While all eyes were on Liam Payne and Cheryl at this year’s Brit Awards as they downplayed rumours of their subsequent split, they were resolutely upstaged by an unlikely source. As Jack Whitehall interviewed them live on TV, viewers noticed a woman directly behind them, winking and mugging for the cameras before making ‘call me’ gestures to Liam as the interview drew to a close. Identified initially as ‘random drunk woman’, she was declared the hit of the show, until eagle-eyed members of the audience recognised her as Este, the bass player from the group Haim. ‘And I don’t even drink!’ she says now. ‘I just wanted to do funny s*** to make my sisters laugh.’
Those sisters – Danielle and Alana Haim, the other two members of the band – were equally surprised at the coverage Este’s antics received. ‘After the camera shut off,’ says Alana, ‘I looked at my phone and I had a million text messages saying: “We just saw Este on TV!”’ The following morning, Haim joined Nick Grimshaw on his Radio 1 show as Este left Cheryl an apologetic voicemail live on air. ‘I still haven’t heard back from her,’ says Este. ‘I wasn’t making fun of Cheryl, just myself. Everyone takes these award shows so seriously,’ she grins. ‘I just wanted to have fun.’
As a mantra, it couldn’t be more fitting, for on today’s evidence in a downtown Los Angeles studio, the Haim sisters don’t do boring. A flurry of hugs, hair and overlapping sentences, they’re one of America’s hottest bands and look as though they’re enjoying every minute of it. Having burst on to the scene six years ago, their 2013 debut album Days Are Gone went platinum in the UK. With hits such as the deliciously catchy ‘Forever’, ‘The Wire’, ‘Want You Back’ and ‘Pray to God’ (the Calvin Harris song on which they featured), their pop-rock, guitar-heavy style has gained a huge following. They’ve toured with Taylor Swift and Rihanna, been nominated for two Brits and a Grammy Award and count among their fans Florence Welch, Stevie Nicks (a huge musical influence who gave each sister a gift of a gold moon necklace which they wear religiously) and even Beyoncé. ‘She’s always been so nice and supportive – and for that even to be a sentence I can actually say is insane to me,’ says Alana. ‘I mean, she’s the best performer, singer, everything. She’s the epitome of Girl Power.’
The Spice Girls reference is a fitting one given Haim’s infectious tunes and their unbridled love of Ginger, Baby et al growing up. But while the Spices were strangers to musical instruments, Haim are self taught, guitar-shredding, songwriting dervishes. The California-based band have succeeded on their own terms, or as one critic wrote: ‘Where others rely on sex, Haim relies on talent’.
‘We’re the CEOs of our own company,’ says Alana. ‘We run the show and everything that we do – the tours, the set lists, songs and lighting –comes from us. And it bothers me to even have to say that because so many people think that’s not the case.’ Were they ever advised by people in the business to overtly sex up their act? ‘When we were first starting out, someone said I should dress like a schoolgirl,’ says Alana. ‘And I was like: “That’s not going to happen.” We’ve always had a very strong sense of self.’
At 26, Alana is the youngest and chattiest – a ball of energy who, it comes as no surprise, can play guitar, keyboards and percussion all at the same time (‘it started out as a joke, but now they keep piling more and more instruments on me’). Lead singer Danielle, 29, is the quietest and most considered of the three, while bass player Este, 32, who has a Twitter account dedicated solely to her ‘bass face’ (her uninhibited facial contortions during a guitar solo), can often be relied on to provide the killer anecdote, usually after finding herself in all sorts of trouble. A diabetic, she was forced off the stage at Glastonbury five years ago after a blood sugar crash, but not before the sisters had wowed the crowds with their set. ‘We’re very much a live band,’ says Este, ‘which is why we love going to Britain. You guys have a tangible thirst for live music.’
This summer, Haim toured the UK again: ‘When we heard we’d sold out our two [Alexandra Palace] gigs in three days, we were so excited,’ says Danielle. Complete Anglophiles who will rhapsodise at length about British shows such as Come Dine With Me and Take Me Out, the band credit British audiences with giving them their big break in 2012.
‘It was crazy because we had heard that our song [‘Forever’] was being played on Radio 1 and we were like: really? Because we were playing to about four people in LA at the time,’ says Alana. ‘Then we came to London to play. We saw all these people outside the venue and said: “What are you lining up for?” and they said: “For your show!” It felt like we were in a weird movie.’
Described by one critic as ‘an overnight sensation’, they became so only after more than 20 years learning their craft. Growing up in LA’s San Fernando Valley, their parents, Moti and Donna, now both estate agents, were hugely musical and encouraged their three young daughters to be the same. ‘Our dad set up a drum kit in the living room, much to our mum’s dismay,’ laughs Danielle, ‘and encouraged us to play from the age of about four. You don’t have to read music for drums, so it was very immediate, very primal. Our mum had had dreams of being a singer-songwriter when she was younger, but her dad wanted her to be a teacher. She was always supportive of us expressing ourselves through the arts and all of us naturally went towards music.’
