Haim: killer queens

Sitting down and opening up with Haim ahead of the release of their revelational new album. “We didn’t mean it to be this way,” they say, “but it ended up being our most personal record.”

Is there a more propitious time to meet Haim than International Women’s Day, in the run up to the release of an album the sisters have titled Women In Music Pt. III, and the same day that Lady Gaga includes their song Now I’m In It on a playlist she’s curated that’s celebrating my fellow women musicians who are reinventing the intersection of pop and club music”?

No, there is not.

So, before we celebrate Este, Danielle and Alana Haim and their rich, expansive, melodically fire third album, let’s pay it back. Which other women in music rule? 

Lady Gaga, for starters. Madonna, for sure. We’ve always been such great fans of hers,” says oldest sister Este, 34, But going back and just looking at all of her music and her music videos, it’s incredible. Ray of Light – I love that whole album. She actually recorded it at a studio in north Hollywood. When I found that out I was like: Oh my God! We grew up around the corner from there!’”

Chaka Khan,” chips in youngest sister Alana, 28. Have you seen her drum? Get on the YouTube, it’s fucking crazy. She’s insane.”

We’re also huge Karen Carpenter fans,” adds middle sister Danielle, 31, and obviously Stevie – Stevie Nicks is, like, The One. Our godmother.

They also serve: Betty Davis, Annie Lennox (“I fucking love Annie Lennox” – Danielle), Kate Bush (“The love of my life” – Alana), Joni Mitchell (“I need Joni in my life” – Este).

Similarly, there isn’t a better place to meet the Los Angelenos than The Bowery Hotel in New York’s East Village. It was just down the road that Haim played their first ever New York show, at Bowery Electric during the October 2011 edition of the CMJ festival. 

We were all sharing one room in a hotel because that’s all we could afford,” recalls Danielle with a grin. But there were masses of people in the street, and we were like: This is going to be our biggest show ever!’ Little did we know that they were there because it was the night Paul McCartney was getting married to Nancy Shevell – here!” she exclaims, opening her arms to embrace the boujee surroundings of this quietly boujee hotel. 

We were, like, damn… But one day, we’ll stay at The Bowery!”

And here they are, eight-and-a-half years later, installed in this hotel – a room each, this time – with their parents. They’ve come from LA to see their daughters perform on The Jimmy Fallon Show the following evening. Which means Haim are kicking off the promotion for Women In Music Pt. III with all the A‑list media…

Este

So we know about your first New York work trip. What about your first UK trip, in 2012, a few months before you won the BBC Music Sound of 2013 poll? 

Alana: Again, we only had money for one room in this crazy hotel. And London to LA people is so far. But we’re like: everything is fucking cool, everyone is so hot, I want to make out with everybody that’s here! It was just the best time. I was only 19 or 20 so I couldn’t drink in the States. Then I went to fucking London and everyone was like: LET’S GET FUCKED UP! LET’S GO!”

Este: Bottoms up, bitch! Yeah, we went to all the fun pubs [pronounced poobs”].

Danielle: I was so sick. I was like, I just need some soup – ooh, Wagamama’s!

Alana: That was our first time having Wagamama’s. And a cheeky Nando’s.

Este: We love Nando’s. We so want the black card. Maybe after this we’ll get it?

So, Women In Music Pt. III: 16 tracks; three banging 2019 singles (Summer Girl, Now I’m It, Hallelujah); one just-released single (gnarly riff-tastic FM rock track The Steps); production by Danielle, Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij; another brace of killer videos from frequent collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson (who also shot the sleeve art); and, overall, a glorious distillation of Haim’s West Coast sunshine rock, fleet-footed dancefloor flavours, trenchant lyrical messaging, some personal confessionals – and, in Hallelujah, a kind of meta-Haim song about your sisterhood.

Alana: That was probably the quickest song we wrote and the hardest thing to write at the same time. We wrote it with our friend Tobias Jesso Jr. We were just in a room together with an acoustic guitar – usually we start with drums, that’s our comfort zone, so we rarely start with a guitar and just chords. But he was like, let’s just try it”, and the song kind of came out of it.

We’d always wanted to write a song about being sisters because we’re very lucky to have each other, especially being in this industry – it’s so nice to have two people always by my side. But on the other hand it was a song about going through really tragic and awful times, and having my family with me. It’s a very complicated, emotional song. We’ve never played it live. I have no idea how I’m going to feel when we do. 

We didn’t mean it to be this way but it ended up being our most personal record. We had so much experience that we wanted to talk about, that we didn’t know we could put into song. It’s really hard to sit down about and be like: I’m going to write a song about an experience that I’m having and I’m going to put it on a record for other people to hear it and listen to what I fucking went through for years.” When people ask me, so what’s the record feel like?”, I’m like: I feel very naked when I listen to it. I feel like people are going to be listening to really intense… shit on this record that we’ve never really talked about. 

Danielle, you flagged as much in your Instagram post when you put out Now I’m In It last year. (“Now I’m In It is about going through it. A depression. Not leaving the house type of shit. For my sisters and I, there have been times in our lives where we have felt like we are stuck in a dark hole. This track speaks to that emotion.”) How difficult was it wrestling those dark feelings and the honesty into lyrics? 

Danielle: Sometimes when you’re writing a song, you’re just saying these words or sounds that sound like words, to kind of conjure up lyrics. A lot of the times I start to write things that I don’t really understand. I think when we wrote it I was almost at the deepest part of this, like, not leaving the house [feeling].

Este, you’ve wrestled with similar feelings too, right?

Este: With depression? Yeah. But I think my experience with depression is a little different than Danielle’s in that I’m a type 1 diabetic. With type 1 diabetes and depression, there’s a correlation between the two. I’m thankful – and this also goes back to Hallelujah – that I have sisters that are supportive of me and my disease. 

