H A I M
Haim‘s new album is their best to date – but getting there hasn’t been easy. Emily Mackay meets the band to talk delis, depression and dancing their way through lockdown for our July cover interview.
Photos: Jenn Five.
If you didn’t already know that the sisters Haim were closer than close, their love is laid bare for all to see on ‘Hallelujah’. The radiant, just-something-in-your-eye penultimate track of their new album, ‘Women In Music Pt III’, it elaborates on the ways the siblings’ support has helped them through dark times; for Danielle, the deep depression that followed supporting her partner and co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid through a testicular cancer diagnosis (he is now cancer-free); for Este, her constant, often draining dance with Type 1 diabetes; for Alana, the loss of her best friend Sammi Kane Kraft in a car accident eight years ago. They cried all the way through writing the song together.
‘Women in Music Pt III’ was meant to be an exorcism, coming back from the lowest points depicted in ‘Now I’m In It’, ‘I’ve Been Down’ and ‘I Know Alone’ with hooks swinging, bringing release for both the band and their fans in their natural environment. “We made this record for it to be played live,” says Alana Haim. “That was our mission statement of this whole record.”
But life and viruses hate a neat narrative. Just as Haim started their touring and promotion, lockdown bit, forcing them home to LA. As well as the disorientation of that arrested momentum, it’s been tough to be isolated for such a close family. Este in particular has had to adhere strictly to quarantine rules because of her diabetes; she celebrated her birthday solo, with only a self-made sugar-free cupcake. “Which was also a disaster.”
“For me, I feel like I’m the only sister that really likes being alone,” says Alana, joining her sisters on a lunchtime Zoom call (the shuffling rectangles as each chips in their thoughts bring more than a touch of Brady Bunch to proceedings). “I always love my me-time… but that being said, it’s a rollercoaster. You wake up one day and you’re like, “OK, I’m going to be OK,” and then there’s other days where you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t do this.” It’s just knowing it’s OK to not be OK… you just have to roll with the punches, just keep it going.”
The unexpected downtime has also uncovered hidden talents.
“I missed my sisters, obviously,” says Este. “When we first got under quarantine, I went slightly Castaway and painted exercise balls to resemble them, and I started talking to them like they were in the house with me. But that also sparked this creative spurt for painting… aside from being five years old and doing finger painting, that wasn’t ever really something that I did, so I guess there’s an upside and a downside, right? I was very, very lonely, but I also found that I might be the second coming of Picasso.”
At this point, she reaches out of the frame, and I think she might be about to grab a nearby cubist canvas; in fact, it’s a morning cup of coffee on which she proceeds, to her sisters’ concern, to choke.
Recovering, she splutters: “That was the inner Este being, like, “Don’t say that you’re the next Picasso. You’re not.”
Though Este may be sticking to her bass day job for now, ‘Women In Music Pt III’ has been all about discovering new ways to be Haim. Their first two albums established a trademark style: rhythmically magnetic, R&B-skewed soft rock with killer harmonic choruses. Though from the off, they always ranged beyond that home turf – the likes of ‘Let Me Go’ and ‘My Song 5’ on ‘Days Are Gone’ definitely weren’t afraid to get weird – for their third album, they pushed out even further. From the sinuous opening sax line, background chatter and boom-bap beat of ‘Los Angeles’, the album weaves freely through R&B, trip-hop and rock in hues from stormcloud to sunshine, with touches of reggae-pop here, G-funk here, country there, while never losing its emotional thread.
Danielle says they weren’t so much driven by a need to redefine as a yen to follow their noses. “What we were really inspired by was the feeling that we got when we released ‘Summer Girl’, which was kind of an experiment. I wanted to have a song with a breakbeat in it, and then we came up with this really cool bassline. Once we released it, our fans were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool,’ and gave us confidence, like… whatever you’re feeling, whatever this thing is, this spontaneous energy, just roll with that… it sounds dumb, but maybe before we weren’t really like that, especially sonically… we kind of came up with these rules that actually didn’t really make sense, and we were like, “You know what? Fuck that. Let’s just roll with this feeling.’”
The critical reception has been great, with reviewers thrilling over the new depth of mood, breadth of palette and blunt honesty; in perhaps the most discussed song, ‘Man From the Magazine’, Danielle recounts the sort of sexist bullshit the band have been putting up with for nearly a decade, also referenced in the album’s ironic title; the killer closing couplet is: “You don’t know how it feels/To be the cunt.”
“I’ve heard through my parents that everything’s OK,” says Alana, the most animated, hand-gesturing Zoomer of the three, nonchalantly. “I don’t like reading reviews, but the parents gave it two thumbs up. That’s all that matters to me.”
‘WIMPIII’ has been particularly well received in the UK, giving Haim their second No. 1 album. They’ve always had a strong special relationship with us; they first heard a song of theirs on the radio on the road outside Aberdeen. “Every time we release an album, we’ve been in the UK release week, so this is such a bummer not to be out there,” says Danielle.
“I still think at some point in my life I’m gonna move to the UK,” says Alana. “I think maybe in a couple more records, I’ll have my UK years.”
They’d also been planning to shoot a video on British shores for the first time, but those plans headed swiftly bin-wards in favour of a necessarily more minimal style. The back-to-basics ingenuity demanded by the lockdown video, though, has brought the best out of the Haim sisters, natural comics with sibling chemistry on their side. They’d been due to headline the Forum in LA on their tour; instead, the ‘Don’t Wanna’ video sees them strolling through its carpark at dusk. The gradual collapse of their trademark strut as they first subtly, then overtly, tried to overtake each other, ending in a full-on, limbs-flailing run and the unfair deployment of a vintage Porsche 911 by Este, is delightful. They also popped up in the video for Thundercat’s Dragonball Durag as the slightly bemused object of his attentions; Este mimes “call me” as her sisters drag her swiftly up a fire escape.
