Interview: A Conversation with The Staves

“I think that it’s getting to the point where we create things more openly.  We’re going to have a new head on with how often we create things.”

The Staves are an act with a reputation that is continuously rising. Their vocals and harmonies are always lauded, their music is well received by critics (although If I Was was cruelly omitted from the Mercury Prize nominations) and their fans are loyal; growing in number after each jaunt that the siblings partake in around the United Kingdom.  Over the last twelve months they have toured the UK twice on their own tours, played the festival circuit and supported Florence and the Machine on her most recent arena tour.  You can’t argue that the Staveley-Taylor’s aren’t hard working.

Despite being incredibly nervous before going backstage at The Albert Hall to talk with The Staves (this was my biggest interview yet) at the opening night of their current tour, it quickly subsided.  Uncharacteristically the three sisters from Watford were so welcoming that within a few minutes of chat it actually felt like a conversation with an old friend that you hadn’t seen for a while, as opposed to an interview. The discussion would move from a serious tone to one that would send the room into a fit of laughter more times than I can recall, and that is just a testament to how personable they were.

Between thoughts about the label, recurring dreams about killer whales and their plans for 2016; The Staves were always funny, open and brutally honest. Although they did try and throw a few curve-balls into the mix. “They rejected my hip-hop album” exclaimed Millie, the youngest of the Staveley-Taylor group and an Aries. “Emily has more than two hundred pounds in her savings account” Jessica remarked, the middle of the three, a Sagittarius. “Millie has four arseholes” Emily, the eldest, and an Aquarius, pipes up, sending the other two into a fit of laughter (the inclusion of the star signs will become apparent).

As it was the first night of the If I Was tour, the questioning began with the most standard of queries.

Let’s begin with the obligatory ‘are you looking forward to the upcoming tour’?

Emily & Millie: Yes!

Jess: No… This is the first and last show for me, actually.

Millie: It’s the farewell tour!

Jess: You can ask us the regular questions but we’ll just give you some irregular answers. Everything you don’t expect [laughing].

Millie: It’s quite nice because we did a little chunk of rehearsing before this tour and kinda ‘freshened up’ some of the songs. Tweaked arrangements or re-arranged them. It’s always nice to do before a tour just to keep things fresh.

It’s a step up from the tour earlier this year too, in terms of venue size

J: The last time we were in Manchester we played this venue supporting Angus & Julia Stone; and now we’re headlining, motherfuckers!

You’ve been to a few different places in Manchester during the last couple of years. The Deaf Institute, the Arena, Victoria Warehouse for the 6Music Festival…

M: That was the worst gig of our lives.

J: It was one of the lowest points.

M: It was a last minute addition as a gig. We love 6music and it seemed like a really cool thing to be a part of. We’d just been away for ages, finishing the album, and we’d just flown back. We were really fucking tired but we were still going to do it and try and do it well.  The room was impossible, sound-wise, and we didn’t have any in-ear monitors… just wedges (monitors). It’s really hard to explain but because it was just a warehouse the sound was all over the place. I was getting an echo from the drums bouncing back from the rear of the room and it made it impossible to keep rhythm.  I couldn’t hear myself or either of the girls.

J: I remember that The National were there and Justin (Vernon of Bon Iver) is friends with them. He told us that he’d told The National guys that we’d be there and that we should meet up. One of them came by our room and told us to go over and see them but we just couldn’t because we felt so low.

E: We just felt like we’d really fucked it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a transient thing but because it had been broadcast live…

J: See The Staves at their worst, on demand!

Did you meet up with The National when you played Eaux Claires (Justin Vernon & Aaron Dessner’s festival)?

J: We did, and that was nice! That performance was a total 180. The sun was out, the vibes were there. They were lovely. Really nice guys.

So what’s next? Is there a ceiling that you want to hit?

E: No, I don’t think we really think like that. Just keep on making the music that we enjoy.

M: We’ve never set out for all this malarkey with any kind of plan. It may or may not be an error, it remains to be seen. We’re enjoying it and all we can ask for is that people continue to want to come and see us play. I think we have a nice, core fan-base who are really loyal and also really lovely. We just want that to continue.

J: We’re looking forward to, next year, being able to play places outside of the UK. We haven’t done much in the States or in Canada and we’ve never been to Australia or Asia. Hopefully next year will have a lot of that, and that would be amazing.

M: I also think that it’s getting to the point where we create things more openly.  Whether it’s starting work on a new album, although I don’t think we’re ready for that yet, or whatever… I think we’re going to have a new head on with how often we create things.