By the time the girls were in their teens, they and their parents were members of Rockinhaim – the family band assembled by Moti to play the local county fairs for charity. ‘We played a lot of Billy Joel songs, The Stones, The Beatles and Elvis,’ says Alana. ‘And because there was no internet back then,’ continues Danielle, ‘we’d tape songs from the radio and, as a family, figure out the chords and try to write down the lyrics, half of which,’ she adds, ‘we got wrong.’
By 2007 they had ditched both the ‘Rockin’ prefix and their parents to form Haim (pronounced, in the traditional Hebrew manner, ‘high-im’), although success for the trio was slow to arrive. ‘For the first few years we just played around town, trying to get our foot in the LA music scene and it was hard because there are so many bands in LA,’ says Danielle. ‘In those days, the way you got booked for shows was through MySpace. Promoters would ask us, “How many friends do you have on MySpace?” and we had about four. We got gigs by opening for friends who were headlining, and sometimes we’d even pay the $5 admission fee for our friends to come see us.’
Occasionally at venues there would only be men’s toilets backstage. ‘And the way we were treated compared to an all-male band was staggering,’ says Alana. ‘Sometimes I’d say, “My guitar isn’t working”,’ says Danielle, ‘and I’d be told, “Well, you have to plug it in”, as if I didn’t have a clue. There was an assumption that we didn’t know what we were doing.’ Alana adds, ‘But even while things like that were happening, I didn’t realise it was grim because I was just so stoked to play music.’
Since then the sisters have had more than their fair share of fun times, although their rock-star behaviour leaves a little to be desired. They have yet to throw a TV out of a hotel window (‘I’m so exhausted after a show,’ says Alana, ‘that all I want to do is put acne cream on my face and watch a movie’), while Este looks ill at the mere suggestion that there might be Haim groupies (‘definitely not’).
Both she and Danielle are in relationships (Danielle’s boyfriend is in the business, Este’s isn’t) and their new music (coming soon) focuses on the subject. Este says, ‘I’m very happy now, but I wasn’t that way for a very long time in previous relationships, and we like to write from our experiences.’ Adds Danielle: ‘When we started going on tour, some guys would have an issue with it.’ Not surprisingly those relationships, she deadpans, ‘didn’t last long’.
‘For the longest time,’ says Alana, ‘I wanted to have a tattoo that said: “I leave all the time” because that was the automatic complaint for any dude I was dating. They’d say: “You leave all the time, so it can’t work” and I’d say: “But my job has not changed since we met!” We were brought up to be very independent and to enjoy a relationship but not see it as a necessity and I think, weirdly, that shocks guys sometimes. They’re like: “What do you mean you don’t need me?” But,’ she shrugs, ‘I’m single and having a blast, so I don’t care. Our new song kind of questions what a modern relationship looks like.’
While describing their childhood, Alana says: ‘We were never really part of the cool scene,’ but all that has changed for Haim. They’ve introduced their parents to Stevie Nicks (‘It was the first time our mum was like: “My kids are really cool”,’ says Alana. ‘My dad just went red’); they’ve even been on holiday with Taylor Swift (‘the door is always open’, is all they will say on the prospect of working with her again) and also supported Beyoncé at this year’s Coachella festival.
So if it all ended tomorrow, would the trio still want to work together? ‘Oh, I think we would,’ says Este, ‘because we love being together and we love being businesswomen.’ ‘People always ask if we fall out because we’re together all the time,’ says Alana, ‘but it’s just normal stuff we fight about – and there’s no such thing as a perfect family.’
‘I live, breathe and die for my sisters,’ she adds. ‘And I know they feel the same way.’
Have you ever been starstruck? I’d have to go with meeting Beyoncé.
The best present from your sisters A cooking lesson with someone who worked at one of my favourite restaurants.
Song you’d use to descscribe yourself ‘People’s Parties’ by Joni Mitchell.
Motto Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Most-used emoji The face palm.
Favourite dance move The Elmer Fudd (similar to the running man).
Secret talent I’m an incredible skier!
Have you ever been starstruck? When meeting Stevie Nicks. ‘Dreams’ is in the top two songs of my life.
The best present from your sisters They treated me to the biggest rager [party] for my 25th birthday.
Song you’d use to descscribe yourself ‘I’m So Excited’ by The Pointer Sisters. It’s what I wake up to every morning.
Motto Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Most-used emoji The swimmer – I use it for all occasions.
Favourite dance move The running man.
Secret talent I can eat 45 bags of Percy Pigs in one sitting.
Have you ever been starstruck? Seeing Prince. There’s a video of me crying while I’m watching him and I want it to be played at my wedding.
The best present from your sisters They wrote me the sweetest card for my 30th birthday.
Song you’d use to descscribe yourself ‘1999’ by Prince.
Motto Don’t threaten me with a good time.
Most-used emoji The flamenco dancer.
Favourite dance move The kick ball change and jazz hands.
Secret talent I can list every American state in alphabetical order.
Haim’s album Something to Tell You is out now
Interview by Lina Dias