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Photography Laura Coulson

HAIM: stormy summer

The sisters from the San Fernando Valley return with an album fraught with heartbreak for a triumphant homecoming

“WE HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU,” flashes coyly on the big screens flanking the stage at Barcelona’s Primavera festival. It’s just gone 3am, and the crowd is heaving and restless, waiting for the worst kept secret of the festival to make their long-awaited return. The air crackles with a dry heat, bubbles of Estrella and tangy anticipation for the unbilled act.

Danielle, Este, and Alana pound into the amphitheatre view, the screens now emblazoned with the word ‘HAIM’. It’s a rousing, cathartic performance of new and classic tunes, the band occasionally stopping to take crowd selfies, exchange words with a hysterical front row fan, the show peaking with a mesmerising drum ensemble. “We missed you,” shouts Este, and everyone believes her. Their passion is as palpable onstage as when I walked into their London hotel room a week before.

“We’re really huggy!” Alana sing-songs, enveloping me into the HAIM trio. Crossing three different time zones to meet me first thing in the morning doesn’t seem to be fazing them, nor the high twenties Cali-like heat, as they’re dressed in Gucci-meets-Fleetwood Mac-venturing-through-the-Valley leathers, boots and blazers, plus crescent moon necklaces gifted from Stevie Nicks. As we sit down, surrounded by trays of pastries, they engage with each other in the way you would totally expect – like, well, sisters. Alana leads the conversation, speaking with hands and frequently readjusting her position on the big sofa to face whoever is talking. Este scatters sarcastic, playful lines around with a Cali drawl, while Danielle is slower and considered, taking her time to muse over the questions put forward. Each of the sisters take a turn finishing the other's sentences, or adding more colour to the story of the years-long journey to today.

“This is like a whole new chapter,” says Alana, the youngest sister and multi-instrumentalist. “I feel like we're kind of just starting over again – I get to tour the world, and go to all these places–”

“It’s like a new beginning,” adds Este, the band’s bassist and eldest member.

“We’re just stoked to show people the new music, and see the world again together,” says lead singer and guitarist Danielle.

“I mean, Big Ben! I’ve seen him!” Alana exclaims. “I never thought in a million years I’d see Big Ben. It’s an emotional experience. Like, I'm here: I'm in the pictures in my school history books. And London is so important to us, people always cared here.” 

HAIM are on a relentless, continent-hopping circuit for their second album, Something To Tell You. It’s a fearless album. The classic rock of their Rockinhaim days (a youthful cover band with their parents and a tentative musical venture) and a love for the golden oldies plays out in the record’s shreds and snarls, bleeding into soaring harmonies and syncopated beats that carve its space in today’s modern pop realm. The perspective on “Right Now” flips the script of past guitar heroes – it’s contemplative, fuelled by an assertive, uninhibited pop energy. “Now, you’re saying that you need me babe,” sings Danielle, both deliciously haughty and sad.

Where Days Are Gone raised us up to delightful, dizzying heights, unafraid of oscillating from genre to genre, this breezy release is beating a new path. Danielle picks out the thumping “Nothing’s Wrong”, an aching song that confronts a lover unabashed, despite the inevitable pain, as the moment it all comes to fruition. This album knows what’s at the end of the LA boulevard you’re stomping down; when to pull you into basslines fraught with past heartbreak and pummel you with sparseness. And it knows exactly the moment to blow that all up for blossoming romance and a cheeky wink from the West Coast. 

“There’s this feeling of being on fire” – Este, HAIM

“I feel like being a woman in music you kind of gotta assert yourself, and we were brought up to be very confident in our vision,” explains Alana. 

“I don't think we could work with anyone who would want to put their stamp on us,” adds Este.

“It would get messy real quick,” says Danielle. “We’re too opinionated.”

“Three cooks in the kitchen–” says Este.

“Three very opinionated cooks in the kitchen,” Alana interjects.

The Haim women were lucky to grow up around people who, as Alana puts it, “didn’t take shit from anyone”. Their parents that encouraged them to hit the drums in their living room as early as they could – High-8 videos of Alana and Danielle in the Haim family archive are testament to their early musical ability. “Our parents couldn't afford a camera until I was like six,” says Este.

“And by then you’d left the cute stage,” teases Alana, baring all her teeth in a goofy grin.

“With the drums, you're just hitting shit! It's so primal,” says Este. “For us, it was just like, ‘We get to make noise and our parents are okay with it?’” They all roar in unison.