You’ve just re-released If I Was with some extra tracks. Were they recorded during the same sessions?

M: ‘Train Tracks’ was a contender for the Blood I Bled EP.

J: That we made after the album…

You made the Blood I Bled EP after the album?!

J: Yea! To pretend that we’d made it before, to then pretend to the audience that it was a teaser of the album. But actually we made it a year after the album because the record company forced us to make an EP because they didn’t think the album was ready to put out yet because the audience wasn’t ready for it because of no actual reason.

E: [laughing] Yep, the record company just kept saying that it wasn’t ready.

M: It was like ‘Do you remember when we gave it to you and it was ready? We gave you the artwork and everything you needed’.

J: ‘Yea well we’ve thought about it and we thought that actually you should do an EP before… to reintroduce yourself to your fans since you’ve been away so long’. We were like, ‘we think they’ll be fine with an album’ but it just kept going back and forth. ‘No, you should make an EP and it should be pitched like you’ve just made it and an album is coming’, yet we’d already made the album a year ago… So then we had to write new songs to put on an EP.  Train Tracks was one of the songs that we did during those EP sessions.

M: It was a song that I didn’t really write for that though and I didn’t really think of it belonging on there because it’s a standalone… thing? We always knew we wanted to use it for something so when the idea came up of adding some bonus material to the record we thought ‘Oooh, let’s put that on’. I really like it and it really means a lot to us.  The other track is a a cappella one that we had the intro for years and years ago that we used to sing before an old song of ours. We just revisited it and thought that it would be really nice to make into a full song.

E: We did that recently. A couple of months ago.

Was there always a plan to re-release the record?

E: No… these things are always business ideas. There’s nothing we can do about that. We’re proud of the songs that have been added to it and it’s a nice excuse to put some new stuff out there. It’s still under the umbrella of this album.

J: It’s nice to put some new material out there but if we had our way… we think the album is fine as it is, so let’s just keep selling that.

M: We’d never put out any songs that we’re not proud of though, or that we didn’t want to put out. I’m never like ‘Hey guys! You know what would really feed my soul?  Let’s re-release the album with a couple of extra live things and a couple of extra tunes because I really feel like the fans are crying out for that’.

J: Maybe you should just remove about 20% of this bitchy stuff.

E: Yea this is weird. I didn’t realise that this is the mood we’re in today.

M: A jaded mood.

It’s the first night of the tour! You can’t be jaded yet!

J: Well we were three hours late because a pipe fell off the bus, twice.

There was a quote I saw from 2013 where you’d said “we basically don’t know what we’re doing”. Is that still the case?

M: No [laughing]. We’re embracing that though. I think the moment where you’re not constantly learning then it feels like it will be… over? Or something. I think it’s nice to be constantly searching and finding things out. Whether it be in making music or in a broader sense.  We’ve learnt a lot and grown up a lot as musicians but there’s still shit loads more to do.

Do any of you act as ‘leader’ of the band, or look at another as ‘leader’?

E: This is a really big business with many different sides to it. Within that, we’re running a business together, we’re in a band together, playing live together, and then we’re touring the band together, and we’re creating music together AND we’re sisters. There are different aspects of being in the band where different people will come to the front and, lead bits.  Jess has led us in the last few blocks of rehearsals and that hasn’t happened as clearly as that before… so that was interesting. I’m not sure I respect her enough though.

M: [to Jess] I don’t respect you at all.

E: I don’t respect you, I fear you.

J: Sometimes with business-type stuff I might be good with money… Well… I’m not… You’re the only person I know [pointing at Emily], out of the three of us, that has savings.

E: That’s not saying much.

J: Tell him how much you have!

E: Well, currently, it’s just shy of two hundred quid.

M: She literally has tens of pounds.

You could afford to take the three of you to Alton Towers for that! Although, maybe not Alton Towers what with the bad press.

M: What bad press?

The whole Smiler incident…

M: [looking quizzically] I have been living under a rock.

At this point, the story of what happened is explained. Much to Millie’s shock. This then somehow led onto the subject of SeaWorld.

E: I had another fucking killer whale dream! I have a recurring dream where I’m attacked by killer whales. Although it’s usually in the sea it happens in very different ways.  You guys were there [referring to Jess and Millie] and you left me on my own and I had to feed it pancakes.

J: Did you have a harmonica by any chance? Like that kid in Free Willy.

When did this start?

J: Well we watched Blackfish while we were sharing a bunk bed at Justin’s studio. Emily was there watching it on her own in the dark, with a face like thunder. She needed some company so I got in next to her and watched it. Harrowing.

