ALBUM: If I Was ARTIST: The Staves
Album release date: March 23, 2015
Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor are three sisters from Watford, Hertfordshire, England. Their career started out inconspicuously at an open-mic in a local pub, but gained momentum through various collaborations with other, bigger artists through 2010-2011. They caught attention in the U.S. after supporting the Civil Wars in 2012; and gained further foothold upon opening for Bon Iver later that same year. If I Was, released in March 2015, is their second full-length album, and was produced by Justin Vernon (frontman of Bon Iver).
Vernon, who first heard their music after a friend gave him their EP, describes the “sound of their sisterhood” as being physiological experience – something that he knew would change him drastically, upon the first listen. He was so impressed with what he heard that he urged them to come to his home studio in Wisconsin and lay down some tracks – or at least, just see what might happen if given some creative reign in a safe place away from the craziness of life on the road. The result of the sisters’ subsequent trips to Vernon’s studio is If I Was, a collection of 12 tightly produced, introspective, richly textured tracks. “It was the most liberating experience to be able to go out there – after having toured for so long a time… there was so much stuff that needed to come out. We had this time in [a] secluded place and spent it all inside just writing music,” says Emily in an interview. “Justin Vernon is our Gandalf,” Camilla adds. “He tapped on our door with his staff and we followed him into Middle Earth…We’re the hobbits.”
A Steady Accumulation
The complex simplicity of the sisters’ shared history presses through each melody, lyric, and arrangement. One gets the feeling that these sisters have read their fair share of mythological books and have experienced at least a handful of heartbreaks amongst the three of them (not surprising, as they are each refreshingly feminine and lovely in demeanor). The lyrics tiptoe around a resigned sense of frustration, a childlike need to be affirmed and held, a thirst for embraces that promise consistency over intensity, and a yearning after the simplicity of their childhood together, all whilst simultaneously desiring to assert their individuality. “I want to keep you inside me like a secret that I’ll never tell… And when all is said and done, we’ll run (it’s just futile words, for a futile song)”. The capricious heart of womankind – with its great depth of love and loyalty, as well as its confusions and disappointments – is laid bare here, in impressionistic songwriting and the brilliant hues only sister harmonies can create.
Rolling snare drums, synth pads, electric guitar swells, slightly out-of-tune pianos, and Justin Vernon’s trademark vocal atmospherics coalesce beautifully in this album, which ought to be listened to as a whole piece. Layers of emotion build like the steady accumulation of snow – always with some matter hanging in the air, never quite finished and never to be totally grasped and kept. It sounds very much like something a group of merry friends would come up with after spending weeks together in a cabin away from the world and its noisiness, aggression, and confusion: it sounds human and familial, and it is a beautiful testament to the magic of genuine sisterhood.