Sisters of the Moon
by: Blaine Skrainka
photography by: Dan Monick
June 20, 2013
Haim are on the brink of breaking through to the global pop consciousness. On the first afternoon I speak to them, they are rolling across Europe – their first tour together. This particular night the trio of sisters are set to play with fellow breakouts, alt-J, and in a few weeks they join superstar Florence and the Machine at the O2 Center in London. It will be the girls’ first arena show. It all came about so fast – or so it seemed to fans. But for Este, Danielle, and Alana, this moment was the result of years of hard work and practice, a lifestyle really.
But let’s step back. “They’re pretty rockin’ – they are not your typical mom and dad.” says Este, the eldest of the three twenty-somethings. The foundations of these siblings are, unsurprisingly, rooted in their parents’ influence and direction. In fact, Haim in its nascent days were a family band, lovingly known as “Rockinhaim.” As the story goes, “Papa Haim” awoke from a dream about being in a group with his daughters. Eventually the parents got the boot, but their support and guidance colors everything from the stratified harmonies and compounded rhythms, to their carefully plotted career.
Today, Haim’s music is a product of those early days together blended with the sounds of growing up as kids of the ‘90s. On the surface, Haim comes off as a rock ‘n’ roll band (references to Fleetwood Mac abound). The undertones, however are undoubtedly rooted in R&B. When asked for a band that the three can always agree on, Prince, Aaliyah and TLC were first to be mentioned. Then there are the harmonies: “We get most of our harmonic inspiration from the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. The harmonies are so intensely hard that they can’t write the music down, it’s all learned by ear, passed down generation by generation.” Yet another legacy of their father, who is Bulgarian himself.
To date, we only have a handful of tracks to spin from Haim: three from their debut EP, Forever, a few more singles, and a Fleetwood Mac cover of “Hold Me.” Recently signed to record deals in Europe and the States, the band’s first full-length album is slated for later this year.
It will be a long time coming. The first EP was actually their fifth effort. Unsatisfied with the sound, Haim scrapped the first four attempts. “When we got into the studio, we had absolutely no idea what it was to record something,” they recall. “We would watch Tom Petty documentaries, and we thought that’s how it’s done. You just sit in a room and play it live and record it.”
They were filled with a sense of disappointment getting their first recordings back: “They all sounded really flat and uninteresting, like bad demos.”
It was not until they collided with producer Ludwig Göransson that Haim were willing to put their recordings out in the world.
“People were looking at us as more of a rock band – which is true, we do have rock ‘n’ roll influences – but we like R&B, and the crunchiness of samples and sounds. No one really got that.”
Göransson, who has worked with hip hop artists like Childish Gambino (along with scoring TV sitcoms) was able to masterfully achieve the balance of a ‘70s San Fernando Valley rock feel with a ‘90s R&B vibe.
The next time we cross paths is back in Brooklyn, New York. It is a much anticipated homecoming for Haim, coming off of the inaugural European tour. And it just so happens to be Alana’s twenty-first birthday. The group rock an electrified and emotional set in front of a usually subdued Williamsburg crowd.
“You guys are making me fucking cry, I can’t see my keys!” Alana tells the crowd between songs.
Her sister Este is there to back her up: “This is your day, boo.”
“I could not breath without everyone on stage with me,” Alana replies in an exhaustive excitement.
Fans were reeled in with the Forever EP, but what you won’t get from Haim recordings are the elaborate and gut-punching extended jams that can only be experienced at a gig. Dash Hutton, their drummer, and the “one mister” among the three sisters, anchors the group with the strong rhythms needed to tie the sound together. Danielle, who has backed Jenny Lewis and Julian Casablancas, leads the vocals and plays her harp with serious intentions. Este’s fingers run the bass smoothly; her facial expressions are audacious. Alana jumps between keys and guitar, adding innocent and unabated energy to the stage.
Haim live are raw and unkempt, sparing nothing for the after party.
“That’s where we get our jollies is when we play live. I’d rather play live than be in a studio,” Este says, “This is our L.T.D.-vibe – our living the dream vibe.”
The set ends with the Haim parents reuniting with their girls on stage for a full family rock-out of “Mustang Sally.” The crowd erupts.
With the blogosphere likewise blowing up over Haim, anticipation for the debut record is fervent. It can add pressure to a group that is already thinking in the long-term. “There’s only so many times you can write a fuck-you-break-up-song,” they say. Always meticulous, the band are always working and reworking: “You can never say your song is perfect – unless you’re Prince.”
Along with their serious ambitions, Haim have some lofty WILD Wishes. Alana hopes to meet Beyonce and have dinner with her and husband, Jay-Z. Danielle, who generally comes off as the reserved sister, one-ups and proposes a duet with Ms. Knowles. But Este takes it to a whole new level with her dream of building a house with sugar-free gummy bears – with Beyonce. Collectively, they can agree on wanting to babysit Blue Ivy Carter.
Baby Blue would be protected well by the trio. “It kind of feels like we are in a gang with each other, and I think people can sense that. No one really tries to fuck with us, and if they do – dead man walking.”