Listen to the harmonies on The Staves’s debut album Dead & Born & Grown and a clear image springs to mind.
Surely these folky-sounding sisters must hail from the American Appalachian mountains, raised on a diet of bluegrass and hoedowns?
But sisters Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor are actually from Hertfordshire. Watford to be precise. Anc certainly not Alabama or Mississippi.
And to judge them solely on the strength of their harmonies would be to miss a much wider picture. They’re used to a few misconceptions, though.
‘People see our double-barrelled surname and write things like “These privately educated sisters”,’ says the youngest Stave, 23-year-old Camilla.
‘Or they make allusions to us growing up with loaded parents or being really posh. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not true. I think, “Yeah, nice research, mate”.’
Eldest sister Emily, 30, adds: ‘There’s a weird inverse snobbery about coming from the school of hard knocks.’
Jessica, 26, state school-educated like her sisters, says: ‘And we get called “prim and proper” because our harmonies are sweet-sounding. That’s not really the case’
She’s right - it isn’t.
Shrinking violets they’re not, as becomes apparent when spending time with them.
They enjoy a drink (whisky particularly), swear like drunken sailors and excel in sarcasm. All in all, they’re brilliant company.
Their language has already landed them in a little hot water with some fans, however. Their song Pay Us No Mind contains the f-word and in context – a bitter shrugging off of a former lover with a hugely sarcastic ‘what would I know, I’m only a woman’ overtone – it makes complete sense.
But with the song sounding as pretty as it does, The Staves were asked after a show in the US why they felt the need to ‘drop the f-bomb’.
Emily says: ‘We have fans who listen to the lyrics, as I always do when I’m listening to music. And I think we take a lot of time and care over what we want to say in songs.
‘On the other hand, I think people do mistake the prettiness for a lack of sentiment, and subsequently don’t hear what we’re singing about.
‘A few people said, “We can’t believe you’d say that word”, and that it really jarred, but if they’d actually listened they’d hear far worse, nastier things being said, just without swearing. People take what they want from a song, and if someone thinks it’s just pretty, then fair enough.
‘They’re obviously shallow, but fair enough,’ she ends, half joking, before all three sisters burst into laughter.
They’re about to embark on their biggest headline UK tour, setting them up nicely for a busy summer of festivals.
Having toured all over the UK and the US with alt-folk royalty including Bon Iver, The Civil Wars, Michael Kiwanuka and Mumford & Sons, they’re more than used to life on the road.
‘We obviously know each other quite well,’ says Camilla, gesturing to her sisters. ‘So whenever we’re on tour we force the bands to hang out with us, we’re always looking for new sources of entertainment.’
Don’t expect to hear about the touring life on their next record, though. They have been writing their second album and hope to break the back of the follow-up to Dead & Born & Grown during the planned gap in their schedule in the autumn.
‘We haven’t perfected writing on the road,’ says Camilla, or Millie to her sisters.
‘I don’t know how people do it. I think we toured so much last year, which was brilliant, but we felt really knackered at the end of the year when we wanted to start writing.
‘This year we’ve made a decision to block out some time so we can go home and get it done.’
Emily adds: ‘When you actually get time to write you think, “What can I write about? What has the last 18 months been about?” No wonder there have been so many songs about it [touring], hotels and motorways and all of that, because it is your life.
‘You just have to be really good to do it. So we’ll avoid it,’ she says before, once again, the trio erupt with laughter.
‘We found an old set-list recently and realised we don’t actually play any of those songs any more, which made me think about how much better we’ve become,’ adds Jessica.
She studied at the Paul McCartney-founded Liverpool Institute Of Performing Arts (LIPA) and even got a one-to-one session with the former Beatle after being especially selected to play with him. Mexico, the song she performed for him that day, was the band’s debut single.
She also appeared in Grange Hill.
While in Liverpool, Jessica would perform in bars around the city, joined whenever possible by her sisters. When they began to gain momentum, Jess had graduated, Camilla was considering going to uni to study art and Emily, who studied acting in Manchester (‘hugely useful, worth every penny,’ she says mockingly) was working in a call centre.
‘I hated it,’ she says. ‘No disrespect to anyone who does that, but it nearly destroyed me. I had to quit because we’d been booked to play Glastonbury and my boss wouldn’t let me have the time off.’
The trio, by this time all living in Watford again for the first time in several years, decided they’d ‘give the band a year’ just to see how it went.
‘We wanted to know if we could live off music, really,’ says Camilla. ‘Selling a bit of “merch” and records on the stall after a gig and things. It was better than doing another job.
‘We didn’t have big, ruthless ambition, we still don’t. We just wanted to tour.’