Talkhouse Contributing Writer Kathy Valentine has toured everywhere several times over, recorded major label and indie albums, done countless TV performances, and written or co-written hundreds of songs, including hits by the Go-Go’s — the band she joined at age 22 and made music history with. Kathy lives in Austin, Texas, plays guitar in “garage glam” blues band the BlueBonnets, and produces aspiring female artists. She is writing a book and screenplay while working on a degree in Fine Arts/English. She’s on Twitter and Facebook.
Full disclosure: I am partial to the female musician. I don’t qualify for “GBG” status — those individuals known to us in lady bands as the “Girl Band Geek” — but I always have my antennae fine-tuned to picking up the frequencies of who, in my gender, is choosing this art, this profession, this life. And how she is going about that; what is she saying? Is she a visionary? Is she a rocker? Can she write a decent song… can she PLAY? Because here’s the catch: I’m far more discerning than the adoring GBG. Yes, I’m partial to female musicians, but I expect a lot out of them — after all, their path has been cleared of some of the debris that women of my generation and those before us had to kick through.
Bands comprised completely or predominately of female musicians aren’t as much of a rarity as they used to be, but girl-centric bands that achieve wide commercial success on a hit record level are still woefully few and decades between. I’m definitely not discounting the significance of women who make an artistic impact fronting a male band, or the female bands with cult status and buckets full of indie cred. Awesome. And hats off to mega-artists like Pink, Bowie, and Beyoncé who make a point of hiring female musicians for their touring bands. The thing I always ponder, though, is where are the breakthrough bands? In my music world vision there should and would be XX gene code equivalents of the countless bands that rise from the muck to become household names, bands whose critical acclaim is matched by solid, lengthy careers. Need I name names? OK, then: where’s the female Green Day, Coldplay, Radiohead, U2, Foo Fighters, Muse, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, Red Hot Chili Peppers? I could go on for a very long time — maybe I’ll pass on a “Mumford & Daughters,” but you get my drift.
But I digress. (Since this is one of my favorite topics to blather on about.) Getting to the point of this piece: Days Are Gone by Haim, a debut that is about as heralded and hyped as a band could wish for. It doesn’t hurt a bit that they’ve done everything right in getting here. All bands — female, male, mixed, whatever — could learn a few things by tracing the trajectory of Haim, but the truth is, there’s more to it than hard work (years of touring) and talent (delivering the goods with musicianship and songwriting.) There’s smart stuff you can do: releasing EPs on a regular basis, giving away downloads, taking your sweet time to make the right record with the right producers after getting signed. Then there’s the part you have no say in — that would be the luck and timing part. When all the factors come together, our jackpot-hitting band, already used to hard work, just needs to enjoy the ride and somehow survive it all without folding in on itself.
I hope Haim figures that shit out, because they’ve made a great record. There are tracks (“Forever,” “Don’t Save Me,” “The Wire”) that will have no problem slipping their way into formatted radio right next to the unapproachable massive hit-ness of Bruno, Katy, Pitbull, JT and Pink. And there are songs that give the promise of so much more to come from Haim. A fave is “My Song” — traces of Beck, with a deconstructed wacky playfulness — I WANT this from young people, not all serious and shit. I also love “Let Me Go,” which begins quiet and taut, slowly building to an insistent pulse and faraway drums kicking in on the second chorus. It bridges the emotional gap between desperation and hope, then combines a great simple, trashy riff with some truly tasty little guitar licks. It’s a real treat, as are “Go Slow,” and “Running If You Call My Name” — both songs could have been sung by Annie Lennox from Eurythmics.
The songs on Days Are Gone are undoubtedly Haim’s songs, a synthesis of influences sifted and filtered through the three sisters, Danielle, Alana and Este. I’m going out on a limb here and guessing these girls would have been bigtime into the radio in the late ’90s — an era of great r&b and hip-hop coming from the ladies contingent like TLC, Destiny’s Child and Lauryn Hill. Most musicians infuse the music they create with the sounds that spoke to them in those impressionable years, and this is the thread that carries through most of Days Are Gone. This is as pop as pop gets — but it’s sophisticated, musically adept, modern and original pop.
If the record itself weren’t impressive enough, consider the fact that the three Haim sisters share producer credits for every track, and are multi-instrumentalists, with Danielle handling rhythm and lead guitar, vocals and drums. Este’s main instrument is bass, Alana plays keys, synth and guitar. Both add percussion to the record and their vocal overlays blend in that perfect way that only siblings seem to get, giving the songs a lush, polished sheen. These young women know exactly how they want to sound and are in control of the results.
I love that Haim sometimes answers frequent comparisons to Fleetwood Mac by whipping out a cover of the Mac’s Peter Green-era “Oh Well” in their live show. It seriously rocks, and knowing they can do that kind of makes me wish that Days Are Gone had something to show that fierce and badass side of the band. Who knows, maybe it’s part of the master plan to keep some cards up their sleeve and surprise people, or maybe they wanted Days Are Gone to have a really cohesive feel and not try to hit all the bases from the get-go. Lyrically, there is room for improvement — none of the words are embarrassing or stupid, but they mine the theme of romantic dissatisfaction a little too often.
These are tiny gripes that don’t diminish my excitement one little bit about this band. I suspect, if they don’t flip out and self destruct — hey, it happens — or check out of that rare-bird hotel of chick-rockers and let love lead them astray into marriage and motherhood too soon — hey, it happens — well, these women could be around for a while. This makes me really happy, because they are gals, they are organic, and THEY CAN PLAY. It’s GBG heaven. Thanks, Haim, I’ve been waiting for you.