Someone is trying to call Este, the eldest Haim sister, during our Zoom interview, and it’s playing havoc with the internet connection. “Hold on, sorry,” she says, stopping mid-flow to cancel the call. “It’s our dad.” She picks up where she left off, explaining the power of looking your demons in the face. Then, “Oh, OK – he’s actually knocking at the door now.” She glances beyond the screen before hollering across the room, “DAD, I’M DOING AN INTERVIEW,” while across LA, in their respective homes, her younger sisters, Alana and Danielle, look on bemusedly.
“I moved out of my parents’ home when we came back from our first tour. I moved down the street from them and they’d come over unannounced,” says Alana. “That’s when I decided I needed some more land between us. But Este moved back to the Valley…”
Hemmed in by mountain ranges, the San Fernando Valley is, meteorologically, the hottest part of LA. Deep in the suburbs, a finger’s grasp away from the glitz of Hollywood, in between learning to play multiple instruments, the three sisters that make up rock band Haim spent their youth running through sprinklers and finding friends with pools to dip in. “I feel like we are Valley folklore now, rather than specific LA folklore,” continues Alana, the youngest and, at 8am, the most spirited of the three. “Growing up in the Valley, you’re kind of the butt of everyone’s joke – everyone thought you were super-uncool and had no idea what was going on. But it also gave you a unity; our producer Ariel [Rechtshaid, who is also Danielle’s boyfriend] is from there – when you find out someone else is from the Valley, it’s like, ‘I got you’.”
“The first time I remember going to Hollywood, I was 11,” says Danielle, guitarist and sometime drum player. “We only really went there to go to Canter’s deli,” she laughs. “Our parents hated leaving the Valley.” Alana plays the guitars and keys, while Este plays bass. All three share vocals, with three-part harmonies running through their albums, and Danielle takes the mantle of lead vocals. They all play other instruments too.
“Any crazy IDEAS we had, we were like, ‘Let’s do them’. There were no rules. We had to WORK out how to RELEASE this album”Alana
Although they officially became Haim full-time in 2007, the sisters had been playing together since they were tiny; first as a family band doing covers, then Danielle and Este were part of a band called Valli Girls. Este completed a five-year degree in Ethnomusicology at UCLA in only two years, and Danielle toured with Jenny Lewis and then joined The Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas on his solo tour, before all three sisters came together to write and perform their own music. Nearly 10 years after releasing debut single Forever, the track still sounds fresh and sophisticated, with snapping drums, sweet guitar riffs and a deeply memorable melody. It’s the sound of warm LA sunshine, and sound-tracked much of the early part of the past decade. Hailed largely as “perfect”, their debut album, Days Are Gone, entered the Billboard 200 at number six and the UK charts at number one. It had taken a year to make, with some parts recorded up to 15 times in a variety of locations, from recording studios to bathrooms.
“I spent lockdown reading,” says Este of the past year. “One of the best books I read was Zen In the Art Of Archery. It’s about the art of letting go. You can do everything to make the arrow go the right way but, ultimately, you don’t have control of where it goes.” Haim’s latest album, Women In Music Pt III, is a good example of this. Announced before the pandemic, it was due to be released mid-April 2020. “We had all these plans,” Alana chimes in. “We were going to do a tour right across America, only playing delis, then go to England, then Australia. We played one deli in New York, then got to Washington, DC, and that was when lockdown became a reality. We took a flight home on March 12 and have been here since.”
A musician’s life is somewhat cyclical: write a record, tour it for two years, come home, write another one. Rinse, repeat. Having such a spanner thrown in the works as a pandemic can really throw the best-laid plans off-kilter. “Even my body was like, getting in to tour mode,” says Alana. “It was like, ‘Here we go, get ready to eat Pizza Hut and chicken wings for two years’.” The lockdown made them go back to the beginning. “Any crazy ideas we had, we were like, ‘Let’s do them’. There were no rules. We had to work out how to release this album – we really went back to the drawing board.”
“Eventually, you have to confront what it is you are RUNNING from. Depression, HEALTH scares and the LOSS of a loved one – it all came to a head”Este
The band took it on themselves to launch the album with Zoom dance classes (their Instagram is choreography-heavy, with Este the long-time de facto ringleader, having instigated family dance performances since they were kids) and lessons on how to play various instrumental parts from the album. “I feel like we are in a super-cool exclusive club that no one wants to be in – everyone who tried to put out a record during quarantine should at least get a T-shirt. But seeing a thousand people across the world dancing to moves you made up did feel pretty heart-warming,” says Alana.
Once you let go of the proverbial arrow, you have no control of how it lands – and the sisters let go as best they could. It paid off: the album garnered wide acclaim from fans and critics alike and received the band’s first Album of the Year nomination at the Grammys, with the group also getting a nod in the Best Rock Performance category.
“We were in such a crazy and reflective place [when we wrote the album],” says Este. “We had been on tour for so long. We are so lucky we get to do what we do, but we were on a hamster wheel and I think we thought that when we left to go on tour, we also left our problems behind. Well, we know that’s not true. Eventually, you have to confront what it is you are running from. And it just so happened that we decided collectively to do that after touring our second record. Depression, health scares and the loss of a loved one – it all came to a head.”
They didn’t hold back, either. While their third album might sound as light and funky as their first, there are songs about Alana’s depression, about Danielle’s boyfriend and the band’s producer Rechtshaid’s cancer scare. On Hallelujah, Este sings about relying on her sisters to help her with her type 1 diabetes (she had been warned she may have to give up touring, as it took a toll on her body), Alana sings about mourning the death of a friend who died suddenly aged 20, and Danielle sings about being born between two angels who buoy her spirits. “It was time to talk about it, and we did,” says Este. “And I don’t think it’s ended [by] writing the album. One of the lessons we learned is that it’s a life-long process to work through stuff.”
“Our fourth Haim sister [Taylor Swift] has always LOVED that song [Gasoline] – so we thought it would be COOL if she reimagined it. We texted her and SHE replied straight away”Danielle
They found the writing process easier and more fluid than with their previous two albums. “Songwriting is like a tornado,” Este continues, “and we pray it blows through. It used to make me laugh, when I was at UCLA, that there were songwriting classes. But there’s not one way of writing a song. I know our process is very different…” Alana cuts her off: “My songwriting style is, ‘Why not write a song about a booty call? And 3AM was born! That was a great day for my whole family. We don’t have secrets, but I do think my sisters want there to be!”
They’ve just released a remix of 3AM by bassist extraordinaire Thundercat, and Gasoline, a slow and hazy number, with a new verse added by self-proclaimed “fourth Haim sister” and long-time collaborator Taylor Swift. “She has always loved that song,” says Danielle, “so we thought it would be cool if she reimagined it. We texted her and she replied straight away. The next morning, it was in our inbox.”
It’s not easy being a woman in music – particularly in the male-dominated world of rock. Haim is the first all-female rock band to be nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys, ever. Greater recognition for women in music should have happened a long time ago, and yet the landscape is only just shifting now. When they learned about their two Grammy nominations, the sisters wondered just how three girls from the Valley had managed it.
“The number of times we have been told ‘No’, or that it wasn’t going to work, or people have told us how to play or dress, or that we should look different… It feels like every step forward, we had to take five back. We could have given up so many times, but we kept going – and we did it on our own terms,” says Alana. “No one gave us a roadmap on how to get here,” she pauses, as she pours boiling water into a coffee filter. “But here we are.”
The Counselors, with Haim
Join Alana, Este and Danielle as they get together for a light-hearted therapy session, offering advice and guidance on everything from surviving lockdown to stealing your sister’s clothes and always believing in yourself, no matter what.