Album of the Week: The Staves, 'Good Woman'

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The Staves, 'Good Woman'
The Staves, 'Good Woman' (Nonesuch Records)
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Interview: The Staves (radio edit)
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Good Woman is The Staves' best album yet, which you hear throughout twelve new tracks that move from intense ballads and sophisticated melodies, to the raw emotion the sibling trio poured into each song. The new album carries forward the best of their last album as a trio and the collaboration with yMusic in 2017. The Current's Jill Riley connected with The Staves back in December after the announcement of the new release.

Watch the complete interview in the video player above, and read a transcript of the interview below.

Interview Transcript

JILL RILEY: You're listening to The Current. I'm Jill Riley, and in the spirit of the global pandemic and the way that we're still able to connect with artists is through the technology of Zoom and doing videoconferencing, which, quite frankly, we probably would never have done had it not been for the year 2020, so I'm used to talking to musicians through the telephone or in person, but it's kind of nice to be able to connect, you know, across the pond, as they say. I'm very happy to be joined by Jess and Camilla of the Staves. How are you? How are you ladies doing?

JESSICA STAVELEY-TAYLOR: Hi!

CAMILLA STAVELEY-TAYLOR: Hey! We're all right. Yeah, we're still, you know, still alive, still here. Still in kind of a frozen state of being, which is…

JILL: We're on pause. I like to say, "We're on pause."

CAMILLA: Yeah, we're on pause. Yeah.

JESSICA: But actually, this is one of the most exciting things that we get to do, because we haven't been able to do very much at all, so we're so, so happy to be on a Zoom with you! This is great!

JILL: You're like, "Press? We get to do press? Yes!"

JESS and CAMILLA: Yes!

JILL: To see new people and to hear new voices. So, now, you're both together in London, right?

JESS and CAMILLA: Yes.

JILL: OK, so we're missing a Stave. We're missing a Stave on this call, because there are three of you.

JESSICA: Yes.

JILL: So let's talk about Emily while she's not here, because that's how it works in families. But how is Emily doing? Where is she?

JESSICA: She's really good. She lives a little further away, and so she is currently being mum to her daughter, who's just turned one.

JILL: Oh!

JESSICA: So time has flown, yeah! So she's looking after the baby, and we get to do all the fun things while she does that. (laughter)

JILL: Well, congratulations, of course, to Emily and then to you, the aunts, the very proud aunts.

CAMILLA: Very proud.

JILL: Wow, a one-year-old. I was just thinking about the last time that I saw you ladies, you were in Minneapolis, and you performed with yMusic at the Walker Art Center.

CAMILLA: Oh, yeah!

JILL: It would have been 2017, 2018.

CAMILLA: Yeah.

JILL: That was such a great collaboration, and we played "Trouble On My Mind" quite a bit here on The Current.

JILL: And then to be able to see that show of you performing together with that collaboration, but that's been a few years, and I found myself wondering, like, "I wonder what the Staves are up to? I wonder where they're living now?" Because for a while, you know, you were living here.

JESSICA: Yeah.

CAMILLA: Yeah, we were.

JESSICA: And then we fled, and we were banished, and we just disappeared. (laughter)

No, we were, and we came, I think we had just moved back to London around that show that you're talking about with yMusic. But Camilla stayed on for longer in Minneapolis, actually. And now we're all based in London again. So yeah, we had a little bit of time where we were physically not together for like a good year, I think.

CAMILLA: Yeah.

JESSICA: And that's when we started writing for the new record, while we were apart. So we would email each other song ideas and like, little recordings off our iPhones. So it was a strange time, and we're really close, and you know, as cheesy as it sounds, we're each other's best friends, and so—

CAMILLA: Barf! (laughter)

JESSICA: It was like being apart from your best friend, and you know, catching up on the phone is always great, but when someone sends you a song, it's kind of like, "Oh, so now I know actually what's going on, and how you're doing." And so it was a really nice way of keeping in touch by sending each other those ideas and little voice notes. Yeah.

