will see that it’s always in a pretty creative way. So I feel like that’s in most people, really. I don’t remember consciously noticing it, but I think probably when I was a kid [laughs].
So far, do you enjoy the world that you have created?
Yeah… The world that I live in… I feel sort of cheeky saying that I’ve created it, because I feel like I can’t take all the credit, but I guess one does make choices in life, and that is sort of a way we build the world we live in. But yeah… my life is amazing… It’s great. The people I meet and the people I have met, and the fact that I get to do what I’m drawn to do is a real privilege. It’s really hard, and body-breaking and soul-breaking sometimes, but I think it would be naïve of me to think that it’s only my life. I think everyone’s life is hard [laughs]. I’m really privileged to have the life that I have.
At this point in your journey, do you see a main overarching theme or questions that keep coming back?
Not really… I wonder if, maybe throughout my life, a theme that I’ve noticed is finding out about stuff, just learning and exchanging with people.
Yeah, curiosity, but not in a necessarily, “ooh, I want to find out about that, I’m going to find out about it…” way. Partly that, but also, “Oh wow, having this experience, doing this, I’ve just realised how much I’ve learnt that I wasn’t expecting to learn.”
Do you rest upon certain personal rhythms, rituals, or environments when you create?
I guess it depends on what I’m doing. At the moment, I think quite a lot about writing… I’ve realised that I can’t write in a busy environment, where there’s other people. I just work better when I’m totally on my own, and turn off distractions.
In terms of rituals, it’s difficult… Especially since being a parent, everyone says you need routines, and rituals and certain things to make everything okay. At different times in that journey, I’ve thought to myself, is this too structured? Is this not structured enough? I don’t notice any structure, but there must be! An outsider would probably see what I do in my life and go, you do this, and you always do that. But because every day is different, every week, a different thing is required of me, in my family or in my work, I feel like I haven’t nailed any rhythms or rituals yet. I’ve just realised that I need to be on my own when I write. [laughs]
What would your experience of leading an artist’s life be? How do family, relationships, other career choices, obligations… How do they all fit in?
I don’t know… Because this is basically what I’ve always done, I don’t have anything to compare it to very much, other than the little odd jobs that I did when I left home or when I first moved to Bristol. People always ask me what it’s like to be a twin, and I have no idea, because I’ve never not been a twin! [laughs] So it’s probably just what everybody experiences.
What words would you use to describe how you mesh it all together: compartmentalize – balance – ignore – sublimate – integrate – transcend…?
Yeah, definitely – there’s integrating, there’s balancing [laughs], and there’s ignoring. You could say ignoring, or you could say focusing, because I’m someone who’s easily bamboozled by everything all at once.
In terms of family, when my daughter was little, it was totally compatible. I didn’t get any time to myself, but she could come with me whenever I went on tour or did anything. And then they get to the age when they don’t want to be with you no matter what – they’d rather be having a nice time, because they know they’re going to see you again afterwards. So then, she’d rather not be on tour. The logistics get a bit trickier. But I feel like that’s the same with any working parent, we just have to work out the way that you’re together and apart around the work you do, whether it’s creative work or other types of work.
It sounds like it’s all very organic…
You could say organic, or you could say, flying by the seat of our pants! There’s no premeditated, this is how we’re going to do it. It’s more – this is how it’s happening.
Relationships… I was thinking about relationships recently because I just work at home, and it’s a very different social scene when you are self-employed and you’re not going to work with lots of other people all the time. But at the same time, the people I do meet are often through creative projects. There are amazing people I’ve met that perhaps I’ve got more of a connection with them than if I would have met them just working in an office and had some mates, or whatever. But I don’t know… that’s just a maybe. And it’s probably not true, actually. Anyone you meet, in whatever context, probability-wise, you’re going to find people that sort of vibrate at the same frequency [laughs], and you sort of get drawn to each other! And then you make great friends. I’d probably have to spend a day thinking about the relationship side of it…!
