More about: The Staves
When you press play on The Staves’ new record, you’re greeted by a singular message: “I’m a good woman”. This lyric, like the track, gradually builds in strength and power, the group’s iconic harmonies rise around the phrase before it becomes less of a chorus and more of a mantra. It’s the first powerful moment on an album full of them.
There’s a huge amount of strength behind the track, inspired by a time in which Camilla Staveley-Taylor herself was discovering what it meant to be a ‘good’ woman: “I was in a particular relationship which was making me think a lot about what people tell you should be as a woman," she says. "Whether it's a partner or society in general, I think people expect a lot of you. There are a lot of conflicting messages that are put out into the world about what you should be: virtuous but not too virtuous, sexy but not a whore, fragile and also strong, and put up with people..."
"I was in a position where I was questioning myself a lot," she continues, "being treated unfairly, but being made to think that it was my fault and that my role as a woman was to carry my own stuff and my partner's stuff, and not complain about it. So I was exploring what it means to be a good woman - because I didn't even know what I thought anymore. It feels like I'm getting so much chatter from society and within the relationship and I felt like by the time it got to the end I found my defiance and found the answer, which is 'fuck you, I am a good woman. That doesn't mean I'm perfect, but you shouldn't tell me otherwise'”.
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It’s been over six years since The Staves released their critically-acclaimed sophomore album If I Was. Since then, they've been self-producing a series of singles and EPs, alongside 2017’s collaborative album The Way Is Read with yMusic. They've also been hard at work on follow-up Good Woman, which is finally out on 5 February via Atlantic Records.
“We were experimenting on all those recordings with new sounds that we were interested in and pushing the envelope a little bit with our normal set-up," Jessica explains, "that was the mission statement with the record from the beginning really...the idea was to be bold. And so we thought if we had an idea, let's really run with it, and push it even if it's too far rather than be tentative or afraid".
In 2018 however, the devastating and unexpected loss of the sisters’ mother saw the group take a break, and for a period of time, it looked like there might not be another album on the way at all. As Jessica details: “we ended up taking some time out, which ended up being about a year before we finished the record. During that time a lot happened and most importantly we lost our mum, which was a huge life-changing event for all three of us to go through. I think taking a year out was necessary, but when you take your foot off the pedal, you lose momentum and it can be so hard to get back into it."
She continues: "I think that's something that probably a lot of people are feeling now since this last year has stopped a lot of people from doing what they'd normally be doing. During that time we had various crises of confidence, of wondering if what we'd been doing on our own was actually any good. Emily became pregnant during that time, which was incredibly exciting for all of us. But at the same time, it questions the future of the band. Was she going to leave? Was she just going to be a stay-at-home mum? At one point, we thought maybe we just wouldn't finish the record. And the future was going to look really different for us as a band”.
At this point, having taken the time to fall back in love with the thought of recording in the studio together again, acclaimed producer John Congleton (Moses Sumney, Sharon Van Etten, Phoebe Bridgers) came along. “He was a real comfort and a reassurance to us. He was just saying ‘you guys are on the right track, the stuff you've done on your own sounds great. I'm really into it. I think you've got something to say, and I want to help you say it, let's do it’. And I remember he said 'I work really quickly, which freaks some people out’. He was definitely not kidding! But actually, it was the perfect thing that we needed, because we'd taken so long over this record that it had become a slightly agonising process for us. We just needed a totally fresh perspective”.
Before even listening to the record, track titles such as ‘Paralysed’, ‘Failure’ and ‘Trying’ jump out: it would have been no surprise at all if the challenging last few years had been the sole influence on the record. But after listening to the songs, you don’t get a feeling of misery and failure. Rather, you’re overwhelmed with a sense of defiance. “I think there’s definitely a lot of elements of defiance, that really was something that we were trying to do," Camilla agrees. “In essence, when there's difficult things or difficult feelings, difficult events or difficult people in your life, taking ownership of that is an act of defiance."
Jessica details this further: “we're older now. We've been through a lot. Life's too short to fuck about and not say how you feel, so I think with the lyrics on the album, the approach was just to be honest. As Milly said, 'what's the worst that can happen if I speak my truth in one of my songs?’ Man, I think that's exactly what we're supposed to be doing as artists, and maybe that was a lesson for us, where previously we perhaps hid ourselves a little more in the music and had been slightly afraid to be too open about things...But not anymore!”.
