You released your third album Bashed Out earlier this year, what influences did you take into recording?
Oh I’m not sure really. I went into the studio with very much the bare bones of the songs. There was a couple of songs that I’d been playing for a while live but the others took on their own shape with the recording process. And the ones that I had been playing for a while changed their shape and vibe somewhat anyway. So any previous influences got swapped around or something. Aaron [Dessner]’s input was pretty key in shaping the sound of the record. I should ask him what his influences were at the time!
I was going to ask about Aaron Dessner – this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with him – or toured alongside him. How was it to have him produce the record?
It was the first time I’d worked with him on a recording project! We’d done gigs together and played a bit of music together on a very small scale, so it was great to get stuck into a hefty project like a whole album. You get to see and meet people in a different way when you work together on a creative project and that fascinates me. He contributed hugely to the soundscape and overall feeling of the album. He seemed to have a very clear vision, from quite early on in the process, of the direction and sound that would work well and tie all the songs together. He made the album what it is!
“Well, it’s the same old chestnut of an answer. They’re not literally about spoons and turnips”
Working with Aaron, and with Rozi Plain in the band, is friendship and familiarity an important facet of This Is The Kit’s music?
Yes I’d say so. But I think it is for anyone who works with anyone else – in whatever line of work. But maybe especially creative projects? I’m not sure. I need to do a bit of research and asking around perhaps! But more recently I’ve been enjoying the challenge of working with people who I don’t know so well… Trying to be braver about jumping in and getting on with it. I think both are pretty important. To have the familiarity of working with close friends but then also to have the fresh start and new challenge of working with new people. Both ways bring with them a different kind of freedom.
Some of my favourite of your songs before Bashed Out are about wooden spoons and a turnip. How do you go about choosing these brilliantly bizarre subjects to write on?
Well, it’s the same old chestnut of an answer. They’re not literally about spoons and turnips. Which of course you know. But I suppose I’m prone to seeing situations and people/characters in objects. Objects I like the look of, or whose looks fit the feeling of the song or story, but also objects whose names have a certain ring or sound to them. Be it percussive or tuneful. Words have a kind of music and magic beyond their dictionary definitions I reckon.
You’ve played everywhere from Alexandra Palace to small pubs in Middlesborough. What’s your ethos behind picking where to tour?
Well, I’m not sure we do pick really. I mean, we used to pick. When we were booking all the shows and tours ourselves. It was very hard work but we met and made friends with such amazing independent promoters. It was such a privilege to work with people who are so passionate about music and gigs and who really put their heart into the events.
But it’s been a life saver working with our agent as the workload was getting in the way of actually writing and playing music. But sometimes I do miss the small shows in libraries or cafés or people’s front rooms. Having said that, we still get to play shows for some great dedicated promoters and in some pretty amazing settings too. Last year I played a show in a skin diseases museum in Paris (I know!), and the best gig setting might have been when we played in Mitchelstown Cave in Ireland. Such an amazing space to play in. We felt very lucky indeed! I think it’s important to play to a whole range of different audience sizes, keeps you on your toes. It’s easy to get used to one or the other but I feel like my job is to be awake and to do as good a show as possible, whether there’s just one person in the room or one thousand people in the room… That one doesn’t happen very often.
The record has recently been named one of 6Music’s albums of the year – how have you found its reception?
It’s an amazing honour and privilege for so many people to react so positively about the album. I’m mostly speechless actually. But recognition is a funny subject. I feel like it’s a dangerous thing to crave recognition. Sure it is great when people appreciate what you’re doing and notice how hard you’re working. But for me the main thing is to be grateful for the fact that anyone comes to our shows or buys our records at all.
And now immediately after Bashed Out, we have the Rusty And Got Dusty EP announced for January. Are these songs that you had in mind for Bashed Out?
Yes these were recordings that we’d worked on over the period of making Bashed Out. The recording with Aaron was in two intense clumps that book ended a space of about two years so in between times as you can imagine we were chipping away at the album and trying to move it along. So we ended up with loads of recordings. Some of which we were really pleased with, and so this EP was a good opportunity to share them with people.
“Magic Spell” was released alongside a brilliant animation, and the last album had amazing cinematic shots for the videos of the title track and “Silver John”. Are visuals something you view as an important accompaniment to the music?
Yes I reckon so. Mainly because I’m someone who is into visual stuff. Be it photography, drawing, textiles, videos or anything. Most humans I guess are the same. Get a kick out of looking and liking what it is they’re looking at. But for me, the fact that a song these days will usually be accompanied by a video is a great chance to work with some of my favourite visual artists. I was so pleased that Sam Wisternoff was up for doing the video for “Magic Spell”. And he did such a cracking great job.
You partially recorded these new songs in Paris, does France feel more like a home to you than your other base in Bristol?
Yes these days it does. I mean, I’ve been here over 10 years, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere other than Winchester where I grew up. But I think Bristol will always be a kind of second home for me. If only because I have so many important friends and family there. But also, living there really shaped the way I was heading musically. And the creative scene that bubbles away there just seems to get stronger and stronger. There are so many great people making and organising brilliant work and music.
And finally, what’s the story behind the sweater?
Which sweater? My tank top? Well, if you mean the tank top that I’m wearing in the drawing on the “Bashed Out” cover then that’s one that I made myself with some wool I’d bought in Dingle. We were there to play with Aaron for “Other Voices” and they had an amazing wool shop there. And I couldn’t resist buying a whole bundle of blues and greens. And then I made them into a tank top. That’s the story.