Stylist’s Helen Bownass uncovers the ties that bind Este, Danielle and Alana Haim. Photography by Tom Van Schelven.
Este Haim is crying. I’ve asked what I thought was an innocuous question: tell me about the time you’ve been most proud of your sisters. But it’s affected the 31-year-old Haim bassist deeply.
“As the older sister, and I don’t really feel like the older sister because Danielle and Alana take such good care of me…” she chokes out tearfully, pausing to breathe deeply. “I’ve watched them grow up to be strong, successful women, who support so many other people in the arts. They’re always available no matter what.” And she’s gone again. “This is like therapy,” she laughs.
The best thing about this moment though is that her bandmates – those aforementioned sisters and purveryors of this summer’s dreamiest music video Want You Back – simply laugh. “Oh my god,” says Alana, the band’s guitar player, and, at 25, the youngest sister.
“Get it together,” laughs Danielle, the group’s lead vocalist and middle child at 28.
It’s exactly what my sister would do – OK, does – if I got over-emotional around her. (Incidentally, when asked the same question, both Alana and Danielle speak powerfully about the moment Este gave a talk to 40 children about how she lives with type 1 diabetes, after being diagnosed aged 14.)
This easy exchange encapsulates the magic that is Haim. When the band arrive at Stylist’s shoot, the morning after a triumphant headline performance at Leeds Festival, they’re a mass of hair and hugs. The trio reside in the centre of a Venn diagram between geeky and cool. And despite a lack of sleep, their energy is infectious to the power of three. They’re equally thrilled to meet Belinda the basset hound – the finishing touch to our awkward family photo, a concept to which Haim have gamely agreed.
Their chemistry is the sort of thing that you can’t replicate. And yet their natural ease, excitability (Alana and Danielle get overly passionate when I mention I once interviewed Backstreet Boys) and synchronicity – they regularly finish each other’s sentences – sit alongside a fierce determination, perfectionism and authority. Haim take their music very seriously and they aren’t ashamed to admit it.
Confession time: for some reason, I expect the sisters to be fully signed-up clean living Cali girls. Joyfully, they aren’t – with the exception of Este who can’t drink. So at the end of the shoot, when the crew is enjoying a cold Peroni, the girls decide to stay on for a beer, asking for recommendations on the best places to eat in west London (they usually stay east and already have their favourite Shoreditch and Dalston venues down after living there for a few months early on in their career).
Hackney is a long way, physically and metaphorically, from where the trio grew up in the San Fernando Valley – “the Valley” – in Los Angeles, where the family unit was always tightly bound. They set up band RockinHaim when Alana was four; the group played “geeky covers” at bar mitzvahs and local restaurants, while guitars and drum kits jostled for space in their living room. They have all played the drums since the age of three – YouTube their 2017 Glastonbury performance for the full percussive effect.
As the girls got older, the appeal of the family band waned and the sisters formed a trio in 2006, playing shows, writing, trying to find their sound and getting rejected. Then, in 2012, Alana graduated high school, Este finished college, Danielle finished touring with The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and “the stars aligned and we hit the ground running,” says Alana. They had found their sound: effortless (sounding) Seventies rock wrapped around R&B vibes.
In 2013, their first album Days Are Gone debuted at number one in the UK – beating Justin Timberlake in the process and garnering the attention of Jay-Z (now their boss at management company Roc Nation), U2, Stevie Nicks – Alana is wearing one of the half-moon necklaces she gave them all – not to mention becoming key members of Taylor Swift’s squad.
It took four years – I mentioned that they’re perfectionists – for the appearance of second album Something To Tell You, of which most recent single Little Of Your Love is a super catchy, Eighties-tinged gem. They’ve become one of the biggest bands on both sides of the Atlantic (no gendered qualifier needed); a musical dynasty far cooler than any that have come before them…
The fact you’re sisters is an endless source of fascination. Can you understand why?
Este: The thing that I’ve heard but just don’t understand is: “God, how do you work with your sisters? I can’t stand my brother.” It’s a testament to how our parents raised us. We were always really close and did everything together. Also our friends are all friends, so we grew up never knowing anything different.
