By Chris Jones
To listen to the alternative folk songs of Kate Stables, aka This Is The Kit, is to be reminded of a long line of quintessentially English artists, from Sandy Denny to Beth Orton and Laura Marling. Something in the folk melodies, rustic instrumentation and Stables' pure-accented voice just conjures the English countryside. It may come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that Stables has spent the last eight years living in Paris with her partner - both personal and musical - Jesse Vernon. Speaking via Skype from the family home, Stables explains how they moved on a whim and liked it so much that they decided to stay and raise their daughter in France ("Her English is stronger than her French, even though she goes to school all day in French.
But she manages fine"), while travelling back and forwards to the UK for gigs.
"It felt like it would be a good idea to live in a foreign country for a while, learn some new stuff, and do something difficult for a bit," she says in her understated, genial manner. While Kate says that she feels more at home in Paris than she ever did in Winchester, where she grew up, or in Bristol, where she lived and met Vernon, she acknowledges its effect on her relationship with England and Englishness. "I feel like I've become more English than I ever was before," she says.
"But I also feel like there are certain ways I've noticed people go about things here -- a nice self-discipline that I didn't notice in England.
I've learned stuff about applying oneself."
The fact is that self-discipline is very much a necessity for Stables.
While she has spent the last decade as a full-time musician, and toured with luminaries like The National and Sharon Van Etten (and is soon to tour with Iron & Wine), mainstream recognition continues to elude her.
Cult appeal, of course, does not normally translate to an easy life. "In Paris, and generally in France, we've met amazing, inspiring musicians. But in terms of being a self-employed musician, it's almost impossible," she admits.
"They make it quite hard to be selfemployed -- there's lots of paperwork and loopholes which we struggle with. We still haven't totally got the hang of it after nearly eight years.
But you've got to try not to let it get you down." Have you ever had to take other jobs to make ends meet? "So far, we manage, but it's always a 'so far' situation.
Who know what will happen tomorrow? I wonder if it's mind over matter as well -- if you decide that you'll manage, sometimes you just do.
One day at a time..." " Vernon has been at Stables' side throughout the last decade of life and music.
They met in Bristol when she joined a choir that he was running.
They then played in a band together, started dating, and then Stables joined his band Morning Star, followed by him joining This Is The Kit and the move to France. As well as playing guitar in This Is The Kit and producing their records, she describes him as a brick ("it's a compliment") and one of the main reasons they manage to get things done. "He's very important in that what he brings is always excellent," she says. "We can't tour easily together any more -- just in school holidays -- so that is affecting the project a little bit.
But things change and that's fine, and he's got a lot of his own stuff on the go, so he can do that.
He just doesn't stop working and doing stuff. "Things would happen a lot slower if he wasn't there cracking the whip.
He's pretty crucial to the band." " The way Stables describes their relationship, it sounds like it's based on something of a push- pull dynamic. As she puts it, This Is The Kit is "my project", and she chuckles as she calls it "an easy-going dictatorship", despite the importance of Vernon's input. However, she hasn't always made it easy for him.
"He's very patient," she says.
"When he first started playing in the band, I was terrible.
I was getting him to not play all the time, and he wasn't allowed to play the guitar -- which is his main instrument. "His natural habitat is playing the electric guitar and I was saying, 'No, don't do that - play this drum!'.
It was very cruel of me.
But now he's allowed to play the guitar more, and everyone's healthier for it!" Perhaps at least one of the Stables clan was always destined for a life in music.
Kate grew up with her parents and three siblings, and describes a childhood full of music. "My parents are into folk music and playing music and singing," she says. "Me and my twin sister [a teacher in Bristol] used to sing a lot together.
She doesn't do a huge amount of music now, but she is amazingly musical.
She's much better at it than I am - she can talk about flat and fifths and I can't. "Occasionally we'll do a family band gig and all six of us will scrape some stuff together.
But I'm the only one that has ended up doing music for a job." While Kate is reticent to fully nail her flag to the folk mast, Stables is happy to reflect on what she does and how it relates to the genre. "I guess people like songs, and that's what folk music comes down to, really -- singing songs.
I think I end up writing fairly folky lyrics as well.
It's accidental, but it is what it is." " In any case, This Is The Kit's music blurs the line between folk and indie rock, using noisy guitar effects in some songs and banjo in others. "It just feels nice to make a noise," says Kate, although this progressive approach cuts little ice with the folk purists, some of whom turn their noses up at the sight of an electric guitar, 48 years after Dylan became 'Judas' in outraged fans' eyes. "I'"I've played at some nights when I turn up with my electric guitar, and I've got the impression that they'd rather I didn't have it," she says. "It's a bit like, 'Er, we don't use electricity here...'.
Sometimes I feel like it's a Trade Descriptions Act thing.
I guess things go in cycles -- convection currents of people being purist or wanting to mix it up.
It goes around, depends on who you bump into and what town you're in." If all goes to plan, This Is The Kit will soon be playing in bigger rooms to many more people. Their last album, 2010's Wriggle Out the Restless, will has just been re-released by the label run by a long-time friend, The National's Aaron Dessner, who is also producing the next record.
"He's really excellent to work with," says Kate.
"Totally intuitive and great.
But difficult to get hold of. "The fact of the matter is, he's in America and we're in Paris and so there's logistics to sort out.
But it's fine -- he's like a pen pal." " A decade into This Is The Kit, Dessner's involvement could help take things up a gear, but Stables is modest to a fault and just glad to be able to get by in Paris, doing what she loves. "It would be great to have a bit more of an 'it'll be fine and we'll be able to pay our rent this month' vibe. "But I don't mind if it doesn't happen, because I consider myself to be very lucky."
This Is The Kit play at the Errigle Inn, Belfast tonight.
Tickets cost Pounds 8 and doors are at 7.30pm.
Originally published by Chris Jones.
(c) 2013 Belfast Telegraph. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.
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