JILL: And so you were able to get some ideas together for a new record and stay in touch, but you know, a few years can go by and it's pretty incredible how fast things can change, or the amount of big life events can happen within that time period. You know, you talked about your sister Emily being a mother now. And what are some of the things that really, you know, changed for you ladies, but also maybe informed the new record?

JESSICA: Well, I think, I mean, if we're talking about the last three years, which it's kind of been since we started writing new songs for this album, and the fact that we had been in America and then in London. I mean, politically, there was a lot going on at the time.

CAMILLA: Both sides.

JESSICA: In the two places.

JILL: In both, yeah, right!

CAMILLA: Yeah. Yeah.

JESSICA: We don't even need to say what, but there's been lots happening, and so, I mean, like, that's been going on.

And I think, you know, obviously, in personal lives, there's been relationships. I mean, all the kind of stuff that happens in life, and I think that a big thing that has to be mentioned is that two years ago, we lost our mum very suddenly, and it's been the biggest thing for us to — I think we still haven't really wrapped our heads around it, when something like that happens. So that's kind of, it's kind of the main thing that has happened, but in a way, the record isn't really about that, because a lot of it was written before that happened, but of course, that's such a huge part of our life, and then, not long after we lost Mum, Emily found out she was pregnant. So it was like this kind of—

CAMILLA: All these things being thrown up.

JESSICA: Amazing new life, to bring into the family, and she's had a baby girl, and so I think there's these themes of womanhood that came up, and obviously, intrinsically, the fact that we are women. But themes of motherhood and sisterhood and womanhood just felt so present, and the song, "Good Woman," Camilla had started and had sent all the demos for, just kind of kept rising to the top of album titles, and it just felt like this has to be, this has to be the one. It feels like what it is to be a good woman and all those things. It just felt like it made the most sense for us.

CAMILLA: Yeah.

JILL: So we've been playing the song, "Good Woman," on The Current, and it is the title track of the new record, which is coming out in early February, something to really look forward to, you know, in the New Year. We keep saying about "the New Year." I'm just really anticipating such great music coming out, especially after the year 2020, but you know, after people have had, you know, some time to process the pandemic, process the political environment. And also, for you ladies, to process everything that's happened to you. I just so relate to what happened, you know, with your mother. I lost my mother when I was 25, and you know, you think that you're going to kind of know how to grieve, or that there's some sort of set up process for that, but you know, it's been 13, almost 14 years now, and there are still times where you take that grief with you forward, and then they're able to stay with you. You know, they're able to stay with you and, actually, a similar thing, where my brother's first child was born shortly after my mother passed away, and it was just, you know, it was again one of those balance things where you know, you have the loss, and then there's the new life. And I think that really got our family, you know, kind of through that hard time.

JESSICA: Yeah.

CAMILLA: Yeah, it was kind of the same with us. It brought so much light, having little baby Maggie born.

JESSICA: It's that crazy thing of, like, time doesn't wait for anyone. Like, life doesn't slow down. So you have to, like you said, you have to just kind of carry it with you, and find a way to live with it, and I think it can kind of take forever to sort of figure out and understand it, and I don't think it goes away.

CAMILLA: Yeah.

JILL: No, it doesn't go away. And I guess if there is any advice I would have, it's to just give yourself patience and time. It's just giving yourself patience and the room to grieve when you need to grieve, you know, because I did not do that, and it ended up kind of "coming out sideways" at times, as they say.

CAMILLA: Yeah, yeah.

JILL: But the new song, "Good Woman," and you know, as we're talking about your sister, Emily, and we're talking about new life and also your mother, and really bringing those ideas into "Good Woman." I mean, for you, what does that mean to you? Just the phrase, "Good Woman." What does it mean to be a good woman, to both of you, Jess and Camilla?

