The life of a touring musician is one such existence that has been prophesied and romanticized in every which way, but the one prevailing commonality amongst touring musicians remains the mode in which a transient life can impact one's purview on music and life as a whole. Touring can perturb and intimidate, but for others like English sister trio, The Staves, a life of transience marked by fleeting moments while in constant motion can be irresistible. Having spent the better part of two years on support of their 2015 full-length If I Was and their most recent EP release, Sleeping In A Car, it would be fair to assume that the road has come to mold The Staves' approach to their acoustic folk music immeasurably, along with producing lifelong creative partnerships with the likes of Justin Vernon.
Transverso spoke with the eldest of the three, Emily Staveley-Taylor, to find out more about their view of life on the road and its impact on their career to date.
TRANSVERSO: You’re pretty close to the end of your tour. How have things been playing out thus far?
Its been so much fun. It's been like really, really great. We’ve just been so amazed by the people that have come to see us, and it's just been a riot – I’d forgotten how much fun it is touring in the States. So fun.
You've been touring in support of If I Was for the better part of a year and a half now, is that correct?
Yes, I guess so. A year and half, I believe.
And it looks like the touring has been pretty extensive – has the reception for the record been what you anticipated, or did you have any expectation at all?
No, I don’t think we had any expectations. I mean, you never know, really. For us, it's always about just kind of playing new music, and we just love it. And we love traveling around, and we’ve just been really lucky that people have been into it. That’s really a great bonus.
How has the transient lifestyle lent itself to an EP like Sleeping In A Car?
I think the more you do it, the more you realize what sort of a strange life choice it is. Yeah, I guess our songs have sort of started to reflect our lives when you are kind of displaced, I suppose; when you’re far away from your friends and your family and your grounding, your home where you’re kind of familiar. So yeah, things kind of become stranger and slightly more surreal, and slightly harder to retain a sense of normality. So I guess that’s what we’ve been exploring in certainly this last EP and probably parts of the last album as well. So it feels kind of quite fitting to play those songs on the road.
So did you spend a lot of time writing Sleeping In A Car on the road as well?
No, we don’t really write on the road; generally there’s never really any time. So we try and write when we have breaks from touring.
How long of a break did you have to write the EP? Was it all in one moment, or was it split up?
The title track was actually demoed almost a year before. It's really kind of a different process for each of the songs – some of the songs have been kicking around for a long time, and sometimes a song comes to fruition in the space of a few days. And this EP was a little bit of all of those things, so yeah. The recording and coming together of all three tracks was really done in a week.
I read that you recorded the EP in both London and Eau Claire – at Urchin Studios and April Base respectively – how does that happen? Does that effect the recording process at all?
Well, we recorded 90% of the EP at April Base Studios and then it was time for us to come home – our flight was booked – but we hadn’t quite finished it yet and Matt [Ingram] has a great studio in London [Urchin], and we were able to book in a couple of days there, so we went in and just finished it. It was stuff like all we needed to do was change the drums on the second verse of this that and the other, add a harmony line to this thing. So it was really kind of the finishing touches, but we had all the basic from April Base; it was kind of just finishing the decorating.
Sleeping In A Car's transient lifestyle “tone” – being an “outlaw,” stolen phone in the night, etc. – almost feels like you’re creating a “runaway” mentality. Is that a fair way to interpret it?
Yeah, I guess so. I think it feels like that sometimes – you’re living outside of any rules of normality that [it] seems like most other people live by. Its kind of disorienting, but also really liberating, and even kind of exciting. Yeah, it's kind of all of those things at the same time, and its kind of a bit dangerous if you don’t try really hard, you can lose your head. It also makes you feel really alive. Its great. Sometimes you do certainly feel like you are kind of an outlaw, just operating on the periphery.
So in a way, does the EP act as a coping mechanism for extended periods of time spent on the road?
