COSMO GODFREE: The Staves are the best live band I’ve seen in Cambridge.
Portland Arms, Saturday 28th April.
The Staves are Emily, Jessica and Camilla – three sisters from Watford. They write sparse, delicate folk songs that hark back to the music they listened to when growing up. They’re also the best band that I’ve seen live in Cambridge.
Their debut album, coming out later this year, was recorded with legendary father-son duo Glyn and Ethan Johns (this actually being the first time they’ve shared production credits). As well as enjoying the gig, I was lucky enough to grab an interview with the girls. I started by asking what it was like working with such famous producers.
“One of the things we really loved is that they work with tape, they’re masters at that. The sound’s got a bit of warmth, but it’s more than just that, it puts you in a slightly different mindset. It’s as live as it can possibly be, so it just feels more honest and a bit more final. It’s very much about choosing the best take, rather than tweaking it digitally. It was great to be able to record like that.”
Is it stripped down like the EPs were, or were you tempted to throw loads of orchestras at it?
“No, it’s still pretty stripped back; I think we tried to make it as honest a representation of where we are now. I think the vocals are still definitely the core. It is very tempting when you’ve got stuff at your disposal to throw loads of shit on there, but we didn’t want to do too much too soon!”
Having recently returned from the SxSW festival in Austin, Texas, they’re heading back to America next month to support Bon Iver in some pretty massive venues. Then they’ll be all over England this summer, from Bestival and the Eden Sessions to our very own Cambridge Folk Festival.
A taste of the live experience, recorded in Dallas this year
The Staves? music is in thrall to a pretty classic mode of songwriting – I ask which artists have stayed with them the most since their childhood, and the answers include Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. Jessica says that The Beatles are their favourite band, and the others nod in agreement.
Of course, none of those singers had the advantage of three-part vocal harmonies quite as beautiful and soothing as these. When I see them play later that night, gathered round one mic, they have absolute control over the room. Obviously, the sisters’ voices are so in tune with each other because they have always been used to singing together. Mexico is my favourite song that The Staves play tonight, its wonderfully evocative lyrics set to music that unfolds at a gentle pace. It goes without saying that everyone is blown away by the harmonies.
Finally, and a bit off topic, I was curious to know what the sisters thought about the Tupac hologram that appeared at Coachella the other weekend…
“That was amazing! It was so realistic. Six months down the line we’ll have Michael Jackson doing hologram concerts… though I think if John Lennon or someone like that came back as a hologram, it would just make me sad, it does seem a bit distasteful.”
“I think that if I died, I wouldn’t want to have a hologram singing in my place,” says Camilla, before Jessica pipes in with, “Maybe a hologram at your funeral!” Camilla laughs, “Maybe I can pre-record it!”
Joking aside, the answer makes perfect sense. The Staves put their music out into the world without trying to dress it up unnecessarily, and they play gigs without hiding behind flashy lightshows or waves of guitar feedback.
Digital trickery is no match for the real deal. Especially if you can sing like this.