In terms of career, I don’t know if I even think of it as a career. It’s a word that exists and it’s useful, but I feel like I’ve got no plan. I’m just doing what I feel like doing at the moment. But at the same time, I often fantasize about not being self-employed, or not doing what I like to do creatively as a job. I think maybe some of the happiest days of my life was when I just was a cleaner, and I’d turn up to a pub or whatever I was cleaning and make it nice and clean, go home and just be free and be myself.
Whereas when you’re self-employed, in a creative way especially, there’s no turning it off. Especially seeing as you can’t predict when you’re going to get a bit of inspiration – you sort of have to catch it when it comes, and that might not be… It’s just a bit of a 24-hour call job, but – I’m not complaining, it’s great. Sometimes I dream about having a job that I’m not emotionally involved in. [laughs]
How do others fit into your creative/inner world?
…those who have a similar vision?
…those who don’t understand what you do, if there are any?
…those who are supportive and don’t necessarily participate?
I guess the same as in anyone’s lives. You’ve got close support team, and you’ve got family, and you’ve got friends…
Plus, everyone’s on these different-sized wheels that are turning all at once and they get in synch and then you get out of synch for a moment. So relationships are always stretching and contracting, bringing you to people and then away again. In life, I think, regardless of what job you’ve got…
So mainly, you do feel supported?
Yeah, very much so. I’ve got friends whose families maybe worry about what they do because they don’t feel like they’re ever going to be able to buy a house or something like that. And I can understand that worry; you want your kids to be okay, you want your family to be secure. Maybe they just keep it quiet, but I feel quite lucky to have a family that is happy about what I do. I feel like they trust me and feel that I’m secure. Even though I’m not necessarily financially secure, I am emotionally secure! [laughs]
Do you come from a creative family?
I think so… I don’t know where the boundary is, creative / not creative – it’s not an on/off thing. But they are what I would consider as being creative.
What is your guiding energy; is there a guiding energy, or a main source of inspiration?
I don’t know… I feel like there’s a lot of stuff that I might realise one day, that I don’t realise yet. There’s stuff that happens that is almost certainly linked and related, but I haven’t weevilled out what it is. A guiding inspiration… I don’t know, life and humans, I think. That’s the world I live in; I live in human society, and that inspires me a lot.
Do you ever get stuck?
How do you get beyond it?
Sometimes time… change. Change might be an answer to a lot of the questions that I’ve wondered about, actually. Change is a real teacher and inspiration and grower. Nothing ever stays the same, everything’s a phase – always. So if I think I can’t write any songs any more, then you just have to remember that you will, one day. It’s just a phase, and then you’re on a bit of a – wow, there are some songs! But that’s a phase as well… but yeah, anything will change, eventually. Some big things, and some smaller things.
Where does your gratitude flow?
Oooh…. Well… Do you mean to or from? Do I mean to or from? What do I think? There’s lots of things that I’m grateful for – pretty much everything, actually, in my life, I’m grateful for! [laughs]. Like I said, I feel pretty privileged to live the life that I live, and know the people that I know, and to have experienced what I’ve experienced. To get to travel and learn… [sirens, laughter].
But where does my gratitude flow? If I try and think about the ‘from,’ I’ve spent a lot of time and will continue to spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that my parents have contributed to my character and philosophy or whatever. They were quite amazing at… I realise now how much they left me to it. I don’t ever feel that they neglected me or my sister or anything, but I feel that they were really excellent at watching and not interfering. Just trusting, and setting good examples. That hadn’t totally realised itself as a thing in my head and my body as well until fairly recently. When you’re a parent, you think, should I say something, should I not say something, should I… I really want to say something… You never know really whether to act or not to. Another siren! [laughter]
I’m not only grateful for them being so watchful and observant and leaving me space, but I also feel that’s where my gratitude for stuff comes from. That’s planted something in me that makes me feel thankful.
How does playfulness fit into your creative process?
Oh totally! If you think about it… It’s really hard getting the balance right. We live in a society where the main acceptable state is [gloom and doom voice] “Oh, I’ve got work to do… Oh it’s so hard…” and it’s not okay for anyone to say, “Ah yeah, today I’m going to go and sit over there, because I’ve decided to do that.” There’s a guilt… thing.
Work has to be hard or it’s not work…
It has to be miserable, or it doesn’t count, and it’s a shame. And even if you know that that’s not the case, still everyone falls into the same conversation of “Oh yeah, I’m okay, a bit tired…” Which is fine because people are tired and they need to talk about it…
Ah yeah, playfulness…
It’s just so important for human beings to be playful. That’s the only thing that we need to do in life, because that is learning. It takes you back to child development [laughs]. That is how they learn to be grounded human beings, it’s by playing, learning and experiencing stuff. It’s all self-taught, and that’s what we all need to do as adults. It doesn’t stop. We just need to keep playing, it’s really important. I think psychologically, as well – a lot of psychological problems come out of feeling like we can’t play in a certain way, and then it goes off in a bad way… People feel guilty about stuff. It’s really important for people to play – call it whatever you like, experiment with stuff, investigate.
Would you say that sharing your work is intrinsic to the creative process?
Yeah, if I didn’t share it, I’d still do it. But it’s true that if people didn’t keep booking me for gigs, then the shape of what I do would probably change, and the context obviously as well. But because people receive it well at the moment, that makes it into a certain shape, and makes me continue writing songs and doing gigs. But if there weren’t any gigs, then I’d still be doing it – it would just be in a different context.
Joseph Campbell wrote, “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.” Do you agree? If so, how do you “follow your bliss”?
I guess… It’s tricky; everyone’s probably got a different interpretation of the word bliss or of what you follow. I do think you have to follow what makes you happy, that’s the basis of who you are, and how you can be your best in the world. I do feel like it is our responsibility to be happy with ourselves and to be good to other people, and for other people to be happy with themselves. You do have “happiness responsibility…”
It’s not someone else who is going to make us happy…
Exactly. So I think it’s important to follow what makes you happy for that reason. With things like that, it’s also easy to sometimes forget how important it is to struggle as well. I think that really helps us grow as well. That’s a key grower. But don’t go out looking for struggle, obviously, but it’s fine to decide to do something that’s difficult, that makes you not necessarily as happy as something else, because you’re going to learn from it. It’s all choosing and judging what’s going to be okay in the end.
When there is a struggle, or when you need solace, where do you turn to, does it include your work?
Yeah, definitely, because I guess your work is you, and so you automatically turn to yourself, and try and work stuff out and work out why it’s a struggle and how to get past it.
What is the place of longing in your work? Of beauty, of truth, of connecting from the heart? If you want to define them, you can, or add other words that resonate with you.
Yes… Longing… I do like a bit of truth [laughs].
Beauty is an interesting one… Being able to sit and watch is beauty in a way. Being able to observe stuff and see it. It’s all pretty beautiful, even grim stuff and sad stuff. Beauty isn’t just one thing, is it? It’s a whole spectrum, of everything, it’s not what it is – beauty’s in the eyes of the beholder. It’s not what it is, it’s noticing it.
There’s a lot of that in your lyrics, tuning into details, into things that might not be beautiful but you’re giving them that attention, and so they are beautiful…
Maybe, yeah, exactly… that sort of thing. Truth, well, again, like beauty, it’s a whole spectrum of meaning, it’s not just a true or false question [laughs].
Longing… everything longs for stuff and it changes, doesn’t it. But a lot of the time we long for freedom and calm. People always long for happiness, but I feel like people don’t really feel very free, often… people often long for freedom. I have longed for freedom, from time to time. But freedom’s one of those things… it doesn’t exist without responsibility, and responsibility doesn’t exist without freedom. We have to find the balance. Back to the balance [laughs].
Does your creative path match your highest expectations?
I think so, because I’m not someone who sets a goal and is disappointed if I don’t get it. So far, I just do what I do and I’m just happy that I’ve been able to do it. I know people that want a certain thing now, they’ll be like, “I want to be this famous in this amount of time…” I can’t understand how to be like that. I’m not saying I’m some sort of perfect, happy example of perfection and that I’m not wanting to achieve certain things, but I’m just happy with being alive [laughs].
