Ahead of The Staves’ return to Ireland this week, I caught up with Emily Staveley-Taylor to chat about the band’s new sound on their latest single Tired as F**k.
The Staves – made up of sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla – are returning to British and Irish soil at the start of June for a run of shows across small venues and Emily expresses her excitement in coming home to play to their “old audience” with their new live set-up, developed over the last year of living and touring in America.
The tour is named after stand-alone single Tired as F**k released earlier this year. I ask why this song – easily one of their strongest releases to date – was released in this way and not as part of the next album (the eagerly-anticipated follow up to 2015’s critically-acclaimed If I Was).
“Singles, EPs and albums are all different beasts,” she explains, before voicing a complaint often shared by musicians – the frustratingly long timeline of creating and releasing a body of of work.
“After both albums, we felt really drained because the songs we created would sit on various people’s desks for at least a year waiting for the ‘right time’, so say the record labels. You’re just desperate to get them out there, so that can be really frustrating.”
Of course, releasing stand-alone tracks in this manner is not new for The Staves. The band released Sleeping In A Car, a three-track EP, in May 2016: “We wrote and recorded those songs really quickly and we thought, ‘we don’t want to hold those back for album three’, we want to get them out now.” The EP was described as a reflection of “the transient nature of travelling” and this concept is echoed by Emily, who praises the momentum of creating and releasing music without overthinking or waiting for the ‘right time’: “It doesn’t have to be precious, it’s simply: Here are some songs we are really into at the moment, and they’re out now.”
The process of recording and releasing Tired as F**k was slightly slower: the song had been a popular live track for over a year before they decided to record it. Once it was out, the band maintained the momentum and quickly filmed a music video on the cheap (“What’s the point of waiting to film a £10,000 video with someone special? Just film it yourself with an iPhone and put it out!”). In an industry full of flashy, over-the-top music videos and two-to-three-year-long album cycles, The Staves’ approach to getting the music they’re passionate about straight into their fans’ hands is certainly something to admire.
We move on to talk about the song itself; Tired as F**k is a gritty, bluesy track, starting to lean more towards rock than their indie folk origins. I wonder: is this a sign of a new musical direction the band is taking?
“Your guess is probably as good as ours!” Emily laughs. “It’s one of the mysteries of making music, you never quite know what you’re going to end up with until it’s done.” It seems that the creative freedom to record and release songs without the pressures of fitting to an album theme or sound has influenced the sound of Tired As F**k – you won’t find many electric guitar solos elsewhere in the band’s catalogue. This is what makes new music from The Staves always so exciting: there are no musical boundaries to their sound.
Across their releases, The Staves have successfully widened their sonic palette without losing their trademark sound – the power of their harmonies. But what influences these changes?
Emily explains that “there are so many factors which drive music forward”, but it’s working with the right people which is central to the process. On their first album Dead & Born & Grown, they set out to create a genuine, live feel for the listeners as if they were sitting in the room with them. This was achieved with the help of producers Glyn and Ethan Jones, including recording the album to tape and keeping the recording process “simple”. Album number two If I Was, on the other hand, featured far more studio experimentation with the help of Justin Vernon. She says that working in this way “really opened up our sound and filled us with the confidence to experiment”.
Now, the band is unafraid to use the studio as a tool in their music making process, widening the number of directions they can go with their sound and encouraging them to produce their own music: “[These new skills] have really informed our song-writing because suddenly so many things are possible. We used to only have three voices, now we can have as many as we want.”
When it comes to writing the music itself, it’s a collaborative process with each sister bringing something unique to the table. “Millie uses layered vocals and beats [to create] acapella songs or song seeds, and Jess is usually driven by guitar and piano melodies,” Emily explains. Once each sister brings their demo forward, it’s a group effort to ‘Stave-itise’ it, adding the final touches and arranging vocal harmonies.
The Staves’ song-writing process is unique to every song and this can be aided by the environment in which they write and record. Emily reflects on the recording of If I Was in a secluded, natural environment in Wisconsin, praising the creative freedom of working in residential studios: “You’re eating, sleeping, breathing, living it and that creates a real team.” She notes that this team effort is essential to creativity: “If you want to take chances in the studio to try new and frightening things, that requires an enormous amount of trust between you and the people you’re working with.”
Looking ahead to the future, the “shape of the next album remains hidden”. But if Tired as F**k is anything to go by, it can be guaranteed that we have a lot to look forward to.
You can catch The Staves in Limelight 1 on June 2nd! Tickets available at: thestaves.com or from Ticketmaster outlets.