Friday, May 1, 2015

Interview: The Staves

The Staves (Photo by Kelly Teacher)
"We freed ourselves of what we felt we should do"

What a difference four years can make, that's the length of time since I first interviewed The Staves for this little ol' blog (recap here) and now they are booked in to literally - note the accurate and traditional use of the word - play across the road from my apartment on Thursday 7th May.


The following interview was published in Cork's Evening Echo on 30th April 2015.

Almost four years have passed since The Staves first swept me up in their breezy harmonies and gentle folk songs. Camilla, Emily and Jessica have since gone on to release two well-received records, a couple of EPs and tour the world, becoming best buddies with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon in the process. Looking back on a whirlwind half-decade, Camilla admits they’ve been through a lot.

“We’ve definitely changed as people. We’ve been touring so much that it certainly has a direct affect on you as a person. Then there’s the unavoidable changes to relationships with family, friends and boyfriends. The fact that we’ve been living a nomadic lifestyle is something that changes you and inevitably impacts both how you write songs and what you need to write about.”

The result is If I Was, a coolly crafted collection of tracks that culminated from an invitation to visit Vernon’s homeland: Wisconsin. Although recording a follow-up to 2012’s d├ębut Dead & Born & Grown wasn’t exactly the Watford sisters’ intention when they first landed in the ‘Badger State’.

“When we started demo-ing and recording what would turn out to be If I Was, we didn’t really know we were making an album. We went to Justin’s studio simply as he asked us to go. We just wanted to mess around in the studio so we weren’t treating it as anything official. We didn’t tell the record label so there was no expectation from them or even any pressure from ourselves. Suddenly we realised we had a lot of songs and had to ask ourselves ‘Are we making an album now? Is that what we are doing?’”

The accidental recording sessions also yielded an unexpected producer in Vernon himself. It seems the writer of songs such as Skinny Love and For Emma is just as capable behind a mixing desk. “He’s amazing, so full of enthusiasm and energy which is quite infectious. He both gave and had so much confidence in us. Although we were miles from home, he somehow managed to create a really safe place where we felt comfortable to try things out that we had never tried before and write in front of the guys that were there. We would normally not let anyone in on that process, it’s a very private thing. He was just a fantastic facilitator and any ideas we had were met with enthusiasm and openness. I can’t thank him enough.”

With an environment conducive for experimenting created, the trio set about evolving a sound that had previously been so sweet. More electronics, electric guitars and abrasive noises appear on the record than would previously have been associated with The Staves of the past. Camilla explains how they made the leap to the more alternative side of the spectrum.

“We had been touring so much that, besides nuggets of ideas, we hadn’t even written anything properly in ages. We’d changed so much from the first album and had a real hunger to expand the sound and experiment with electronic instrumentation, samples and synths and guitar sounds. When we went to Wisconsin it was the perfect place to do that. We freed ourselves of what we felt we should do. Gradually as we recorded more and more we saw that things started to fit together which was lucky I guess!

“I think with the first album we really wanted it to be a fair representation of what it would be like to be in a room with us while we are singing. I think we’ve hung on to that with this one, especially with our harmonies, but we decided to have a lot of fun and also embrace that it doesn’t have to be exactly the same as you play it live and that they can both exist separately. It was really cool to just be able to try things out. Some of them silly, some of them not. It was very freeing.”

Artistic freedom was accompanied by the chance to wander in the wilds of Wisconsin itself. Often portrayed as one of the drearier states the U.S., it’s clearly found a fond place in the hearts of Camilla and her siblings.

“When we really felt like we were going mental with cabin fever in the studio we’d head down to the local town to The Joint, a really cool bar with pitchers of beer and pool tables where Justin’s parents first met. When you speak to anyone in America and say you are working in Wisconsin they reply with ‘what the hell are you doing there?’ All three of us get a really lovely vibe from that part of the world, like an underdog area of America full of really solid, cool sturdy, friendly people but not overly friendly like in L.A.They’re very wholesome, love nature and growing beards apparently!”


For more on The Staves visit:

- The Staves play Everyman Palace, Cork on Thursday 7th May
- Tickets are €22 and available from www.everymancork.com

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