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Inside Track: Haim 'I've Been Down'

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Ariel Rechtshaid & Rostam Batmanglij By Paul Tingen
Published September 2020

Rostam Batmanglij & Danielle Haim.Rostam Batmanglij & Danielle Haim.Photo: Grant Spanier

Haim's latest album was made with a mix of old-school and modern techniques and equipment.

Haim's third album, Women In Music Pt. III, was not only a UK number one, but also exceptionally well received in other ways. The album scored a whopping 89 out of 100 on Metacritic, with writers noting its experimental and eclectic nature, and saw the band moving away from the sunny Californian pop/rock of their first two records.

'I've Been Down' was written by Haim and Rostam Batmanglij. Produced by Danielle Haim, Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid.'I've Been Down' was written by Haim and Rostam Batmanglij. Produced by Danielle Haim, Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid.Women In Music Pt. III was produced by the band's singer, guitarist and drummer Danielle Haim, together with her boyfriend and producer Ariel Rechtshaid, and Rostam Batmanglij. The latter was once both the producer for, and a member of, Vampire Weekend (see the SOS May 2010,, but since 2016 has ventured out on his own, both as a solo artist and a producer for such artists as Frank Ocean, Lykke Li, Wet and Maggie Rogers, among others.

Talking via Skype, Rechtshaid and Batmanglij explain that much of the sound of Women In Music Pt. III was the result of recording and treating real instruments to make them sound old, and then sampling them to make them sound modern again.

"Yeah, it is sort of what we did," comments Batmanglij, laughing. "In general many samples are taken from old recordings, so we first made things sound like old recordings, and then we did things to make them sound gritty and grainy so they sound like a sample, and then the final step was to make them sound big! Some of our choices were really us flying by the seats of our pants, as we were trying to retrace the steps of how old recordings were made, and then making that sound like a sample. That was a huge goal.

"We didn't actually sit down and say, 'We are going to make something sound old and then make it sound new,' clarifies Rechtshaid. "We were not really consciously talking that way. But speaking for myself, I am very influenced by hip-hop production, and coming up as a kid in LA in the '90s I got my hands on a sampler and tried to find the same breakbeat they used on, for example, an Ice Cube record. I have always been a student of recording history, and I also am a huge fan of music software. We tried to combine these two, but that's obviously not going to sound retro. We were pushing plug‑ins and our laptops as far they could go, and this lends itself to a modern sound, because these are modern tools."

Eclectic Avenue

Rechtshaid has an eclectic background. As a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, engineer and producer, he has worked in pop and alternative rock with the likes of Adele, Diplo, Vampire Weekend, Madonna and many more (see, and he's been involved with Haim since their 2013 debut album, Days Are Gone.

Ariel Rechtshaid at his Burbank studio in 2017.Ariel Rechtshaid at his Burbank studio in 2017.Photo: Ashley Beliveau

Batmanglij brought his own eclectic mix of influences to the table, not only having similarly diverse studio roles as Rechtshaid, but also as a result of his cultural background. Born in Washington, DC to Iranian and Persian parents, he says he "definitely grew up listening to music from all around the world. There was a lot of Persian music playing in my household, there was African music, there was folk music, there were the Rolling Stones. I think on this Haim album everybody's influences pushed the album to be the eclectic mix that it became."

Work on Women In Music Pt. III began in the first half of 2019, without those involved actually planning to make an album, as Rechtshaid recalls. "About a year ago Danielle was kind of frustrated with the pressure of putting out records in time for touring and so on, and said she just wanted to put out one song. So we did a song called 'Summer Girl', and this and its video made by Paul Thomas Anderson came together really effortlessly, which created a new, looser direction for us.

"We did a few more songs, still thinking of singles and not of making an album, and then the record company asked what our thoughts were about doing an album. So the concept came in the middle, as opposed to at the beginning. The sounds and styles on this record have surprised people, and it is rewarding to get that reaction. But the album is eclectic because Haim are eclectic. It was only a matter of time before all those styles would show themselves on one record. The band are also only three records into their career, they're still getting warmed up and getting better at what they do."

Team Effort

'Summer Girl' was released on 31st July 2019, and was followed by the singles 'Now I'm In It' and 'Hallelujah' a few months later. 'Summer Girl' was also started by Danielle Haim in response to Rechtshaid's cancer diagnosis (he is since in remission), and her first step was a demo she had made in GarageBand on her phone. About half the songs on Women In Music Pt. III were started with some kind of demo and then developed in the studio, and the other half was written in the studio. The latter is actively encouraged by Batmanglij.