CAMILLA: Well, I think what I was thinking when I was writing that song, it was more — it was more questioning. I was in a relationship at the time, a relationship that wasn't going terribly well, and I think that a lot of the time, when you're in a relationship, you can begin to view yourself and value yourself through the lens of the other person. You start to see yourself through their eyes, and it forces you to hold up this weird, kind of distorted mirror to yourself. And yeah, I think as women, we're given a lot of conflicting messages from the world and from other people of what you're supposed to be and what constitutes being a good person or a good woman. And I guess I was just questioning or trying to identify what I thought that was, to kind of block out all the noise of like, "Well, my partner is essentially telling me that it's this, that it's to kind of be quiet and carry the load for both of us and be a kind of rock; be sensitive, but also strong; and also attractive but not too attractive, and not intimidating and amiable," and like, all these different things that are impossible for any one person to be.

And I think that after all of it, I just came to a point of thinking that none of that, none of that matters. What matters is, what do I think a good woman is? What do I think a good person is? And thinking about that rather than thinking about what society thinks or what this other person thinks or what anyone thinks. So I guess it's just thinking about that journey and ultimately ending in a fairly defiant message, I suppose, of just like, "It doesn't matter. None of that matters. I am because I say I am."

JILL: And isn't it incredible that when you finally land on that moment, to think, "Why didn't I get here earlier? Why didn't somebody tell me? Why did I have to figure this out for myself?" But that's part of it, is really, as we grow and change and we hopefully evolve as people, that at least when you do land on that moment, that you get, I would imagine, just a real peaceful feeling out of that, and to be able to share that through a song.

CAMILLA: Definitely. Definitely. Also, it ends of kind of feeling like a call to arms for anyone else who is feeling that way. Just, "No! You're good the way you are."

JESSICA: It's "Good Woman" specifically in that when you're made to feel that way, made to question yourself—

CAMILLA: To question your worth—

JESSICA: It's nice to realize you're doing OK. You're doing a good job.

JILL: I'm talking with the Staves, Jess and Camilla. The new record, "Good Woman," is due out February 5 here in the U.S. Looking forward to the year 2021. Now, I know that you had worked on ideas and worked on songs for the record, you know, for a while. When did you actually get to go into the studio, and who did you work with?

JESSICA: Yeah, that's right. We had started demoing for a while before we kind of properly recorded the record, and we thought we were going to produce it ourselves, and that was really fun, and we were trying out loads of new things, and then we lost our mum and we just had to pause everything and just kind of go away for a bit and regroup, and not try to kill ourselves over finishing this record, which is how we felt for a minute, and we thought, you know, "Let's just disappear for a bit."

And then we took time, took the time we needed, and I think we realized at that point that it would be good to get another perspective in, and to actually have a producer and like a fresh pair of ears on a project that, at that point, I think we suddenly felt a little unsure of and, like, adrift with.

CAMILLA: I think especially when you've been sitting with something for an extended period of time, losing perspective is a real thing.

JESSICA: Yeah!

CAMILLA: "I don't know where anything is anymore! Or what's good!"

JESSICA: And suddenly, all the songs that meant a huge amount felt like they meant something different now this massive thing had happened. So we'd been in touch with the producer John Congleton for quite a while, and we were fans of his work, and so, yeah, he came to England at the end of last year, and we finished the record in London with John. And it was so great; he works really quickly, and he's really confident. He's totally unafraid to just run with an idea and take it to like a really far-out level, particularly with like, drums — I love his drum sounds on his records — and he'd make the last Sharon Van Etten record and the last St. Vincent record, and so I think he was the guy to just kind of, I guess, go a bit weirder with, and there were things that we wanted to do that we kind of hadn't done yet, and so, yeah, he got us to the finish line.

portait of record producer John Congleton
Producer John Congleton. (Jeaneen Lund)

CAMILLA: Yeah, and I think we really wanted to make a conscious decision with this album to be bolder and the least kind of tentative that we've ever been, and it really felt like he was the person to do that with, because there is absolutely nothing timid about any of the records he does. He makes each production decision wholeheartedly, and it felt like that's exactly what we wanted: someone to kind of give it a real push and be a good kind of cheerleader at that time as well! You know, when you're questioning everything and having someone being like, "Nope! This is good! Go with this! Further on it! Do it!" Someone to light a bit of a fire under us. It was great.

