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Good Woman: Why The Staves Have Been “Giving Fewer Shits”
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Good Woman: Why The Staves Have Been “Giving Fewer Shits”

The Staves’ third album, ‘Good Woman’, takes the sibling trio into new places. ‘We just do what we feel we need to,’ they tell Dig!


Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor, who make up two-thirds of the band The Staves, alongside their older sister, Emily, are discussing London’s Metropolitan line. “This is really boring, isn’t it?” asks Jessica, after we have all reminisced about the respective suburban areas we grew up in along the purple train line. As beginnings to interviews go, it’s an unlikely start, but it is easy to forget you’re talking to a band whose third album, Good Woman, released on 5 February 2021, received a slew of brilliant reviews, praise and that prime spot of Radio 6 Music’s Album Of The Day.

Listen to ‘Good Woman’ here.

“There’s this feeling of, ‘Yes, you get it’”

Speaking to Dig!, the Staveley-Taylors are so funny, charming and friendly that it’s no surprise they’ve found themselves a fiercely loyal fanbase, particularly with women in their 20s and 30s. “Our fanbase is largely female,” they note. “When we put out our first record we were still in our early 20s, so lots of women our own age at that time got on board and have stayed with us.

“We look out in the crowd and there’s this feeling of, ‘Yes, you get it,’” they continue. “There’s a similar age demographic and we feel like we have grown with our fans, too. Our fanbase has been so loyal the whole time and shown us so much love and embraced all that we have done, so we have always felt like there’s this safe audience that will be up for whatever it is we are doing. We’re very lucky.”

But it really isn’t luck; more sheer talent for writing brilliantly perceptive songs that find a place with others navigating similar experiences.

The Staves, from Watford, Greater London, arrived in 2012 with a debut folk album, Dead & Born & Grown, that perfectly demonstrated their knack for beautiful three-part harmonies (should you need any more proof, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You, performed in a corridor as a warm-up before a show in 2015, is so sensational it will stop you in your tracks). There had been some EPs the year before, including Mexico, the title track of which remains a fan favourite to this day and also appeared on Dead & Born & Grown. Another EP, Live At Cecil Sharp House, saw them play the famed folk spot in North London and perhaps introduced the easy – but lazy – idea that The Staves were a folk trio.

2014’s If I Was found the sisters into a bigger audience, as Justin Vernon of Bon Iver took on the role of producer and guested on one of the album’s highlights, Make It Holy. But that record saw them add a mellow indie feel to their songs, adding a new dimension to their heavenly voices.

“The spirit of the album has been giving fewer shits”

Good Woman has been a long time coming and is borne out of a wealth of personal upheaval, including the end of long-term relationships, the sudden death of the Staveley-Taylors’ mother, and the birth of Emily’s first child. It’s testament to their incredible talent that they’ve been able to create something so brilliant out of abstract and immense life experiences that often take far more than they give.

Unsurprisingly, then, it’s a grittier affair than their last two records, as is evident from the title track, which kicks off the album and builds to the trio repeatedly shouting the line “I’m a good woman”, as if it is both a mantra to remind themselves of and a rebuke to anyone who would dare make them feel less than their worth. Jess notes that “Millie is really digging in singing the final line”, and that, when they were in the studio recording it, they thought “it would be so cool when we play it live to have all the ladies in the audience singing along”. It is a song fans have already taken great comfort in.

While some may be surprised by the heavier direction The Staves’ music has taken, it didn’t come as a shock to the initiated. In 2017 they released the single Tired As Fuck. The title alone gave a clue to the energy of the song, but it seems a stepping stone to Good Woman – an idea Jess agrees with: “I do sort of look at that song as a bit of a bridge. If you listen to it all sort of chronologically, I think it does sort of take you up to this record. You can kind of see the journey. Some people have been quite surprised at some of the sounds on this album – in a good way – that it sounds really different. I think it does, but to me it was a natural progression.”

Were they worried that people were going to find it too different, or could the album not have sounded any different? “I don’t think it could have come out any other way,” says Camilla. “It all felt very natural. There are always a few moments of, ‘Oh fuck, what if people don’t like it?’ But the spirit of the long making of this album has been trying to give fewer shits and trying to just do what we feel we need to do. And I think that, at least with our existing fanbase, lots of them have grown with us and been with us for quite a long time, so I hope that for them it wouldn’t be some kind of jarring Bob Dylan ‘Judas!’ moment,” Camilla says, laughing.

“We are all on the same page”

Any worries The Staves may have had about sharing such personal songs have been put aside for Good Woman. “I think with this record it has felt far more like: we are just putting it out there, stepping back and letting people connect with it on the same level we’ve written it in, or taking it as they take it, which is just as valid,” Camilla says.

“But that feeling is definitely one we have had in the past, with previous songs that we have written, of not wanting to give too much away,” she continues. “Actually taking the step to be more upfront lyrically with these songs has felt really liberating – not having to put this veil between what you actually mean and what people are hearing. It’s quite nice to think, I’m just going to let it come about and see how the pieces fall. That’s been pretty good, psychologically, for us.”

Certainly, songs like Careful, Kid – a glitchier electronic track, with fearsome drums – has some very straight-talking lyrics: “All the kicks in the ribs can really make you weak”, “I’m coming back round/From a five-year rebound”. Then there’s “Acting like you know me/Like you’re part of my family/I don’t owe you anything, you just came in”, from Failure, a particularly incredible standout from Good Woman that suggests it has been cathartic to let loose and say what they want to.

