Q&A Jessica Staveley-Taylor

Photo: Graham Tolbert

Photo: Graham Tolbert

The Staves are an acoustic folk rock group hailing from WatfordHertfordshire, England. Releasing their first EP in 2011, they’ve since toured with Bon Iver, Florence and the Machine, and The Civil Wars. 2016 brought them back overseas, taking their globally acclaimed album “If I Was” on a headline tour of North America. Jessica Staveley-Taylor is one of three sisters in the group, who will be performing at the Fitzgerald Theatre in Minneapolis on Nov. 1.

It sounds like you guys have been living in Minneapolis for the past several months, welcome! How was that decision made and how have you guys been liking it here?

Jessica Staveley-Taylor: Well we have been working a lot in this part of the country, it started when we made our album in Eau Claire with Justin Vernon. We ended up spending so much time traveling from England to Eau Claire to record that we ended up making loads of good friends with people from Eau Claire and Minneapolis. We had a conversation with our manager at the end of the year last year about touring the U.S.–we hadn’t toured here for about three years–we were like, what’re we gonna do, everyone in America has forgotten about us! So we just came up with this idea of relocating for a little bit and actually live in America to really give us a chance to do loads of shows and to record more out here. We ended up thinking that Minneapolis is a good location for us to be because we already knew a bunch of people. And there’s a good vibe here, I think it’s really relaxed.

 

Tell us about the history of the Staves sisters. How long have you been writing together?

JS: We’ve always said it’s kind of hard to define how long we’ve been doing it because we’ve known each other all our lives and we always sang together. We never really knew what to do with it, it was like something we did for fun at home. I don’t think any of us dreamed it would be our career. It was kind of a slow process I think, we all went off and did different things and studied at University, things like that, it was always something that would bring us together when we were together. We’d start off doing covers and we did stuff by the Beatles and Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams. Then I started learning guitar and gradually we started writing our own songs. It was around then that I think it became more serious and we kind of found our identity, like, I think we could be a band.

 

For your Midwest shows coming up in early November, you guys are taking contest submissions to find local support bands. Tell us about the inspiration behind this!

JS: So we were thinking of people to open the show, and often you get a band that you don’t know that is kind of suggested to you by your manager or your booking agent–and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve met loads of great people on the road that way. We just thought it would be weird to do a bunch of Midwestern shows in Wisconsin or Minnesota with a band from L.A. that has nothing to do with the area. So we just wanted to kind of reach out to local people. For us, it’s really exciting to get to hear more music from this area because this is the area we’re living in. Also, we’ve been a support band and we know what it’s like, it can be really hard to get shows when you’re a local band and to get exposure. We thought it would be a cool way for us to discover new music and give a band an opportunity. And, I don’t know, some bands might be more established than others, some bands might be just starting out. We thought we’d just open it up and see who’s interested. We’ve had a lot of responses so far as well! I think it’s gonna take us quite a long time to go through the many people that have responded. We get to be like Simon Cowell on the X-Factor.

 

The Staves performed at both Eaux Claires Festivals in Wisconsin these past summers. What was it like to be enveloped by an icon like Justin Vernon and how did it feel to be thrown into his fan base at the first festival?

JS: It was amazing. We were there this summer and last summer, it’s a really amazing festival, it’s unlike any other. I think it’s because Justin is so involved in it and selecting the bands to play. Because there’s so much care and attention paid to it, it creates a really great vibe. And I must say a massive part of it is the audience, I think everyone goes there with a really open mind, they’re up for trying new music and getting turned on to bands they didn’t know about before. Whereas the bigger commercial festivals, there’s a completely different mindset when you go. People just go to get wasted and watch huge bands on a huge stage. [Eaux Claires] is a completely different festival experience for the band and for the audience. For us, when we played last year, that was another reason why we wanted to move out here. We hadn’t played a show in the United States in so long and we played on the main stage, we played our new album that we made in Eau Claire, and the reaction from the audience was so great. It felt kind of like a home gig. It just made us think, like, we wanted to go where the love is. We felt there was a really strong connection with Eau Claire and with this part of the country.

 

Justin Vernon produced your latest album “If I Was” last year. What has been your favorite part about working with Justin?

JS: There have been so many different parts that have been great, it’s hard to say. Well, first, we made a great friend out of him, but also I think it was the most fun I’ve had in a studio. I think he really brought the best out of us and he created an environment where we were really able to express ourselves and feel safe in. It’s really important when you’re making music to be comfortable. We’ve had experiences where we were not as comfortable, and it can be hard with what you’re doing when you maybe don’t trust the people you’re working with or you’re having doubts about yourself. There was none of that there. It’s kind of like when you meet someone that you like, it’s just easy straight away, you get along really well. It was kind of like that, but musically, good chemistry from the get-go.

 

Your most recent release, the “Sleeping in a Car” EP, feels like it has more of an ambient influence than your previous albums. How have you experienced the music of The Staves evolving?

JS: It’s hard to tell when you’re the one doing it. Sometimes other people are better equipped to judge your music because they’re actually on the outside looking at it. That EP we did play around more with electronic ambient sounds, and that’s something we really love. The root of our music has always been our voices, our harmonies. So it’s really fun when you get to play around with that and use them in different ways as part of the arrangement not just as the main voice with the lyrics. On the song “Sleeping in the Car” we used autotune on some of our voices in the background and loads of distortion, they sounded like synths. I think because it wasn’t an album, just a three-track EP, we felt like we could kind of do what we want. We didn’t have to try to fit in some kind of format, you know?

 

Your musical aesthetic really creates so much peace and fresh air. Do you guys ever desire to express yourselves with a drastically different sound?

JS: Yeah I mean, the cool thing about music is that there are an infinite number of possibilities with what you can do, and I find that really exciting. It can be overwhelming sometimes cause there’s so much you can do and it can be hard to actually figure out what you are in music. Like, are we a rock band, are we an indie band, are we a folk band, what are we? We’ve always tried to make the music that feels natural to us. But, having said that, it’s really great to push yourself and play with different sounds. So yeah, there aren’t any grand plans for us to become a metal band, but you never know! I think you have to follow your inspiration. We actually performed this year with a group called yMusic, a classical sextet, and we wrote this new piece of music with them. That was the first time we had ever stepped into a more orchestral world. It was so so amazing, we learned so much. That’s been a real highlight this year, expanding our horizons a bit. I think we’re gonna go into the studio with those guys and record some stuff and see what comes out of it. Maybe we’ll be on tour with an orchestra soon, who knows!