Photo by Drew Escriva
Haim Open Up About 'Women In Music Pt. III,' Protesting In L.A. & Music Industry Sexism: "Not A Lot Has Changed"
While conversing over Zoom, it’s easy to see why the Haim sisters work so well together. Chatty and affable, they alternate between finishing each other's sentences and talking in unison, and paying rapt attention as each sister speaks. Born and raised in a tight-knit family in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, bassist/vocalist Este Haim (34), guitarist/vocalist Danielle Haim (31) and guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Alana Haim (28) grew up playing in Rockinhaim, a covers band with their parents. In 2012, Haim released their debut EP Forever for free on their website before releasing their debut full-length album, Days Are Gone (2013), which shot to number one on the U.K. Albums Chart and garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist. Something To Tell You, their sophomore record, was released in 2017. After opening a string of dates on Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour, headlining their own international tours and selling out both New York City's Radio City Music Hall and London's Alexandra Palace two nights in a row, a couple of "SNL" performances, and attracting celebrity fans in Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks and U2's Bono, the trio is on the verge of releasing their highly anticipated third record, Women In Music Pt. III.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, WIMPIII’s release date was initially pushed to August from April before being rolled back to June. The viral outbreak also cut Haim's promotional deli tour short (they had just begun a jaunt performing at delis across the United States). On its surface, a deli tour may seem strange. But for Haim, who share a lifelong fondness for delis, it's actually a natural fit. "We grew up going to delis and when we were introducing the record we wanted to do something creative that we’d not seen before. We really do feel at home the most in delis," Alana tells GRAMMY.com. "We really wanted to do a different thing and we thought how cool if people can go and be able to eat Matzo ball soup." In fact, Haim's first gig with their parents 20 years ago was at West Hollywood landmark Canter's Deli, where the band also hosted a star-studded party with special guest DJ Mark Ronson in 2017. Earlier in the year, Haim—along with their frequent music video collaborator director Paul Thomas Anderson—shot Women In Music Pt. III’s album art Canter's. In the cover photo, Haim are shown standing behind a deli counter with sausages (wink, wink) hanging behind their heads with NOW SERVING 69 (hint, hint) prominently displayed.
Co-produced by Danielle and longtime collaborators Ariel Rechtshaid (Danielle’s live-in boyfriend) and Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend), WIMPIII is Haim's favorite record to date. "For the first time, with this record, I don't think I’ll ever get sick of it," says Alana, crediting their years of recording experience. "We’ve always been confident but this is our third record, our third time around the sun if you will, and even thinking back to Days Are Gone, we didn’t know anything in the studio." "We knew the fundamentals of production when we first got into it, but now we know so much more," says Danielle.
This time around, it was important to Haim, who are known for their highly energetic performances, to capture their live sound on record. "We wanted it to sound like the person listening to it was in the room while we were recording it, and that’s why it sounds super live," says Alana, who says they played as loudly as they could and put a room mic in the corner of the studio. Danielle says making use of her home studio was pivotal, too. "Being in expensive studios on Days Are Gone, there was so much pressure with being in those kinds of professional studios. But at Voxx [Studios], where we also did our last album, too, we'd do basic tracking and then take it into a home studio, and that’s where we feel our most comfortable," says Danielle.
Their most mature, contemplative, revealing and musically realized record, the melodic, hypnotically rhythmic and catchy WIMPIII reflects Haim's huge evolution over the last eight years including a deep lyrical exploration of myriad relationships (romantic, self, each other, the music industry and the media). In Haim's customary genre-busting musical style, the 16-song offering incorporates a variety of musical influences, seamlessly blending pop, R&B, hip-hop, folk, ska and classic rock (in addition to splashes of Prince and '90s pop-radio mainstays Savage Garden). Despite the range of musical influences going into WIMPIII, what comes out the other side sounds uniquely Haim.
Hoping the record's title Women In Music Pt. III speaks for itself, they are understandably as tired of talking about being women in music in 2020 as they should be. "In the back of our minds, we were hoping that because we’d named our album that, it wasn't going to be the first question everyone asks," says Danielle. "That’s why we put our song 'Man From The Magazine' in music form so we would be able to touch on it without having to have it be the thing that we talk about constantly."