"I guess it is a common thread for records on which I have been a producer that there is a lot of writing songs from scratch in the studio. This may be because my role as a producer is always to fill the space that needs to be filled. If somebody comes into the studio and says: 'I want to write a new song today,' inevitably that's something that I take pleasure in doing.

"It's part of my journey, which is that with every recording I have been a part of, I have been in the role of producer. I was the sole producer of the first two Vampire Weekend albums, and then Ariel and I co-produced the third one, Modern Vampires Of The City [2013]. I think I was about 14 when I realised that it is what I specifically wanted to do as a career: write songs and produce them. I love making music on my own, but also working as a producer as part of a project with other people."

Women In Music Pt. III obviously fell into the latter category. Not only did Danielle Haim, Batmanglij and Rechtshaid produce the entire album together, they also co-wrote most songs with the other two members of Haim. The credits also feature an extensive cast of additional musicians, engineers and well-known mixers — among the latter are David Fridmann, Manny Marroquin, Tom Elmhirst, Neal Pogue and Shawn Everett. Batmanglij elaborates on how it was all put together.

"The timeline is that we started with 'Summer Girl,' and then we finished the last song in January, which was 'I've Been Down'. There was a vinyl release soon afterwards, on which Ariel and I mixed several of the songs, and for the digital release later [released 26th June], several more songs were sent to outside mixers. Ariel and I mixed three songs on the digital album, including 'I've Been Down'.

"The way a lot of the album progressed was with people splitting off into teams. Ariel and Danielle would work together, and Danielle and I, and Ariel and I, and Estee and Alana, and so on, and then we'd make final decisions about things when we were all in the same room together. The most effective work happened when we were in teams of two. The song 'I've Been Down' was a case in point.

"Danielle came into my studio one morning saying: 'I want to write something new.' She sat down in front of Pro Tools and sketched in a drum part using a Native Instruments Kontakt drum kit I pulled up called Waves Factory Old Tape Drums. We began writing the song very quickly with me on acoustic guitar. You can still hear that acoustic guitar part in the final recording. We wrote the verses and chorus of the song in a couple of hours, and recorded most of it. The chords for the bridge of the song where later written by Ariel and played by me on a Hammond organ, and the bridge was written on top of those chords."

Much of Haim's latest album was recorded using Ariel Rechtshaid's Scully 280 16-track tape machine.Much of Haim's latest album was recorded using Ariel Rechtshaid's Scully 280 16-track tape machine.Rechtshaid recalls: "One day Rostam and Danielle were together, and they put up a little drum loop, and then came up with a part of the song. We thought the album was complete, so we were like, 'Is there still something missing from this record, is there space for another song?' But I remember hearing the song and loving it and wanting to finish it. When Danielle came to my studio in Burbank it was just a drum loop and acoustic guitar and Danielle then played the beat on real drums, and we recorded them on my 16-track Scully tape machine."

On Tape

Women In Music Pt. III was recorded in a variety of locations, amongst them Vox in LA and the Strongroom in London, but mostly at Rechtshaid's and Batmanglij's studios. The two producers elaborate on their studios, and how they used them for their old/new process. Notable is that the studios of both are full of musical instruments and all manner of unusual gear, in the case of Rechtshaid tape recorders, which played an essential part in achieving the 'old' aspect of the sounds, as was the case when recording the drums for 'I've Been Down'.

Rechtshaid: "We wrote and recorded in my studio, Heavy Duty, and in Rostam's studio, Matsor, and my tracking room, which is eight minutes from here. Sonically, we were experimenting all the time. It was like we had been preparing years for this moment subconsciously, and we used whatever toys were at hand. I have a record player, and I was pulling up some of my breakbeats and scratching them in. If it worked, it worked. Historically we did not have access to live tracking space quite so freely as we did on this record, so that gave us a lot more freedom. Also, I now have all the necessary gear, with microphones and a tape machine that I got working over the years, all in a bizarre setup. All these ingredients informed the record.

Rostam Batmanglij: "In the old days people recorded to tape and then they had to bounce tracks down to other tapes, and when you do that you are having tons of different wow and flutter enter the signal. My goal here was to recreate that situation."

"My tape machines are a Scully 280, a 16-track 2-inch; an Ampex 440 1-inch 8-track; and an Ampex 350 quarter-inch. I usually run a microphone into the balanced input of the tape machine, using the internal mic pre, and that sounds completely magical to me. I became obsessed with that sound. Before I got my hands on the Scully tape machine I had Scully mic pres, because they were an affordable, vibey, vintage option. I loved the way those mic pres sounded, so when I got the 280, I wanted to immediately start recording into it, but that didn't fit with my workflow.