“I’ve known Stephen since 2013,” says Este, “and I was a huge fan of him even before that. There were always these murmurs around the LA music scene about this incredible bass player, and I used to see him play and just marvel and truly bow. He’s the most incredible bass player I think I’ve ever seen live. And obviously, he’s also the most fun guy to hang out with and is so funny, and I’m obsessed with his cats… I love him probably more than he even knows, and I make it abundantly clear that I love him. There wasn’t a lot of acting going on in that video. That was pure adoration.”
They also recently collaborated with Charli XCX on the track ‘Warm’, but for their own work, the team has stayed largely consistent across their three albums: the three sisters, Rechsthaid and, since 2017’s ‘Something to Tell You’, former Vampire Weekend man Rostam Batmanglij. Do they ever fancy shaking it up a bit more?
“I think that would cause more problems than it would solutions, honestly,” says Este.
“We’re always open,” counters Alana.
“I kind of want to get on the phone with Bon Iver,” says Danielle. “I heard he has an amazing studio in Wyoming. I’ve met him maybe once or twice.”
”Oh,” says Este, suddenly on board. “Talk about having unrequited love. I love him a lot.”
“I feel like Danielle needs to go into the woods,” says Alana.
“Yeah, we’ve never done a record in the woods,” says Danielle. “Bon Iver, we want to road trip to your compound.”
“We wanna get weird in the woods,” says Alana.
“Can we please?” says Este.
For now, though, with California seeing its highest daily coronavirus death toll yet the day before I speak to them and the city teetering over a return to lockdown, there’ll be no trips to the woods, or anywhere else, for a while. They’re shocked when I tell them that masks aren’t mandatory in the UK, and have been disappointed by the way it’s become an issue of defiance and freedom to some in the US – one of their close family members was hospitalised with Coronavirus. “To me it seems so logical. There’s a problem, and then there’s a very clear solution, and if you’re not adhering to the solution, then you’re part of the problem,” says Este.
“Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask,” says Alana simply.
Still, despite describing themselves as “slobs”, Haim are continuing to use their lockdown time well. They attended the LA Black Lives Matter protests, calling for the removal of the chief of the LAPD on their Instagram, and donating profits from one of their shirts to Black Trans Femmes in the Arts. They’ve tentatively started writing new material, and absorbed themselves deep in listening; Arca’s new album for Este and buckets of Joni for Danielle, while Alana has been “very nostalgic for my bat mitzvah seventh-grade era of my life. I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘1, 2 Step’ by Ciara and Missy Elliot, having dance parties in my house.” They’ve also been bringing the dance party to their fans with Zoom and Instagram Live dance lessons, teaching their video routines and introducing core moves such as “gather the berries”, “there’s poop on my heel and I gotta get it off” and “The Needle”, which Este compares to the horah, a traditional Jewish wedding dance.
“We’ve been asked for so many years, ‘Can you guys do a tutorial on your dances from your videos?” says Alana. “And we’ve always been like, “We’re not dance teachers! We don’t know how to do this! We have our own weird dance language. I don’t think that you’ll like it!” Turns out they liked it a lot – with 1000 places per class, every one was fully booked up, with delighted fans commented along in real time: “Jazzercise is jealous right now”; “It is 2am in Indonesia and I dance alone like a mad woman; “Help my dad just followed along to the dance for like 5 mins ?”.
They’re now racking their brains for other ways to connect. Este has been teaching her boyfriend to play guitar over Zoom (“Now he knows A, he knows D, and he knows E, so now he can play 700 million different songs, so he’s stoked”) and wonders if that might be something they could make a permanent fixture. “Not a bad idea. Maybe we’ll start doing some guitar lessons,” muses Danielle. “I think there’s still something to streaming concerts that we haven’t figured out yet to somehow make it more exciting… we’re going to try and figure it out in the meantime.”
Mostly, though, they’re just dying to get back on stage – they were cut off only two dates into a tour of delis in honour of their first gig together, back in 2000 as part of family band Rockinhaim with their parents, at Cantor’s Deli, a Los Angeles Landmark and guest star of their album cover.
“I went on Instagram and put up a story like, “Are there any deli owners that follow us?” says Alana. “We got so many random responses being like, “What? What’s going on here? Are you guys trying to start a deli? Do you guys want to get into the deli business?” Which honestly, that might happen.”
They still intend to complete the Haim deli tour, with thoughts to expand into eateries in the UK and Australia; beyond that, everything is up in the air; they’d be due to headline Latitude Festival, but have no idea what will happen to planned lineups.
“Every day… I’ve been like, can someone figure this out for us? Because I want to tour,” says Alana. “I’m waking up and being like, “Has it happened yet?” But the thing is that, obviously, even though I want to tour so badly, if it’s not safe, and it’s not going to keep everybody safe, then I don’t want to do it. When you go to a show, you want to feel free. You want to feel like you’re experiencing something.”
Her sisters nod. “But when everyone’s out of quarantine and we can actually safely go to a show,” Alana continues. “I feel like the raging that’s going to happen, like the dancing and the joy and the love that’s going to happen at shows is going to be insane.” Nothing like delayed gratification; hallelujah indeed to that.
‘Women In Music Pt. III’ is out now.