Haim: Sisters with attitude

As the children of wannabe rock-stars, Haim were always destined to make music – “Our parents didn’t wave us off to college; they waved us off to a rock band”


Welcome to the Haim household. You dry the dishes to Sister Sledge, do your homework to Joni Mitchell and wake up to Motown or The Beatles. There’s even room for Mariah Carey and Destiny’s Child.

“It was just your wonderful Californian liberal-arts upbringing,” said Haim, as they sat in their Dublin dressing room wolfing down Doritos ahead of an appearance with Florence and the Machine earlier this year. “Music was a part of our daily routine – like brushing your teeth. When we were older, our parents didn’t wave us off to college; they waved us off to a rock band.”

The three sisters – Este (24), Danielle (22) and Alana (19) – are quoted as a collective voice during this interview for the sake of clarity. Spend any time in their presence and you’ll find that one sister starts to answer a question, another takes over midway through and another provides the conclusion.

Haim (rhymes with “time”) are the brightest and best guitar band to emerge in a long time. Winners of this year’s prestigious BBC Sound Of poll (past winners include Adele, Jesse J and Ellie Goulding), they are currently gearing up for the release of their debut album but drop by to play Whelan’s in Dublin tomorrow night.

What’s clear on first listening to Haim (and, if you havn’t already, do check out their Forever EP) is how well they can play. All multi-instrumentalists, even at their still-young age they’re relative veterans. “There were always instruments lying around the house, so we’ve been playing forever. Our mom taught us how to play guitar by showing us Joni Mitchell songs. I think she really wanted to be Joni Mitchell, but that didn’t quite work out for her.”

In true Partridge Family-style, it was Mr and Mrs Haim who first enlisted them in a rock band. Rockinhaim were a five-piece band who toured around California mainly playing covers. “Our parents are just totally frustrated rock stars, so when their first band broke up they just thought ‘why don’t we start a band with the kids?’. We would have been young teenagers at this point and we never thought there was anything weird about being in a gigging band with your parents.

“But as we got a bit older and had more friends, the reaction from them would either be ‘that’s so sad being in a band with your parents’ or ‘I can’t believe your folks encourage you to play rock music, mine are such squares’ – and it split pretty evenly between those two opinions.”

There comes a time in every child’s life, though, when they must look their parents in the eye and say “I no longer want to trade guitar solos with you on stage”, so the parents were delicately fired and the sisters set about writing their own material.

What people are mostly picking up from the already distinctive Haim sound is how, although they are a guitar-rock band, they meld contemporary r’n’b flourishes into their sound. “We have that sort of sound because we grew up listening to as much TLC as Tom Petty. The other thing is that the three of us are all drummers, so we love the percussive melodies of r’n’b. Having said that, we still get people thinking we’re hippies because we have long hair.”

Being a predominantly female rock band is still an issue, they find. “You are at a disadvantage; we hate to say it but it’s true. You still get dudes out there surprised that girls are playing their beloved rock music. We never wanted to be the ‘cutesy’ girls playing rock guitar. We’d look more to Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde as perfect role models.”

The family thing works out surprisingly well for them. “Yes, we bicker non-stop. When you’re sisters you always bicker. But we are weirdly close at the same time, so close in fact that people can get a bit freaked out by it. Sometimes we’ll be hanging with our own friends, but then we’ll be on the phone to one another going ‘Where are you now? I want to hang with you.’ The only real rows we’ve had on the Florence tour so far are of the ‘Why didn’t you ask me if you could borrow my shirt?’ type, but they’re manageable.”

The buzz around them and their non-stop touring has meant that the debut album (which should have been out by now) won’t be released until June or July.

“We just kept on touring when we really should have been in the studio; we got the Mumford and Sons tour and just kept going. With the album, what we’re finding is that we’re trying to keep what we’ve already done but still move it forward. Because everything is happening so fast at the moment, we’re very aware of not letting people down when it comes to delivering the album. It will sound like a live band playing but there’s some drum machines in there also – because we love our drum machines. It will be a mix of live and studio.”

They were impressed by how democratic they kept it in the studio. “We have our individual fortes, one of us is better at arranging the backing vocals, one is better at melody and one at rhythmic ideas. We just jam it out from there until the songs arrive.

“After all, this is what we’ve been doing for all of our lives . . .”.

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