During my freshman and sophomore years of high school, all I listened to was absolute garbage rap music day in and day out. It wasn’t until the combination of quitting the basketball team and teaching myself how to play the drums (poorly) that I started to expand my musical palette. For one reason or another, I wasn’t drawn to high falutin Keith Moon fills, but rather, muted and delicate percussion a la Bon Iver.
Fast forward (just a few years) to the present day, and my quickest musical infatuation inclination is almost always going to be something folk, bonus points for otherworldly harmonies and being “non-domestic,” so imagine my virtual manna when I came across The Staves’ Live from Cecil Sharp House; it was ethereal.
The Staves’ career to date is a storied one (so much so that “storied” itself may be a bit too subdued) – early open mics as “The Staveley-Taylors” in their hometown of Watford, England, suddenly popping up on a Tom Jones record, touring with Mt. Desolation as the middle Staveley-Taylor sister, Jessica, pulled double duty with both bands, to touring with the likes of Nathaniel Rateliff, Ben Howard, and Bear’s Den, releasing a debut record produced by indie-deity Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, Volcano Choir), which culminated into The Staves joining Bon Iver as backing vocalists – six or some odd years of living a transient musical (and romantic) life on the road.
But the life in constant motion and fleeting moments of home has done nothing but create more perspective and musical information for The Staves, as the eldest Staveley-Taylor, Emily put it “I think the more you do it, the more you realize what sort of a strange life choice it is… I guess our songs have sort of started to reflect our lives – when you are kind of displaced, I suppose – when you’re far away from your friends and your family and your grounding, your home; where you’re kind of familiar. So things become stranger and slightly more surreal… I guess that’s what we’ve been exploring, certainly with this last EP (Sleeping in a Car) and probably parts of the last album (If I Wait) as well.”
The aforementioned EP, Sleeping in a Car certainly does feel like an extension of their exceptional debut record, If I Wait, and is the reason they’re finishing up their most recent run of shows in North America, and The Staves couldn’t be any more grateful for the warm reception of those who come out to their live sets, “We’ve just been so amazed by the people that have come to see us, and its just been a riot – I’d forgotten how much fun it is touring in the States.”
Having been on the road as long as they have, its somewhat remarkable that the Staveley-Taylor sisters have even managed to find to write as many as one song, much less the three on Sleeping in a Car, but as Emily laid it out, they always manage to find time to write during brief periods of respite. “The title track was actually demoed almost a year before. Its really kind of a different process for each of the songs – some of the songs have been kicking around for a long time, and sometimes a song comes to fruition in the space of a few days. And this EP was a little of all of those things… The recording and coming together of all three tracks was really done in a week.”
In a sense, the song was born out of time spent on the road, but didn’t come to fruition until The Staves had left their long run of stolen phone calls in the night, being apart from family and loved ones – though being sisters, Emily described the single grounding feature in an otherwise ungrounded lifestyle, “One of the great things about being in this situation with my sisters is that there’s always a large piece of home with me wherever I go, so that helps.”
When I asked Emily what the fine folks of Nashville and the other remaining stops on their North American tour can expect from their live set, she described a live scene with more depth and breadth once unknown for a band such as her own, “We’ve been playing instruments that we’ve never played before – Camilla’s playing bass, I’m playing a lot with synths, Jess has got a keyboards – its just a different set up now for us, and I really think its breathed some new life into a lot of older songs, certainly. We’re just really enjoying feeling more like a band than we ever had done, rather than us just singing together. Its really exciting, its really fun being on the road with this set-up.”
It’s an enticing set-up description for someone such as myself, considering the bare-boned magnetism of The Staves’ early catalogue, and the eventual development that coincides with most great groups. As I probed further, in hopes of finding one last “exclusive” morsel, I asked Emily what the rest of the tour and remaining year had laid out for The Staves – “The tour is coming to an end, but we have festivals in the States right through the end of August – some of them we’re writing special pieces for, so there’s a lot of writing, rehearsing, and traveling around for that. And then we’re kind of staying out in the States until Christmas time – we don’t know where we’re going to be living, or what we’re going to be doing,” she laughed, “We just kind of decided to hang out on this side of the pond for a while. So we still feel kind of ungrounded and unsure of what the future holds.”
If you’re able, its well worth your time making it out to The Staves’ High Watt set on Friday, June 24th, to see Emily and her sisters Camilla and Jessica perform in support of their newest EP, Sleeping in a Car, as well as the expanded versions of “classic” Staves tracks. Prepare yourself to be viscerally moved by the trio’s unparalleled harmonies and razor sharp wit, and embrace a night of ungrounded beauty brought about by The Staves.