"With the 440, for example, my signal chain is mics going into my Neve BCM10 or other external mic pres. The signals come up on a patch bay, and they are multed to Pro Tools and the tape machine. And then the signal goes from the repro head of the tape machine to Pro Tools as well. So I'm recording two times 8-track at the same time in Pro Tools. The moment the recording is done, I align the recording from the tape recorder with the digital recording, which means I have it in a playlist, and can continue to work in Pro Tools.

"I started working with the Scully 280 when we began the Haim record, and wanted to use the mic pres on the machine. While tape recordings usually sound nicer to my ears, with the Scully things almost feel like a different performance. It sounds wildly different. I would listen to Danielle play, and then I would listen to the Scully and it instantly brought me somewhere else, like to a '60s drum sound. The problem is that you cannot mult after the Scully mic pres on the tape machine before the signal hits tape. So I had a bunch of mic splitters built, with good transformers, by Jensen. Instead of splitting the signal after a Neve mic pre we split immediately after the microphone. One signal goes to my Neve mic pres and then into Pro Tools, and the other goes straight to the Scully, and from there to Pro Tools."

Vintage Vibe

The Scully 280 tape recorder was used by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. Recording onto that machine definitely added to the vintage vibe the producers of Women In Music Pt. III were after, before modernising it, of course. Batmanglij elaborates.

"We used tape in a specific way, mostly for drums. Particularly the way the room is captured on the tape has a special presence. There's noise and hiss, and especially when you use a lot of compression, it makes the drums come to life. Tape also changes the transients and makes them more pleasant. Once you get a vibey drum sound in the computer, you can do anything you want to it. But the vibe is what you have to capture initially, and that is what the tape machine really does. 'Summer Girl' also started with Danielle drumming, and we recorded those drums and the saxophone on tape at Vox, where they have great tape machines."

Like Rechtshaid's studio, Batmanglij's facility has a combination of 21st century state-of-the-art stuff and gear that can add a vintage vibe. "I have some old and new Neve mic pres, and two Tube-Tech compressors, and a Blue Stripe Anniversary Edition 1176. My soundcard is a UAD Apollo 16 and my monitors are the Dynaudio BM5As and PMC twotwo.8s, with the big sub. I bought the Dynaudios when I was 22, and I have mixed every record on them that I have ever made. They were just $500 each, but I love them and know how to make things sound good on them. The studio has super-quiet air conditioning, because it's all in one room. The noisiest thing in my computer is my Mac Pro, the black one that looks like a trashcan.

Ariel's studio houses an impressive microphone collection.Ariel's studio houses an impressive microphone collection.Photo: Ariel Rechtshaid

"I have several microphones, including an AKG C414, Neumann U87, two Coles mics, and an RCA KU-3A ribbon, but my main microphone is the Sony C800G. How bright it is depends on what preamps and compressors you pair it with and the room you record it in. I have all mics, mic pres and compressors always patched in, ready to record, so I literally only have to hit one key in Pro Tools to record whatever instrument. I'm also a big fan of using DI, and for the Haim record I got the Tonecraft 363 tube DI, which is amazing."

Ariel Rechtshaid: "Many people source loops and samples, and they make songs around that. We were making songs and then designing sounds that have the right vibe for that song."

Chop & Change

Batmanglij and Rechtshaid did a lot of the engineering themselves, and spent many hours chopping and editing vintage-sounding recordings and then adding all sorts of plug-ins to add a contemporary edge. This process of in-the-box treatments was in effect rough mixing, and they took this to a point where they didn't really need to do final mixes.

Rechtshaid: "Many people source loops and samples, and they make songs around that. We were making songs and then designing sounds that have the right vibe for that song. This is part of production, and also of mixing. So much of mixing is in the production these days, and at the end of that process there often was no purpose to doing another mix. When the song is right, and the production is right, it becomes like a choice rather than a necessity to send it to an external mixer. So in effect Rostam and I were mixing as we went, passing songs back and forth to each other."

Batmanglij: "There were times when Ariel and I would sit together in front of a session, but we did a lot of the work separately from each other, and then we'd trade sessions. We synchronise our drives every two or three days using SyncPro, and we easily can open up each other's sessions in our computers. The reason that process works is because we like the things the other does. Ariel and I also both try to get things to sound as close to a finished recording from the very beginning. With anything we sent to external mixers we would have done our best to make it sound as good as possible. We wouldn't send out unfinished mixes. But in the case of 'I've Been Down' we were entirely happy with the way our mix sounded."