I think that music is a coping mechanism for life, really, genuinely. I think it’s a place where you get to explore what you’re thinking and feeling about what’s been going on in your life. It’s a place where you get to try and make sense of it, or try to understand it better. Its almost like a form of therapy – putting it into a piece of art, to study it in a way – to kind of take yourself away from it for a bit, and you can see it more clearly. I think that we’ve been finding that more and more, as we’ve been writing more and more. We really, really felt it with the last album, and I think it continued with the EP with that vibe. Sometimes its only when you finish making the music that you actually realize what has been going on for you, like "Oh yeah, its there. I finally see it.” Its like this mirror that I finally see clearly through – that’s how we feel about it anyway.
Has your time spent on the road had any sort of impact on your approach to performing the songs live as well?
I guess so. I think really – in all honesty – money has a large impact on all of that stuff. If you’re playing some kind of show and they have a big budget then you can do something really kind of outrageous and have extra players with you, and you can try all the stage, and all sorts of lights and everything. It can be a wonderful thing to do. We actually did that recently in London - it was great – we had three brass players, two string players, and there were loads of us, and it was great fun, but when you don’t have much money, you kind of have to do more yourself. At first that’s frustrating, but actually, it's been really, really fun. We’ve been playing instruments that we’ve never played before – Camilla’s playing bass, I’m playing a lot with synths, Jess has got a keyboard – it's just a different set up now for us, and I think its really breathed some new life into a lot of older songs, certainly. We’re just really enjoying feeling more like a band than we ever had done, rather than us just singing together. Its really exciting, its really fun being on the road with this set-up.
Now that things are winding down on the tour do your live sets feel more nebulous or are things becoming more and more familiar?
Well, not really; the tour is coming to an end, but we have festivals in the States right through to the end of August – some of them we’re writing special pieces for, so there’s lots of writing, rehearsing, and traveling around for that. And then we’re kind of staying out in the States until Christmas time – we don’t know where we’re going to living, or what we’re going to be doing - we just kind of decided to hang out on this side of the pond for a while. So we feel kind of ungrounded and unsure of what the future holds. [Laughs]
I would imagine that’s the beauty of the situation that you’re in.
Yeah, it is. And its also one of the great things about being in this situation with my sisters – that there’s always a large piece of home with me wherever I go – so that really helps.
Does that help out in maintaining your proverbial “sanity” while touring so extensively? You all seem to be pretty clever, and I would imagine that humor plays a nice role in easing the strain of touring.
I think that’s true. I think that humor plays a great role in everything, for everyone, and we’d go mad without it.
Most people are pretty familiar with The Staves’ association to Justin Vernon, but I saw that you guys played Sydney Opera House in a sort of “in-the-round” set-up. What was that like?
Oh, it was really exciting. I mean Justin and everyone in that band and crew just have a very, very exciting way of thinking about music and about art and about performance and its really an inspiration to just be around it. And to tailor a show to a building like Sydney Opera house, where it really plays to the room was wonderful to watch that kind of evolve. Its just great fun to be a part of – we love the music – its really interesting for us to sing in that band, because we get to use our voices kind of more as instruments – we’ve kind of been singing the horn parts or the string section – it's kind of a way that we’re not used to. I kind of think that’s informing some of the stuff that we’re writing right now, it gives a lot to think about in terms what we do vocally. It's great. [Laughs] I mean, who gets to go and perform at Sydney Opera House? It's wild.
It seemed like it would be phenomenal. On that same note, I saw you at Eaux Claires last summer, so I wanted to get your take on what it was like for you, to be an artist performing at such a unique festival.
Oh no way! Well I think that one of the amazing things about that festival was that the artists really had a similar experience to the viewers and everyone just got really excited, and felt really lucky to be there. All the artists were watching the other artists, everyone was just hanging out, and everyone was just excited to be a part of it, and everyone really was a part of it. It was successful because the vibe that all the people brought to it. We’re really excited to be playing it [again] this year. We’re actually doing a special piece with yMusic. Do you know them? It’s a sextet of chamber music.
Right! Rob Moose is a part of yMusic, right?
That’s right, yeah. All of those guys! So we’re going to be writing something together just especially for the festival. Its just a joy. The people that were there, the people that went to the festival were there to really enjoy the music. A lot of other festivals have become corporate, or commercial, or become more about getting wasted in a field, and taking Instagram photos, where Eaux Claires was just about the music. It was so refreshing, and so magical, and its kind of why I love the Midwest so much. [Laughs]