- Thu, 2012-10-04 16:03
Weaving delicate harmonies into dreamy folk daydreams, sister trio The Staves create timeless acoustic lullabies, ready to sweep you into a world of rose-tinted contemplation.
In 2010 they were invited to sing with Tom Jones on his acclaimed gospel record Praise & Blame. With no label or manager, they seized the opportunity to hand their demo to the album's producer Ethan Johns, famed for his work with Laura Marling, Paolo Nutini and more recently, Michael Kiwanuka...
Two years later and The Staves are ready to release their debut album Dead & Born & Grown, co-produced (for the first time) by Ethan and his father Glyn Johns, perhaps even more famed for his work with bands including The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Band.
Having won over two of the UK's biggest record producers before even signing a deal, The Staves quickly found themselves winning fans as they took to the road and posted their music online. Now signed to Atlantic Records, The Staves release their debut album on November 12th, followed by a run of tour dates supporting Bon Iver.
Following a fan-only show in Camden, we caught up with Jess to find out more...
ILM: It was lovely to meet you before the show last night. We didn't have very long for our interview (we stopped talking ten minutes before they were due on stage), so thank you for taking the time to catch up again today.
Jess: No worries. It was lovely to meet you last night too!
ILM: Thank you! :) It was a great show. Did you have a good time?
Jess: Yeah. We were really pleased. It went really well and was really good fun, which was the most important thing! We've had a summer of playing festivals which are so different to normal gigs. There's so many variables. So we'd been really itching to play on solid ground.
ILM: Half way through the show you mentioned that you'd hidden a few "curiosities" around the room. I found a few pictures, one of them was a photo of a rather intense tattoo...
Jess: Jesus riding a T-Rex? It's just...absolutely...unbelievable isn't it? No idea where THAT came from.
ILM: And then an advert for an inflatable unicorn horn for...
Jess: For a cat, yes. Haha! These things exist and we feel it's important to share them...so... Most people will probably think we're weird. We think our fans will find it funny. I think they're as weird as us...
ILM: It's nice to see a 'weird' side to you. You make such beautiful music, I imagine that a lot of people who haven't met you or been to a show think you're very wholesome, quintessentially English young ladies...
Jess: Yeah. It's because we're sisters. People have that idea. When you say to someone "I'm in a band with my sisters," they always go "awwww!" I think you can't really get away from it. We're a family band. Family bands aren't really cool. People think we're these weird country sisters who hang out and make folk music. We're just normal people really!
ILM: As sisters, is there a level of instinct when you perform and write together? Do things fall into place quite naturally?
Jess: Yeah. Definitely. We always sang, for as long as I can remember. Our parents sing for fun and were always singing round the house, they'd sing us nursery rhymes in harmony so the harmonies sunk in from a young age. We were singing them without really knowing. It is really instinctive. We've sung with other people and that's fun but when it's harmonies it's never the same, it's never how it is when we do it together.
ILM: With the harmonies, do you tend to stick with the same parts or do you swap and change?
Jess: It does swap and change from song to song, usually depending on who is singing the lead which is typically the middle. But otherwise, it normally falls in order of age weirdly enough. Emily is the oldest and she tends to do the lower part, I'm normally in the middle and then Camilla is at the top...
ILM: During the gig last night I noticed a lot of intimate moments between the couples in the audience. Lots of hand holding and cuddles. Do you see that a lot?
Jess: That's an interesting question... In different rooms you get a better idea. Last night was so intimate so we could see who we were playing to. Although really I don't know. I tend to get in a bit of a bubble on stage and I feel self conscious to make eye contact with the audience! I suppose I don't spend much time looking out because I'm playing guitar the whole time, I look at that while I sing to make sure I don't fuck up!
ILM: Still, the intimacy you share as sisters coupled with the intimacy in the audience felt quite special. Do you ever get emotional on stage?
Jess: Yeah. I think we do. It's really important I think. When you're gigging night after night and playing the same songs, sometimes it can be like going through the motions. You can kind of forget what it is you're singing about so we always try to remind ourselves of the song, how it felt when we wrote it, what it's really about. That's usually the way to get the best performance. It doesn't mean it's the most accurate performance, or in tune, or whatever, but if the feeling is right, hopefully that connects the most with the people in the audience.
ILM: What do you think about when you play Mexico?
Jess: Well...with Mexico, I was at Uni in Liverpool. I wrote the song there. There's two massive cathedrals in Liverpool. I lived in the loft room of a really nice Georgian house opposite one, the Anglican Cathedral, and that's what my window looked out to. It's what I was looking at when I wrote that song. I remember that really vividly and that's what I think about when we play it. I try and zone out and go there, back to that place, sitting on that rug in that room...
ILM: Like Mexico, a lot of your songs contain lyrics about soul searching, ideas of leaving home and not feeling settled. Where have those feelings and ideas come from?
Jess: I think they just come from every day life really. I think they're issues most people can relate to, maybe more so people our own age. We've all had those moments as you grow up and begin to carve a life outside of your family. Things like going off to Uni. They're big decisions and often there's a real weight to them, you can feel the tide turning because of decisions you make. Kind of questioning if you're doing the right thing. They're issues we seem to come back to at the moment...
ILM: What do you find most challenging about songwriting?
Jess: Actually the lyrics! For me personally anyway. We all write together and seperately but for me, I find the melody and chords usually come first, quite naturally. I can have a whole song without any lyrics. They often come second for me. For Camilla, they often come first. Almost like a poem, so we can make music to go along with it. But for me, it can be hard trying to find the right words.
ILM: Your debut album Dead & Born & Grown is released on November 12th 2012. Are you happy with it?
Jess: Yeah...it sounds live. Which we wanted. I think, I hope, it has that kind of warmth to it. I think it's quite organic. I know that's a vague word. But it's not too processed. People who have already heard it thought it would sound a lot bigger because of the producers, but actually it's quite stripped back.
ILM: Yes, you worked with father and son producers Glyn and Ethan Johns. Between them they've produced some incredible musicians and records but never co-produced anything before...
Jess: Yeah. Their heritage, it sort of felt like it was ours. We'd grown up listening to a lot of what Glyn had produced and then when we were older we'd listened to everything that Ethan had produced. When we met them we didn't have a manager or a label, it was just us. They liked our stuff, it felt like the right thing and it all fell into place very naturally...
ILM: How would you describe the process of putting the record together?
Jess: We worked out all the songs on the day in the studio, no pre-production. We'd go in in the morning, teach the guys the song, play around with it, have some lunch, then after lunch record it and do a few takes until it was right. Then just sort of move on. It was kind of an old fashioned way of doing it! It was really cool!
ILM: Jumping ahead, what's your vision for the future of The Staves? What can we expect?
Jess: Reallllyyy...we're not looking massively ahead! We're trying to be in the moment. The album is on the way and there's the prospect of touring that for quite a while. But we are writing new stuff all the time! I think we'd like to make the next record in a completely different way, maybe a bit more...I don't know...if we could find a way of doing it at home or in a really relaxed space. Sometimes studios... they're big and shiny and I don't know, it can be hard to find that mood. I think a bit more of a lo-fi effort for the next one would be cool. Some of the songs we're working on have that vibe. A bit more electric guitar too. That's as far as I can say, we haven't really put our heads together yet!