Danielle: There are times we get into arguments though.
E: We’re not a bowl of cherries all the time but at the end of the day, we’re sisters, we’re doing everything together, and we’re having a good time doing it.
You’re obviously a tight unit. Is it easy for other people to step into your world?
Alana: We’re always up for collaborating. If you’re going to work with us, it’s more a collaboration than what the other person wants us to do, it’s very hard to infiltrate this…
A: This fortress that is Haim. We’re very opinionated about how we want to look and sound and be on stage. We’ve been dreaming about being on stage since we were young. People always say that you dream of your wedding day, but I didn’t dream of my wedding day, I dreamt of what lights I wanted on stage. So we’ve always had all these grand ideas.
D: We like to think we’re pretty loose on stage but when it comes to planning what the stage is going to look like…
E: We’re definitely heavy-handed. That’s the nice way to put it.
A: It has to go through three minds – everything you see has had three approvals. Which can be a long process.
The music industry is notoriously dominated by men, has the power of three made it easier to navigate that?
D: I think that we’re really lucky that we have each other, and I hear that from a lot of our friends who have to do this alone.
E: We’ve always got each other’s backs. We’re like the Mighty Ducks.
How do you do delineate the personal and professional?
E: I don’t even know anymore. This is just our lives. There are definitely things we like to do though that are separate.
A: Sometimes people look hurt that we don’t live with each other anymore. And I’m like: “I’m 25, we’re not in bunk beds! I need my own space.” [Danielle lives with her boyfriend, producer Ariel Rechtshaid, the other two live with roommates. Este is the only sister still in The Valley.]
Do you have a language that only you three can understand?
A: We never got that far. [Laughs]
E: But I do think there is a sense of sister telepathy. I think that each of us has an idea of what’s going on in the other one’s head without any words being said.
A: Especially on stage – we’re so connected. If something goes wrong, like a string breaks, we’ll look at each other and just know what to do next.
E: Sometimes, I’ll be sitting in my house and think: “Something’s up”. I’ll call one of the others [and there’s something going on]. It’s really weird.
Are there things you don’t talk to each other about? Do you share details on your sex life, for example?
D: [Looks aghast] Oh god, no, I don’t want to know about that.
A: Telling me about everything else is welcome but I think you guys have got that on lock.
You’ve spent the summer playing festivals – what was your very first festival?
E: Coachella in 2006.
D: We snuck in. There were plastic wristbands and we had a friend going so we just photocopied hers onto paper, then wore it with like a billion bracelets on top.
E: We should explain that we didn’t sneak into the entire festival – we snuck into the VIP area.
D: We were standing on the side of the stage for Arctic Monkeys. We did that for five years, until it got too hard. We snuck in everywhere.
A: Tickets are so expensive and my parents were like, “There’s no way we’re paying that”.
It sounds like the boldness of youth, or is that something you’d dare to do now?
A: I still would, 100%.
D: Sometimes, even now when we’re at festivals, and I don’t know if it’s because we’re girls, but security will say, “You can’t be here,” and we’re like, “We’re
A: I’ve been stopped at festivals more now than when we were sneaking into Coachella.
E: I’m up for the challenge. I just don’t like the word ‘no’: that word is not in my vocabulary. When someone tells me I can’t do something or says ‘I dare you’, then I can’t back down. But that [attitude] opens you up to many an adventure.
What do you do after a show? Do you drink mint tea and chill out or prefer to party?
A: At Glastonbury this year we had the best time. We had eight free hours after our show, which is really rare – usually we just have to play and leave.
D: We said: “Let’s make these eight hours count”. We’ve been on a tequila tip recently.
A: I was like: “Give me all the pints!”
When’s the last time you went to a house party or is that stage of your life over?
A: We threw a house party [recently]. In LA, you need house parties because everything closes at 2am, which is when everything starts getting fun. But every time we throw a house party we don’t really think of the aftermath. During the party, you’re like, “This is f**king awesome!” and then you wake up the next morning and your floor is sticky. Last time, I woke up and there was p**s on my wall, red cups everywhere.