Music was always a part of their household. Their dad was a drummer, their youth spent with Rockinhaim, followed by parts in the Columbia-signed Valli Girls pop group when the oldest two were just hitting their teens, and they’d always sing while doing non-rock prodigy things like the dishes, radio on long rides around Cali. “It's really indicative of being an Angeleno,” says Este. “You spend so much time in your car. The radio is such an integral part of your childhood. You don't find that a lot in other places.”

While each of the band’s lively Instagram feeds chronicle the beginning of this album’s global power promo, it all began right back where everything really started – in their parents’ house in LA’s San Fernando Valley. Having spent the guts of three years touring their Grammy-nominated debut Days Are Gone, it was integral to hit the studio that they knew best first. “We were back at my parents' house, in my bunk bed, with all like my little like Hello Kitty stickers,” says Alana. 

“I feel like being a woman in music you kind of gotta assert yourself, and we were brought up to be very confident in our vision” – Alana, HAIM

The creative dynamic among the sisters is always going to be driving and vibrant, running at one hundred miles an hour no matter their surroundings or their new vision. The early days saw them saving for a year to get a day and a half in a nice studio, getting “trigger happy” on Garageband with the Motown kit and 808 kicks, and endless nights opening for friends’ gigs with brewing hits. This time there’s a wider well of resources and a new sense of themselves, what Este calls a “feeling of being on fire”. They wanted to showcase their power as a live band, time, and space to figure out how a drum kit sounded in different studios or friends’ houses – “all up to three ladies’ very high standards,” quips Alana.

Last year, the band were forced to cancel several European dates, aiming to distill a “million ideas” and dozens of demos, according to Danielle, into an LP. “Writing is kind of like a muscle you just have to show up and flex,” she says. “We didn’t want to pressure ourselves: sometimes we would just write a verse, different parts, mess with tones… we would kind of Mr Potato Head it. Sometimes it would just–” She snaps her fingers, “–come to us fully formed.” Este and Alana both comment on her snapping technique. I admit to them I can’t snap, but I can whistle really well – so we all try it out, fingers in mouths and hands like maracas.

Home is where they spent much of their time writing, recording, and just experiencing the plaintive moments that punctuate Something To Tell You, so they really rep the Valley, despite the tired stereotypes from films and TV they take on the chin. “That Valley girl thing,” says Alana, dropping her inflections low like she’s auditioning for Clueless. “Like, y’know, whatever.” It was their love for their roots, however, that switched Magnolia director Paul Thomas Anderson onto the group, linking through a mutual friend at a party (“We weren’t invited to the per usual,”). Telling the story of the long-winding construction of an email to the filmmaker, each sister interjects: “‘Paul’? No. ‘P’? No. And you're like, ‘PTA?’ And we're like, 'Delete, delete, delete. Type. Delete, delete. Type.” An awkward afternoon writing to a “legend” is what led to their PTA-directed, one-shot “Right Now” video, filmed in a Valley studio, the legendary Valentine, with vintage porn mags still strewn across the floor.

Hearing these relatable moments of awkwardness, the random and spontaneous choices and missteps that just seem to churn out pure gold, seems reflective of the Haim sisters. We’re interrupted halfway through when a woman from the hotel enters with a vase full of flowers, and they erupt with joy. “Is it Valentine’s Day?” shouts Alana, making towards them.

“How aesthetically pleasing, I shall press these in my diary,” Este says. “This reminds me of that ‘Land Shark’ SNL sketch. That’s a very 70s, esoteric reference for ya.”

Our conversation oscillates wildly, but I’m glad to be mostly in on it – they’re easy to talk to, and friendly eye contact never wavers. Pre-prepared questions fall away as they describe their ultimate jam: the Divas Live compilation, featuring Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and more: “You go through so many emotions. You're crying. You're laughing. You're remembering about a past love. You're like 'Not it's gone! But It's back again! But why are you crying!?’” Alana dramatises.

“I actually sang it to a parking attendant the other day when I was in the car,” offers Danielle.

We discuss songs they wish they wrote, descending into full blown singalongs with a Shania Twain medley and “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey. We imagine if they suddenly picked up instruments they always wanted to learn, and what a third album featuring only two trumpets, a saxophone and a cello would be like.

The HAIM train is at full speed, unapologetically pouring its heart out and shows no sign of stopping, and they’re happier for it. And why wouldn’t they be? “It’s just all like a dream sometimes,” says Alana. “An experience you don’t want to ever stop.”