The 405 meets The Staves
The story goes that sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor decided to form The Staves after feeling somewhat envious of their friend's musical endeavors. Three years on, they are on the verge of celebrating the release of a much hyped debut album and it's clear to all that succumbing to peer pressure has never had such favorable results.
With their ties lying much deeper than most, the sisterhood trio use their years of shared company to execute harmonies that most could only dream of and this, combined with their exquisite songwriting abilities, has meant The Staves are the latest in a long line of British folk exports to gain acclamation on a worldwide level.
Sitting in a pub in central London, it came as no real surprise that the girls possess as much dainty elegance as their music depicts and I was lucky enough to ask them about real-life cowboys, their summer and the long road ahead.
So you guys hit the festival circuit pretty hard this summer, any highlights?
C: I think Latitude was really good. Cambridge Folk as well.
E: And Greenman.
J: The best one we did outside the UK was Into the Great Wide Open in Holland, which was bloody great. It's on a little island so it's just like white sandy beaches. It was amazing!
Before the festivals you guys did a lot of touring in America, how has your reception been over there?
E: Yeah, it's been ace. We did three tours over there this year and it's been going really well. We've been lucky enough to support some really good artists and we even managed a crazy little campervan adventure over there as well. It's an incredible place and it's been going as well as could be hoped for.
C: People are very vocal in their appreciation over there. Sometimes over here, I think that we're spoilt for choice. Even in London alone, there are so many bands. Over there, I think people seem genuinely appreciative that you would come to their state and play. I mean they come up to you afterwards and say things like: “Tennessee loves you! Thank you so much for coming to my state.” It's like a different world.
That included a support slot with Bon Iver right? How did that go?
E: It was amazing; we had the best time. There are nine of them in the band, so their road crew is massive and you just never know what to expect when you meet somebody like that. The stakes are raised when you're a real fan of their music and you're like "Oh god, please be really nice!" but they really all just made us feel so welcome and watched our show every night and we watched theirs, obviously. It was just great; we got to go to places you just would never go to if you weren't playing with somebody like that. I can't wait to do it again.
Is it true that they are really into personal fitness? And if so, did The Staves join in?
E: No. We have our own grueling fitness regime.
J: They mentioned that they did some gigs with Feist and her band in America together and they said that there was some sort of personal trainer guy hanging for a few of the gigs. So they'd all be out in the car park of the hotel at like eight in the morning and it was like: "anyone who doesn't have a hangover, get up, come outside for an hour and do some stretching."
E: Which would be amazing because you just don't do anything.
C: You don't move and you eat shit.
E: Just sitting in a van, eat shit, drink booze from like midday on and…
J: Speak for yourself.
The debut album Dead & Born & Grown is out on 12th November. Did you find your approach differed from that used for the Mexico EP?
J: I think with the record there were quite a lot of songs we'd written and it's just like the whole catalogue of the Staves from the beginning until now so there were songs that had been around for a while and there were some songs that were brand new. It's tricky 'cos it gives you more time to think about them it can take longer to get it right. With the EP, they were all pretty much brand new and sometimes when they're fresh, you don't really know what you're doing and that's the magic of it… usually anyway.
E: An EP is a more manageable size and this affects choosing the track order, for example. It was our first time having to do it for a full-length album and the possibilities, let me tell you, are endless! However on an EP, it's a much easier process to decide.
C: Yeah. So, how do we arrange these three songs!?
You had Glyn and Ethan Johns producing the LP, whose past credits include Bob Dylan, The Band and Crosby, Stills & Nash. How inspirational was it having two people of that caliber on board?
E: It was really cool. We sort of had to look at each other and say 'how on earth did we end up with these two?!' but it was great. We like recording to tape and there are few people that can do it as well as either of them. Also, looking at who they'd worked with and produced was just amazing; we're fans of so many of them, from albums that we grew up listening to and those much more recent inspirations.
C: And they've got loads of really cool stories as well.
The lead single 'Tongue Behind my Teeth' is out on 5th November and you've already put out a video. How much fun was it on set?
C: It was fun, but more than fun; it was hot.
E: Seriously, it was 45 degrees and we were wearing a lot of clothes.
J: There's a place called Tabernas in Spain in the desert and they used to do the Western films there back in the day and they've built actual Western sets, like towns and stuff. They're still there, exactly the same but pretty much unused so we came up with the idea and thought of it as a bit of a fantasy. Then, this guy we know was like "yeah you can do it, we should make it happen." So, we ended up in a desert riding these horses that were trying run away and we were kind of like "what the fuck are we doing here?"
E: Yeah, we sort of got out there and then realized that none of us could ride horses or do gun tricks or anything but yeah, it was so much fun.
J: It was a lot of fun, a lot of crazy locals who work there, just dressed as cowboys all day, firing guns… firing blanks.
J: and riding horses. So I suppose they are actual cowboys in a way. But yeah, very, very strange place but very cool.
I found out earlier that you guys are doing a gig tonight for Deezer's first birthday that's going to be streamed live. With the rise in these sorts of things, do you think to really capture the essence of a gig; one has to physically be there?
J: I've had DVDs of concerts by bands I love and you can definitely really enjoy it and you can feel what it was probably like to be there. But yeah, it's not the same.
C: Yeah, when you see people filming it, it's a bit like 'just enjoy it, don't ruin it'.
J: It's like watching filmed plays; they always just look weird and seem odd.
Within the group, there's no lead singer so to speak. Is this applicable for the songwriting process too?
C: It's fairly collaborative. It changes each time. It can vary, like sometimes Jess will have written a chorus and a verse of something and we'll bring it to the table and then we'll all finish it and arrange it and things like that. Or sometimes, someone will just have an idea of a line and think "I'd really like to write a song about that and about what that sums up" and we'll all start something from scratch together. Or sometimes, someone will have a song fully groomed and it's just a matter of putting it through The Staves filter and coming up with harmonies and shit. Ultimately, it's a collaborative thing because things always change in the arrangement process.
Finally, you guys were on many a one-to-watch list and after listening to the new album, I think you have most definitely fulfilled these prophecies. Do you guys have any ones-to-watch?
J: There's a new album by Fionn Regan who's an Irish guy and is bloody great. We've done collaborations with him and he's just the best singer-songwriter of our generation, he's just incredible.
E: Jonas Alaska is also amazing.
C: Yeah, he's this Norweigan guy and Mikhael Paskalev. Fucking Cool. Google 'em.
E: And Bears Den, they were one of the bands we went with on the 'Austin to Boston' tour.
The Staves will be playing a string of UK shows, first as a support act for Bon Iver on their European tour and then as headliners. More information can be found on their website.
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The almost-10-minutes-long film shows the making of the album, and the band's thoughts and feelings behind it. [read more]