Once upon a time there was life without Haim. And then, one day, there they were. The three limby, So-Cal sisters with harmonies to rival TLC, the lyrical narrative of The Pretenders or Tom Petty, the hair and vocal lines of Stevie Nicks and the cut-off shorts of that picture of Lemmy. You know the one. If you don’t, Google needs to be your friend right now.
Interview from BEAT #8, Photography by Jeff Henrikson
Este (the oldest, blondest Haim who plays bass), Danielle (the dark-haired, lead singer-lead guitarist Haim) and Alana (the youngest, most animated, drummer, keys and other ‘bits’ Haim) initially started out jamming with their parents Moti and Donna, and at an early age the Haim siblings – it’s pronounced High-Im by the way – formed Rockinghaim, playing gigs at local fairs and schools. Danielle and Este broke away and joined Valli Girls, a pop quartet that was never meant to be in their mid teens but, by 2007, realised that blood was thicker than dodgy lyrics and the two decided to start playing under the moniker Haim with Alana. Early gigs saw them paying their friends to come down. “We would literally have 100 names on the list,” Este admits. “We would say, if someone says they’re on the Haim list, just give them some money out of our wages. Even our mom and dad had to buy tickets.”
Musically, this band are just about the most skilled and seasoned players out there. Este studied a degree in Ethnomusicology – that’s right – in two years instead of five Danielle was asked to play drums for a friend, which led to Jenny Lewis inviting her to play with her band on tour. Then, one night, a certain Julian Casablancas came down and saw the show and asked her to play guitar and drums with him on his solo tour. All three girls were fans of The Strokes, so they made the natural decision to take their wages from a Haim gig that Este had booked them for and followed their sister and Julian on parts of his tour. Papa Haim drove, naturally.
Forming Haim wasn’t like a we-must-do-this-to-escape-LA kind of story, like The Runaways. “It was more, like, I had just been on tour with Julian for two years and I’d seen the world,” Danielle says. “And, like, I wanted to show my sisters Japan and London. I love Julian and I loved that record, believe me, I had an awesome time, but I missed my sisters. That made me want to get my fucking shit together.”Rather than sitting around trying to find chords on the guitar, the sisters joined forces and “fucked around on GarageBand. It was still daunting, though. We’d be like ‘not today,’” Alana mimes closing a laptop lid with two flatpalms. “No thank you, maybe tomorrow.”
“Writing isn’t a science, we’d just throw shit out there and see what sticks,” interrupts Danielle. “Like, with lyrics we just go through stuff until something works with the melody and the meter of the song. Este is the outro queen, we just let her do her thing.” Este smiles. “I want that on my gravestone: Este is the outro queen. It’s true. I just channel my inner Mariah Carey, you know. Writing lyrics is really when you see the deep, dark depths of our emo souls.” Wow. “Yeah, one of us would say something and the others would be like, ‘aaaahnd, no.’ I’m supes emosh. They had to reign me back in all the time. I’d be like (starts singing) ‘take my heart and throw it in the rain, your hair is everywhere,’ and they’d be like, ‘put the razors away, no cuts today and those spiral bound notebooks from fourth grade go back in the closet.’ I go the moon and they pull me back to the sun. That’s just how it works.”
To say the three are close is an understatement. They’re like the sisters that lived on the same street as you and who were always a shining example of how to get on with each other, the ones your parents seethed at you about through their teeth – “look at those sisters getting along and playing the bongos together nicely”. They talk over each other in that witchy sister way, you know, where they finisheach other’s sentences. All those clichés.
I want that on my gravestone: Este is the outro queen. It’s true. I just channel my inner Mariah Carey, you know. Writing lyrics is really when you see the deep, dark depths of our emo souls
There’s not a whiff of ego among them, either, as they pass Este’s halloumi salad around as if it’s on a Lazy Susan. They all look alike with their endless limbs and long, Rapunzel-y hair, but “I definitely look most like our mom,” says Alana. “When I look at her I’m like, ‘there’s my future,’”. “Our mom’s a babe…” smiles Danielle, “So whatever, I’m chilling, and I’m gonna eat seven burgers,” continues Alana. “We all have our dads feet though.”The title track off their debut EP, Forever was widely-regarded as the perfect pop song. It is. The video has footage of the sisters as children, languidly plopping into a swimming pool and riding bikes, interspersed with them playing in the living room, flankedby long, golden finger of LA light – has had nearly fivemillion hits on YouTube. It’s smart, superbly written pop with gutsy, funky rhythms and sophisticated guitars. “We actually wrote that in, like, 2007,” Este says. “We were like, no more of you.” Then (producer) Ludvig Goransson asked us for a song to work on so we gave him that one. I think we can all agree it worked out well. It was the firstsong we were happy with and excited about.” Signed to Roc-Nation’s management team, the girls hook heavy, infectious melodies and classic soft-rock ‘tude shines through on their debut album Days Are Gone. “Some of the songs on that we wrote in 2008, like The Wire. It’s still fun playing that on stage though,” Alana says. “The rest of those songs we put to bed. We were like, it’s time to retire you.”
Although to the listener it may not seem like the album was fraught with difficult, it was. “It was a real learning curve,” Danielle says, rather flatly. Sometimes the thing you learn most in such circumstances isn’t what you should do, but, rather, what you shouldn’t. “We mixed on the road,” Alana chimes in. “You’d get to a festival and have to download a huge file to listen to and there’d be, like, 30,000 people also using the wifi trying to find out what time Green Day were playing.” Danielle finishe her thought. “Not mixing in a studio was really hard because it’s all we have ever done, but we know for next time. There was an engineer with Ariel [Rechtshaid, who produced the album] but we were super heavy handed in the production, mixing and mastering. You have to be. We got everything at least close to how we wanted it volume wise in the studio and then, like, to hand it off to someone who changes everything….”. The sense of frustration is palpable. “You’d get it back and it was completely different, not even, like, ‘ohhhh interesting,’ but like, ‘WHAT IS THIS?!” Alana explains. “I think people thought, ‘Oh, it’s three girls, this will be a simple job, we will send them one try and they’ll be like, bellissimo!’” Not these girls.
We were told that we were the hardest people in the music industry to work with
The music industry is, of course, rife with casual sexism. It just is. It’s sad that, in 2013, you can’t just be a woman who is really good at playing guitar and knows how she wants it to sound when it’s recorded, without feeling belittled. “Yeah, it’s bizarre that’s even a thing, isn’t it?” Danielle says, looking into the distance. She’s visibly irked. “We were told that we were the hardest people in the music industry to work with. Like, I’m pretty certain there have been other bands who were more difficult than us. Sure, we are opinionated and we know what we want, and I think that surprised a lot of people. At the end of the day, though, the record sounds exactly how we wanted it to. Even if we did submit it to the label at four am from some random studio in Australia.”
The girls have come a long way since paying their friends to come see them play: not just musically, but with their following genuinely. Both their metric shitload of YouTube hits and Twitter followers point to a sprawling, hardcore fan-base. They even have fan fiction written about them, for God’s sake. “It’s mind blowing,” Alana laughs. “I love Twitter. I won an award for it. I mostly tweet for help. Recently my grandma came to visit us. She’s obsessed with gambling. She won’t talk to you – she’ll just play blackjack for, like, seven hours a day.” They all break into giggles. “She came to London and wanted to gamble so I tweeted, ‘URGENT! My grandma wants to gamble, where do I take her?’ I got so many responses. Anyway. She won, like, £500. She’ll fuck you up.”
If we’re talking winning streaks, Gambling Grandma’s granddaughters seem a pretty safe bet to us.