For the British trio of sisters known as The Staves, becoming musicians wasn't something that was planned. Emily, Jessica and Camilla Stavely-Taylor all grew up in a musical home with their parents singing around the house, either with Beatles or Bob Dylan records, or occasionally playing guitar or piano. As such, falling in and singing the harmonies is something that came naturally for the sisters.
As middle sister Jessica Stavely-Taylor shared, "It was really just a hobby, we never thought of singing as a career. Well, maybe we dreamed about it a little."
In fact, all three sisters went off to college to get their degrees, but as Jessica explained "As time went on, we always came back together to play gigs, and it got to the point where we had enough gigs we had to make a decision, so about three years ago, we decided to make a go of it."
Whether by fate, luck, or happenstance, the stars have continued to fall into alignment for the young ladies, who by now had transformed from the Stavely-Taylors after a friend listed them at a local mic night simply as The Staves and the name stuck. After recording and releasing the independent EP, Facing West, in 2010, the trio started gaining more recognition in the UK, as well as the attention of Atlantic Records. The band's trajectory changed, however, when a few homeland shows turned into something more.
According to Jessica, "We were asked to open a couple of shows in the UK for The Civil Wars. At the time, we didn't know them and they didn't know us, but we agreed. Things just worked out and they were really cool. Afterwards, they pretty much said to us straight away, 'We'd like to have you open for us in the U.S.' That was kind of a curve for us, as we didn't plan on coming to America so soon, but it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up.
"That's the magic of this job," she stated. "Things just happen that change the way everything goes."
That tour with The Civil Wars in January and February of 2012 put the group in front of a whole new audience. Reviews from other cities coincided with what happened in Tulsa, when the tour stopped at Cain's Ballroom on January 18. Although the audience entered the show looking forward to the headliner and asking "Who are The Staves?" by the time the evening ended, the vast majority were impressed and found themselves asking "Who were those girls again?"
In reality, The Staves' elegant three-part harmonies and folk inflections that channeled everyone from Joni Mitchell to The Byrds to early Eagles played the perfect counterpoint to the mesmerizing, gothic folk of The Civil Wars, providing a night of songs that kept audiences spellbound.
Once the Civil Wars tour wrapped, the girls hit the road again on the "Boston to Austin" tour in March with Ben Howard, starting the in Northeast and working their way to SXSW, where the trio won over more fans, created a groundswell of interest, and won over the critics as well.
Looking back at that tour, Jessica laughed about the experience, describing it as a tour with "British bands in a VW van who are all friends. It was a great time. Basically, if you can picture it, it was a bunch of Brits running around the U.S. for the first time, totally excited about the experience."
Somewhere in that whirlwind of a spring season, however, the stars continued to align. Not only did Atlantic Records follow up the December release of the Mexico EP with another three-song disc, The Motherload EP in April, but another high profile tour was taking shape.
In explaining how it came together, Jessica admitted there wasn't much backstory except, "someone got our music to Justin Vernon and he liked it," and The Staves ended up opening a run of shows for Bon Iver, again crossing through Tulsa for a show at Brady Theater last June. This time, the trio was on a larger stage and still captivated the room with tremendously tight vocal harmonies and an easy rapport with the audience that made even those in the back of the hall feel like part of a close conversation.
The set list not only included tracks from the EPs like "Wisely & Slow" and "Mexico," but also previewed tracks that were yet to be released, like "Tongue Beneath My Teeth." The steady touring and slow build were all working to create momentum for the band's full length debut, Dead & Born & Grown, which wouldn't be released until November.
Once that album came out, it proved to be more than worth the wait. It also proved to be another alignment of the stars as it was co-produced by Glyn and Ethan Johns. As a father and son, the two each have impressive resumes in their own rights, but they had never worked together on a project in this capacity.
When asked how it all came together, Jessica mentioned Ethan Johns' resume, which has on it names like Ryan Adams, Jayhawks, Kaiser Chiefs, Kings of Leon and Ray Montagne, to name just a few.
"We are all big fans of Ethan and all of the records he's worked on, but we got to work with him when he was working on a Tom Jones record (Praise & Blame, in 2010), and someone suggested us to do background vocals," she said. "We gave him a CD with some early demos and he said he liked them, which was very, very exciting for us. Then, completely separately, his dad was in the audience at one of our shows and came to speak with us after. He didn't know we had also met his son, so it was a total coincidence that we met them separately, but they both got us straight away. It was very surreal, them even giving us the time of day -- and surreal to work with in the studio."
As a point of reference, Glyn Johns has worked with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Band, The Eagles and Led Zeppelin, amongst others and was an early engineer on The Beatles' Get Back sessions, which later became Let It Be under Phil Spector's direction.
"I believe Ethan had done some recording sessions in the past that his father had helped with, but they haven't worked together as co-producers before," Jessica shared. "So this whole thing has really been just a whole bunch of first times for us."
Now that the album is out, the trio is up for another first time as it launches its first headlining tour of the U.S. The tour, which kicked off in Philadelphia on May 15, crosses the U.S. through the end of June and brings the group back to Cain's Ballroom Wednesday, June 5.
While this tour will place the band in some new venues, Jessica said she enjoys the smaller rooms.
"But it makes me a little nervous. We've actually played some of these rooms on the Boston to Austin tour, though, so I feel like I kind of know what to expect," she said.
When reflecting on the band's visit to Cain's Ballroom with Civil Wars last January, Jessica did share one vivid memory.
"Taylor Hanson came to the show last time and I remember he bought everyone this amazing barbeque," she said. "We were all maybe fans before, but after that we were all like 'Ahhh! It's Hanson!' I'm kind of hoping he'll come and buy us all amazing barbeque again," she added with a sly laugh. Do you hear that, guys? If you're in town, your presence is requested -- BBQ optional.
My guess is the stars will continue to align. Barbeque or not, however, Tulsa is on for another night of amazing three-part harmonies and some of the best vocal pop you've heard in years.
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