Interview: Jess from the Staves

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In the Midst of their recent tour, Culture writer James Benson caught up with one of the triplets who make up folk band The Staves, Jess Staveley-Taylor.

Have all three of you been engaged in music from an early age?
Yes we have always been huge fans of music and have been affected by it as far back as we can remember.

Are you self-taught or have you had instrument/singing lessons?
We had lessons in clarinet, piano and flute in school, but didn’t have the discipline to keep it up. We learned guitar from our dad teaching us some chords and just watching other people and using our ears. Singing we’ve always done!

At what age did you decide to collaborate?
We always sang together at home so I’ll say from the cradle. We did our first gig about ten years ago at the local pub.

Your name originates from your family surname, but did you ever consider calling yourselves something different?
Yes! People referred to us collectively as ‘the staves’ so it was the natural thing to use, but we planned on coming up with a cool name at some point, like Harmony 3000, but The Staves just stuck.

Has your ‘sound’ changed since you started out? Or have you always sought to fit the folk rock genre?
We grew up with our parents record collection, and when we were learning guitar and figuring out covers to play at gigs it was always those artists we looked to – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel. They all really affected our harmonies and style. We have always done what felt natural.

As three sisters, are there ever any sibling rivalries that affect the creative process? Who takes the lead when it comes to song writing?
There isn’t rivalry, but we can bicker. It’s natural when you spend so much time together! But with songwriting we are all on the same page and are very instinctive and understanding of one another.

Are there any contemporary performers that you look to for inspiration?
There are loads of  artists around now that we find inspiring. Fleet Foxes, Feist, Bon Iver, Fionn Regan. Tame Impala are awesome!

Who would each of you define as your favourite artist/group? 
We would all unanimously vote The Beatles for the group and Paul Simon for the artist.

How did it feel when Dead & Born & Grown was released just under a year ago? Was it surreal to see your album on sale in stores across the country?
It was exciting to finally have a record out and quite surreal seeing it in the shops. But we were on tour so too busy to really think about it.

How long did it take to write Dead & Born & Grown?
Well as it’s our debut, it’s sort of all the best songs we’d written up to that point. So I can’t say how long it took to write. Years!

Out of the songs you’ve written so far, which do each of you class as your favourite?
That’s a hard question. I’d say Dead & Born & Grown has a very special place for all of us – it was one of the first songs we ever wrote.

Are you currently working on any new material? 
We are writing new material and playing some of it at our shows.

Is the creative process continuous or would you prefer to take some time out in the studio once the current tour ends?
It’s always hard to balance time between being on the road and writing and recording, so we’re just fitting it in whenever we can!

How did touring with Bon Iver come about?
His beautiful and talented friend Andra gave him our EP after she’d seen us play with the Civil Wars. And he liked the stuff and asked us to come on the road with him.

What was it like to work with the legendary Tom Jones on his Praise and Blame album?
It was a great experience, he’s such an amazing singer and being around that was just pure joy. It’s also how we met Ethan Johns (who produced our record), too.

Have you ever come across anyone in the music industry and instantaneously felt star struck?
We did a gig with Feist and were giggling, awkward wrecks meeting her! She’s so cool.

Is there anyone else you’d recommend music fans look out for in the coming year?
Christof, Jonas Alaska, Mikhael Paskalev, Sivu and Farao. All mates of ours who are making great music right now.

Dutch folk singer-songwriter Christof is supporting you on your October/November tour; how did that come about? Can you see him breaking in to the UK charts in future?
We’ve done a couple of tours with Christof before and he’s become a good friend. He’s got a beautiful voice and writes great songs. The UK charts are generally full of horrendous pop with such a narrow representation of music that I don’t see how Christof or any of us would make it into the charts!

Do you look forward to playing the international circuit again in future? How was it to perform at South by Southwest; did the US crowd take to you?
We’ve done a few tours in the US the past 2 years and had a really great response. We’ve met some of the warmest, most welcoming people and audiences out there. SXSW is absolutely mental but we always have fun.

What’s the best crowd you’ve ever played in front of?
There have been so many it’s hard to pick. There are certain crowds that stand out – when we played the pyramid stage with Mumford & Sons the size of the crowd was overwhelming. But that can’t beat a Staves crowd!

What’s the best festival you’ve played at? And which festival have each of you enjoyed attending as a fan the most?
Glastonbury is always great to play and to attend. Outside of that Sasquatch in Washington is amazing, and Way Out West in Gothenburg is so lovely. We also love playing Cambridge Folk Festival.

Is there anyone you hope to collaborate with in future?
We’d love to collaborate more with Bon Iver after touring with them. Maybe Tame Impala?

If you weren’t musicians, where would you be now career wise?
Who knows? Jess and Camilla have always wanted to draw and paint (they design all the staves artwork) and Emily is a great actor!

How does it feel to have fans as far afield as Brazil, and that are willing to set up Twitter accounts devoted to you?
Very surreal and cool. How have people in Brazil even heard of us?! It’s the magic of the internet and people sharing music and word of mouth. It’s very exciting that you can reach people from all over the world just by uploading a video to YouTube.

What’s the strangest thing a fan has ever sent to you/ given to you at a gig?
A fan gave us a half eaten packet of chocolate digestives after a gig once. Needless to say we finished them off in the van.

What was the last album that each of you bought?
We all bought Volcano Choir, Repave. It’s an amazing record that everyone should get!

How do you fit your personal lives in around your career? Has it been harder than you thought it’d be?
It’s always hard being away from home where your family and friends are but it’s just part of touring, and we have such a good time on the road that, for now, it’s a sacrifice we’re happy to make. Maybe when we get a bit older we’ll slow down!

James also went to watch The Staves at The Royal Northern College of Music. His review can be found here.

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