That openness can be heard in tracks such as ‘Careful, Kid’ with brilliantly sharp lines "I’m coming back round, from a five-year rebound" and "it harms me too, another casualty of you". Jessica is equally impressed by her sister's lyrics: “when she was writing, and she was just singing over the riff… everything she was singing, I was like ‘Yes, yes! Keep going, keep going. This is great, this is all making sense!’".
Camilla admits to a bit of trepidation when writing 'Careful, Kid' though: “I think there's a fair bit of anger in that song, but when I was first writing it I was like ‘shit am I being too catty, does it just sound a bit bitchy and like scorned?’ And then I thought, 'well, I am bitchy and scorned!' It's something that needs to be purged a little bit”. The track is also a great example of the experimentation and pushing of the envelope the group were talking about: opening with what at first glance sounds like an electric guitar, but is in fact Camilla’s vocals fed through a distortion pedal and a distorted amp with a heavy gate. A far cry from what fans might have expected from the group, but no less thrilling.
Whilst a deeply personal and powerful record, there are still moments of joy on Good Woman. “Yeah here and there, if you look” the pair say, laughing at our bleak observation. One such track is the wondrous ‘Best Friend’ with its luscious harmonies: a trademark of The Staves sound, these in particular, are bound to be stuck firmly in your head for days. “That is a moment of joy, that song. I mean, it's all looking back to my teenage years and the excitement that you have when you're that age. Everything you're experiencing for the first time. There's so much drama, everything's so heightened. I suppose you're standing on the precipice of your future - your adulthood - and everything at that point is just potential that hasn't been realised yet. There's this excitement and nostalgia when you are growing up. For me, it was about my best mates growing up in our hometown. It was really nice to have that kind of dedication in there to something that is all just excitement and joy”.
Alongside a new album, the group have let fans into their world through the medium of a podcast: the delightful ‘Dial-a-Stave’ gives listeners access into the lockdown lives of the sisters, with recordings of what became regular three-way phone calls for the trio. “The ever-changing restrictions of the UK’s lockdown meant that for the first few months at least, we were completely unable to see each other. So it was the only way we had to keep in touch. We found ourselves doing these regular three-way phone calls...then we just thought we'd always wanted to do a podcast and well, now's as good a time as any!"
"I don't know if people who don't know us will enjoy it" Jessica laughs.
The last time we saw Jessica and Camilla, they were performing a sold-out intimate show for fans at the Dome in London’s Tufnell Park on 4 March 2020. It was in preparation for their long-awaited third album Good Woman, and during a period of time in which they were adjusting to performing as a duo (fellow Staveley-Taylor sister Emily had taken some time out of the group after becoming a mum early last year and isn’t present for this chat). “Loads of people have said to us that was the last show they went to before lockdown happened” Jessica notes.
Considering the exceptional circumstances, what was it like to gear up for a highly-anticipated return? "Really fucking shit," Camilla admits, "we had so much fun on that tour, and it was like getting cracking again after having been out of action for quite a while in terms of touring. We just got our new band together, we’re trying out some new songs, so it really felt so frustrating to feel like we've just woken up again and then the world stopped. We're all still chomping at the bit a little bit to just be able to play any kind of music to any kind of people."
A live return of sorts isn’t too far away for the group: to coincide with the release of the album at the beginning of February, The Staves will perform a livestream show for fans, and from the sounds of it, you're in for a treat. “We've got four members of the band joining the three of us, and we're playing songs from the new record - which sound great with the band playing on them!" Jessica explains. "It's so exciting for us to be able to work in new material to the show and it sounds big...really big."
The sisters will also be bringing fans further into the experience with a post-show Q&A: “I think there's this fourth wall that is normally there that has to be broken” Jessica says whilst also noting the Q&A will coincide with the end of her Dry January. “We're definitely gonna get some champagne and celebrate and have a fucking laugh, because that's what everyone needs at the moment”.
Good Woman arrives 5 February via Atlantic Records. The band will play a ticketed live stream performance from London’s Lafayette on the same date. Buy tickets here - https://www.thestaves.com/tour
More about: The Staves