From jamming in kitchens to supporting Bon Iver, UK sister folk trio The Staves are winning over audiences with their home-grown harmonies. With the release of their debut album, we suspect they’re keeping the ugly, tone-deaf fourth sister in the attic…
Yes, they really are sisters. The Stavely-Taylor sisters – Emily, 29, Jess, 25 and Milly, 23 – deal in the sort of close harmony perfection that only comes from sharing genes, secrets and boring childhood car journeys. They also have lovely long hair, though they’d need to grow another 10 metres of it to rival singing Victorian sideshow sensation The Seven Sutherland Sisters. ‘Our voices just knitted, right from the beginning, and weirdly they tend to fall in order of age,’ says Jess. ‘There’s something about how everything slots into place,’ adds Milly. ‘It does feel magical.’
They have a solid schooling in ’60s and ’70s pop. Their first set, for a covers gig at their Watford local pub when Milly was just 14, included Neil Young, The Beatles, Stephen Stills, Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell: all from their parents’ collection. ‘When we say there was always music on in the house, people think: “Here we go… Singing lessons, pushy stage parents, do it again better!”’ laughs Milly. ‘But we just sung along to records while we were washing up.’
They inspired Glyn and Ethan Johns to collaborate. The legendary father/son producers were independently intrigued by the sisters – whose bright, soft snowfall of a debut album, Dead & Born & Grown, is the only record on which they’ve ever collaborated. ‘I’d grown up listening to Ethan’s stuff – Ryan Adams, early Kings Of Leon, later Laura Marling,’ says Milly. ‘And Glyn just seemed like this far-off deity: Led Zeppelin, The Who, the Stones. I wondered if there might be raging arguments in the studio. But both record live, which suited us brilliantly.’
Butter wouldn’t melt. ‘When I say I’m in a band with my sisters, people go, “Aaaaw!” as if it’s so wholesome,’ says Milly. But there’s a 21st-century glint in the eye of their folksy lyrics, which take inspiration from the ‘dark, intricate beauty’ of Russian Ivan Bilibin’s fairytale illustrations.
They’re no Nolans. What would it take for a Stavely-Taylor to do an Anne Nolan and disown her sisters? ‘Embezzlement and stealing each other’s boyfriends,’ decides Emily. ‘But we’d never do that.’ We agree to check back in 20 years. Interview: Bella Todd. Dead & Born & Grown is out now.