A cancer diagnosis. The death of their idol, Prince. Their ongoing battle with sexism in the music industry. The Haim sisters had big things to deal with while making ‘Something To Tell You’. Now they’re vibing, touring and ready “to f**king rage”.
The tequila shots are a hazy memory. Haim remember drinking them during Jamie xx’s DJ set at this year’s Glastonbury, but after that, it’s a blur. After taking a while to write and record their second album (‘Something To Tell You’, out now), they were overdue a blowout. “That was my first night out in three years,” says Alana, the keyboard-playing rhythm guitarist in the trio of sisters. “And I made those eight hours count! It was pure debauchery. We were like kids on Rumspringa!” Rumspringa, as you may or may not know, is an Amish rite of passage where teens are unleashed into the world to immerse themselves in all the sin that will soon be forbidden. “All I remember is I woke up in the van with no shoes,” Alana says, laughing. “Losing your shoes is the sign of a good night.”
In 2017, Haim have the world at their (bare) feet: they’re the Grammy-nominated Valley Girl clique at the back of the bus that everyone’s invited to sit with. Live, their raucous shows see them come on like a shred-heavy Hydra of harmonies. Since their 2013 debut ‘Days Are Gone’ effortlessly rewired the retro soft rock of Fleetwood Mac and Wilson Phillips with modern R&B beats, they’ve won over Jay Z (their boss at Roc Nation) and U2 – Bono invited them to jam in the studio. They’ve collaborated with Calvin Harris, A$AP Ferg, Kid Cudi and Primal Scream – whom Alana describes as “the most epically rock’n’roll band we’ve ever met”. They’re part of Taylor Swift’s ‘squad’, and Hollywood director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) asked to shoot a short film, Valentine, with them, with some of the footage forming the promo to April’s low-key comeback track ‘Right Now’. Alana calls Stevie Nicks – who gifted them half-moon pendants and regularly offers advice – her “badass fairy-godmother.”
Huddled together in Snuggies, Haim are speaking from their hotel room in Sydney, where last night they played the Splendour In The Grass festival – sadly, sans tequila. “We’re closer than ever,” declares Alana, when asked how the relationship between them has changed post- fame. “Literally.” Before, they were living with their parents in San Fernando Valley in Greater Los Angeles; now they have separate homes nearby. Alana and Danielle (28, lead vocalist and guitarist) have places on the east side of LA while Este’s apron-string cutting hasn’t been as successful: “I’m still 10 minutes away from my childhood home.”
“We’re growing older,” adds Este, the eldest Haim at 31. “I’m an old maid!” she mock-wails to protests of “No, you’re not”. She backtracks: “I’m spry as f**k! And I’m sassier than ever, if that’s possible.” Strong words from someone who once tweeted, “I want to chisel Andrew Garfield’s d**k with my labia” – a direction the Spider-Man film franchise, regrettably, didn’t go in.
A torrent of Californian positivity, they have the tendency to sound #blessed. At 25, youngest sibling Alana is the most loquacious, Este has a sardonic streak, while lead vocalist and guitarist Danielle takes a back seat, quietly selecting her words like Scrabble pieces. They finish each other’s sentences and occasionally talk in unison, like an ebullient version of the Borg from Star Trek. The familial forcefield was put to good use earlier this year. Asked in pre-release interviews why the album had taken four years, they maintained the party line: the delay was due to the fact they write and produce their own music. True; but secretly something else had gone on. Ironically for a record titled ‘Something To Say’, they were deliberately holding back.
July 7, 2017 was the 10th anniversary of Haim’s first ever gig, in a Californian museum which boasts a mummified clown corpse in full garish costume and make-up as the star exhibit. It was also the day Haim’s second album ‘Something To Say’ came out. And the day the album’s producer, Ariel Rechtshaid – who is also Danielle’s boyfriend – revealed he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2015, just as they began the studio sessions. This, it turns out, was why the recording of the record was put on hold.
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“It was a very emotional time,” says Alana. “He’s such an integral part of our lives. Ariel’s our brother, he’s everything. And when he got diagnosed, all we thought about was, ‘We’re here to support you and we love you’. Nothing else mattered. It’s scary when you see someone you love, who you would do anything for, have to go through something as scary as testicular cancer.” She adds: “We had focused so much on his health because that’s honestly all that matters. Obviously that took a toll on the record because we had to make sure Ariel was healthy and I would never take that back. Even though it took longer to complete this record, I would not change a second of it, and now he’s OK – thank God! – we’re so happy. This record is full of emotion and everything we were going through at that point. You can hear it on the record how emotional we were. It was a very big deal.”
