INTERVIEW: Emily Stavely-Taylor of The Staves

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Let it be known.  I’ve been enchanted.  I’m sure it would’ve happened after more repeated listens of The Staves‘ two EPs of stripped-down, harmony-drenched folk (2011’s Mexico and this year’s Motherlode), but on this sunny Florida afternoon in May, the elder Stave — Emily Stavely-Taylor, 29 — has left me beguiled in the best way by simply sending her English wit and charm through a fuzzy cell phone connection.

SUB AP! CALENDAR: BON IVER + THE STAVES AT THE STRAZ CENTER 06.07.12

We’ve arranged, cancelled, and re-arranged a short phone interview that is taking place as she and her sisters — Jessica, 25, and Camilla, 23, — are in Edmonton and about an hour away from soundchecking before their first show opening for Bon Iver.  The ladies will see some of the biggest audiences they’ve ever encountered on this tour, and Emily is already on her fourth cup of tea.  That’s a lot of damn tea right?

“Really?,” she asks, posing a question/explanation of her own.  “I would say that we probably average about six to eight cups a day.”

Oh, okay.

Everything she says comes packaged with an such an undeniable sense of cool and earnest that it’s hard to not believe every word.  So I do.  We talk on which roles the sisters fill on tour (it changes), pre-show rituals (they like whiskey too), and even hypothesize on how the sun will treat their presumably unconditioned English skin during their five-day Florida tour (which stops at Straz Center for performing arts on Thursday).  She goes on to tell me stories about Ethan and Glyn Johns producing their forthcoming debut LP and even forgives me for awkwardly delivering less-than-humorous jokes.

All in all, it’s a nice chat, and I even try to convince sisters to have a drink at The Hub while they’re in town.  Who knows what they’ll end up doing, but I know that I’ll be at The Straz Center for The Staves opening set.  Have a look at our full chat — and listen to some music from the band — below.

The Staves open for Bon Iver on Thursday, June 6 at The Straz Center.  More information on the show is available at our calendar page.

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Emily Stavely-Taylor of The Staves: Hey Ray — how’s it going?

SubAp!: It’s going well, sorry if I pulled you away from anything, I know we kind of put this together on the fly.

No. No, not at all.  I’m just sitting down to a cup of tea, so you’re not disturbing in any way.

Good. Isn’t it a little bit early for tea?

Really?  I’ve had four cups already today.

Wow, haha.  I don’t exactly know how the English treat tea, but I know that a four cup of coffee day is a pretty special day for me.

Oh no, I would say that we probably average about six to eight cups a day.  We’re in a bit of a panic because this time because we forgot to bring our tea bags, so I’ve been searching around the good town of Edmonton trying to find some good proper English Breakfast tea bags.

Are you pleased with their selection?

It’s been pretty good I’d say.

Cream and sugar?

No, not cream.  A dash of milk.

Is that how you cope with nervousness? The tour with Bon Iver kicks off this evening.  You’ve mentioned having some jitters, and I saw two of you crushing Heinekens in another video interview – how are you actually dealing with them?

Haha.  That happens sometimes.  It’s really weird because it’s kind of like there are two things happening.  First we’ve got a gig, which is exciting.  It’s a bit nerve racking because it’s [the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium] a big place.  The other thing that’s happening is that we get to see Bon Iver tonight.  So I’ve sort of got one foot in fan mode where I’m so excited to see this show tonight and the other foot in stage mode where I get to do that.

So anytime I get nervous I just try to get excited about actually seeing their now.  I think I’m more excited than nervous now that we’re actually here.

Did you guys check sound already?

No, we leave in about an hour to set up.

LISTEN: THE STAVES – LIVE AT CECIL HOUSE

Are you going to be nervous if [Bon Iver de facto leader] Justin Vernon ask you to sing with them on a song during this tour?  I think you’ve got long enough to where you might be able to work something out.

Oh, well I don’t know if that’s gonna happen.  I’d be nervous about messing it up.

You obviously draw some comparisons to First Aid Kit, who are from Sweden.  America has Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Why are European ladies so much classier than their American counterparts?

Well…

Sorry I’m kind of trapping you here.

I think, um, I think it’s easy to find what you’re setting up to look for, you know.  You guys have got Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and stuff, but we’ve got our fair share of things like that, and you’ve got your fair share of cool people over there as well.

There is definitely something about that sort of Scandinavian/European thing that is very cool.  There is this Norwegian guy called Jonas Alaska who is just amazing – very cool.  There is Stealing Sheep and obviously First Aid Kit, so yeah just a bunch of cool Scandinanvian people…European I don’t know what it is – maybe it just feels more exotic to you guys.

Up to now, your Atlantic Records output consists of two EPs (2011’s Mexico and tomorrow’s The Motherlode), but you’re working with Ethan and Glyn Johns on an LP.  Aside from sound recording and technical things, what were Ethan and Glyn able to do or teach you that you might not have figured out on your own?

A million things really. It’s our first album, and we’ve done recording before with various friends and friends of friends and that sort of thing, but it was our first proper time in a studio.  I think something that we really enjoyed was playing with other musicians, and Ethan and Glyn helped guide us through the process of having that freedom to kind of experiment with having drum, bass, harmonium, and extra guitars and things like that.

