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December 2020 / January 2021
Feature

Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"

After a year of new tracks, some release date shuffling and a world full of uncertainty buzzing around them, HAIM are back with their third album. This time, they’re putting it all out there.
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Published: 11:15 am, July 22, 2020Words: Abigail Firth. Photos: Jasper Rischen, Press, Reto Schmid.
Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"

"Talk about Dork," says Este Haim, "I'm literally here in like, my mom glasses."

The Haim sisters, Danielle, Este and Alana, join us via Zoom – as is the norm these days – from their Los Angeles homes, where they've been quarantining for the past few months. Este is picking apart jigsaw puzzles printed with the cover of their upcoming third album, 'Women In Music Part III', ready to send out to fans. "The puzzles that we got were the only ones that we could find that were printing in LA, but they don't just like fall apart," says Danielle.

"You have to physically pull them all apart and then put them in a box," adds Este. "So I boxed up 60 puzzles. By myself."

The puzzles reveal the tracklist, which at the time of our chat, hasn't been revealed yet. It's a rarity for Haim to go with the flow when releasing an album, but the combination of an un-avoidable pandemic and a newfound spontaneity sitting in the driver's seat have left the girls with no choice but to embrace the uncertainty.

"It's kind of like flying by the seat of our pants at this point," says Alana. "No one really has put out a record during a pandemic before. So we're all just, you know, doin' it."

While Covid-19 might have stuck a knife in the tyre of their release schedule, they'd already warmed to a more relaxed album cycle approach by the time it all kicked off. When they put 'Summer Girl' out back in July 2019, there was no album plan, nothing beyond just releasing a single because they felt like it.

"I think that's what's weirdly bittersweet about it is, the idea with this album was like, we're gonna make it, put it out, onto the next! It was very spontaneous because that's how we made 'Summer Girl', and that was kind of like the beginning of the recording process," says Danielle.

"When we recorded 'Summer Girl', we were like, okay, maybe we should keep recording the songs that we had written a couple months before, and that was kind of like our like, 'Hey! We're going to be more spontaneous!' Okay, great, this is feeling good, we're done with that song, next one, and then we're gonna put it out within a month. You know what I mean? We announced the album I think a month and a half before it was supposed to come out. And then of course, like five days into the announcement, that's when everything started to shut down. So it's weird, but…"

"We tried!" Alana jumps in.

"It's kind of like flying by the seat of our pants at this point"
Alana

Somewhere in between the track's easy-breezy vibes and the fact that they didn't even tell their label they were working on new music, the release of 'Summer Girl' system-rebooted Haim. Their recording and release process changed, the song sounds like nothing else in their catalogue, and they maintained that energy for the singles that followed. They were done with playing safe.

"It was a leap of faith," recalls Danielle. "And I feel like we got such a great response from our fans, even though it was like, maybe a little different than what we had released before, it felt like our fans really liked it. But when we showed it to a lot of people on our team, they didn't get it."

She continues, "We were like, fuck it. We really believe in the song. We really think there's something to it. The chorus doesn't hit you over the head, it's just like, 'I'm your summer girl'. I think we just really felt passionately about it because it felt really fresh to us. So we were a little nervous when we released it. We didn't know what people were gonna think about it, but our fans seemed to really respond to it. So that gave us the confidence to be like, okay, let's keep going."

This was the first time Haim had released a song with an explanation attached to it too, detailing the song's conception and clearing up a few mysteries surrounding the four-year gap between debut album 'Days Are Gone', and 2017 follow up 'Something To Tell You'.

'Summer Girl' was written to lift the spirits of Danielle's partner and long time producer for the group, Ariel Rechtshaid, after he was diagnosed with cancer while they were making 'Something To Tell You' (he's all good now, don't worry). Danielle noted in a lengthy post when the song was released that she wanted to be his light when he was feeling hopeless, and the 'I'm your summer girl' line stuck. Although the girls have never shied away from penning more emotional songs, this was the first one they'd released explicitly stating its origins.

Follow up single 'Now I'm In It' might have been, as they described, 'the most haim haimy haim song' they've ever written, but the subject of it was something they hadn't explored before. Tackling depression, the speedy delivery of the verses and chaotic, chugging guitar and sparse drum machines mirror its lyrical content, and again, all was explained in social media posts upon release. It'd taken them a couple of album cycles to open up like this, but there was no way they were being misunderstood this time.

"When we first came out, we just expected everyone to just get us, just because we know each other so well," explains Danielle. "And we quickly realised actually some people were confused by us and were trying to put us in a box. I think that's what the album's kind of speaking to, too. I feel like some people are like, wait… but like, they just don't understand. I feel like there's a lot of facets to our band, so I felt like it was important for people to know where we're coming from."

Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"
Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"
Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"
"Everything so fucking crazy; if you don't just laugh at it, you're gonna fucking drive yourself insane"
Danielle

On 'Women In Music Part III', Haim do a lot of dealing with the past, tending to old wounds that never fully healed and letting out long-held frustrations. When they emerged in 2012 with 'Forever', it didn't take long for them to get – as Danielle mentions – boxed in. Often typecast as the three sisters from California with the long hair, who made summery pop-rock, were destined for festival stages, and sounded 'like Fleetwood Mac', it felt like it took a single summer for them to become the most exciting band in the world. But all that exposure didn't come without its pitfalls. Those who 'got' Haim really got them, quickly amassing legions of fans worldwide, including Florence Welch, Stevie Nicks, and Jai Paul, to name a few, but the ones who didn't 'get' it also really didn't.

Portishead's Geoff Barrow spent – and still spends – his days tweeting about how the girls are nothing but algorithm fodder, existing only to be the token girl band on a lineup, which of course Haim were having none of. When Alana confronted him at a festival, he had nothing to say for himself, but it's easy to see how years of dealing with situations like that have built up behind them.

The track 'Man From The Magazine' discusses Haim's experiences early on in their career, such as an interviewer asking Este if she makes her infamous 'bass face' in the bedroom, and being patronised by men at every level of the industry – men in music stores, male engineers at soundchecks, tour bus drivers, you name it. Where the title of the record plays tongue in cheek, it's 'Man From The Magazine' that gets to the gritty parts of what it means to be a 'woman in music'.

"Everything so fucking crazy that it's almost like if you don't just laugh at it, you're gonna fucking drive yourself insane when you realise all the shit that you experience," says Danielle.

Este continues, "Every woman in any industry knows, but we're speaking specifically in our experience, this is our experience as women in music, and I think what we've learned over the last ten years is like, stop asking women what it's like to be a woman in music. Just don't ask us. Don't ask other women. And yeah, we have all these stories, you know? Every woman has a story whether it's you know, going into a soundcheck and feeling like the engineer doesn't give a fuck about you…"

"Or like getting the like, oh, you guys actually play your instruments?" Alana adds.

"On such a normal everyday sort of thing, it's like, even just having your period on the fucking road," Danielle explains. "I remember when I was touring with Julian Casablancas, I was on a bus with a bunch of guys, and they were fucking awesome, and I loved it. I'll never forget, I hadn't gotten my period for like two months because we were just travelling so much, and then just getting the fucking heaviest period I've ever fucking got on the bus. I was bleeding through my fucking clothes, and then finally finding tampons, and then changing your tampon in a moving bus with a bunch of dudes. Then there's a trash can that's like this big [she holds her hands out in an 'o' shape to demonstrate] because you can't flush anything down the toilet on a bus.

"Smuggling your used tampon, your bloody-ass tampon back your bunk so then when they stop you can throw it away... is that being a woman in music?"

She goes on to explain how on that same tour, the bus driver would ask her to wash the dishes every morning ("Like what the fuck? I'm a paid musician, what the fuck does that mean?"), while Este describes how a music store assistant questioned who the drumsticks she was buying were for ("He was like, oh, well, what size does he use?"). It's enough to make you want to title an album 'Women In Music'.

"Writing a lot of these songs really did feel like a huge release"
Alana

Haim's fearless side is really brought out on this album. Whether it's in the songs themselves, or the way they talk about them, it feels like they've finally said "fuck it". But being fearless isn't just about getting angry, most of this record is about vulnerability, and that's displayed most prominently on 'Hallelujah'.

A particularly emotional song for Alana, she confronts her grief over the passing of her best friend many years ago (something she'd addressed briefly before in the form of a duct tape tribute of her initials on her guitar), which felt like a long time coming.

"Writing a lot of these songs really did feel like a huge release," Alana says. "I think we had a lot of things that were bottled up inside and being able to speak about it in song, it's a really hard thing to do. It's super hard to be like okay, I'm actually going to talk about this and people are actually going to understand what's going on in our brains.

"I always go back to when we wrote 'Hallelujah', we wrote that song super quickly, because I think that we just had so much to say, and it kind of just came out. After writing that song, I literally went outside and took a deep breath, like a deep breath of fresh air, and I felt like I was twenty pounds lighter. I felt like I had just released something that was really weighing heavy on my shoulders."

Each sister takes a verse of the song, all discussing the love and support they have for each other. It's a stripped-back track, more acoustic than they've ever done before, but it's a natural step they've been taking towards opening up more.

Alana says, "I feel like we've been personal on all of our records, but specifically on this one, we really came into being open and talking about a lot of things that we've never spoken about before. I mean, we've had so much life experience at this point, and talking about things like loss and anger and depression, maybe on this record, we were ready to speak about it. I think that's the thing, we're ready to do this, and we're comfortable with doing it now, where maybe in the past it was like, am I ready to speak about this? Do I feel like do I want to open myself up this much? And I feel like, with this one, it was just like the floodgates opened."

