Watford’s The Staves are arguably the most deserving additions to our Ones To Watch list. After hearing their debut release, The Mexico EP, it was obvious these three sisters had a rare talent, one which combined traditional harmonies with a cutting edge insight into modern song-craft.
Recent folk has meandered towards the quirky banjos and waistcoats of dating site adverts, or has been so stuck in tradition it still used guineas and groats to buy flagons of mead; someone needed to breathe new life in to a parodied genre, and The Staves have administered it.
Their unique quality includes their on-stage wit and individual personality. Beautiful melodies juxtapose a whiskey swiging attitude and a stand-up delivery. The confidence they exude is taking them headfirst in to Americana’s heartland – touring the southern states and hustling audiences on their way to Austin’s South By South West.
In advance of their forthcoming release, The Motherlode EP on 16 April, Londonist caught up with Emily, Jessica and Camilla to discuss Kylie and dive bars.
What’s Watford like? I’ve never there.
(Camilla) It’s actually alright, people do it down a bit but it’s the biggest town on the outskirts and there are loads of neighbouring towns and villages, so if people are going to go out they’re going to Watford, ‘cos there’s lots of bars and stuff. It ends up being pretty messy on Friday and Saturday nights and gets a bit gross, but during the day it’s alright. There’s a nice park.
Are you not tempted to call yourself a London band?
(Emily) If I could afford to Live in London I would.
(C) I always feel like a bit of a pretender when someone says where are you from, and I say London cos’ they always ask where in London, and I end up confessing just outside. But it’s a cooler just to say London.
(Jessica) I Live in London, so that’s fairly easy.
How did it work in America, did you introduce yourselves as “Hi, we’re The Staves from London”?
(C)Yeah, but when asked we’d say just outside. Lots of people in Texas know where Watford is now.
(E) After shows we’d get people coming up to us asking, (Adopts poor American accent) ’You live in London? Do you know Lee? We have a friend Lee who lives in London’. And, I’m like…er… no sorry.
What was the audience feedback like over there?
(J) We were blown away by the response out there. You go there, having fairly low expectations, because we’ve learnt in the past that if you have high hopes for something you can be disappointed.
So what were the venues like? I always imagine bands in the southern states playing red neck dive bars with pool tables and motorbikes.
(J) There was no chicken wire across the stage luckily. We were in lots of theatres and they were very beautiful.
(E) It will probably be a bit different when we’re doing our own shows. They’ll probably be more dust and pool tables. But because we were supporting [The Civil Wars] we got to play some beautiful venues.
What prompted you to start singing together?
(J) We started off at home, just singing along to whatever was playing in the background. We’re lucky enough to have parents and their friends who were in bands, so everyone would just be playing guitar at parties and singing together all the time. We ended up just learning a load of songs, and started doing open-mic nights at our local boozer. Then one of our mates said we should do our own gig of covers – we did and it was fun, so we kind of carried on doing it. Then we started writing our own songs, replacing the covers with those, and before you know it you’re a gigging band, and it’s like, oh right- how did that happen. So you start taking it more seriously, then realising you’ve got to work your arse off.
It sound like a very musical household, what were you hearing?
(J) Mum and dad liked loads of 60’s pop groups, stuff like The Hollies and The Kinks, and loads of harmony music like The Byrds was around when we were really young.
(E) Loads of Beatles and stuff like Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan, so it was a mixture of their generation’s music, which was the core, then a bit of Kylie Minogue thrown in.
Weren’t you a tempted to completely rebel against the 60’s stuff and form a spandex three girl pop troupe?
(C) Well that’s how we started out. You didn’t see us in the early days.
(J) I think it’s hard when you’re young because you’re exposed to the radio and the charts which can a dangerous thing. But we always just loved the music and got on well with our parents, and didn’t fell we had to rebel, we weren’t forced to listen to it.
(E) We’ve all bought our fair share of dodgy albums which I won’t go into, but it’s come right in the end.
How did your own song writing start?
(J) I started realising I could write songs because I learnt to play guitar really, and I really got into it. But like most people, we had to go through a few crappy ones before getting to one that’s quite good.
Being sisters, and in a band there must be moments of conflict, how do you deal with it in a civilised way?
(E) There’s nothing civilised about it.
(J) We know each other so well and spend so much time together so if there’s a problem we can just tell each other, and it’s OK if one of us gets in a mood, ‘cos it’s always gonna be alright in the end.
(E) But I wouldn’t say we deal with it. We’re just dickheads to each other and wait until the dust settles, so I suppose that’s our way of dealing with it.
So how does it work when you bring in outsiders like your bassist and drummer?
(E) I personally relish the opportunity for fresh people to irritate, and we really push them to their limit. But they’re our mates and we’ve known them for a while, and they know what they’re getting in to, so they’ve only got themselves to blame.
(C) I think we all like being in a sort of gang and we’ve always been very happy to let people in.
(E) Especially when recording the new EP. It’s been just the three of us for so long so it’s really good fun to be able to broaden the scope and finally hear the things in your head, like thinking, ‘yeah the drums should come in here and I imagine this bit going like that‘ and suddenly you can do it. It makes everything feel fresh and exciting again.
How did you go about deciding what songs to put in the EP?
(J) We wrote two new songs and recorded them pretty much the next day. So it was a pretty easy thing. We had other songs but it’s really nice to record something fresh off the writing cog.
(E) She’s lying we just pulled them out of a hat, and thought these’ll do. Which hit will we pick?
(C) If the songs are a little bit older or you’ve had time to think about them, and that can drive you a bit crazy because you don’t have that immediacy and you’ve lost your natural instincts about it. So it’s really good to just write it and think f*ck it, let’s do it.
Where would you like to play if you could play anywhere in London?
(C) We’ve always been really big fans of Shepherds Bush Empire, because we used to go and watch people there, so that’s always been the place we’ve thought ‘wow imagine if we could play there’. Union Chapel would be really good to headline too, it’s so beautiful and you hardly need microphones to sound good.
(J) Rooms that have really good acoustics are good. I really love Hammersmith Apollo, even though it’s not the most ornate place,
What are your future plans and what would you ultimately like to achieve with The Staves?
(J) Just to keep going, be able to keep making music and not have to get a day job.
(E)To be able to play around the world, anywhere we can really, and have fans in every place who want to hear our music.
(C) I don’t think there are any world domination plans just yet.
(E) Speak for yourself, I’ve got big plans.