Interview: The Staves – “It’s about not taking any shit from anyone”

Photo Credit: Sequoia Ziff

Last month, The Staves returned with one of the most hotly-anticipated records of the year, particularly here at TFFT towers. As stated in our recent review, “Good Woman is both a reinvention and a homecoming. The trio of sisters get raw in this album, finding a new sound that is as compelling and complex as it is authentic.”

But what’s more, Good Woman is a record about reflection, determination and self-affirmation – as Jessica Staveley-Taylor aptly told us this week, “It’s about not taking any shit from anyone”…

‘I’m a Good Woman’ is repeated with heart and gusto throughout the title track – is this a sentence charged at certain people in your life, the media, yourselves, all of the above!?

It’s about analysing yourself and all the good you do as well as your flaws and not taking any shit from anyone and concluding that “I’m a Good Woman” because I say I am!

The Staves’ music transformed after working with Justin Vernon on If I Was and this new record is a further step away from the acoustic, dare we saw ‘folky’ sounds of dead & born & grown – did it feel like a natural progression to create a bigger sounding record? (the chunky guitar on ‘Careful, Kid’ immediately comes to mind!)

We had been self-producing everything we released since If I Was and across those releases we were experimenting in the studio with sounds we liked and with developing the sonic landscape. Using more electric guitars and drums, more electronic influences and using our voices more as instruments. I guess the main curiosity was with production. The live shows were always there for us to play guitars and sing but the studio was the place we could experiment and be freer. 

What was behind your decision to work with John Congleton, and how did both his attitude and production style, effect the making of Good Woman?

John is really enthusiastic and committed and works really quickly. These three things were exactly what we needed in the final stages of making Good Woman. We had amassed a number of demos, some at an almost finished stage and some in the early stages and we really needed an outside perspective and some reassurance that we were on the right track with everything. John was a shot in the arm to the whole process.

You recorded the single ‘Nazareth’ in an outdoor setting with birds chirping in the background. Explain your decision to capture natural environmental sounds like this in a finished product

We were sitting outside the studio in Summer practicing the song and we had an idea that if we could just put a mic up right there it would sound amazing. It ended up being much easier to capture it using the field reorder we had. I remember reading about the recording of ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles, going on the balcony at Abbey Road to record it outdoors and to get the birdsong on. It’s an homage to that idea. (The song was also inspired by the guitar part on ‘Blackbird’!)

A lot of your songs use alternate tunings. Do the brighter/warmer sound of these string sound changes make you connect easier to the flow of the song?

I got into alternate tunings many years ago and I love discovering a new one. I’ll write loads of songs with it as all the chords feel new and exciting and like you are the only one discovering them. Then I will end up getting too repetitive with the chords and will move on to anther tuning. It’s a bit of a nightmare at shows as you have either spend ages tuning between songs and risk breaking strings, or have to bring loads of guitars with you!

What has been the most innovative recording/performing practice that you have had to create during the pandemic?

Honestly – performing into a phone doing live-streamed sessions is the biggest development for me in performing! Who knew how effective it could be in getting your music across. How a small screen and reduced audio quality actually doesn’t matter to people when they are missing seeing live shows and seeing the artists they love performing. 

What do you most look forward to, both as a band and as individuals, when lockdown is all over? Has the pandemic changed your attitude to gigs and touring, or are you simply as desperate as we are to return to live music asap? 

I can’t wait to hug people! This period of lockdown has made me miss performing so much and also made me miss being in an audience more than ever. The sense of communion between the crowd and performer you get at a gig is something that I never thought I’d be away from for so long.

I do wonder if live streamed gigs might change things for artists and audiences in the way that we’ve seen artists create performances that wouldn’t otherwise be possible in a live setting (it’s an innovative format and can obviously be more than just someone performing into their phone) and also from a business perspective, artists could reach a global audience in one show, rather than doing a whole tour. But then this could spell the end of gigs – so maybe not so positive!! 

The Staves recently announced a run of live shows for this Autumn, in support of their glorious new album Good Woman.

The tour kicks off in Swansea on 23rd September 2021, taking in Cambridge, Folkestone, Oxford, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, Leeds, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester, Brighton, London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 11th October and finishes up in Bristol on the 12th October.

Previously announced dates at Hackney Church and Clapham Grand (6th and 23rd April respectively) have been postponed – rescheduled dates to follow soon….

23rd September – Swansea, Brangwyn Hall
24th September – Cambridge, Junction
25th September – Folkestone, Quarterhouse
26th September – Oxford, O2 Academy
28th September – Birmingham, Institute
29th September – Liverpool, Grand Central Hall
30th September – Glasgow, TV Studio
2nd October – Leeds, Stylus
3rd October – Edinburgh, Queen’s Hall
5th October – Newcastle, Wylam Brewery
6th October – Nottingham, Rock City
7th October – Manchester, Albert Hall
9th October – Brighton, St George’s Church
11th October – London, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
12th October – Bristol, O2 Academy