In the past, the group have spoken about their fears that they're perhaps not taken seriously as musicians because they joke around, both on and off stage. Maybe that pressure fed into their perfectionist side on second album 'Something To Tell You', which played largely to the strengths of their debut, but was criticised at the time for being too safe and too polished; now they're completely letting go on their third.

'Women In Music Part III' seems like less of an extension of their previous records, and more like a reinvention of Haim. Gone are many of the sparkly, bouncy pop melodies that defined their previous albums (there's no big banger like 'Want You Back' or 'Little Of Your Love'), and in is a more ramshackle 70s sound and some decidedly lo-fi production (see: 'The Steps' and 'Leaning On You').

On the other hand, there are some serious curveballs on the record. It opens with a sax solo(!!), and closes with one(!!!). There's the bass-heavy, psychy 'Up From A Dream', some perky ska-ish sounds on 'Los Angeles' and 'Another Try', the groovy Dev Hynes-tinged 'I Know Alone'. And then there's '3am', where the 90s R&B vibes they've alluded to on previous records come into full fruition.

"I think that's definitely part of our musical DNA. You know, we grew up listening to 90s R&B on Kiss FM in the States, and we used to pretend we were Destiny's Child. You know, like recreating the videos on MTV," Este says of the track.

Those ska influences worm their way in in an unexpected way. Danielle mentions that Ariel used to be in a ska band called The Hippos, which is maybe where that comes from, along with Este's love for Sublime, which the girls listened to secretly away from their parents.

"We were actually talking about this the other day, I think that also comes from like, Sublime's '40 Ounces To Freedom' which was a big record for us growing up," Este notes. "We wouldn't be allowed to play it like in family settings because they cussed a lot, but we had it on our Discman, and we would listen to it. And in my room, I had my own stereo, and I was allowed to listen to whatever I wanted. Not as loud as I wanted, but I was allowed to listen to whatever I wanted. So Danielle and Alana would go into my room, and we would listen to like '40 Ounces' and their self-titled."

Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"
"We grew up listening to 90s R&B on Kiss FM in the States, and we used to pretend we were Destiny's Child"
Este

Haim have this glorious tendency to veer off into telling childhood stories almost entirely unprovoked. A question about how ska ended up on a Haim record quickly turns to a chat about Este's love for Titanic and how she'd watch her bootleg VHS of it after school ("When I was done with my homework, I would watch, you know, the infamous scene. I'd be like ah, being a big girl seems so cool. Like, I can't wait till I'm an adult"). We're welcomed into their world, and for an hour, it feels like we're part of the family too.

Another obscure reference point – 'A Grand Don't Come For Free' by The Streets – spirals into another story about a trip to see the Brummy legend in 2006, where the sisters waited in line all day to get to the barrier, and Mike Skinner himself shouted out Este in the crowd.

"We waited all day," Alana starts. "So I remember exactly what I wore; jean shorts with a white t-shirt, and I had braces. I was just so excited to be there. We were the third or fourth people in line so we could be at the barrier, and I think Este just started like, he was talking and she randomly started like dancing. And he called Este out and was like, wait a minute… I like that dance move. And he made everybody in the crowd do Este's dance move. I remember being like, holy shit. Mike Skinner just saw our faces!"

Their love for The Streets turns into a call out to Mike Skinner for a collaboration – which doesn't even seem too far fetched when you consider that since their debut album, they've worked with everyone from Calvin Harris to Charli XCX to A$AP Ferg – but it is interesting how the Haim sound has evolved over time while maintaining the same few producers.

Primarily working on 'Women In Music Part III' are Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij, who've produced most of Haim's discography, and together with Haim for the first time on this album. They work in the same musical language, and did right from the start.

"Going back to why we feel like this is our favourite record, it's so great to work with people that you really learn from, and you trust. It's taken years, but at this point, I feel like we're all on the same page," Danielle says. "Even though you know, we will argue sometimes about what we think should be on a track and that's normal, but we're really lucky that all of our weird reference points are all aligned even though Ariel is older than us. I felt that was one of the big things that actually bonded us – he liked The Streets too when we first met him, and I remember being like, you know who The Streets are? We also bonded super heavy on Kate Bush when we first met him, and Kylie Minogue was huge."

"I remember being like, holy shit. Mike Skinner just saw our faces!"
Alana

Keeping the same collaborators over the past almost decade has allowed Haim to really hone in on their own specific sound, while also evolving and experimenting with different genres and textures, all ultimately resulting in Haim's most colourful record yet.

