From Matzah Ball soup to Grammy nod, Haim just wants to have fun

Music
by Jeff Koch
Posted 1/30/15, 04:34 pm

The three Jewish sisters who make up the band Haim were recently spotted traipsing around Hawaii with their newest chum, megastar Taylor Swift. It’s one of several signs the power-pop trio’s prospects are looking up. Another is their nomination for Best New Artist at this year’s Grammy awards. Certainly they’ve come a long way from their first gig at a Jewish deli in Hollywood—for which they were paid in Matzah Ball soup, according to The Independent.  

These days, their pay scale is a bit better, thanks to sell-out shows across the country and rave reviews in most major media outlets. A recent appearance on Saturday Night Live was particularly gratifying, given a high school drama teacher once told eldest sister EsteHaim (the band name is also their shared last name, pronounced “High-im”), “You’re never going to be on Saturday Night Live,” according to an interview with TheFader.com.  

The sisters’ success is no surprise to listeners of their lush, techno-savvy, harmony-laden grooves. Haim skims the cream from ’80s pop, stiffens it up with a shot of ’90s indie-rock, and tops it off with a sultry R&B finish. The result is a highly elastic and danceable sound—Stevie Nicks meets Joan Jett meets Rihanna. As for lyrics, Haim usually sticks with simple boy-meets-girl tales, or sometimes boy-hurts-girl-and-girl-kicks-him-in-the-gut tales. It’s a role they take to naturally, performing in black shirts and cut off jeans with spunky attitudes to fit.

“My Song 5” shows them rising up like avenging queens against a deceitful lover. Grungy guitars and a monster bass line (courtesy of Danielle and Este Haim) dig up depths of wrath while lead singer Danielle dismisses the former lover in disgust: “You’ve been lying / so honey I’m not your honey pie.”  

Their hit single “Days Are Gone” moves the album from catharsis to creating anew. Full of carefully crafted velvety-pop with funky keyboards, the song focuses on the hope of successfully emerging from a painful relationship. Here the sisters fuse their musical strengths to forge a groove as tightly knit as family, with staggered harmonies that whip, snap, and charm. 

While they major on romantic relationships, Haim’s lyrics are comparatively tame (one song has a repeated expletive,) although their concerts are rumored to be edgier. Este acts as band MC on stage, and her sisters try to get her to “keep it clean,” according to The Guardian. But she still displays a penchant for eyebrow raising comments about her body or ex-boyfriends.  

Haim doesn’t always invoke the “girl power” narrative, but occasionally reveals fragile hearts and feelings, while cleverly upending superficial Hollywood notions about love. “Honey and I” chafes with the realization that “Love wasn’t what I thought it once was … telling each other everything / picking up your wedding rings.” But rather than recalibrate to the fact that love is born of commitment and sacrifice, the sisters steer to the modern fallacy that boredom means it is time to move on.  

Although brimming with secular presuppositions, the girls of Haim at least don’t appear to have an axe to grind. While they take their music seriously—all of them are excellent multi-instrumentalists—they don’t seem to take themselves or their lyrics too seriously. Dissing past beaus or hoping for new ones mainly serves as a pretext for their musical adventures. With an unabashed joy in pop and a talent for making it fresh, they are like the famed subjects of Cyndi Lauper’s song: Girls just want to have fun.    

Jeff Koch

Jeff is a mortgage lender and graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. He lives with his wife and their eight children in the Chicago area.

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