Photo: Este: Chanel shirt, scarf, skirt and PVC boots / Danielle: Chanel shirt, scarf, skirt and PVC boots / Alana: Chanel shirt, scarf, skirt, earrings and PVC boots
A MEETING WITH HAIM
By Alice Butterlin
It’s the story of Danielle, Este, and Alana Haim: three sisters from California who took over pop music in 2013 with their super catchy songs carried by the powerful and jerky drum sound that sets them apart. More than a group, Haim is above all a family and has been able, from the start, to communicate values of kindness and girl power to a generation in constant questioning. Four years after the release of Days Are Gone, they’re back with the album Something to Tell You, a collection of pop-folk songs with a finely-crafted production. We took advantage of their time in Paris during the Chanel spring/summer 2018 fashion show to ask them some questions about their recent projects, their way of composing, and what inspires them.
Hello girls! First of all, where have you been since your first record came out in 2013?
Este: We never really stopped, we were on tour for around three years non-stop. Then we came back and took a little bit of a breather. Then we went right into writing, demoing, recording, and experimenting with sounds and different melodies. Even lyrically. Again, amidst all that, we were touring. We love playing live. That’s pretty much all we’ve had our mind on, continuing that and finishing the record. And we did it! We’re really proud of it.
Amidst all the craziness of the tours, when do you find time to write songs?
Este: My sisters and I are big fans of journaling and jotting things down on a daily basis. We don’t really have to make time to write songs. It comes naturally. If you see us in a corner talking into our phone, it’s not that we’re in a conversation with someone, it’s that we’re recording a song idea. A lot of people think we’re creepy, because all of a sudden, in the middle of a sentence, we’ll just walk away and whisper for a minute into our phones. It’s just because we want to remember our idea. It’s almost like a muscle that you have to flex. It’s really important as a song writer to always be creating. Also it’s important to be observant and open to hear when a melody hits you, just being conscious of it. My sisters and I have always operated like that. Before the iPhone, it was the journal. (laughs)
Does this album have a specific concept behind it or is it simply a collection of songs?
Este: This record is definitely a snapshot of where we were when we wrote it. We write from experience, but we also wrote from the perspective of our friends’ experiences. We love stories and storytelling. Our friends are all very creative people, hearing their stories often sparks something at any given moment. We went into this album wanting to write and record the best songs possible.
Danielle: We write and rewrite songs all the time. We can go over the same song a hundred times before we think it’s the best possible. The chorus, the verse, even the bridge. We’re really focused on songwriting at first. Then we get super into production. Sometimes it can be a very long process.
During the production, did you do a lot of live recordings?
Danielle: Yeah, with this record we wanted to try and do a lot of it. Takes of us live together in the studio. On the first record we were very obsessed with non-organic sounds like synthesizers and samples. Even though we’re still really into that, I think this time we wanted to get the feel of a band playing in one room. After we did that, we took it away and messed with it a little. The core instruments and songs that you are hearing were done in a live take at the studio.
The album has a very strong 80s touch to it. Was that intentional?
Danielle: I think sonically, 80s synths are things that we always loved, even growing up. It sounds kind of nostalgic to us. I think that now, those sounds have become classics. An 80s VL7 synthesizer sounds classic to us. That era also has a very interesting connotation. (laughs)
Your music videos seem to play a big part in your band and in developing your aesthetic. They are all very choreographed. Is movement and dancing important for you?
Alana: Yeah, I think it’s important in the sense that it’s such a fun way to express yourself. Dancing is the first thing you do as a kid, when you hear music, your body reacts to it. At a very young age, my sisters and I used to put on shows in our living room or our backyard. Este is the best dancer in our family by far.
Este: That’s them being really kind. (laughs) We all love dancing and having fun! Why not include it in a music video?
Alana: Also, we grew up in such a beautiful age of music videos. The ones that came out when we were kids were so incredible and over-the-top. We would wait every Friday for a new music video to come out, and then on Monday, you would talk about it with all your friends. When we started putting out music videos, we wanted them to live up to the ones we had loved so much! In all of our music videos we just want to bring joy, and it’s really what we can get away with. With our “Want You Back” music video, we didn’t know we could shut down the entire Sunset Boulevard, a street that we grew up on. We used to walk down that street everyday as kids. We thought, “Why don’t we just dance in the middle of Sunset Boulevard?” We felt like Valley royalty! What makes us so happy is that people that I grew up with are so shocked and amazed that we managed to shut down the entire boulevard. (laughs)
In that music video, I noticed, Danielle, that you were wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt. Are you a heavy metal fan?
