The Staves: 'We're always working on giving each other space'
Ahead of their gig in Belfast next month, Emily Staveley-Taylor tells Edwin Gilson about the ups and downs of life on the road in a folk band with her two sisters
The morning of my scheduled interview with The Staves, I'm told I'll be talking to Jessica Staveley-Taylor, one of the three sisters from Hertfordshire that make up the folk band. At the last minute, however, there is a reshuffle and it is instead the cheery tones of eldest sister Emily that come down the line. A fairly unremarkable change of personnel and plan that nonetheless serves to illustrate the band's chief anxiety - that, as Emily told another journalist recently, each of the sisters (also including Camilla) tends to be "lumped in as the girls, just one collective identity".
Her suggestion is that the public doesn't bother to distinguish between each person, that it doesn't matter whether Jessica or Emily carries out an interview as they're basically part of the same personality anyway. The latter is aware that this type of unfair generalisation can be common where siblings are concerned, but that hasn't made it any easier for the Staveley-Taylors in their shared personal and professional lives.
"We're sisters, we're best mates, we run a business together," says Emily, "and it can be really, really hard. Most people have got the good sense to move out of home and get away, but we've spent far too much time together. You stay in the fixed roles that you had as a child. We're working on giving each other space, not always compromising with each other. We don't all have to be the same person, we're allowed to disagree!"
This issue of familial identity is a recurring theme on The Staves' acclaimed new sophomore record, If I Was. The sisters will air the new material in Belfast on May 4 as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. "It's always a wonder and a joy to play to any Irish crowd," enthuses Emily. "Irish musicality is off the scale. Music is something in the blood over there; it's deeply rooted and I'm completely in awe."
The trio will surely relish the freedom of the road on their upcoming tour, given that they were completely secluded in the Wisconsin wilderness for much of last year, recording If I Was with Bon Iver's folk maestro Justin Vernon (who the Stavely-Taylors became "very, very good friends with after touring together).
The countryside withdrawal had its advantages, though, says Emily, both creatively and personally.
"It was very liberating to experiment and feel truly free for perhaps the first time in the band. It was very therapeutic; we needed to express the emotions from the changes we have been through."
Emily doesn't go into much further detail on these "changes", but she admits that the band have had a "tough time" of late and needed to make a positive record to get past that. "Once you've cried it all out, you've got to pick yourself up off the floor," she adds.
"You've just got to think that there's a load of good stuff in your life and you've got to move forward."
Indeed despite Emily's worries for her sisters, she is also quick to point out the joys of being in The Staves. The intimacy of songwriting, and singing each other's personal songs, makes the Staveley-Taylors realise how important they are to each other, and how important the band is to each of them.
"If Jess or Camilla is going to stand up on stage and bear her heart and soul, then I'm really proud to listen to them and join in with them," says Emily. "We're all glad to support each other."
- The Staves play at the Festival Marquee in Belfast on May 4, as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. For details, visit www.cqaf.com