Entertainment & Arts

The Staves: the Watford sisters making sweet music

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Media captionThe Staves perform their album track Facing West at an event marking music download service Deezer's first birthday

Watford three-piece The Staves have been silencing live audiences with their angelic harmonies ahead of the release of their debut album.

There is a scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou, the Coen Brothers' 2000 film based loosely on Homer's Odyssey, when George Clooney's Ulysses Everett McGill and his cronies Pete and Delmar are halted in their tracks by the haunting sounds of a trio of women, singing in harmony as they wash their clothing in the creek.

The sirens, singing an old bluegrass song Nobody But The Baby, are voiced by country singers Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch.

Their exquisite acapella harmonising is a high benchmark to set but one that is being matched and, arguably, surpassed by Watford sisters, Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor, better known by their bandname The Staves.

"That's a huge compliment because they are very cool," says middle sister Jessica. "But we don't want to lure anyone on to the rocks."

A reluctance to lure wayward seamen to their doom aside, the clarity of the group harmonies is getting some seriously positive reviews for a band who have yet to release their debut album.

In the tradition of sibling bands like The Bee Gees, it is a musical honing which comes through years performing from a young age.

Emily, the eldest in the band, says: "We've always sung together, not in a sit down and learn a song together sort of way, it was just singing along to whatever was on."

"I think the harmonising came from a young age because our parents would harmonise together around the house," says Jessica.

"It sunk in because its not the most natural thing for some people to do but it wasn't really something that we had to learn how to do."

Sharing a love of old country and folk music, the band cite Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Crosby, Stills and Nash as the benchmark by which they judge their own vocals.

Image caption The Staves are sisters (l-r) Emily, Camilla and Jessica Staveley-Taylor

"I suppose in terms of three-part harmony, their blend is just amazing and it was always something that we listened to and looked up to," says Camilla.

It seems like an odd compliment but The Staves have been noted for their ability to silence live audiences.

Luckily, the silences are the stunned-in-awe kind, rather than the hideously embarrassed kind.

They have already tasted playing in front of huge audiences, supporting folk band Bon Iver on their US and European tour but say the small intimate gigs are the real challenge.

Particularly when it's so quiet they can hear a pin drop. On to a carpet. In the next room.

"You can always hear people in the front row going, 'Oh I think she's the oldest... nah, I think she is...'" says Emily.

"In a way that's the nice thing about playing in bigger places because you're further away," agrees Camilla. "It's amazing how many people in the audience who think that they can't be heard or seen.

"You're like, 'Stop pointing at me and laughing'."

Emily continues: "I saw a guy right at the back of the Sugar Club in Dublin once when it was really quiet and there was the poor guy behind the bar trying to make a cocktail (... mimes shaking a mixer really slowly) and he was going, 'I'm sorry... I'm so sorry'."

'Ghost town'

"You can feel very exposed," adds Jessica, "Anything, like your shoe creaking on the floor in the middle of a song, people can hear it and it's weird but I think there's a shared experience because the audience are in the same boat."

The band have spent much of 2012 on the road and, as such, have a list of their touring necessities. "Tea," says Camilla firmly. "Especially in America where they just don't get it.

"We've only really just got to the stage where we are asking for stuff on the rider. It used to be that we got what we'd been given, like beer. Now we normally ask for whisky, salted popcorn and bananas."

The video for the band's latest single, Tongue Behind My Teeth sees the girls as armed vigilantes in the old Wild West.

"That's normally what we do in Watford," insists Camilla. "Riding around on horseback, rifle in hand, samurai sword. It's just a day in the life of a west Watford homegirl."

The video was shot in Spain, "where they filmed a lot of these old western movies", according to Jessica. "The sets they made at the time have just stayed there untouched. It's incredible and quite eerie because it is literally a ghost town."

"Not literally," Emily deadpans.

The debut album, Dead & Born & Grown, is set for release on 12 November and has been produced by another family - father and son Glyn and Ethan Johns.

Ethan Johns is known for his work with the likes of Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams and was named best British producer at this year's Brits, while father Glyn, 70, is an industry legend who produced - in amongst a long list - The Eagles' debut album, and several of The Who's albums.

Emily says: "We were talking about music and Jess started something like, 'You know, Neil Young...' and Glyn said, 'Yes, I do know Neil', and we were like, 'Of course you bloody do'.

"They're very respectful of each other, i think they're quite in awe of each other, it's quite touching to see, they're nicer to each other than we are."

The Staves also have a bit of an affiliation with the fledging UK label Communion Records, home to the likes of Ben Howard and Michael Kiwanuka, and run by Ben Lovett of British folksters Mumford and Sons who have been cutting a swathe through the lucrative US market and reigniting American passion for British singer-songwriters.

It is an affiliation which will surely do The Staves no harm in the States.

"We've been lucky enough to tour with them a bit, people leave their egos and business-minds aside and we just play." says Emily.

"We've just stumbled into it," says Jessica. "Being from Watford, although it's close, it's still set apart from London.

"But they're all lovely, I think it's slightly different than indie or rock in that people are looking to collaborate and play music together."

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