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Sex, Bono and depression: How Haim embraced chaos and made their most revealing album yet

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

"We've always carved our own path," Alana said as her sisters nodded in agreement inside their respective Zoom windows. "And we've always prided ourselves on that."

For "Women in Music Pt. III," which Danielle co-produced with longtime collaborators Ariel Rechtshaid (with whom she lives) and Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend), Haim set out to capture a distinct live-in-a-room vibe that partly represented a pendulum swing back from the busier arrangements on "Something to Tell You."

"But also, we're a girl band in rock 'n' roll, and we haven't always been taken seriously," Danielle said. Last month, she was asked by the BBC to record a guitar tutorial for "The Steps," a deliciously fuzzed-out rock tune from the new album with echoes of Thin Lizzy. "And the first thing I thought about -- because it's a very simple riff -- were all the comments: 'This is guitar for 5-year-olds,'" she said, imagining the condescending remarks with a put-on sneer.

"Why do I go there?" She laughed. "I did the tutorial anyway. But that's why we named the album 'Women in Music Pt. III'" -- to goof on anyone still getting accustomed to such an idea -- "and why we have sausages around our heads" on the album's cover, which has the sisters posing behind the counter at Canter's Deli, where they played their first show with their parents in 2000.

"Man from the music shop / I drove too far / For you to hand me that starter guitar," Danielle sings over distorted acoustic strums in "Man From the Magazine," "'Hey girl, why don't you play a few bars?' / Oh, what's left to prove?"

As that lyric suggests, the record isn't a shred-a-thon; it's not trying to knock anybody out with its technical mastery. But there's a matter-of-fact quality to the playing in tracks like the driving "Up From a Dream" and the tender "Gasoline" that reflects the sisters' two decades of musical experience. They're not hiding behind anything; in fact, their goal in these songs was an emotional directness in contrast with the often-guarded musings in Haim's early music. ("You know I'm bad at communication/ It's the hardest thing for me to do," Danielle sang in "The Wire," from the band's 2013 debut, "Days Are Gone.")

 

Some of their lodestars were the Beatles' "White Album," Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" and David Bowie's "Low" -- "albums that seemed maybe a little underdone at the time," Rechtshaid said. "We were being less precious to deliver the journey that Danielle was going through."

Having finished touring behind "Something to Tell You" -- including gigs at Coachella and New York's Radio City Music Hall -- Danielle said she felt "disconnected from what was going on with my friends" in LA; Rechtshaid's diagnosis with testicular cancer only added to her distress. Her first reaction, she recalled, was to check out until the depression passed.

"But then my therapist was like, 'You need to keep working -- that's what makes you happy.'"

So she began writing about what she was feeling, beginning with "Summer Girl," a tender but anxious pledge of support to Rechtshaid that quotes the saxophone lick and the doo-doo-doo vocal refrain from Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." Batmanglij said the bulk of the song came together faster than anything he'd previously worked on with Haim, though they were briefly stymied by the bridge; they sent it to Bono, who'd previously expressed an interest in working with Haim, to see if he had any ideas.

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