I’ve just been to SeaWorld…

All: Noooo. Shame on you! What are you going there for? Why are you supporting them?!

J: Were you trying to take them down from the inside?

I wasn’t supporting them! The ticket was free with a Busch Gardens ticket. We didn’t go watch the animals, we just went on their rollercoasters.

J: Hmmm. Alright.

We did look at the penguins but they looked happy.

J: That’s because penguins are fucking idiots. They don’t know where they are. Free Willy knows exactly where he is. He’s dying inside.

E: I love the fact that we’re now referring to a species as ‘Free Willy’.

M: It’s like referring to everyone in Braveheart as ‘Braveheart’.

On a completely unrelated note. Last year at the Deaf Institute you mentioned starting The Staves tampon range, featuring your faces.  Are you any closer to realising the dream?

E: Thanks for reminding us of that banter…

J: We did try and do ‘Blood I Bled’ Tampons but the label and other squares thought that it wasn’t a good idea.

M: Wasn’t it just that they were too expensive to make?

E: Didn’t we kinda think that it wasn’t a good idea too?

J: No. I thought it was great and I still think that it’s great. Why should we be ashamed? [laughing]

M: Exactly. How can I hate women? My mum’s one.

J: We thought about plasters, but they were too expensive. The tampons were vetoed by management who said that it ‘wasn’t a good look’.

Well Sharon Van Etten has got her own range of tissues, so I’m sure you’ll get something. That’s because people say they cry to her music though.

J: Well people say they fall asleep to our music so maybe we should do eye-masks and pillows.

M: I just feel that if you’re handing out tissues then you’re just asking for people to wank to your music.

E: Oh… wow…

J: The latest ploy in order to get attention is by taking a page out of Taylor Swift’s book.

Inviting people on stage?

J: Yea. But we want Jacamo models.

M: Just people that nobody really knows. Hand models from the Littlewoods catalogue and shit.

J: My actual serious goal is to get Dave Benson-Phillips up on stage, to gunge us. If he’s still around.

He’s still around! He’s in Wrexham at a Comic Con next month.

E: Our mum is from Wrexham!

As am I! Anyway, time is running out so let’s get to the questions that I ask every act. If you had to pick three tracks to play to a person who hadn’t heard your music before. What would you choose?

E: Eagle Song, Steady… Damn it All! Why? Because they are very strong songs, all very different from one another and they show our different sides.

J: That’s actually just our setlist for tonight. Those three songs on repeat.

Like Jay-Z and Kanye West when they played their track eleven times in a row in Paris.

M: It’s like they’re just challenging people to stay.

J: That is fucking great. I mean, I suppose if you’ve had a hit song, which we’ve never had. They get the joy of people screaming out a track at them.

E: I’m just saying. If we ever have a hit song, I’m not even playing it twice in a set.

J: You say that now, Em. Who knows what the future holds. You’ll have the crowd baying for blood, screaming for it. ‘But we’ve played it already’, ‘I know, but play it again!’…’Alright’. That’s how it’ll be.

Did you take anything from recording If I Was, that you’d have liked to have known when you recorded Dead & Born & Grown?

M: Oh yea, loads. It highlighted loads of things that we should have done. Stuff that, maybe, we weren’t confident enough to do. Chilling out and doing stuff at our own pace.  Because we’d never recorded an album before, we were just taking everyone else’s lead. As it went on we realised that there’s no actual way that albums are made and that it’s just we needed to see what worked for us. It was very ‘you start at this time and you work until as late as you can until so and so is finished’. There was no drinking and no turning the lights down low because it would lead the energy to drop… It’s all bullshit really. I was hammered for a good amount of recording this last album and it really helped me. It just helped to chill out and go with the vibe. Work to the beat of your own drum and if that drum happens to beat at 3am then just go with it.

Great answer! Last one. Is there a question that you wished you were asked?

J: Yeah, probably [laughing].

M: I sometimes wish that people would ask about irrelevant girl stuff. Just so that I can tell them to fuck off.

Like, ‘who are you currently dating?’

M: Yeah, or ‘What’s your skin regime?’

J: What are the two must have beauty products that you should never be without?

E: Tampons.  Tampons and condoms.

M: They are not beauty products! More things that are necessary for life.

J: Corks and johnnys.

E: The Staves headlining tour! Corks and Johnnys.

M: The farewell tour! [entire room fills with laughter]

J: Yeah, so we don’t know about a question!

E: Nobody ever seems interested in our star signs.

Are you interested in star signs?

E: No, not really.