As the world's insatiable hunger for new folk-pop (nu-folk, folk rock, etc.) grows stronger by the hour, labels are rushing to sign any and every band featuring a ____________ (insert obscure string instrument here). Unfortunately, as you can tell by my own tone, the "cool kids" have stigmatized "folk", and in doing so, they might be missing some truly amazing acts currently making their way into the scene.
A shining example of such a band is the English sibling trio The Staves. Sisters Emily (vocals), Jessica (vocals, guitar), Camilla Staveley-Taylor (vocals, ukulele) are folk in a much more traditional sense. While others bond their tunes together with claps and clanned choruses, The Staves find strength in songwriting and enchanting harmonization. And their raw lyrics like, "Pick me up, wish me luck/Fare thee well, I dont give a fuck anymore," are admirably not written with a sole intention of making a top 20 radio list.
The sisters were fortunate to have recently toured alongside indie music's no frills Thoreau, aka Justin Vernon, in support of Bon Iver, and are on their way to the States to kick off their own tour at SXSW (which includes a visit to The Launch Pad
). Prior to their transatlantic journey, we interrupted Miss Camilla while she was watching Twin Peaks
for a quick chat about how she and her sisters began performing together, and how being sisters helped them through the creative processes of writing and recording their first full-length Dead & Born & Grown
Where am I reaching you?
I'm in Shepherd's Bush at the moment in west London at Jess' flat. We've been doing some bits of writing, and I've just had the bejeezus scared out of me by watching Twin Peaks
It was one where ------ has just shown himself to be like, possessed by ------ or something? [Note: edited for spoilers!]
So you guys are coming to SXSW, right? Are you looking forward to it?
Yeah, we're kind of bracing ourselves for the chaos. But yeah, we're definitely looking forward to it. It's got such a vibe around it. We kicked off our tour last year with SXSW actually, which maybe, in hindsight, wasn't the wisest thing to do because you always feel a little bit wrecked after SXSW. [This is our] second time, so we kind of know a bit more what to expect.
How did you and your sisters come into making music together?
It was kind of a slow process. I mean, we always sang 'round the house or in the car because our parents always had music on. They were quite musical people and enjoyed singing and they've both got really nice voices, so we were kind of surrounded by it all the time. One summer, probably about ten years ago, our friend said, "Oh, you should do an open mic night!" because we would always sing all these songs with our friends and family, and he thought it'd be a good idea, and it sounded fun, so we did it. And yeah, we just kind of liked it. So then, whenever there were school holidays or any spare time, we'd kind of do an open mic night, and then eventually we thought, "We should just do a gig!" And then we did a gig. And then gradually over the years, we started doing more and more, but everyone was always in different places, like Emily was at uni, and then Jess was at uni, and we were always scattered around the country, so we could never really 100 percent try it until we were all in the same place and everyone had finished their education. And then we just thought, this is what we enjoy the most, so shouild we just give it a go and see if we can just do this and not work other jobs as well? And it seems to have kind of gone all the way.
What types of music were you singing at the open mic nights?
We sang Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and The Beatles and The Band. And we sang one of the songs from O Brother Where Art Thou? You know the one that goes [sings] "Go to sleep, you little baby..."? That one.
How does being sisters impact your songwriting? How did that help in writing the new album?
We're obviously very close and get on really well. I think there's an openness you can have with someone you've grown up with, with someone you know so well, that you can't really have with other people. Maybe it's just me, but yeah, we certainly couldn't be as open with other people as we are with each other. So it's quite instinctive, the writing. I think we kind of know what each other mean without us having to explain ourselves perfectly. It's just easier, I think.
Does it ever cause any disputes?
Well, we bicker all the time [laughs]. Just like, stupid things. But it's always settled within two minutes: someone will make a joke and then we'll end up laughing. Classic sister vibe. But no real disputes. We've not turned into the Gallagher brothers yet.
I've heard your live performances described as "jaw-dropping." Can you describe what goes into these performances?
Well, we kind of started out with just us three, and really vocal-centered. So the full length show, we do have other instruments, we've got bass and drums, we've got a kind of harmonium thing. But I think for the moment, the songs that are on the album, we really wanted our vocals and lyrics and harmonies to be the main focal point. So I suppose that's what you can expect from the live show. We try and make it as intimate as possible with the songs that we have and with the subject matter, I think it's suited to that kind of thing. There's no dancing, there's no laser show. [Laughs.} Give us a couple years.
You supported Bon Iver while he was in the UK. How was that?
Oh my god, it was amazing. We were ....anyway. It was such an honor, really. Just to be able to see the show every night. They've got such an incredible show, and it's so inspiring to see how complex everything is, and how much work has gone into arranging those songs for the live show. It's a proper show! There's a light show, and two drummers; it's incredible. And they're all really lovely guys. We're very good friends now, which is very cool.
And you guys would get invited up onstage at least once a night, right?
Yeah. We did two tours, one US and a few months later we did the UK and Europe tour with them. So it was always talked about, like, "Oh, we should sing something together!" but we never ended up sorting anything out. So then on the last three or four dates of the last tour, they were like, "Yeah, let's just do it. Let's just fucking do it." So we sang "Regarding ---" with him, which was amazing. We're very lucky.
Touring with Bon Iver, and having your own unique harmonization folk...why do you think so many people like this kind of harmony-focused music over recent years? What's touching people?
I don't know. It's quite hard to say. I think there's something about singer-songwriter and melody-based music. It's got nothing to do with trends or whether it's cool or not. It's kind of the most basic thing, it's never the hot thing at the time, but at the same time it also never goes out of style. It's classic singer-songwriters. I think people find it quite easy to connect with someone singing to them and telling them their story.
The Staves will perform at 4PM this Saturday at the Knuckle Rumbler Lounge. RSVP for free entry HERE.
Their debut LP Dead & Born & Grown
is due to release March 19th, and you can pre-order it now on iTunes