JILL: Yeah, it it can be, from what I can tell, after taking some time for yourselves, and the time was probably just right, and you know, when you're able to just kind of relax and bring somebody in and things just kind of fall into place. I don't know if you found that to happen, but it sounds like things fell into place kind of just in time before the world went on lockdown, you know?

CAMILLA and JESSICA: Yeah!

JESSICA: And, I mean, we're obviously not the only people to have had plans that haven't worked out how we thought, but you know, we would have been at the end of a year of touring by now, so yeah, it was like, for us, it was kind of a rush to finish it, because we thought that things were going to be happening straightaway, which obviously they didn't. So I enjoyed that process, actually, after a long time of kind of procrastinating or putting things on hold. It was really nice to be like, "Let's just get this done."

CAMILLA: Yeah! (laughs)

JESSICA: And we did! And we're really happy with it. And then we had to sit on it again! (laughs). And now finally, we can start to let some songs out into the world, and it just feels so, so great to have music out there, and I can't wait for February when it's actually going to be out.

JILL: And for the time when we'll see you back on the road. I mean, not just you guys, but like, when we're able to see bands hit the road again, because, like you said, you know, the touring industry is on pause, and you know, to be able to also accept and kind of grieve that, that's there's just nothing you can do about it but wait. And I just wonder, while you haven't been able to tour, is there something that you've done to sort of fill the time? Or a new hobby? Or have you done something that you didn't think that you would ever do?

JESSICA: (to Camilla) Well, you've been quite creative, haven't you?

CAMILLA: OK, so I don't know how other musicians have done it, but when kind of proper lockdown happened over here, I was just very — maybe because we'd kind of been in album mode and had just finished an album, I just couldn't be inspired to make any music, so instead, I did literally anything but. So I knitted. I made a patchwork quilt. I made chutney. (laughs) I infused alcohol with various things. Yeah! I did origami.

JESSICA: You made loads of nice totebags. I started doing tie-dying.

CAMILLA: Yeah, tie-dying.

JESSICA: Lots of cooking. I watched lots of TV. A lot!

(laughter)

JESSICA: I think I watched the whole of "Dawson's Creek."

JILL: Oh, yes! (laughter)

JESSICA: I think I watched the whole of "One Tree Hill." I don't know why.

CAMILLA: You're a disgrace.

JESSICA: I think there was something about going back to like, nostalgic things that made you feel safe and cozy. I don't know if you have a similar thing. I don't know if it's kind of possible for everyone to have the freedom to do those things and to sit on their bottom all day and watch "Dawson's Creek." But, like, even the food I was eating, I felt I kind of regressed and wanted to eat things that we used to eat when we were kids, like cheese on toast, what we call it over here, but it was just, put some cheese on some toast, a "grilled cheese."

JILL: It is what it is.

CAMILLA: Yeah, I definitely took up the hobby of eating. I went pretty hard on that. I ate a lot of yellow food. A lot of bread.

JESSICA: And I think people were like, "You know, I'm going to start an exercise regime." I did the opposite.

CAMILLA: I subscribed to some wine-delivery services and ate a lot of bread, yeah.

JESSICA: But I did write some songs. I mean, that's actually a really truthful answer to your question. It's the most honest I've been with that question! (laughter)

CAMILLA: Oh, we're bad musicians! (laughter)

JESSICA: I was just a depressed slob for six months.