I guess with the word “expectation” you’re setting yourself up for disappointment…
But an expectation is a funny one as well, because you can either have expectation as in goals, or what you are hoping for, but there’s also expectation in what do you expect, or what surprises you when it happens – like “Oh, I didn’t expect that!” But there’s other things you do expect and then they happen and it’s fine.
I need to rephrase that with “intention” – what is your highest intention?
What’s the whole question again?!
Does your creative path meet your highest intention?
I think so, because… it’s a path. There’s no one point, there’s no destination. All I intend, all I expect, all I hope for, is to just keep living and keep going and keep learning.
What is your relationship to a sense of completeness, or lack thereof, and how does that affect your work?
Again, I guess completeness… I don’t know if it exists. Again, it’s the path, isn’t it? You’re always changing and growing, and sometimes you’re lacking certain things, sometimes you gain that, and other times you lose certain qualities you had before, and then they come back again. I feel like it’s too much of a shifting thing to ever exist. But it affects my work – because I’ve always got this same theory about not arriving or not being complete or no goal – that is my work, to keep going. [laughs]
What is your gift – how do you most enjoy being remembered?
Ahh… yeah… I don’t know what my gift is… It’s easy with this sort of question to start thinking about what I’d like my gift to be! [laughs] But I don’t know if it is what I’d like my gift to be. I hope this doesn’t sound too audacious or cocky, but I do feel like I see things from different perspectives. Maybe everyone does – I’m sure everyone does – but I’m grateful that I feel that sometimes. I’ve been in situations where there’s people that can only see one perspective and it seems too hard and unfair. I’m not saying that I’m fair and everyone else is unfair, but I feel lucky that I like to think about something from all angles. But I don’t know – is that my gift?
About being remembered, I don’t know… It’s nice just to be remembered for being quite good fun and quite kind, I don’t know – a bit of a laugh, but not a git! [laughs] But I don’t know if I am remembered like that!
What is your closest experience to simply being? Put another way, describe your closest experience of a state of connection.
Mmm… my closest experience of simply being… [long silence] I don’t know! [smiles, laughs]
We can come back to it, if you like…
Let me see… I wonder if…
There’s a lovely expression on your face when you think about it!
I don’t know if I can say… [laughs]
We can put a beeeep… parental advisory!
It’s tricky, ‘cause all these things, I’d probably answer then differently another week, or another day.
Simply being… I remember times when my daughter was little, and all you can do is sit down and be with them, and feed them and they’ll take as long as they need, and you are just there with them, and you don’t have to speak. It’s just a great communication and exchange. I love that that exists between mothers and children; you don’t have to have any words. They just need to be nursed, but they’re getting so much more than simply milk. Plus it’s well designed because it makes you sit down and makes you just sit and be. That is really powerful. I hope that as many people as possible get to experience that. It’s amazing to sit there and be, talk with your child and not have to speak. Often we think that with kids, we have to be talking to them all the time and telling them what’s going on and saying what they’re doing or what they should be doing. But just, silence – with people – is so important.
Is this a state you look for or carry over to your creativity?
Yes, I’m sure it is, it must be. Part of the state that I personally need to be in for all of this, to find words and music, is this neutral being state – nothing else, existing.
Would you like to add something, whether a thought, a story, a sketch, a tune…?
I can’t think of anything I’d like to add… I was thinking, partway through that, about letter writing. It plays quite a big part in one’s mental health, or communication, or relationships – all of that. And again, even though it is words, it’s not spoken, and I feel like it’s really important for us to have different ways of communicating with each other. We think it’s all about speaking all the time. It’s just great when there are other ways to communicate with people, whether it’s sign language, dancing, writing letters, or playing music…
This Is The Kit shows.
October 2017 update: I enjoyed speaking with Kate again for Lagom magazine, which can be found here: https://readlagom.com/issues/issue-7. We spoke of her latest album, Moonshine Freeze, and also about how balance pervades every aspect of her life, from creative productivity, to home life, and social responsibility.
This interview by Gabrielle Sedita is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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