For several weeks now I’ve been listening to and watching little other than The Staves. My wife corrects me – doing little else.
They’re young. They’re funny and funky, sexy and sincere, prolific and precise. They warm up in the corridor backstage in stunning, genetically-matching perfect harmony – beer bottle in hand. They sing lyrics like “You were right, and I’ve been wrong/To tarry here for far too long/Pick me up, wish me luck/Fare thee well/I don’t give a fuck anymore.” ‘Tarry’ and ‘give a fuck’ in the same verse. And they carry it off. This ain’t The Kingston Trio.
The Staves covering Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’, oh, so convincingly.
For three weeks I’ve been going at them, and I still haven’t encompassed or grasped it all. They have a veritable myriad of material – thirty or so songs, with countless fine video performances – festival performances, taking refuge from the rain on a Cornwall beach, walking in the woods, in hotel rooms, radio and TV studios, soundtracks for video art, acting in mini- drama clips.
A couple of video art ventures, also from the first album:
‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’, a High Noon spoof in which The Girls wreak Revenge on The Bad Guy
‘Winter Trees’—an animated fairy tale
‘Steady’ – even good girls have dark dreams
‘Blood I Bled’, a parable of something. Please, explain it to me.
‘Black & White’—in which a 1960’s newscaster couple’s relationship disintegrates on air
Nature/nurture. What happens when you have both? Not only a blending of timbre. A blending of blood, of eyes and ears and mouths and throats. And minds. And life experience.
Want to see them singing perfection?
Want to see them soulful?
Want to see them being artistically bold?
I happened to see recently a clip of the very young Everly Brothers. Don and Phil match. They’ve vocally Siamese twins from Kentucky.
The Everly Bros face each other, careful to match perfectly. The Staves face outwards, having each other’s backs, if you will, each projecting her own unique persona. Three young women who come from the same place. Literally.
I first tripped over The Staves backing Bon Iver in their new performances. Hey, any friend of Justin Vernon is a friend of mine.
I just gotta digress here (that might be a fitting epitaph for my gravestone: “He Digressed”). A few months ago I wrote a posting about Bon Iver, Justin Vernon’s band, especially their performance on Austin City Limits. I’ve been watching that show over and over and over, and you know what? My appreciation just keeps growing.
These millenials are weird. Just as Justin Vernon’s band got really popular, he took a hiatus of performing for three years. I guess he had better stuff to do. As if there’s something more important than fame and fortune. Pshaw.
“I became familiar with The Staves [in 2012] from an EP that was given to me by a friend. I asked them to support us on a tour and when I heard them singing it’s really like physiological; their sisterhood and their relation. The combination of their voices is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.”
Bon Iver recently returned to activity. Just a couple of shows, with The Staves in support. I’m watching closely. And there’s this new ‘Heavenly Father’—the five band members with The Staves, standing in a circle around one mike, facing each other rather than playing to the audience – no matter that it’s not Vernon’s finest achievement musically. Bon Iver, with three lovely young women, singing a cappella? I’m hooked, lined and sinkered.
At the time, The Staves, sisters Emily (lighter hair), Jessica (black hair and guitar) and Camilla (long hair) Staveley-Taylor, had one really fine album under their belts, “Dead & Born & Grown & Live”, including songs like ‘Mexico’, ‘Eagle Song’, ‘Wisely and Slow’.
The sisters grew up on their parents’ American records – Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell. We’re talking second or even third generation children of The Woodstock Generation. There’ll be one child born to carry on. Hell, three children. Every time the keyboard on my cellphone gets too small, I remind myself: They’re still singing our music. It’s no nostalgia trip. They’re talented young, vibrant DIY artists standing on the shoulders of us when we were young. And they ain’t heavy, they’re our legacy and our future.
Listen to the very young Staves do a very respectable live cover of ‘Helplessly Hoping’.
Listen to them warming up backstage in 2015 on Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’. Could CS&N have done it better, even back then?
And if you want to glimpse the outer limits of Nostalgia meets Aesthetic Beauty meets Existential Validation – remember 15-year old Little Peggy March’s #1 hit from 1963, ‘I Will Follow Him’? Check out the Staveley-Taylor sisters warming up on it. Those smiles aren’t for the cameras. They’re for the utter beauty of the moment they’re creating. Magic, just pure magic.
Vernon, 2015: “Because I care about them so much, I wanted to invite them here [to his hideaway studio in Wisconsin] which seems like such a safe place to them, to sprawl out all their ideas, give them the runway and tools and watch them grow into making a record. It’s undeniable, when you hear those voices… That comes from a well of family, and history and something that you just can’t get. That is the magic of The Staves.”
He encamped them in his hideaway, together with core members of his gang of musical cronies, resulting in their second album, “If I Was”, including ‘Horizons’, ‘Teeth White’, and our SoTW, ‘No Me, No You, No More’.
Jessica: “It’s very much an album that’s been born from being away from home a lot and being on tour. We wanted the first album to be an honest representation of what we were on stage, but since then I think ideas and ambitions have grown. This feels like the most natural and honest we’ve been able to be in front of a microphone. So I think we feel like this is us, at the moment at least.”
Here’s ‘Make It Holy’, right from the studio, illustrating just that. And beautiful it is.
She also says, “I’m so lucky, to be touring with my family.”
If you care to really delve into The Staves, I recommend their performance at Glastonbury in 2015. I think that’s the definitive performance of where they are today.
Are they really that laid-back? Or is that a look, an attitude, a veneer, a cool? For two whole weeks I’ve been to grasp if their homey image is before or beyond the sheen of stardom. I’ve been knocking my head against that question for several weeks now, so I guess it’s a secret locked securely in the nether depths of the female psche, a Xanadu I’m resigned never to see.
After excessively long deliberations, we picked a Song of The Week to represent these very talented young ladies. We went for a slow, introspective song of unrequited love featuring their stunning vocal harmonies, ‘No Me, No You, No More’.
There are imperfections here in the Glastonbury version which you don’t hear in the studio version. This is as it should be. In the studio, the fine tuning of the blend is a goal. That’s their choice—they strive for, and achieve, perfect accord. But they also go out there, where it’s dangerous. With the wind and the rain and the mud and the real world. Where they need guts, not just vocal cords.