Haley Grant, left, and Kaylee Jesperson are The Harmaleighs. (Courtesy Ruth Chapa)

Harmaleighs take on anxiety in ‘She Won’t Make Sense’

Duo stays together in wake of romantic breakup

Haley Grant had grand designs for “She Won’t Make Sense,” the bare-knuckled concept album from her New York alterna-duo The Harmaleighs, getting its premiere it in The City this week.

But after composing six songs detailing the anxiety and depression she had been battling — a dark entity she actually named Susan — she lost the plot. For several months, she told her bandmate and romantic partner of five years Kaylee Jesperson that she was stuck.

“I kept telling her that we had no second act, no conclusion, no happy ending,” says Grant. “Then I, uh, got our ending.” It wasn’t what she was expecting. Her relationship with Jesperson began to die as grim new material jolted to life.

Grant and Jesperson — who began playing music together as classmates at Tennessee’s Belmont University, first in a Mumford & Sons-ish big band, then a whittled-down quartet and finally a duo — could find only one way to stay together as The Harmaleighs. It was by breaking up as a couple.

Jesperson openly blames Susan: “For a long time, Haley had really needed to work on her own mental health, and the first half of this record walks you through that journey, to her discovery that Susan pushes people away, and ultimately pushed me away,” she says, at Grant’s urging. “Now she understands that Susan is just a part of her, and Susan is going to be with her forever.”

Easing the harsh truth is the fact that the performers decided to keep The Harmaleighs going as a band. “It was all too easy to just say, ‘See ya later. And don’t ever speak to me again,’” says Jesperson. “But we saw that it was a delicate situation, and if we didn’t handle it the right way that the band, everything we’d ever created, could just blow up in our faces. And we didn’t want that to happen.”

To make it work, they had transcend resentment and be civil. At Belmont, the pair gravitated toward each other in mutual musical admiration of their chiming way with an oblique pop hook. Yet it was Jesperson who initially sensed the dark shadows rippling beneath Grant’s shiny surface.

“On the outside, Haley’s a big goofball who loves to have fun, but musically she’s into some deep and serious stuff,” she says. “But that was always her way of expressing that side of her, since talking about those things was probably never easy for her.”

To that point, the new single “Sorry, I’m Busy” stomps along to a celebratory beat while Grant cheerily chirps the warning signs of an panic attack.

Other new songs might prove too uncomfortable to perform: Jesperson says, “‘Dim the Lights’ is pretty difficult, because it’s specifically about our breakup. When Haley first showed me the song, I was like, ‘Oh, my God! I can’t sing this!’”


Ages and Ages, The Harmaleighs

Where: Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, April 13

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 546-6360, www.ticketfly.com

Just Posted

SFUSD going back to basics with school lunches made from scratch

Upgraded culinary center could serve as model for expanded in-house food production.

Sliding doors could open up more space on Muni buses

A simple engineering change could soon make Muni’s 900 buses roomier across… Continue reading

City struggles to find alternatives for inmates in seismically unsafe jail

Mayor London Breed has given City Hall a deadline to close down… Continue reading

E-scooter company Skip announces layoffs after losing SF permit

San Francisco-based e-scooter company Skip this week announced pending layoffs for roughly… Continue reading

Juul suspends sale of flavored e-cigarettes

San Francisco-based e-cigarette maker Juul Labs announced Thursday that it is suspending… Continue reading

Most Read