Diabetes is a 24-hour job you can’t clock out of. It’s really taxing on your body and your mind. Eventually that catches up to you. It was like I was going and going, pushing and pushing, putting my disease on the backburner a lot of the time. But eventually it all catches up to you. 

And then I thank God also for my therapist. I love her. I think that mental health is something that’s really important. I didn’t really realise how difficult managing diabetes and having a touring career was going to be when I first started touring. It really gets hard.

The first most people knew about how severe it could get was at Glastonbury 2013, when you almost had a seizure and had to leave the stage mid-set – but after some emergency chocolate you came back on and did the rest of the set sitting down like BB King”.

Este: My poor parents. I totally forgot to call them to let them know I was OK!

Danielle: They were like: Oh, we saw the Glastonbury headline…”

Alana: Girl from Haim dies on stage.”

Este: Oh my God! But I’m really lucky that I’ve got these two to rely on. I’ve had conversations like this with Nick Jonas, who’s also a type 1 diabetic. He always talks about how he’s lucky that he has his brothers on tour. With adrenaline, it’s weird, it can skyrocket your blood sugar or it can make it plummet.

So if you’re having a rockin’ gig, it can be bad for you? 

Este: [nods] When my blood sugar’s low, my first thought is like: I’m really killing it tonight! I am really working it out! Where’s my Snickers?

Alana

Danielle, after you released Summer Girl, you revealed that the lyrics partly reflected the testicular cancer diagnosis that Ariel Rechtshaid [her boyfriend] received during the recording of you second album Something To Tell You (2017). Did you alert him to that fact?

Danielle: Honestly, no, I didn’t tell him. I was never gonna say anything when we were making our second album or during the promotion of our second album. It wasn’t my story to tell, even though that was a big part of our second album. He decided to kind of share it with the world, and then I think that’s probably when I started to write the song, just in my head and then I did it on GarageBand on my phone. But no, I didn’t tell him, but I think he likes it.”

Man from the Magazine, which calls out the sleazy line of questioning of an interviewer – is that based on a real experience with a real dickhead?

Danielle: Yes, it is. I don’t even remember his name, it was so early on. I feel like there was this infatuation with the faces Este would make when she was playing.

Este: First of all, I felt attacked for something that I love so much. Playing live, my face is a reflection of how I feel. But I’m also human, and I see and hear what people say about it. So there were times when we were first playing shows where I’d be like: Este, just stop, don’t do it, concentrate on being stoic.” But when I’m conscious of it, my playing would suck! And I wouldn’t have any fun. And I’d look back at the performance and be like: Why am I doing this? Why do I give a fuck?”

So then I stopped giving a fuck. And I haven’t given a fuck since. But then to be asked something like that, and in such a conniving way – Do you make the same faces on stage that you make in bed?” – was horrible. 

I’d like to think he wasn’t genuinely trying to intimidate me, but it felt like an intimidation tactic. And I just threw it back at him: What, are you trying to find out?” Then, of course, he pinched my arm and said: You’re so cute.”

I was like: OK. I see you. This interview is basically over. So I’m just going to give you yes or no answers from now.”

And he didn’t write up that exchange? 

Este: No. But that’s not an isolated incident – it happened a lot, especially when we first started. Even before we were Haim I’d get weird comments about the way I looked or the way I performed. But when that happened, it was the boiling point. And we had to really find the right way to put it into song. And I think we did, finally, on this record.

Alana: We also drew from experience of going into [musical instruments store] Guitar Center growing up. I remember going in and getting these comments: Oh, are you looking for something for your boyfriend?” Uh, actually, no. But if you want to go toe-to-toe about gear and make this a gear thing, I can do that.” But with that also you get to a point where you’re like: Fuck this, man.”

Danielle: I would feel intimidated, too. The song also speaks to a time when I went in to try guitars, and they’d be like: Oh, here’s a Squire…’ Which is a beginner’s guitar. And I was looking for an SG.”

And they’d be like, sure you can handle a Gibson?”

Danielle: Exactly! I’m like: Do I have to prove to you that I can play?”

Danielle

Job done, and then some. You can play, you can write, you can produce and you can turn your life experiences, some glorious, some shitty, into a brilliant new album. It’s impressive. But before we go, let’s just do an inventory of your other life skills. Which sister is the best at drinking?

Alana: Me, by far. Don’t even fucking try to steal that from me!

At cooking?

Este: Danielle, absolutely. She’s the only one that can cook well.

Alana: She has the patience for it.

Este: We don’t have the patience for it. I am the worst cook. I burn Jell‑O.

At eating?

Este: Me. I love eating. Did you not pay attention to all the shit I ordered here – fries, burrata – and how I finished everything? I try to be healthy on the road and when I’m at home. But I do love pizza.

Alana: Give me a Greggs vegan sausage roll!

At shopping?

Este: Danielle probably. Danielle has an online shopping problem.

Danielle: I might, but it’s fine.

At dancing?

Danielle: Este, hundred per cent. I’ve got to give that to Este. The signature Este Shoulder Roll.

At arguing?

Alana: Me. By far. I’m the baby of the family, and I’m also a fire sign. I’m a Sagittarius, so it’s in my sign.

Este: I’m a water sign, I’m a Pisces. I’m just fickle.

At swearing?

Alana: Me. Clearly. It’s in my sign. 

At exercising?

Alana: Me. I’m a boxer. I have a lot of aggression to get out!

Finally: who’s the best Haim sister at sucking up to mum and dad?

Alana: Este.

Danielle: Este.

Este: I’m the favourite. I’m the oldest. It’s kind of a given, right?

Women In Music Pt. III is released on 24th April


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