Their voices are authentic, their lyrics are soulful and their harmonies are beautiful. Totally at ease, the three graces walk out on to the stage lit with pink and purple hue. The Staves, originally the Staveley Taylors, are a trio of sisters from Watford. The familial connection between Jessica, Emily and Camilla gives The Institute an atmosphere of sincerity and warmth. After touring America for three years the girls themselves admit that they are a little tired, captured by the songs ‘America’ and ‘Tired as Hell’ featuring lyrics such as ‘I’m tired as hell…I’ll be coming home tomorrow…’ (We all know that feeling before reading week). Well, we’re more than happy to welcome them home for a seemingly much needed cuppa.
The first songs, ‘Hopeless’ and ‘Steady’ featured introspective lyrics and haunting harmonies. “God I’m only human and I’m helpless.” Something that initially drew me to The Staves was their authenticity, reflected by lines such as these but also by their methods in producing the music. Within ‘Steady,’ Jessica used her necklace as one of the instruments on the record. Once they picked up her natural tapping, they included it on the track.
It appears that the girls don’t think twice about doing relatively unconventional things like this and it’s liberating to see musicians experiment in such a way. This attitude came across in their stage presence. Emily took to the synthesizer, allowing the girls to let out a new sound. Could a short (snowy) stint in Wisconsin with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon have something to do with a more electronic addition to their folky roots? Featuring on two of the newest albums tracks, ‘Make it Holy’ and ‘Blood I Bled,’ Justin’s influence (whom the girls compared to Gandalf) has been intelligently imprinted on their newest tracks. Personally I think this can be seen most clearly within ‘Horizons,’ which echoes parts of Bon Iver’s ‘Holocene.’ The evolution of the girl’s music was clear on stage when they mixed up a version of their classic ‘Mexico.’ This, alongside ‘White Winter Trees’ experienced a rebirth as more upbeat versions of their former selves alongside a cover of Bombay Bicycle’s ‘Feel.’
Feel was certainly something that the audience did. The girls managed to make me both smile and cry in the space of their set. Their new album, ‘If I Was,’ is about change. The songs personified the experience of a break up, embedded in the tracks ‘No Me, No You, No More’, ‘Let Me Down’ and ‘Don’t You Call Me Anymore.’ They capture the gravity of emotions and a mature self-reflexivity of the experience. In between these hard hitting songs, Jess tried to lighten the mood and comically asked: “Anyone been in love here? Well, enjoy it whilst it lasts.” The couple in front hung on to each other tightly. My friend and I smirked at each other. Yes, there is a voice of satirical cynicism here, but their voices and the true topic they were addressing was felt around the room, simultaneously capturing something both sad and beautiful.
It is this honesty that most people appreciate about the group. The girls called out in to the audience, genuinely thanking “those of you singing along. Especially to songs that aren’t on the album, like America.” Humble as ever, their harmonies filled the hall and we listened in awe. I, alongside many (including the guy in front of us whose mullet-esque hair partially blocked our view) was sad to see the sisters leave. The lyrics of their encore, ‘I got my teeth white and my jeans tight. I got my hair long and it’s still wrong’ captured the girls unapologetic and honest portrayal of themselves in an industry which perhaps seeks perfection from artists. This song was almost a (friendly) two fingers up to musical or personal expectations from the group. The sisters have evolved their folky, acoustic sound from their 2012 album ‘Dead and Born and Grown’ in to a harder more punchy sound. We’re certainly listening and taking note.