On the Staves’ debut album, “Dead & Born & Grown,” the three sisters, Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Stavely-Taylor, get away with singing about the darkest depths while their angelic harmonies sound like they are soaring to the heavens.
“Oh, I don’t think we sound like angels,” says Jessica Stavely-Taylor. “I think we sound just like us. I think sometimes there’s a downside to sounding [so lovely]. We spend a lot of time writing our music and making sure they sound as good as they can and sometimes people are just like, ‘You sound so sweet!’ The [songs] are not really happy or super chill. We’re talking about serious stuff in them.”
Indeed, on “Tongue Behind My Teeth,” the British trio is dressing down a liar and a cheat. “I’d hurt you if I could,” they sing, in glorious spite. “Oh, I will never belong to anyone,” they declare with an equal mix of independence and sadness on “Snow.”
Of course, there’s plenty of romance as well. On the lulling, gentle “Mexico,” they sing, “Carry me home on your shoulders, lower me on to my bed, show me the night that I dreamed about before” so dreamily that it feels like the invitation comes wrapped in lace and perfect lighting and whispers.
Relying largely on acoustic instruments, the pop-folk trio recalls Simon & Garfunkel or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with heavy doses of Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling thrown in.
Stavely-Taylor is calling from Austin, where the band had just played one of its two shows at SXSW. The band chronicled their SXSW experience for us in the exclusive photo gallery below. The group’s own promotional duties had left little opportunity to see other acts, although they had seen fellow British sister act Haim and Montreal-based Half Moon Run.
Out tomorrow (March 19) in the U.S., the album, and the trio, have already found favor in their native U.K. with the set, produced by the legendary father-and-son duo Glyn and Ethan Johns.
“They work in an old-fashioned way; they both record to tape and they like to record everything as possible,” Stavely-Taylor says. “We recorded it in a pretty old-fashioned way, which is really cool, given it’s an old-fashioned sound.” On the down side, since the album was recorded largely live, any time someone goofed, “you have to redo it every single time.” On the plus side, Glyn Johns has no shortage of stories about the legends he’s produced. “We’d be sitting there having lunch and Glyn would be name dropping Mick Jagger, Keith Richards or Paul McCartney. It was incredible.”
Stavely-Taylor laughs when she’s asked who the trio would work with if they wanted to turn their sound completely on its ear: “We’re all really big fans of Daft Punk. It would be amazing to have someone like that. Or the Gorillaz or Hot Chip!”
The Staves sent much of the last several months touring in the U.S., playing Sasquatch! Music Festival and Bonnaroo, as well as opening for Bon Iver and The Civil Wars.
As the trio gets ready to embark on its first headlining tour in the U.K. next month, Stavely-Taylor says she and her sisters learned much from both acts. “With The Civil Wars, it was really inspiring to see the two of them holding an audience of thousands captive every night,” she says. “We thought, could we ever pull that off for an hour and a half? We play with a band already, so we won’t be doing it like them. That was really special. Not many bands have it as stripped down as they do.”
Bon Iver was just the reverse: “Bon Iver has a huge show. It’s such an epic sound,” she says. “It makes you think about where you can take your music, the possibilities.”
She also gives both acts high marks for being lovely to their opening act. “We’ve had other bands that haven’t been quite as nice as that,” she says, of course, declining to say whom.
The Staves will headline a U.S. tour in May. After years of playing open mic nights in their English hometown of Watford before they got signed, Stavely-Taylor says they’ve witnessed plenty from the stage, but she’s sure there’s more to come: "I think a guy’s taken his top off, but we haven’t been flashed, so I think there’s a lot that you could do to shock us.”
Check out our exclusive photo gallery of The Staves as they take Austin for SXSW.