Photo: Ania Shrimpton
“I find for me that when I say something softly, it means I can say something more,” explains Kate Stapley. It’s within this profound off-the-cuff line that her music neatly lies. A blanket of ethereal and warming folk to nestle in, whether you find yourself in moments of haunting solitude or within a comfortable flicker of contentment.
“My housemates’ cat has got really into getting under your legs on the stairs,” she amusingly tells me from the other side of the phone on an early damp morning. “It’s too cute though,” Stapley concedes. A welcome opening anecdote that helps clear any awkward silence that may have ensued, but also paints a pleasant and homely picture. For Stapley’s music is all about the more human and organic elements of life, from her hushed emotive voice to the raw strum of her trusty acoustic guitar. A songwriter who displays a unique ability for writing gentle folk stories in amongst the drudgery of part-time work.
The singer-songwriter is currently in the midst of writing a follow-up record to debut EP, Centella. A release that glistened with heart-warming nostalgia for her “lovely upbringing” and family, a wistful ode to simpler days gone by. Yet, Stapley is no longer in such a nostalgic and sentimental mood: “That record was looking back, and this record is in the current moment.”
“I find for me that when I say something softly, it means I can say something more.”
“I think on the record that I’m making now, there’s a bit more of a balance compared to my last, which was a bit softer. The instrumentation was quite light and escapist, but this record bounces between light and dark more.”
This isn’t to say that Stapley’s gentle glimmer of folk storytelling and warm vignettes of companionship are no more. In fact, they’ve become even more stirring and heart-rending, best exemplified by new song, ‘Hermit’. A track that Stapley describes as “a simple love song, celebrating the moment when you have the bravery to embrace everything about yourself, especially the parts of you that you were ashamed or embarrassed of.” A soothing dose of folk to shut your eyes to.
“‘Hermit’ is the sort of song I thought I would never write,” she insists. “There are moments where it’s nice just to have a bit of joy really. Everything doesn’t need to be so serious.” Stapley even admits that “if you had told me eight years ago that this is a song you’re going to make, I’d be like ‘Eurgh! Never!’”
This more joyous element to Stapley’s music is, however, also underpinned by moments of startling rawness and layers of unsettling acoustic ruminations, the sort plied by atmospheric folk contemporaries, Julie Byrne and Adrianne Lenker. Delicately-haunting new track, ‘The Hours’, is evident of this, with lines like, “I felt hours dissolve in my hands.”
“I actually first wrote that song years ago, when I first started experiencing depression,” Stapley explains. “I was showing it to Oliver Baldwin [producer behind Stapley’s new material] and he helped me stitch it back together with some different lyric ideas into a new song, which was nice. It’s kind of something that never completely leaves but you change how to work with it.”
Depression is a topic which Stapley has touched upon before, especially on ‘Iceland’ from her previous EP. Yet Stapley’s new material offers a new perspective on the bouts of darkness that have clouded her mind. A haunting and fragile tone has found its way into not just her whispered vocals, but also her stark and sparse acoustic arrangements. It seems as if Stapley has taken influence from Mount Eerie’s most recent output, a silent yet expressive piece of melancholic catharsis. Despite its dark undertones, ‘The Hours’ makes for a spellbinding listen, representing a sense of untamed beauty in amongst the delicate myriad of inner feelings and one’s own sense of self.
While Stapley is currently plying her trade as an up-and-coming folk artist within Bristol, the city’s bubbling creative scene and historic crevices have not always been home for her. Stapley instead had a rather nomadic childhood: “It’s a bit of a tangle. I grew up in London, spent a year in Leeds, a few months in Essex and then came down to Bristol. Like a little whistle-stop tour.”
“Bristol is too full of stories… The sort of people who write folk songs are drawn to this.”
Stapley took the trip to Bristol to study art at UWE, a course which has only further enabled her to grow into the role of musician, going hand-in-hand with her songwriting. “I actually found that, as a songwriter, doing an art degree really, really helped me to write better songs,” she recounts. “It gave me more freedom with structure, helping me look at setlists and albums. When you look at a setlist or track list, it’s kinda similar to an exhibition. Where do you put a painting in a room?”
Not only did the art degree open her eyes to a new creative way of thinking and of conceptualising her music, but also Bristol did so as a city. Yet, Stapley by no means chose Bristol with its exciting music scene in mind. “I moved here knowing about the arts scene, and then the music scene was a nice surprise.” Although, Stapley admits that she “found it hard to find the folk scene here at first,” and has since been particularly helped by Breakfast Records.
Nowadays, Stapley has firmly positioned herself within Bristol’s tantalising alternative folk scene, perhaps the city’s best kept secret, hiding beneath the crackle of city-centre traffic and the discordant drone of a hedonistic Stokes Croft. Alongside folk contemporaries, Rachel Dadd, Emily Isherwood and more established Rozi Plain and This is the Kit, Stapley represents an invaluable addition.
“It’s nice to see a bit of, not a resurgence, but a footing I guess. I think it’s such an amazing city with such an important past. When you’re walking anywhere it’s just so full of history, all the places that used to be rivers and that are now covered up. Bristol is too full of stories, so many interesting characters. The sort of people who write folk songs are drawn to this.”
Yet it may not be long before Stapley moves on again, in true folk troubadour fashion. As Stapley paints an almost romantic picture of the city she now calls home, I ask if she’s finally found the one in Bristol, after years spent in-between places. “I don’t know,” she states honestly. “You can’t really tell what will go on.”
Stapley’s new material promises to reflect just that: living in the current moment. A symbol of a songwriter growing confidently into their own skin and excelling in the process.
AA-side ‘The Hours / Hermit’ is out 6th December via Breakfast Records, with a launch show at HOURS Space on the same day. Her debut album is due in 2020.
Listen to ‘Hermit’ here: