For Haim, music is a family business
The ladies of Los Angeles hot-list act Haim have just spent an afternoon at a retro-cool clothing store called Wild Man Vintage, which, although located in Kansas, didn’t have much in the way of ruby-red shoes. Also in short supply, evidently, were The Wizard of Oz–issue powder-blue farm dresses and crimson blazers formerly worn by flying monkeys.
This, however, qualifies as only a minor disappointment for Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim—three sisters who have been pop’s biggest breakout act of 2013. Reached on a cellphone in Lawrence, Kansas, which is perhaps most famous as the city where William S. Burroughs spent the last years of his life, the siblings start out by rattling off the day’s scores.
“You think Lawrence, Kansas, would be a weird city, and it is weird, but it’s also fucking awesome,” says Alana, the youngest member of Haim and arguably the most caffeinated. “I spent too much money at the amazing thrift store we found today, but I got a lot of shit, so that’s fine—my dad won’t be too mad. I’m really into bomber jackets—I’ve got, I think, 20 of them at home, which is way too many.
“My parents are kind of mad about the fact that I kind of hoard things—I’m like a low-key hoarder,” the singer-guitarist-keyboardist continues manically. “Every time I come back from tour, my mom is upset because there’s nowhere to put all of my clothes from the tour. It leads to a whole big kafuffle, but it’s all good.”
Danielle—who plays lead guitar and drums and is generally portrayed as the quietest member of Haim—is similarly revved-up about Wild Man.
“It’s my favourite vintage store,” she offers, “so we spent a couple of hours in there and tried on a bunch of shit. I got a jean jacket, 10 T-shirts, a pair of jeans. It was awesome—it kind of made for one of the more chill days out of the entire year.”
Those who like to shop vicariously will be happy to know that Este, Haim’s singer-bassist and oldest sister at age 27, also whipped out the credit card, taking home a small steamer trunk full of dresses. Like her sisters, she’s had pretty much a perfect afternoon, not just because Wild Man Vintage is some holy grail of thrift shops, but because she can’t believe how she’s getting to spend her days.
Thanks to a Top 10 debut album, Days Are Gone, Haim has arrived on the scene as a legitimate contender. Despite what nine out of 10 bloggers would have you believe, this didn’t happen overnight. Este notes that, not that long ago, she was enrolled in university, playing part-time in Haim while watching Danielle make a name for herself as a hired gun for the likes of solo-career Julian Casablancas (the Strokes), ex–Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis, and crossover hip-hop king CeeLo Green.
“I’d been in school learning about music for two years and was like ‘I just want to get out there and fucking do it,’ ” Este says. “We’d had a taste of touring, because Julian had taken us [Haim] on our first tour, across America. That lit a fire under my ass. So as I was graduating college, I had this feeling of, like, ‘It’s now or never.’ ”
That leap of faith has landed Haim in a sweet spot today, with Days Are Gone raved about everywhere from Spin and Rolling Stone to Gorilla vs. Pitchgum. Friends and supporters range from alt-kingpins the Strokes and glitter-pop freak-flag-flyer Ke$ha to hip-hop new-schoolers A$AP Rocky, Childish Gambino, and Kid Cudi (all of whom have had the sisters perform on their records).
The list of high-profile festivals Haim has played this year alone is similarly impressive, with Bonnaroo, Leeds, Reading, and Lollapalooza all ticked off in 2013.
The best part of all this? That would be that, when the Haim sisters were planning a rare afternoon off in Lawrence, Kansas, there was no questioning what they’d be doing. And it wasn’t retreating to a corner of the tour bus alone, or going for a solitary walk to escape from people they’d been in close quarters with for weeks.
As excited as they were to hit Wild Man Vintage, the most telling thing is that they did it together. Haim has officially made the transition from L.A. curiosity to one of the most in-demand young acts in rock ’n’ roll, but one thing hasn’t changed: band business comes second, family first.
By all accounts, Haim (rhymes with lime) didn’t have the kind of rise that could be described as meteoric. Depending on who you talk to, the group’s first official show took place at either the California Institute of Abnormalarts or Canter’s Deli (where payment reportedly consisted of matzo ball soup). There would be other minor indignities along the way.
“We loved playing shows and playing live, so anytime that anyone asked us ‘Do you wanna do a show?’ we would be like, ‘Yeah—let’s get there!’ ” Alana says. “We even opened for a Harry Potter band once, which was pretty crazy.”
Yes, you read that correctly.
“It was a Harry Potter tribute band,” the youngest Haim confirms with a laugh. “They sang songs about Harry Potter, and they were called the Remus Lupins. I actually haven’t read the books, but apparently that’s a reference to some Harry Potter character.”
When not doing their best to win over the riot-nrrrds of America, Haim would plug in and play whenever it could, to a point where the only people who weren’t sick of seeing them were their parents.
“We played for five years, getting to where we were begging people to come to our shows,” Alana admits. “No one wanted to after a while. Our guest lists would have 108 people on it because all of our friends would be like, ‘We’ve been to three Haim shows this month, and I don’t know if I can handle buying another Haim ticket.’ ”
If this did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm, it might have been because they were born to play together. Band practices were a way of life for Alana, Este, and Danielle long before the Remus Lupins came calling.
For that you can thank their dad (Israeli-born former professional soccer player and amateur-drummer-turned-real-estate-agent Mordechai “Moti” Haim) and their mom, Donna, once an aspiring singer-songwriter folkie whose 15 minutes of fame culminated with a winning appearance on The Gong Show. Jam sessions were a regular family activity in the living room, with Moti holding down the back end on drums and Donna leading the way up front. Once the kids got semi-proficient, the family began performing under the name Rockinhaim, playing Eagles, Elvis, and Eurythmics covers everywhere from Club Meds to church bazaars.
Unless your name happens to be Danny Partridge, the idea of being in a band with your parents is normally about as appealing as family vacations after the age of 16. For Haim, however, those days resulted in golden memories, the connection between parents and daughters unbreakable to this day. When Este, Danielle, and Alana splintered off on their own, it was Moti who would drive them to their gigs, including the cross-country jaunt opening for Casablancas’s solo tour.
Hanging with the moonlighting Strokes singer would prove invaluable. It was Casablancas who suggested that Haim stop playing anywhere that would have the band and instead disappear for a while to work on songwriting.
“We’d been a band for five years, playing around L.A., and nothing was really happening for us,” Danielle says. “So we stopped playing live. We knew that something wasn’t right. We went, ‘We’re going to write for a year, and then record an EP, and then try and hit the ground running.’ So literally, for a year, we sat down every day in our living room.”
During that time, Haim would receive plenty of feedback.
“We rehearsed in our living room,” Este says. “So our dad would constantly be sticking his head in. It’s basically like Christopher Walken in that SNL skit with the ‘More cowbell’ situation.”
Working with producer Ludwig Göransson, Haim would eventually release a three-song EP, titled Forever, that quickly revved up the hype meter. Reviewers described the band (which is augmented by drummer Dash Hutton) as a potent, candy-coated distillation of everyone from Destiny’s Child and TLC to Fleetwood Mac. Interview requests began pouring in and labels began calling, a sign that the three sisters were doing something right.
The way Danielle describes things, Göransson taught Haim how to make records. If the band had struggled at anything during its existence, it was capturing its stage show in the controlled environment that is the studio.
“Through mutual friends, we met Ludwig and started talking about music,” Danielle says. “He had done some tracks for Childish Gambino, who we love. He was like, ‘Look, I have my own studio, and you guys should come by and jam.’ We’d never met a producer with their own studio. We were like, ‘We wouldn’t have to pay for studio time,’ which is a big thing for us because we were always spending all of our money going into a nice studio for three days and trying to bang out five songs.
“He believed in us,” she continues. “He let us mess around for three months, which led to the Forever EP. It was all kind of a fluke thing. His patience and his believing in us and working for free is how this started to happen. He helped us a lot.”
Göransson returned to help on Days Are Gone, a record that suggests Haim has a golden future, if only because it sounds so self-assured. “The Wire” gives you a good idea of what the Runaways would have sounded like putting the glam-stomp boots to the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight”, while “Running If You Call My Name” veers off in an unexpectedly ethereal direction with symphonic strings and angels-on-a-cloud vocals.
Marvel at the way “Honey & I” takes a skinny-jeans and skinnier-ties new-wave chorus and plunks it in the middle of a song that’s all coffeehouse guitars and cast-a-spell keyboards. And don’t go thinking that just because Haim excels at sugar-sweet pop (“Forever”) that it’s not capable of getting heavy: the record’s most arresting moment might be “My Song 5”, a genuine mindfuck marked by dirty-blues guitar fireworks and slasher-film synths.
As satisfying as seeing Days Are Gone hit the top of the charts has been, that’s not what has really thrilled the members of Haim over the past year.
“We played Glastonbury this past June—or was it July?—on the main stage,” Este marvels. “We pretty much opened the festival. Playing Glastonbury was pretty incredible for us. I think that was one of the ‘What the fuck?’ moments for us. It didn’t seem real, even when we were doing it. Looking back, it was one of the best moments of my life. We sang backup for Primal Scream right before the Rolling Stones came on.
“I mean, everything we’ve done over the past year has been kind of surreal,” she continues. “It doesn’t make sense to us. Opening for Florence + the Machine at the O2 Arena in London was unbelievable. There was opening for Mumford & Sons at the Barclays Center. Honestly, I feel like I’m lying to you when I say all these things, like I’m making all of it up in my head, to the point where I have to look up pictures of it all on the Internet to make sure I’m not lying. It just doesn’t feel real.”
If you’re going to trace the group’s magical stretch back to a particular event, it would be this past spring’s South By Southwest, where the sisters slipped influential London DJ Marion Hodges a copy of the Forever EP.
“She went back to the U.K. and starting playing our songs on the radio,” Alana says. “That was insane because we weren’t signed. I mean, we weren’t even accepted into South by Southwest—they didn’t want us there. We had got a letter that said ‘You tried but didn’t get accepted. But it’s okay—just come anyways and see what happens.’ It was just sad. Like three million bands have entered and been accepted to this year’s South by Southwest, and you’re not one of them.
“So anyhow, we went anyway, met Marion, and she was a huge supporter for us,” the youngest Haim continues. “The radio is such a huge thing for us because we grew up listening to radio. To this day, I can’t deal with the iPod connection thing in the car. I always just play the radio. And after we got played on the radio, that’s when everything started going nuts.”
But as nuts as things have been, the members of Haim remain weirdly grounded. Who has time for the stereotypical excesses that come with being in a successful rock band when you can be spending your afternoons raiding Wild Man Vintage with your sisters?
Family still comes first.
“It’s been so much fun running around the world and having the best time with my sisters and Dash,” Este says. “My parents are always going to be proud of us no matter what we do. They were proud of me when I graduated from elementary school. If I was happy doing something, like being an art teacher, my parents would be just as proud of me. It’s not the fact that we’re playing music that makes them proud. It’s the fact that we’re doing it together.”