And when we play back home we play usually with band now, so it’s great that we can take in that song that we know and now its definitely part of our live show.  It’s also great that we’ve always got it – just the three of us.  Like tonight and the show in Tampa will be just the three of us – a kind of honest presentation of our music.

Recording is just an amazing experience really.  Like how much the songs can change for you.  When you record them you kind of really delve into them and can just discover so much about a song that you wrote that you can be like “I didn’t realize it does this,” or has the scope to be this big, or this intimate, of whatever — Ethan and Glyn can both really help you with that.

They skillfully they record to tape as well, so to watch them work their magic with that was amazing.

Do you have a name for the record yet?

No we’re still arguing about it.  As soon as we’re done arguing, I can tell you.

Any contenders?

We’re still arguing about which songs should go on it.

Oh, wow.  How many do you have?

We’ve probably got around 20.

Trimming it down to…

Well, I don’t know it depends.  It’s about finding the songs that fit together as one body of music, you know.  Finding the right songs.  It might be a group of ten of them or thirteen of them.  We’re tying to find the right songs that group together and show who and where we are musically on our journey.

So you’re not anticipating any re-recording or overdubs before it gets mastered?

No, no.

LISTEN: THE STAVES – MEXICO EP

Cool.  So you can’t tell me the names of anything but I was hoping that you can give us some clues on how to find some self-professed “dodgy” early material that you and your sisters recorded.

Well, no we didn’t have any other names.  We’ve always just been [The Staves].  There are probably some recordings of us trying to sound like CSNY or trying out our kind of Neil Young or Jackson Browne impressions, but that’s about it.

I was thinking like Spice Girls or NSync of something embarrassing, so it’s not as bad as I thought.

(Laughs)

What’s the pre-show ritual like? Any superstitions?

Um we’ve all started to have a little swig of whiskey before we go on, which is becoming a ritual now, which is quite nice. Well we quite like Bushmills and we all like Green Spot, which are both Irish.

There also always seems to be a joke of the tour and that changes on every tour, so before we go on stage we’ll say what ever the joke is in a voice that gets louder and louder then we’ll be like “go, ohhhhahahaooh” – something like that.  It’s very rock n roll.

Don’t care what you say, siblings always fight.  Who’s the one with the iron fists of rage?

Honestly, the roles shift and change almost hourly.  It’s a constant power struggle – we all have the ability to be really bossy, and to be really sweet, and to be really annoying, so yeah, there’s kind of no leader or anything like that.  Also, sometimes we’ll fall into various roles like “we’ve got to be on time” or whatever.  It kind of changes like we’ve got to be on time for this or this, it really depends.  We get along pretty well.  We fight a fair amount, but we always make up pretty easily.

You’ve mentioned issues with confidence and not knowing whether or not anyone wants to listen, but you’re about to play to some of the largest crowds you’ve ever seen.  At what point do you start to just believe in yourself and the music your creating then recreating on stage?

It’s strange I haven’t really considered it until you just said it.  It’s weird how you will hear something you said or read something you said, and you’re like I wonder why I said that.  But I think…I don’t know.  I do wonder if it is quite a British thing to…I don’t know…I don’t know if it’s just modesty or just not truly truly really believing in yourself.

You’ve also mentioned having low expectations for previous shows in America, then being surprised by stateside audiences’ interest.  Why did you initially set the bar low for yourselves?  The music is great.

I think we’re getting better at it.  With every CD that someone buys, or every ticket that they book, or when someone like Bon Iver asks you to go on tour with them.  All of that helps and the best thing is playing shows and people coming – it’s the nicest thing ever.

We want to feel confident of our music – and I think we do deep down – but I don’t ever want to take for granted the…amazingness – I don’t even know if that’s word – of being able to make music.

Holy crap man she just called herself amazing!

What was that?

Oh, nothing.  I tried to make a joke, but it came out—awkward.

Haha. Oh no, the lines too bad for us to have jokes.

I think that might be all for me…you’re coming to Florida, so how does your English skin deal with the sun?

Camilla, not good.  She also refuses to dress appropriately for hot weather and she just wears the same outfit like all year around. I deal slightly better, I have a bit darker skin, so I’m alright with it.  We just kind of get hot and flustered and are very British.

Anything you’re looking forward to in Florida?  Theme parks, inebriation, etc.?

I hope so, what do you recommend?

Well, you should definitely go to the beach.  You’re also playing in a beautiful party of the city, so you should go for a ride down the river and have some drinks at The Hub.  We are your last FL stop though, so you might be sick of the sun by then.

Oh no, I don’t think so.  I really don’t think so.  We see so little of it.

Well, I’d be happy to show you around, but I know you’re going to be busy doing rock start things like trashing hotel rooms.

We’re gonna trash a canoe – haha.

Thank you for your time.  Enjoy your Bushmills tonight.

Aw, thank you.  Cheers Ray nice to talk to you.

The Staves open for Bon Iver on Thursday, June 6 at The Straz Center.  More information on the show is available at our calendar page.  Have a listen to their latest EP — Motherlode — below.