[NOTE: Jill's next sentence contains a spoiler; go to Jessica's next line if you wish to avoid reading it.]
JILL: In a couple years, you're going to have this concept record about, you know, the journey of Pacey and Joey eventually getting together at the end of the show when we fully expected that Joey and Dawson were meant for each other.

OK, did you watch — I remember when it was on Netflix, and they had like a different theme song at the beginning.

JESSICA: Oh my gosh, yes!

JILL: And so, and it just drove me — I hated it! But then I kind of got used to it. And then the finale, they finally played the Paula Cole intro song, and I stood up, and I realized that I was weeping.

CAMILLA and JESSICA: (laughing)

JILL: Because I was feeling like I was back in the 10th or 11th grade when it was actually on TV. But I get that! That feeling is like you just want to feel like you did 20 years ago, just to feel something different, you know? I totally get that.

JESSICA: I have actually done some research into that song; I don't know if we have time to talk about it, but that song is written by a Canadian artist called Jann Arden, and what happened was, she was given a brief to write this theme song for the show, so she was the original theme song, and the song is only, like, 45 seconds long; like, it's not a whole — they just wrote it exactly to be the length of the intro. And then, I think, they'd kind of signed whatever deal it was going to be, like, "You're going to be the theme song to the show."

JESSICA: And then when they were running advertising for "Dawson's Creek" on whatever network it was on, they ran the Paula Cole song alongside the commercial for it, and they felt like it had a better reaction from the audience, so they were like, "Oh, we're going to use this one instead." So I kind of feel like she deserves to have her song heard again, because she kind of got shafted.

JILL: Yeah, a little bit.

CAMILLA: I don't like it, though. (laughs)

JESSICA: But it's really confusing when you weren't used to it. It's like, "What is this? This is not…" (laughs)

JILL: I just remember the part where it was like, (sings) "Hey, yay, yay, yay / Hey, yay, yay, yay", and I like, "What is this? Augh!"

JESSICA: It's very Alanis Morissette.

CAMILLA: It's very of the time.

JESSICA: (singing) "My heart is in my hands…" (laughter)

JESSICA and CAMILLA: (singing together) "My head is in the clouds…"

JILL: Let me tell you, that finale episode when like the drum hit and the "I Don't Want to Wait" kicked in, I just, I'll never forget, I was by myself at home watching TV and I just went, "Yes!"

CAMILLA: A tearful salute.

JILL: It really was a lot of fun to catch up with you two today. Again, I have Jess and Camilla from the Staves. The new record, "Good Woman," is due out February 5 here in the U.S. Give our best to Emily and your new niece.

CAMILLA: We will!

JESSICA: Yeah, we will. Baby Maggie.

JILL: Yes, Baby Maggie. Oh, I love that name. So it was really nice to catch up with the two of you, and I do want to mention that you also have a music video for the song "Good Woman" as well, right?

JESSICA: We do, yeah! We recorded with a live band, a live session of the song, in London, so you can head over and check it out on our YouTube.

CAMILLA: I wear a white suit, so if that is a, I don't know, an enticement for anyone.

JESSICA: I'm wearing leather pants.

CAMILLA: Jess is wearing leather pants! (laughter)

JILL: It's like another throwback! (laughter)

JILL: Well, take care, take care, and we hope to see you back in this area soon. You know, best wishes, and when that touring industry starts, people are very hungry for live music, and I think it's just — I'm sure you kind of feel that give and take with the audience, but I'm excited to experience what that's going to feel like post-pandemic, you know? To be in the audience and then to have that relationship with the artists. So again, thank you so much for doing this today. Be well.

JESSICA: Thank you. Thank you, Jill!

CAMILLA: Thank you so much, so nice to chat.

JESSICA: So good to speak to you. Stay warm!

JILL: Yes, we will! We're getting to that time of year. Well, take care.

JESSICA and CAMILLA: Bye!

External Link

The Staves - official site

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