The Staves are Emily, Jessica and Camilla – three sisters who cut their teeth performing together at open-mic nights in Watford, their home city an hour North of London.The trio put out their first EP in 2010 and backed up Tom Jones on his comeback gospel record Praise and Blame that same year.The band are longtime friends of Justin Vernon from Bon Iver who produced their 2015 Album If I Was at his studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
The eldest of the sisters is Emily (above, right) and she’s obsessed with fantasy fiction, especially the His Dark Materials novels by Philip Pullman. In one of the most entertaining podcasts we’ve ever recorded, Emily tells Jen Long just why fantasy worlds offer up so much to her.
Emily wrote us to after we recorded this podcast with more thoughts which you can read below:
“I wish I’d talked about how Philip Pullman describes his writing process; he said he’s obsessed with the rhythm of each sentence, which is fascinating to me. He has a wonderful awareness of his audience and the relationship between the reader and the narrator – that narrator is kind of an invisible character, and not necessarily the voice of the author. That’s often the same for us when we are writing songs.
“There are so many parallels between writing music and writing fiction. Pullman talks of the surprise he feels when a scene he is writing unfolds – he is discovering what Lyra says the first time she meets Iorek just as if he were watching it happen, not making it happen. I feel like that all the time in music. The hyper-sensitivity you have to what’s going on around you makes the next step almost an impulse – you do something without consciously deciding to make your move. It’s improvisation, it’s a conversation, it’s channelling something subconscious and its mysteriousness is endlessly intriguing.
“Decision making is another part of his books that resonates with me. That Sliding Doors-idea of one moment changing (and actually ultimately not changing) the course of a person’s life. There are multiple worlds within Pulman’s books. What doesn’t happen in one world does happen in another. He talks about the toss of a coin; while the coin is in the air both possible outcomes are equal, but as soon as it lands, only one has happened and the other has been extinguished forever. I think about that a lot. I feel like there is a huge social anxiety about this in our world today. We have so much choice, so many possibilities. The fear of missing out is palpable. It can be overwhelming and paralysing. And social media doesn’t help. Your choices are all public and open to criticism. Decisiveness becomes some kind of superpower!
When I’m in the studio, often the challenge is as simple as deciding in which direction to take the song.
‘When you choose one way out of many, all the ways you don’t take are snuffed out like candles, as if they’d never existed. At that moment all Will’s choices existed at once. But to keep them all in existence meant doing nothing. He had to choose, after all’
Each idea that you choose means you eliminating a thousand other possibilities. And you’ve got to take responsibility for that. It can’t just be me that finds that terrifying sometimes. There are endless versions of each and every song out there in the universe. Maybe that’s why people cover each other’s music still. And then there’s fate. Because the alethiometer predicts something, does that mean it is fixed? Do we have free will? Lee Scoresby, the aeronaught, debates this beautifully with Serafina Pekkala, the witch. But anyway, making decisions is how you move forward. That’s how anything happens. Just a series of small decisions. Putting one foot in front of the other. That’s how seemingly ordinary people (Lyra, Frodo, Bilbo…) come to do extraordinary things. In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo says:
‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door. You step onto the road, and If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’
Talking about his his writing process on Radio 4 a while ago, Pullman kind of describes his creative process like that. Just start! And let the story take you from there.
Another aspect I love about the His Dark Materials books is the wonderful creation of the daemons. Each person has a physical manifestation of their soul which accompanies them throughout their lives, never straying more than a few feet away. And they’re animal formed! Can you imagine what it would be like to meet someone and see which type of animal represented them? Everybody’s true nature would be that much more exposed. And for yourself, you would know who you are that little bit more. That’s one of the greatest quests known to human kind, isn’t it? To know oneself, to never feel alone. In the book, accepting your nature and not trying to be anything else comes up again and again. The greatest strength you can have is to know who you are and be yourself, fully and without apology. If a part of yourself took a physical shape then I also think it would be easier to show self love. Unconditional love. Lyra has to go through many perils with her daemon, Pan, and the love felt between them is incredibly powerful. Through the daemons, Pullman perfectly expresses the deep relationship one has with oneself and the human need for love. At one point Lyra asks a sailor, ‘But suppose your dæmon settles in a shape you don’t like?’, and he answers her:
‘Well, then, you’re discontented, en’t you? There’s plenty of folk as’d like to have a lion as a dæmon and they end up with a poodle. And till they learn to be satisfied with what they are, they’re going to be fretful about it. Waste of feeling, that is.’
I wish I’d also spoken about John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. On the cover it says this is for every adult who can remember their childhood and every child who is about to lose theirs. It contains all sorts of weird and wonderful twisted versions of classic fairytales and really conjures up that nostalgia for childhood and the pain of leaving your youth behind. Oh, and Oscar Wilde’s A House of Pomegranates are brilliantly dark children’s stories, accompanied by Aubrey Beardsley’s signature strange and sexual illustrations.”