The lyrics of "Man From The Magazine" discuss Haim's experiences with sexism ranging from a male journalist inquiring inappropriately about the faces Este makes when she plays bass (Man from the magazine / What did you say / Do you make the same faces in bed / Hey man what kind of question is that / What did you really want me to say back?) to a guy working at a music shop who assumes the sisters are beginner musicians. (Man from the music shop / I drove too far for you to hand me that starter guitar / Hey girl why don’t you play a few bars / Oh what’s left to prove?)
Asked if things have improved over recent years, the sisters sigh. Unfortunately, they haven't. One after the other, Alana and Este both say, "Not a lot has changed."
What frustrates Haim further, which Danielle elucidates as another of WIMPIII’s themes, are perpetual attempts at forcing genre-specific labels on their music. "We have had to deal with people trying to put us in a box our whole career and not understanding what we do," she says. "There was a lot of, ‘Oh, you’re a girl band’ or ‘Oh, you make pop music,’" says Alana. "We've always felt that we carved our own path and made the music we wanted to make and we never put a label on it and we were OK with it. But to some people, if they don’t understand what box you go in, they get confused and say they don’t understand it, which is weird to me. We’ve always bridged the gap over a bunch of things and we’ve never been afraid to explore different kinds of genres and different kinds of songwriting."
"I think other bands that aren’t all female can dabble in a bunch of different genres yet they're still called a rock band," says Danielle. "Meanwhile, we’re women and we dabble in all sorts of genres, [but] because we’re women it’s pop. That’s frustrating to be honest with you."
When they first received recognition in the U.K., Danielle says even being tagged with having a "California Sound" was baffling. "It was funny when people started saying that we have a 'California Sound.' We didn’t realize. We were just making music that we were coming up with. It's interesting. We never thought about it that way. Maybe it’s the harmonies? I don't know," says Danielle. "Our hair?" asks Alana. "Our long hair? Our middle parts?" says Danielle. "We never really felt super L.A. until we went to the U.K.," says Alana.
That’s not to say they resent the L.A. tag, though. You’d be hard-pressed to find greater L.A. champions than the sisters Haim, between their album art, lyrics (songs on the new record reference Crescent Heights, earthquake drills and freeway overpasses), music videos and recent promotional photos showing the band gracing the front page of L.A. Times Calendar section strategically placed over their seemingly naked bodies.
"We’ve always been advocates for our city and we've repped it super hard, and throughout our whole lives we had to deal with pop culture telling us, ‘L.A. sucks.’ I feel like that was a popular theme," says Danielle. "Yeah, New York is the cool place. L.A. sucks," says Alana. "Yeah, it was always, ‘L.A. sucks’ in a lot of different movies," says Danielle. "In movies and TV shows, it never got respect," says Este. "We ride for L.A.,” says Danielle. "And I think with this record we embraced it. We talk about L.A., and obviously 'Free Fallin’' and Tom Petty are huge huge inspirations to us our whole lives. Actually, Wildflowers was a huge inspiration on this album."
Ironically, WIMPIII’s opening track, "Los Angeles," reveals Haim contemplating moving elsewhere. "That song is speaking to the mass exodus of everyone and their mom moving to L.A. and having a vindication that, yes, L.A. is the best,” says Danielle, "So the aftermath of that for me was, ‘Wait, is this city even mine anymore?’ Maybe I recognized why some people didn’t like it and we kind of collectively thought maybe we should move somewhere because we’ve never lived anywhere else." It's plain as the Hollywood sign on a clear day, however, that the sisters aren’t going anywhere. "I love it," says Alana. “L.A. is stuck with me.”
The only thing stronger than the love for their hometown is the sisters’ adoration for each other. The penultimate track on WIMPIII, "Hallelujah," is a beautiful guitar- and vocals-driven ode to sisterhood emanating a "Landslide" vibe that would make Fleetwood Mac proud. Solemn and somber, the tender and naked ballad reflects each sister's grappling with personal and heavy topics—Este’s Type 1 Diabetes, Alana’s grief for a close friend who was killed in a car accident years ago and Danielle’s coming to terms with Ariel’s testicular cancer (he’s now cancer-free)—while expressing gratitude for each other’s support. Their close bond is most sharply illuminated by the lyric "three roads, one life."
