Interview: The Staves

Interview: The Staves

The StavesA poisoned chalice? A spurious title? A hiding to nothing? Who’d be a hotly tipped music act these days? Enter The Staves, three 20-something Hertfordshire sisters (Camilla, Jessica, Emily Staveley-Taylor) whose combined love of English and American folk has resulted in as smooth a mash-up of Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny, James Taylor, Carole King, Vashti Bunyan and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as you can imagine. As sisters who don’t adhere to received pop music norms, they confirm that preconceptions are all too inevitable. “Some think we’re wholesome, fairly twee,” says Camilla. “We get quite a lot of people,” comments Emily, “saying they thought we’d be really sweet, a family band like the Von Trapps.” And this from Jessica: “When people find out we’re sisters there’s a big ‘Aaahhh, how angelic, how cute...’ But we never feel like that at all.”

The Staves also differ in that they are family who have had to learn the dynamics of being in a band, rather than being friends, acquaintances or strangers having to learn the process of how to exist together as a band without tearing each other’s heads off.  “I don’t know how telepathic it is,” remarks Emily, “but when you know someone inside out and back-to-front since the day they were born, then you don’t need to see what direction their eyes go in order to understand what they’re thinking or what they require.”

There have been matters along the way, however - from singing at home to being embraced by the music industry - that have irked the trio. The first one is the virtually constant reference to the music of Laura Marling. Signed to London-based indie label, Communion (which was by co-founded by Mumford and Sons’ Ben Lovett), the trio collectively understands the point of such references. “We’re all fans,” avers Jessica, “and she’s done a lot for our kind of music in that she has opened young people’s minds to it.  She does her own thing, and she’s cool; if people compare us it’s nice, although it can be a bit intimidating.” “And it’s better that the other comparison,” concedes Emily with a sigh, “which was ‘Fleet Foxes with tits’.”

Ah, yes. With boring regularity, the dreary aspect of sexism within the music industry raises its head. We’d all like to think such nonsense no longer exists, but try telling that to three smart young women that have been told by men, in no uncertain terms in the past few years, to, says Camilla, “stop dressing like we’ve just come out of rehearsals.” The pressures, as such, range from overt to subtle to ridiculous. The latter includes the advice, reveals, Emily, “of being seen before we’re heard, that we should dress like The Supremes, and then people will listen.”

“The best thing you can do is to surround yourself with people who don’t think like that,” says Jessica. “It’s also genre specific in that the overt nature is focused in and around pop/chart music. You do face certain attitudes, though - if we were three brothers no one would dream of saying the things some people say to us.” Those kind of comments can actually be a distraction, asserts Emily. “We’re not interested in that, and it’s got nothing to do with who we are as people or the music we’re making. What to do? You just say no, very firmly, from day one, and continue saying no, and soon enough people will stop asking.”

(This first appeared in The Irish Times, April 2012.)

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