"Growing up our mom was like, super into Bonnie Raitt, and there's like this specific record that she made in 1989 called 'Nick of Time'," Danielle starts to talk through the sound that defines most of the record. "That kind of early 90s, late 80s, like open rootsy drum sounds. 'I've Been Down' has that sort of thing, you know, like 'The Steps' is that same type of thing. I think 'Leaning On You' was like us wanting to write a song that you could pick up an acoustic guitar to and just write like that. And 'Hallelujah', we've never really done like an acoustic song just because we are a rock band. I feel like we were always trying to like be like, 'We're a rock band! Fuck you!', you know, and now it's kinda like, okay, we can like have this softer side of music that we love, you know?"

It's obvious how much growing up in the San Fernando Valley, and in a family band, have influenced the sisters over time, and more so than ever on this album. They're not only looking to the past, but to the future, as opener 'Los Angeles' has Danielle pondering if she should leave the city.

"That song kind of came out of feeling like yeah, maybe it was time to move out of the city that we love and that we represent so much," she explains. "It felt in 2014 like a lot of people started moving here from out of LA, or even from the UK. I feel like a lot of people started to move here, and it was great when it first started like 'Oh, great, like, people like LA now' I feel like classically..."

"Every one of those people who had moved to LA were shitting on LA for a very long time," Alana finishes for her. "Like, 'Are you gonna get another green juice?' Like that shit. Which is not our LA, I don't look at it that way. So all the people that were shitting on LA all of a sudden were like, 'Actually… LA's kinda tight'. And we were like, uh, yeah! We knew it all along."

Danielle continues, "At first it was like, fuck yeah! People are understanding why the city is so great and not just taking it at face value or something, and then as time started to pass, it felt almost like I saw the cracks in it and it just didn't represent the city that I love so much anymore. So I was kind of like, well, maybe should we just move somewhere, or should I just move somewhere, should Alana move somewhere…"

Este cuts her off to stress she herself will not be leaving LA – she loves it too much – while Alana emphasises her love for the UK.

"The London years of Alana Haim would be a super fun chapter of my life," she states, as the others agree, before reminiscing touring the other side of the Atlantic.

"It was really nice to see, when we were touring the UK, we'd see the same kind of people at all the shows, and like, the same group of people together," Este adds. "And we found out later that people would get in a car and they would drive around together. People were travelling with us, and it was a really cool thing to see. You don't really get a lot of that in the States."

Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"
Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"
Haim: "Loss, anger and depression - we were ready to speak about it"
"It made us laugh to be surrounded by a bunch of fuckin' sausages"
Alana

It must be tough for a band like Haim, whose career foundations were laid in playing live, to have to put touring on hold. Especially with an album like 'Women In Music Part III', which sounds made to be played live.

"While we were creating it, we were also creating a live show simultaneously," says Alana. "We really had us playing live as a huge part of this record. And unfortunately, we can't do that. We had plans to literally tour until our fingers were bleeding like we wanted to tour this record for so long, which will happen! It's not like it's gone forever.

"We were a live band before we were a recording band. We played every venue in Los Angeles multiple times. It even gets crazier - we were opening up for a fucking Harry Potter band. Like, we did that. We were first of three for so many years, but we just loved the act of playing live."

They snuck in a couple of shows in New York and Washington DC as part of their Deli Tour – yep, a tour in delicatessens across the US – before the world shut down. Unfortunately, they didn't make it back to perform at Canter's Deli, the 24-hour Jewish delicatessen near West Hollywood, where they shot their album cover and played their first gig with their parents as Rockinhaim.

Delis were a huge part of the sisters' lives growing up, so a late-night decision to go back to those places to celebrate the release of their new record gave way to the Haim Deli Tour – another spontaneous decision on this release cycle. As for the album cover…

"I think it made us laugh to be surrounded by a bunch of fuckin' sausages," says Alana. "That was just like, a really good laugh. Also the number 69."

As our chat goes on, it becomes apparent that Haim's family values go far beyond the three sisters in the band. They tour the delis they played with their parents, they send gifts out to fans who've been there from the start, they foster a sense of community within their fanbase and have never let that go as that fanbase has grown (they also invite Dork to be a part of The UK Years Of Haim, which we're absolutely holding them to, btw).

When Alana rounds off the interview, she calls their albums her children, saying she loves them all equally – a fitting end to this chat, although probably not intentional – but 'Women In Music Part III' is their favourite collectively. While they established that 'Haim sound' long ago, they've really come into their own on this record, defying expectation and fully letting go. They're more confident, stronger and bolder than ever.

Danielle ends by saying, "I feel like, you know, we've never been afraid of putting something in a song that maybe sounds like it's a little different than what the song actually inherently calls for. You know, I don't think we've ever been afraid of that. And I think we take a lot of pride in doing things that are unexpected with our whole career. I think just now it's like we've really embraced it."

We're looking forward to Part IV. 

Taken from the July issue of Dork. Haim's album 'Women In Music Pt. III' is out now.

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