From the Breeders and Oasis to the Kinks and First Aid Kit, musical siblings are more common than one would think. And Emily, Camilla and Jessica Staveley-Taylor, otherwise known as The Staves, are the latest family band to join the group.
Hailing from Watford, the acoustic folk trio have been building a growing fan base not only in the UK but also around the world with their debut album Dead & Born & Grown. Their combination of simple yet seamless melodies and honest lyrics has grabbed the attention of critics, as well as the bands that they look up to themselves, such as Bon Iver. But despite the praise they’ve been getting, they admit that the band’s creative process is still something they working on. “We basically don’t know what we’re doing,” Emily Staveley-Taylor reveals with a laugh, “and we’re still trying to figure it out.”
Emily’s light approach to the band’s work ethic mirrors the sisters’ outlook on how The Staves came to fruition. Singing together since they were young, Emily, Camilia and Jessica would participate in weekly open mic nights and perform acapella covers of their favourite songs. Previously referred to collectively by their surname, a late addition to a gig at one of their local pubs pushed them to shorten it to ‘The Staves’. “A friend just wrote it on the chalkboard that night,” Emily admits. “We said that we’d change it one day, but it just never happened.”
Once they had their name set and started to garner a fan base, the sisters started thinking more seriously about pursuing music as a career. However it was not something they originally considered. “I don’t think we ever sat down and said, ‘Right. Let’s be a band. We want to sound like this,’ she says. “I don’t think it was anything we had to sort out. We’ve kind of been singing our way, really.”
“But it was always that we wanted to sing together,” Emily continues. “So when we started, we were learning covers and stuff. We would sing the guitar solo or the string section of a particular song or kind of try and use our voices instead of the instruments we can play. And that stuck and has stuck for a long time. And I think that whole singer-songwriter, kind of 60s and 70s , what we grew up with… you can really have a rich sound with not much instrumentation at all. “
Soon after they started venturing down the music route, Camilla picked up the guitar whilst Jessica learned how to play the ukulele. And once that happened, their album’s title track was written. “Millie was learning how to play guitar, and she could only play two strings so she could play a 2-finger rag before she could play the main bit,” Emily states. “That’s why you hear the because she couldn’t play anything else. She just wrote these lyrics, and she could have been 15 or something. I really like that it’s ‘Dead and Born and Grown’ rather than ‘Born and Grown and Dead.’ I like when make you see something fresh. I love performing that one, especially because it’s just the three of us.“
As was mentioned previously, The Staves are still working on their songwriting process. “When we started , we just started arranging it and then rearranging it,” she says. “Then it would change and become something all of us created. Sometimes songs are written completely individually and then brought to the table almost fully formed. And then it’s a case of sitting around and starting to play, and then realising something sounds really nice… then words start coming. It’s a time when all of us are in the room until the song is done. Some of them take years and some of them take hours.”
With three strong voices, who gets to sing lead? It’s pretty simple. Whoever wrote most of the song gets to lead the vocals – unless there is a sibling who really wants to take the lead. ”The general rule is if someone has particularly written the bulk of the song, they should sing the lead since it feels natural for them to do that,” she says. “Maybe the lyrics are a bit more personal. It’s something they really want to sing. But it can also be someone else singing it, and then it sounds different. And it opens up a different flavour and it’s for the good of the song if a particular tone sings it.“
Playing singer-songwriter and folk music places The Staves into a particular category amongst some of today’s biggest acts – one which includes the likes of Fleet Foxes and Laura Marling – who the band is frequently compared to. While Emily does admit that comparisons “are strange things,” she welcomes the compliment. “We love ,” she admits. “She’s like different level good. She’s on the same level of Fionn Regan for me. I think she’s a bloody genius. So I wouldn’t lump us in with quite that good but certainly we take that comparison as a compliment.”
Considering other family band’s horror stories, The Staves have managed to stay diplomatic, or fair, regarding the musicianship and creative power within the group. But that doesn’t mean that these three have not gotten into their own little quarrels. “We fight quite a lot,” Emily admits, “usually about things like, ‘You can’t wear that shirt. I told you I was going to wear that shirt. I can’t believe you made tea without offering me, you bitch. Don’t change the song halfway through whilst I’m listening to it!’ Normally it’s pretty good. I don’t laugh that much with many people, but we generally have a lot of fun. But who knows, maybe we’ll have a huge family feud.”
Jokes aside, Emily finds performing with her sisters to be a comfort more than a drawback. “We just find each other to be easy company,” she says. “We’ve grown up together. We shared bedrooms. And I think because of that, there are no surprises and we’re very comfortable with each other. So I think that’s a big bonus that we have the shared experience of growing up with the music we listened to and the albums we grew up with and things like that. So we just know how to communicate with each other with all the references and things like that during rehearsal. Meanwhile when you have to be in a band with someone, you have to learn those things about each other.“
The Staves have been doing a bit of travelling – performing gigs in the U.S., India and of course, their native England, and continue to reminisce about their time supporting Bon Iver during the band’s European tour last November. “It was really and truly the best thing ever,” Emily says enthusiastically. “And getting to watch them every night – their live show is unreal. I just think they’re the best. I truly think that. There’s just so much going on, and yet there was so much space within the songs. It was really inspiring to watch that every night.”
”I get really sad that we can’t see them anymore,” Emily continues. “But coupled with that, they happen to be the nicest people we’ve ever met. We’ve just gotten on so well, and we kind of just hang around afterwards and sing old country songs and some R&B. It was so much fun and gave us the opportunity to travel around to places we haven’t been before. And we got to fulfil a dream, too, getting to play Wembley and all. It really was an unforgettable experience. We were very lucky to have done that.”
Even though The Staves are no longer sharing the stage with Justin Vernon, they do have lots to look forward to in 2013. Not only will they be headlining their own American tour in May, the trio has already sold out five of its nine dates on their UK tour. “We’re going to be doing some touring and have booked in some writing as well,” Emily says of the band’s upcoming plans. “We’re going to take the band out with us, which is good I think being on the road as much as we are, it’s been so much fun. And being in all the places that we’ve seen has been so inspiring and also the people you meet and the bands you tour and perform with and form relationships with. I don’t know, you’re just desperate to sit down and write and get some of those moments and experiences. It’s going to be really good to create something in the end. So touring, writing and generally fucking around.”
The Facing West EP is released on 29 April through Atlantic.