Kate Stables lives in Paris, but as she tells the Straight in a telephone interview—from Chicago, where she’s preparing to open an Aimee Mann show at Millennium Park—she doesn’t see her home that often.
“Over the past year or so, very rarely,” says the British-born singer-songwriter who performs under the name This Is the Kit. “Most months will be at least two to three weeks touring. I’ve been away more than I’ve been at home this year, but that’s going to stop in September.”
That’s when Stables will spend some quality time back in France, where she has multiple projects in mind, from dabbling in film scoring to penning songs inspired by the late American sci-fi novelist Ursula K. Le Guin. If we’re lucky, she will also apply herself to the task of crafting a follow-up to This Is the Kit’s fourth long-player, 2017’s Moonlight Freeze.
A collection of haunting and melodically enchanting alt-folk, the album showcases Stables’s proficiency on a number of instruments (including banjo and guitar) as well as her crystalline vocals and knack for writing evocative lyrics.
In fact, the word that best describes Stables’s songs, if Pitchfork, Paste, and Rolling Stone are to be believed, is cryptic. She doesn’t dispute that assessment, noting that even though she writes about people and situations from her life, she strives to avoid being too obvious about it.
“It’s a weird thing to me, songwriting,” Stables admits. “Sometimes it feels a bit—I mean, this is a clumsy way of comparing it, but I can’t think of a better one—almost like tarot cards or something. There are these images that come to you, and they are linked in a kind of narrative, but it’s so dependent on the person interpreting them as to what story they tell.”
In other words, what any individual infers from lyrics like the ones in “Empty No Teeth” (“Time was, climbing, all fours, all fours/Time was all ours, for hours and hours/Daylight creeping, away, leaving, leaving”) might not be what the song’s author intended, but that doesn’t mean the listener is wrong.
“Sometimes people will come up to me after a show and say, ‘This song, to me, is about this and this and this,’ and they’re all things that I definitely had never thought of, but they’re absolutely totally appropriate, and I feel like the song is about that, but I hadn’t even realized it yet,” Stables says.
“There are sort of magic powers in the words you choose according to their sound or images, but the meanings often go so much deeper,” she concludes. “It’s really interesting, and I don’t know how to explain it very well. I notice it in other people’s writing as well. I think words have got a life of their own that you can’t necessarily fully control.”
This Is the Kit plays the Fox Cabaret on Wednesday (August 8).