They remained tight-lipped about the reason for the record’s delay, even when some reviewers snarked that it had taken them four years to alight on a sound that was “more of the same”. It was, they say, Rechtshaid’s decision to keep schtum. “It was his story to tell,” says Danielle. “That’s when he decided he felt comfortable telling everyone. I was really proud of him and the post was beautifully written.” The cancer was caught early and he underwent surgery. But, at one point, he confesses candidly on his Instagram post: “I thought I was going to die.”
“I think he’s still dealing with it,” says Danielle, solemnly. “We were all in shock. I think we’re [all] still dealing with it, but the only thing we could do was take every day as it came. And also it made us closer.”
So rather than plunder their A-list contacts for ‘Something To Tell You’ (“We’re always open to collaborations but we wanted to keep this contained”), Haim retreated to their parents’ living room where their debut was written – the same house where they started as kids in their folks’ cover band Rockinhaim – to kick around ideas for the follow-up. Considering what happened during its creation, the fact it sounds similar to ‘Days Are Gone’ (glossy hook-heavy pop songs, but with lyrics that deal with the shrapnel of broken relationships) is perhaps reassuring.
Yet you need only look at the screen lock on Este’s phone – a photo of her sharing a stage with Prince at Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2015 – to see how much has changed for the band. “Her face is, like, living!” says Alana. Haim were onstage, poised to play a song, when rumours circulated that the purple loin king was in the building. She starts to reminisce. “The seas literally parted and he just…” Este picks up the conversation: “…glided, like, floated onto the stage. After he started playing ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ [to which she provided shell-shocked backing vocals] I cannot tell you what happened because I blacked out.”
When “the shrimp” – as she endearingly refers to The Purple One at one point – died in April 2016, Alana broke the news to Este over the phone (“She burst into tears and had to pull over on the freeway”). They were both on their way into the studio to work with Dev Hynes, AKA Blood Orange, and the death partly inspired the track ‘You Never Knew’, which has some of his funky fingerprints. It was, they say, kismet that Dev – whom Este originally connected with over her love of Prince – was only in LA on the day he died. “It felt like this cosmic thing,” says Este. “I was like, ‘F**K FEELING SAD, PRINCE WANTS US TO WRITE A SONG!’”
“In my head, I talk to him every day,” Este continues, straddling the line between deadpan and serious. “There was definitely an energy, a mood that I’m hoping was The Symbol, The Artist Formerly Known As, Whatever-You’d-Like-To-Call-Him, in the room that day.”
The only time Haim’s easy-breezy demeanour turns steely is when talk turns to their friendship with Taylor Swift, who they supported for parts of her record-breaking 1989 tour in 2015. Asked if they’d be comfortable with Tay-Tay’s level of fame, Alana simply says: “No”. A sibling firewall goes up. Quizzed on what they bonded over, Alana eventually offers up: “We spent a lot of time watching – what was that show? The Treehouse Challenge? That was a favourite of ours.” We think she means The Great Treehouse Challenge, a 2011 series where communities battle to build tree houses in locations like Paignton – markedly less glamorous than the tropical cruise on Swift’s boat they posed for Instagram shots for. Perhaps in a world where every morsel of information about Swift is dissected, they’re reluctant to say anything that might be served up as click-bait.
That, and they’ve got more important things to talk about – such as rampant sexism in the music industry. Even now, they still suffer from its toxic effects. They’re still asked ‘Who writes the songs?’ and have been mistaken for girlfriends of bands at “every festival we’ve been to,” says Este. “I literally have to say, ‘We just played behind you’”.
“We still have to fight this s**t,” bristles Alana. “The other day, I was told at a radio station, ‘You don’t need headphones. I’m sure you don’t want to mess up your hair.’” She continues: “I feel like the one thing that’s happening is we’re all banding together and not letting that s**t get us down. Like f**k that s**t! I’m f**king over it! Like, no one is going to make me feel anything other than a powerful woman because I love playing music and I love being onstage and if these f**ks want to do that s**t, the only way that will change is if we don’t stop.”
They’re putting their money where their mouths are, too, having recently donated to Planned Parenthood – which helps people on low incomes with (among other things) birth control, STI testing and abortions. “We’ve all gone to Planned Parenthood, all of our friends have gone,” says Este. “Women’s reproductive health is really important and the fact it may be threatened [by legislation Donald Trump wants to pass] is insane. So we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t go away – and we’re not going to let anyone get in our way.”
This attitude is feeding into Haim’s preparation for another Rumspringa at Reading & Leeds. What can we expect? “It’s going to get messy,” says Este. “We’re going to play some new songs and f**king rage.”
Bring on the tequila.
Haim’s new album ‘Something To Tell You’ is out now. They play Leeds Festival on August 25 and Reading Festival on August 27.