D: News of a house party spreads pretty quickly.
A: We threw a New Year’s party and at about 1am, I walked outside and there was a school bus parked outside. Sixty people walked out of it and right into my house. They said: “Is this the official after-party for [famed Los Angeles party hotel] The Standard? At that point, I was like, “Ah, it’s New Year, who cares?” We throw a good party.
You grew up in the Valley. What are the must-sees there? Is there somewhere great to go out for brunch, for example?
D: [Laughs] There’s no brunch in the Valley. The movie theatre is where you’d hang out. Or the [Sherman Oaks] Galleria mall.
A: Este worked at The Cheesecake Factory there. There was this big fountain outside where I’d hang out with all the hot guys from my school.
D: This is so much information…
A: Este made me look so cool – she’d bring us out free bread. [They all laugh]
Which is the city that makes you feel most excited?
D: I love London. I love the energy. I guess because we are from the Valley, it’s the thirst for culture and art and music.
A: It’s refreshing to see something that was built earlier than 1920. The first time we came here, we hadn’t even been signed yet. This really was our start – we got signed here. We owe everything to London.
D: I would love to move here for a while. I love being in a city that feels alive.
A: Our parents would probably want to come. They would just show up one day with two suitcases and be like, “Right, where do we move in?”
E: They already suffer from empty nest syndrome.
You mentioned a desire for culture – do you enjoy galleries?
D: Our mom was an artist and an art teacher. She’d say, “‘We’re going to an art museum,” and we’d be like, “Really, mom?” But over the past 10 years, we’ve started going with her to LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art], which is great.
A: Mom was really great at helping us with school projects. Everyone in first grade thought that I was a wunderkind.
D: Art is the one thing that I’ve never been able to do – I am the worst at it.
E: I have this dream of re-enacting the scene from Ghost. With Patrick Swayze. I loved him in Dirty Dancing – I can do that movie as a one-woman show. Did you know that the original title of it was going to be I Was A Teenager That Carried A Watermelon? [Ed note: It was actually I Was A Teenage Mambo Queen.]
D: Wait, shut up!
You’re famed for your love of vintage clothes, so how does it feel today in the likes of Prada and Gucci?
E: Eurgh, obsessed.
A: We take inspiration from designers and then go thrift shopping. But don’t get me wrong – if I could afford an all-Prada wardrobe, I wouldn’t say no.
How have you learnt about style?
E: We always loved magazines growing up. At weekends, we would go to [bookshop] Barnes & Noble and read all the magazines in the store to see what was going on.
A: I was more inspired by what my mom wore in the Sixties and Seventies – she looked so cool. But mom gave away all of the clothes, which is so frustrating.
D: That’s why I think we’re hoarders. I’m a hoarder.
A: I get so mad at mom because she had so many amazing outfits that she got rid of. She still has all of our art projects though – I would have rather have had her clothes than my handprint on a piece of construction paper!
Do you read much on the road?
A: Este always gives us book recommendations. She knows her stuff.
E: I like Miranda July, Philip Roth, Joan Didion, Allen Ginsberg.
D: When I’m feeling homesick, I read Charles Bukowski.
A: I read books that make me laugh. I love Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I’ve never read a book and laughed more.
And finally, who are the current female artists you rate?
D: Solange Knowles. She’s amazing. I stalk her on YouTube. She’ll play a festival and I’ll watch the whole set.
E: Both the Knowles sisters.
D: Mitski is super cool. Angel Olsen is incredible.
A: Danielle’s really good at music recommendations, Este’s got the books covered and honestly… I bring the vibe. I’m just here to party.
Main photo: Este wears shirt, as before; glasses, £255, Givenchy; earrings, Este’s own. Alana wears top, £415, Prada; glasses, £300, Dior; earrings, £350, Astley Clarke. Danielle wears dress, £865, Stella McCartney; glasses, £130, Ray-Ban.