“I don’t know if I’m giving too much away right now, but fuck it,” says Este Haim. “We made puzzles out of our record!”
Este, 34 — the eldest Haim sister and the only one who’s turned on her camera for this Zoom call — holds up a laptop-size jigsaw puzzle of the cover art of Women in Music Pt. III, the San Fernando Valley, California, trio’s third album. The image, shot by their friend Paul Thomas Anderson, shows off their cheeky sense of humor: The sisters stare blankly out from behind the counter at Canter’s, their childhood deli, unfazed by the comically large salami hanging behind them. Above their heads, the ticket dispenser reads “Now serving 69.” (Nice.)
Haim were set to promote Women in Music Pt. III — or WIMPIII (pronounced “wimp-yyy”), as they affectionately call it — with a tour of semi-secret delicatessen gigs across America in March, in tribute to the delis where they grew up eating and where they played some early shows. They got through two dates before live music in the U.S. was abruptly shut down.
Since their album rollout was upended, they’ve been hard at work making the best of things, for themselves and for their fans. The sisters share social media accounts, and diving into the world of Haim Instagram often feels as if Blink-182 had peaked in 2020: gross-out humor, partial nudity that’s more goofy than seductive, and generally a good time for all. Danielle Haim, 31, posed for an at-home photo shoot to promote the single “I Know Alone,” surrounded by empty wineglasses and beer cans, and draped only in a discarded copy of the local newspaper. Alana Haim, 28, has taken up needlepoint, documenting her new hobby with a video set to the Ying Yang Twins. In May, the sisters reunited in person for a series of virtual choreography lessons for fans, spurred on by tutorial requests for the moves in their music videos. Lately, they’ve put the fun and games on pause to use their platform for activism, sharing photos taken at LA’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations — including a “prosecute killer cops” sign — and calling for Mayor Eric Garcetti to remove the current LAPD chief from his position.
Now, after a two-month delay, due in part to the pandemic, they have decided it’s time to release Women in Music Pt. III into the world. Its rollout began even further back, in July 2019, when Haim put out their first single, the Lou Reed-interpolating “Summer Girl,” just a couple of weeks after they recorded and mastered it. “The excitement of that process kind of informed the rest of the album,” Danielle says.
This was the opposite of how their major-label debut, Days Are Gone, came together eight years ago: “We’d been sitting on those songs for years,” Danielle adds. “We were playing them in clubs in L.A. for the longest time before we got signed — we wrote ‘The Wire’ in 2008.” Until “Summer Girl,” she says, “we’d never written a song and then just decided a couple days later that we were going to release it into the world.”
Produced with Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend, and longtime collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid, Women in Music Pt. III has less of the accented percussion that’s become one of Haim’s signature features — which was “very hard for us to do, as we’re all drummers and we like to have a lot of syllables,” says Danielle. The drum sounds themselves became more acoustic — the band compares them to Chad Smith’s echoing snares for Red Hot Chili Peppers — and the electronic punctuations, when they do come in, are weirder and more evocative, like the sparkling trumpets on the love song “Another Try,” or the P-Funk bass squelches on “3AM.”
“Sometimes it was just about handing Danielle a guitar and asking her to sit and play where a solo should be,” Batmanglij says. “It was instant — she would write things that felt iconic and still uniquely hers in one or two takes.” He says he wanted to capture the “looseness and sense of freedom” that comes with seeing the band play live, even as they were methodical and “using [their] math brain” when it came to songwriting.
It all sounds very Joni Mitchell, and naturally, there are a handful of references to the folk legend on WIMPIII, some more obvious than others. While confronting a sexist music journalist on the acoustic track “Man From the Magazine,” Danielle channels Mitchell’s ability to sound both world-weary and strung-out, even as she’s going in for the kill.
At times, the album carries a darker, murkier sound than do the band’s previous releases. Rechtshaid, who is Danielle’s partner, was diagnosed with testicular cancer during the production of Haim’s last LP, 2017’s Something to Tell You, and that experience informed much of this album’s lyrical content. Even so, Rechtshaid says he thinks Danielle’s direct way of expressing herself in the music will make its themes hit home for all listeners.
“Knowing her so well, I couldn’t believe how clearly she was nailing the things she was going through emotionally, and with a new, clever voice,” says Rechtshaid, who has since recovered. “I know so many people with funny or sad or interesting stories. Some can even sing. But being able to put it all into a great song is special.”
For the Haim sisters, recording the new album was a recovery process of its own. After their extensive touring for Something to Tell You ended, the emotional comedown hit the band hard. There’s a wistfulness and sentimentality to their work on new songs like “Leaning On You” or album opener “Los Angeles” that feels like uncharted territory for a family band that’s been performing together nonstop since they were in grade school.
“Whatever mood we were in that day [when we recorded], we were really not hard on ourselves,” Alana recalls. “There was a lot of stream-of-consciousness writing, there was a lot of ‘Just sit down, listen, and write whatever you’re fucking thinking in your brain. Nothing’s off-limits.’”
The record’s lighter moments range from exuberantly hopeful and cathartic, on the rocking singles “The Steps” and “Don’t Wanna,” to quietly comforting, when Danielle describes a familiar scene for any car-bound Angeleno on “Another Try”: “Got your hat in the back faded up/Camo tee in the crease of the passenger’s seat.” (“I think for all of us, our car resembles our purse,” Este says. “There’s shit in both at all times.”) More than anything, the album radiates confidence -— a quality that Haim have never been short on, as an all-women band of multi-instrumentalists navigating a still-male-dominated rock world. Yet WIMPIII shows that even after establishing their sound and reference points so thoroughly over the past decade, Haim are willing to travel out on an artistic limb to prove their point.
“When we got our first record, I was 21 or 22, and now I’m 28,” Alana says. “And with growth and age you get more confidence. I feel like a completely different person than when we first started this band, and I feel like this record does that justice.”