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‘Dead & Born & Grown’: The Staves’ Coming-Of-Age Debut Album
Warner Music
In Depth

‘Dead & Born & Grown’: The Staves’ Coming-Of-Age Debut Album

With their debut album, The Staves were pegged as folk artists. And yet ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ introduced a band that would be so much more.

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“Why is it you whisper, when you really need to yell?” sing The Staves on their debut album, Dead & Born & Grown. It’s a line emblematic of the soft sting they deliver: don’t mistake the three sisters’ sweet harmonies for quietude, or their gentle guitar sound for passivity. “People just hear that it sounds nice, so they don’t listen to the lyrics,” Camilla Staveley-Taylor said of The Staves in 2016. “And there are songs that people will say are ‘so sweet’ or are ‘mine and my boyfriend’s special song’ and I think, No, have you listened to what that song is about? It’s about being really pissed off.”

Listen to ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ here.

“We don’t sit in fields all day plaiting each other’s hair”

Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor hail from Watford, on the London-Hertfordshire border. They learned guitar from their father and cut their teeth in open-mic nights at a local pub, The Horns. After initially calling themselves The Staveley-Taylors, they shortened their name to The Staves. “We always thought of it as a temporary thing, until we thought of something better, but it never happened. Not the coolest-sounding name, I know. But it’s truthful to us,” Jessica said in 2012. The Staves became so popular locally that they even briefly inspired a tribute band, The Slaves, who also performed at The Horns.

Recording Dead & Born & Grown followed backing-vocal duties for Tom Jones (on his 2010 album, Praise And Blame) and three EPs on which the trio found their feet. Across these releases the sisters developed a sound that was, fairly quickly, slotted into the “folk” category. Yet while they seem to have little problem with folk music itself and have sometimes acknowledged its influence, The Staves have consistently railed against the connotations that the F-word can bring. “Photographers always want us to put our heads together or drape ourselves over each other. But we don’t sit in fields all day plaiting each other’s hair,” Camilla has said.

“Each emotional root for a song is different”

When work began on Dead & Born & Grown, the sisters were conscious about retaining control. They are women with strong ideas and have spoken of wanting to protect their songs from overproduction, maintaining the earthy, genuine quality they had while performing at The Horns. The Staves “weren’t necessarily that open”, during the album’s recording process, Camilla has said. “We recorded the whole album live with everyone in the room. But I remember the feeling of not being able to spread our wings that wide.”

They did, however, have a superstar production duo, father and son Glyn and Ethan Johns (who between them have credits as diverse as The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Blue Öyster Cult, Kings Of Leon and Laura Marling), but this was often an intimidating rather than an encouraging factor. While they loved Glyn Johns’ stories about Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Glyn would proudly sit in front of his gold disc for The Very Best Of The Eagles while working with The Staves and, as Emily said, this made it “hard to say to the guy, ‘I don’t like your idea on this.’”

Dead & Born & Grown was released on 12 November 2012. Around this time, Jessica explained that she thought its songs “as letters”, adding, “It’s like when you read a letter from a long time ago and it takes you right back to that time: the images, the emotions.” The album’s songs, all written by the sisters (with the exception of Gone Tomorrow) can really dive deep into love’s unhappy well. “Doomed from the beginning,” they sing on Pay Us No Mind, peeling back the skin of a miserable love affair. “I don’t give a fuck anymore.” The Staves’ lyrics range from the vitriolic to the philosophical, Dead & Born & Grown’s title track in particular depicting an ambiguous relationship which sometimes feels eternal, sometimes intensely ethereal. The album feels universal, and the sisters have often said they want others to find their own lives in the music.

“Our fanbase has been so loyal, there’s this audience that will be up for whatever we are doing”

We’re very lucky Jessica also reflected on the varied ways in which Dead & Born & Grown’s songs came together: “I don’t think we can work in that structured a way, because each idea for a song, or each emotional root for a song is different, so the process is different each time. Sometimes one of us will have written nearly a whole song, and then it’s just a matter of finishing it off and arranging it, or putting it through ‘The Staves Filter’. But sometimes one of us feels a certain way about something, or comes up with a line, saying, ‘I want to write a song about this,’ then we’d all start it from scratch.”

The “three-headed monster”, as The Staves have sometimes called themselves, would soon go on to expand their sound with synths, and the input of their friend Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), on their next full-length (2015’s If I Was), before developing further on their 2021 album, Good Woman. But there remains something special about the stripped-down, pure harmonic quality of their debut.

“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,” they reflected in a 2021 interview with Dig! “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.”

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