The Staves: Sweet-sounding sisters go overground

As their star continues to rise, The Staves bring their gorgeous harmonies to Ireland, writes Ed Power

CAMILLA Staveley-Taylor shivers at the memory.

“One time, we played a cave in Ireland — Mitchelstown,” says the singer, one third of sister folk outfit, The Staves. “What we didn’t realise was that caves are incredibly humid. It affects everything — the way you sing, how the instruments sound. It was a wonderful experience — and certainly one of the strangest we’ve been involved in.”

The subterranean gig was early in The Staves’ career. They have found themselves in surreal circumstances since — for instance, performing in huge arenas all over Europe, as support to Bon Iver, in 2011.

They became friends with Bon Iver leader, Justin Vernon, and he invited the siblings to join him in his cabin in the woods, back in America, to record their next album.

“He suggested it and we were thinking ‘Well… he’s just saying that, isn’t he? He doesn’t really mean it,” says Stavely-Taylor. “He kept at us. Eventually, we realised — ‘Hang on, he actually means it’.”

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The Staves are from suburban Watford. Vernon’s cabin was deep in the Wisconsin outback — hours from the nearest city, Eau Claire. It was, one assumes, like taking a trip to the far side of the moon.

“You know what, it wasn’t all that different,” say Camilla. “If you take away the American accents and the American beer (we stayed up drinking every night), you were basically in a room, singing. It wasn’t really all that big a change.”

The fruits of their sojourn in Wisconsin can be sampled on the sisters’ second LP, If I Was. Showcasing their beautifully intertwined vocals and delicate song-craft, the LP will give hope to anyone despairing of the condition of folk music in a world where Mumford and Sons can sell out stadiums.

“We made the record in a really nice, organic way. You can hear that in the finished results, I think,” says Camilla. “One thing I’m glad we didn’t do was tell the label beforehand. If they’d found out we were going to record with Bon Iver, they’d have been terribly excited. You never want to give your record company too much hope, in case it doesn’t work out.”

The Staves are stylish and have gorgeous voices, so it’s a surprise they aren’t more popular. Perhaps that is to change — later in the summer, they tour with blues dreamboat, Paolo Nutini — who, it is reasonable to assume, will attract a rather more mainstream following than Bon Iver

“We were asked to do it and were intrigued,” she says. “I respect Paolo Nutini for what he has done with his career. He started out marketed as this very pop thing and he’s reinvented himself and followed his own path. You have to applaud that. Also, we’re just looking forward to hearing him sing every night.”

The sisters were raised by music-obsessed parents, their childhoods soundtracked by Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. But they didn’t perform together growing up. It was only after Camilla finished school, several years ago, that The Staves became a thing. Quite how much longer it will remain that way is up in the air, with elder sister, Emily, recently complaining she doesn’t earn much more as a musician than she did working as a waitress.

“You never can tell what the future holds,” says Camilla. “Who knows — we might all want to have babies and settle down. I can’t see it happening. This job is the best fun in the world. It stops being that way when you tour too much and the novelty wears off. You’re living out of a suitcase, going a little crazy. That’s when you need to take a break. Otherwise, you feel like this weird nomad who doesn’t live anywhere.”

The Staves play Olympia, Dublin, on Wednesday; and Everyman, Cork, on Thursday. If I Was is out now.

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