"That was a cathartic song to write, a hard one to write but a really nice release," says Este. "I think we had so much to say and it flew out. I remember the day we wrote it, it felt like I lost 20 pounds and felt light as a feather and needed to happen," says Alana. "Another overlying theme of the record is dealing with things we’d kind of been running away from. For years, we’d been a touring band that [thought] leaving your troubles in L.A. is the easiest thing to do. 'See ya when I come back, probably not but OK bye.'"
Meanwhile, the sisters have been isolating separately from each other, and lockdown has been tough. "It sucks,” says Este who’s suffered the most in isolation. "I feel I’m a strong, independent woman but I think that I’ve realized in this quarantine that I also crave human connection. It’s also why I love touring so much, and the idea of not being able to do that is heartbreaking. It feels like I’m going through a breakup and, truly, the relationships with audience members that you foster on the road—to me, that’s connection. To go from feast to famine is really, really difficult for me. I very much love the routine of touring and being able to share it with my family is so special. And now being home is kind of sad.
After spending the first month of lockdown without seeing each other, the longest time Haim have ever spent apart, the sisters made a pact only to visit with each other and no one else. Though they’ve used their lockdown time productively, doing press for their record, appearing on talk shows and hosting weekly Zoom dance classes for their fans, it’s been heartbreaking to sit on a record that was specifically made to be played live. "The thing we wanted to make sure with this album is, and it’s bittersweet now, but we were really thinking about how we were going to play this album live. That was at the forefront of our minds. Playing live is such a big part of us and something we take seriously," says Danielle. "We were just stoked to play this shit live. That’s the thing. We love the studio but we love the tactile act of playing music, so the idea of not being able to do that is pretty tough,” says Este.
Notably, even while Haim air their grievances and disappointments, they remain warm, upbeat, enthusiastic, playful and positive. They are grateful for their success while simultaneously seeming slightly incredulous as if they are still pinching themselves to make sure they aren't dreaming. "The fact that we started out playing at the Echo, first of three [bands on the bill], and have made it to this point, just on our own, is the biggest gift," says Alana, who is still stunned that Haim sold out L.A.'s Greek Theatre in just a few hours. Her eyes widen in disbelief as she says, "Man, the f**king Greek? What? What?"
While they are L.A. to the (hard)core, the sisters haven't gone Hollywood. Down to earth and accessible, they are highly interactive with their legions of fans online where they post regularly. Recently, when a fan posted concern on Haim’s Instagram page that WIMPIII’s release date would be changed yet again, the band immediately responded with assurance. "It’s just how we’ve always been and how we’ll always be," says Alana. "We truly crave human connection and thrive on it. We’re just three sisters from the Valley, you know," says Este. "You can take the girl out of the Valley but you can’t take…," Alana trails off with a wry smile.
While they typically veer towards quirky and lighthearted online, the sisters have switched gears in some of their recent Instagram posts voicing support for justice for Breonna Taylor who was shot eight times in her apartment by police in Kentucky, posting photos from Black Lives Matter protests they attended in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and calling upon L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to fire LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore after unsettling remarks in which he said protesters and looters also had the killing of George Floyd on their hands (the remarks were later rolled back by Garcetti and retracted by Moore, who issued an apology).
"When the protests began, we knew there was a risk with COVID, but we had to go out, support and protest," says Alana. "It didn’t feel right to just stay at home. We needed to be out there with everyone. Walking down Hollywood Boulevard with everyone chanting the same thing, moving together, it was a really special feeling. There were so many people that came out to help one another, too, to make sure everyone was safe and protected. People were handing out masks, hand sanitizer, water, etc. it’s been really beautiful to see everyone come together and stand for change."
"Having this platform is not something we take lightly, especially during times like these," says Este. "We've been protesting, donating, calling and sending emails to help raise money and awareness to help organizations like the People’s City Council Freedom Fund and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective. We’ve been encouraging our fans to do the same."
In the meantime, while it's anyone's guess as to when bands will be able to perform live, the sisters are happy WIMPIII is finally being released while remaining cautious about scheduling future tour dates. "We can’t wait to start playing shows but want to be sure that we’re keeping our fans, our crew and everyone’s health and safety a priority. When it’s finally safe for everyone, we’ll definitely be playing live," says Este.
"I do feel when things are opening, then maybe we can finish the deli tour," says Alana. "Or if delis are open and that’s the only form of how to play music, I can solely do a deli tour. If that’s the only way to play live, I’ll solely play delis."