Danielle: I love Black Sabbath! They are like the OG metal band. I really wanted to go to Oz Fest this year, I hope I’ll get to go one day. Ozzy is just incredible. I haven’t listened to the new albums, I like the older shit better.
It’s interesting to see that you all listen to so many different kinds of bands and have been brought up on many different musical genres.
Este: It also has to do with the way we listen to music. We’re constantly in our cars and have really great radio in LA. Our parents were big channel surfers, they loved so many different genres of music. We would go anywhere on the radio from 50s and 60s Motown all the way up to 80s classic rock and 90s bands like Nirvana. If we were really good that day, we were allowed to listen to the pop station, hearing bands like Ace of Base, Destiny’s Child, or Mariah Carey.
You are all very talented musicians, but how did you learn your craft?
Este: Our parents were very big fans of the arts growing up, they thought it was integral to a rich understanding of the world. Not just music but visual art, theater… Our parents were always taking us to museums and music shows. They really transmitted their love of art to us at a very young age. Our mom is a guitar player and she basically put a guitar in our hands before we could even hold it properly. Our dad taught us drums very early, too. We had the rhythm and the melody come to us at the same time. Unfortunately, Danielle and Alana both surpassed me in guitar at a very young age. (laughs) I’m not a very good guitar player but I found a love for the bass guitar, I liked the fact that it was melody and percussion at the same time. Also – my sisters will agree with me on this – it’s safe to say we are obsessed with the drums. (laughs)
It’s amazing to see how you translate the beat of drums in the way you sing, or by using unconventional objects as instruments, like the box of tea in the cover you did of Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar.” Do you see every object as a potential instrument?
Este: I think everything makes a sound right? But yes, we like to experiment and be open-minded about our instruments.
We shot you after the Chanel show in the incredible waterfalls. How was that experience?
Danielle: We felt like the luckiest girls in the world after that show, to be able to go backstage and put on those clothes… It was so surreal.
Was it a bit of a princess day for you?
Alana: Oh yes! My grandma Diane is not around anymore but she was the biggest Chanel fan and we kind of felt like she was looking down on us, being like, “Yes, girls!!” (laughs) We were so excited about it. It was an honor to be in those clothes and see that show.
Este: The waterfalls were connected to the music. There would be moments in the show where the waterfalls would be rushing down faster than normal and it would almost accent the different parts of the show. That’s what I observed and I thought it was pretty incredible. And also I loved that they played music from Bjork, I was dancing in my seat the whole time. I think the song was “Venus as a Boy.”
You’ve had the same stylist, Rebecca Grice, since the beginning of your career. How do you feel your style has evolved since your first shows?
Danielle: It’s all very natural. Today, we dress a little bit more grown-up, in five years our style has evolved a bit. What’s most important to us while choosing clothes is being able to play music in them. I can’t wear Alana’s things because they have fringes or buttons, all these things that get caught in my strings and screw me up.
You shot a live recorded video of you playing a couple of tracks at the Valentine studios. What’s the story behind that studio?
Danielle: It’s actually a really interesting story. We grew up a couple blocks away from this building, which was always shut down and we never knew what it was. A couple years ago there were some whispers about a studio in the Valley that had been shut down for forty years. It turns out it was that random building that we always passed growing up. The family just reopened it and kept everything the same as it was in 1965. The Beach Boys used to record there, as well as a lot of jazz musicians. Everything sounds quite vintage in there, like a record from the 60s! That’s also why it looks super mid-century. We were one of the first people to record there since it’s been reopened. It took a while because a lot of things were broken, we were fixing the studio as we were working there. It was a great experiment and we love the way that it sounds. I’m so happy that we got to film there.
You did your fair share of covers from current and older bands. In a distant future, which artist would you see covering your songs?
Alana: Mac Demarco would be rad!
Danielle: That would be sick! Or Tame Impala. We did an official remix for them so it would be interesting to see what they would do for us.
Este: We’re waiting for them to return the favor. (laughs)
Danielle: They’re the best, we love them! They’re the sweetest boys.
Interview by Alice Butterlin
Photographer: Frank Perrin
Stylist: Armelle Leturcq
Make-up: Jaimee Thomas
Hair: Neil Woolley