But how do they find sharing lyrics with each other? Is there ever any awkwardness about taking such personal experiences to your siblings to work on? “A lot of the time it has not felt nerve-wracking or exposing because they usually know what I am talking about anyway, and so I rarely have to explain what lyrics mean and do that exposing conversation of having to unpick what each word means,” says Camilla. Jess agrees: “Yeah, I think a lot of the time there is no asking. And actually, it could be that we are all drawing something slightly different from one person’s lyrics. But we are all on the same page about things.”

“The power of the three of us together is the core of everything”

The sisters live in different parts of London, and, for a while, Camilla was living in America; when recording together, they either bring songs to each other fully-formed, or they play around with formative ideas together until finding something that works. “Certain songs are written when we are all together, when one person has got a leading idea and we will all work together on it,” says Jess. “Sometimes, though, one person has a song idea, and another person has a song idea, and you can kind of stick them together, which is a very satisfying way of using up old ideas.” Camilla chimes in: “Like using up all the leftovers in the fridge: ‘Get in, fuck yeah.’”

Though they have traditionally written a lot more together, that wasn’t so much the case with Good Woman. Jess reveals that “it’s partly because it spanned a long period of time, and for a lot of that Millie and I weren’t in the same place – Emily and I were here while she was in the States, so we were trading ideas via email and stuff. And Emily would come in at a later stage and help with lyrics, harmonies and arrangements. For this album it was much more a case that I was writing songs on my own, Millie is writing songs on her own, and Emily has had a baby and has not been involved yet.”

They weren’t sure of the direction the record would take, either: “What is this album going to be, then? Is it just two solo albums fused together? It was a patchwork process over what ended up being a fucking long period of time.” Jess also explains that she and Millie were creating quite different things. “I was doing more… normal songs,” she laughs. “Guitar and bass and drums. Millie was doing more experimental and electronic songs. We were all pulling in different directions, but Nothing’s Gonna Happen pulled us all together again as it was just a guitar and three vocals and we recorded it live, which is how we made our first record. I think that was a good reset for the whole album, and to remind us that it is the power of the three of us together that is what we do, that that’s the core of everything.” Nothing’s Gonna Happen is definitely the most “traditional” of Staves songs on Good Woman, and a softer moment among the album’s other 11 tracks.

“We’re all trying the whole time to get it right, be a good person”

Further helping their sound evolve, the trio used field recordings and voice memos throughout the album. “Lots of them are buried in there,” says Camilla. “The idea of different spaces and ambient noise is something we were very interested in. In the song Trying, as it builds in the middle there’s layers of field recordings of us singing this repeated line [“I’m sorry/You should be sorry, too”], but there’s also a recording of us walking from the main studio through the wind and the snow to the barn to record those field recordings. So you can hear the distortion of wind on the mic as it grows. Moments like that I love, as they’re actual moments in time that are captured. It’s a very fun and addictive thing to play with. It’s also quite liberating to be collecting these audio snapshots for a record while on the go. Just hoarding and collecting these textures.”

“Trying” was also a contender for the album’s title, and was one of the songs the group wrote earliest. “I think the idea of trying is what we are all doing. You’re trying the whole time to get it right, to be a good person, to not fuck it up. So we thought maybe that was the record title,” reveals Jess. “But we were worried it was maybe a bit of a downer, like ‘trying… and failing’ or ‘not trying hard enough’.”

Camilla laughs, adding, “Thematically, there was the feeling this is all we are ever doing, trying to find answers to questions or trying to be a good person. We found that that’s all in the song Good Woman, and it represents the album in the same way and is maybe more of a defiant statement than Trying.”

“There’s still loads to do”

Usually, an album release is followed with touring. But COVID-19 has rendered that impossible. The Staves launched Good Woman with a brilliant live performance recorded at London’s Lafayette venue in Kings Cross, followed by a Q&A and afterparty that was available to stream live. But external events have forced them to rethink the way they go about things.

“I think we have kind of semi given up on planning too much,” says Camilla. “Because everything has been – and continues to be – so mental, we have surrendered to being flexible and seeing what happens… I think it would be really nice to use this time to start writing again, but it is quite difficult to get inspired when you’re sitting eating Dr Oetker pizzas and drinking bottles of wine… there’s no stimulus.”

“There’s still loads to do,” says Jess. “We have worked our tits off to get this record ready and to get it out. We have waited so long, so we just want as many people to hear it as possible. We’ll keep doing as much as we can from home until we can actually tour again. Hopefully, there will be more livestreamed shows. It was realty exciting to do, we felt like we were performing again. And people tuning in at a specific time was so exciting.”

And, for those fans who also love The Staves’ brilliant podcast, Dial-A-Stave, there’s good news. “There will be definitely be more coming,” Jess reveals. “It feels like such a cheeky, indulgent way of doing a podcast because we are really good friends and just enjoy shooting the shit, so it is my favourite thing to do.” There’ll be more obscure film references (they have the brilliant sibling quality of shared nostalgia for films, where one Stave, often Emily, will quote a line of dialogue, and the others will know immediately where it comes from; quoted films have so far ranged from Dirty Dancing to Lord Of The Rings and, perhaps most enjoyably, The Man In The Iron Mask). “We have warehouses more of those niche references, so they’ll be coming at you,” laughs Camilla.

The podcast is a perfect accompaniment to The Staves’ music. Hearing them discussing the day-to-day boredom of lockdown, memories of things from their childhood, in-jokes and everything in between, it feels like you’re sitting among friends while listening to a conversation that could go absolutely anywhere, but which is guaranteed to make you laugh along the way.

It’s also another reminder of why The Staves’ music is just so damn good. They are not just siblings, but best friends, and they manage to create some incredible music because they know each other on such a personal level. It’s why those three-part harmonies have found so many fans: each Stave instinctively knows where the other will go, and how to create something truly beautiful together. Good Woman might just be the most beautiful of their creations so far.

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