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Q&A With The Sisters Of Haim

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Maybe it is not such a coincidence that the three Southern Californian sisters of Haim (in order from big to little sis’: Este, Danielle and Alana) are calling us from Brisbane––recently declared the hippest city in Queensland, Australia––because not only are these ladies hip, but their debut album Days Are Gone (Polydor in Europe, and Colombia in the U.S.) just went Platinum. After first venturing out as the Valli Girls, a more Nickelodeon-friendly act, Este and Danielle returned for their “baby” sister and worked for several more years on their Forever EP before releasing it online for free (and eventually putting out a 10-inch on the National Anthem label). 

Career milestones have been frequent lately. The song “Forever,” which also appears on their full-length, was recently remixed by the godfather of EDM, Giorgio Moroder, proof of how they shape-shift through different genres and scenes––from pop, to hip-hop, and indie-rock. Another example is their single, “The Wire,” (which they performed on SNL), contains a beat that they meant to sound like Gary Glitter-Joan Jett glam rock, but ends up heralding the revival of “Heartache Tonight”-era Eagles “Urban Cowboy Disco.” Meanwhile, the trio have been winning over crowds and leaving audiences wanting more at festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Leeds, SXSW and Glastonbury (where they played the same stage the night before the Rolling Stones), and if you already bought your tickets you can catch them at the upcoming Coachella Festival in Indio, CA. 

Simultaneously hi-tech and lo-fi, Haim are Wilson Phillips meets Luscious Jackson meets a host of other influences, but they still teach us how important it is to have the confidence to find your own way. We’ll also learn from these Israeli-American Valley Girls that sometimes your much-coveted manager may come from somebody else’s guest list! 

Music Connection: What can you tell us about your musical upbringing and playing in a band with your parents?

Alana: [Our] dad is basically the reason we started playing music, I mean, my mom too––but he said that he had this dream one night that we were all going to play music together, and as the story goes, he woke up the next morning and bought all our instruments. Before there was Craigslist, my dad traveled up and down California to get some really good gear. When I was about four we started Rockinhaim, our family band. We only played covers at charity events because my mom was against us playing gigs for money. Instead of going on family fishing trips our family practiced music and played shows in clubs.

Este: I think it was also because all three of us had all this pent up energy––I’m sure we had undiagnosed ADHD––and I think and they put us in dance and music and choir to tire us out––and it worked.

MC: Do you think being sisters gives you a special intuition as musicians?

Danielle: I’ve never known it another way. This is natural. We’ve always listened to the same music and had the same sensibilities, you know? We’re each a little different, but we know if we’re on to something or if it could be better.

Alana: A lot of people don’t get why Este and I get along so well. And I’m vomiting as I’m saying this, but music actually did bring us together. When I was 16 Este finally convinced my parents to let her take me to concerts in L.A. I still had a curfew but at least I was allowed out, and that’s when Este, Danielle and I started to really bond. We were always so close, but the second that we could all go out to the Troubadour together or the Echo or the Silverlake Lounge, that solidified our bond.

MC: You are very Wilson Phillips-like in the way you harmonize and bounce lyrics back and forth, trading lead vocals. Has anyone ever suggested that the band have a clear-cut frontwoman?

Danielle: I really love Wilson Phillips. I think that it’s unique when you can be a band that features different lead singers. I like that about Fleetwood Mac, I like that in the Eagles, and it lends itself to having different types of songs. Este writes different than I do, so her songs are going to be different than mine. But then there’s a song like “The Wire,” where we each wrote our different parts. We’re still trying to figure it out as we go, but I feel like we’re doing what we like, and the only pressure we’re concerned about is the pressure we put on ourselves. People know, it’s pretty hard to fuck with three sisters.

MC: Speaking of Fleetwood Mac, you do a killer version of Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” How did you come upon that classic cut, and does it make you feel good to be blowing old British dudes’ minds when you whip it out?

Danielle: We had a cut on this Fleetwood Mac compilation [they covered “Hold Me”] and I ended up being in the studio at the same time as [ZZ Top’s] Billy Gibbons, who is one of my heroes. He was recording his version of “Oh Well” and I got to play the drums on it! Then we [Haim] said, Why don’t we try it? It’s the one time in the set that we have a blues jam rock out, because we don’t normally like to jam onstage. It’s more pop music, and there’s not a lot of guitar solos on the record because I feel it’s better to just go back to the song. But I like that we can go, “Look, we can do this too.” With “Oh Well” we can really let loose and it’s fun to see people’s reaction to it.

MC: As authentic [San Fernando] Valley gGirls, can you tell us a little about playing the Los Angeles club scene, residencies, etc.?

Este: We never landed a residency, thank you. That was the whole reason why we put out the Forever EP, because we thought it would get us a residency, but it didn’t so we kind of made our own residency by opening up for all these bands. We basically created our own residency by always being the first of three acts. In fact, our ongoing joke was that we should just be called The First of Three, because for about five years that’s what it was like. But we love playing live, so for us it didn’t matter how long our set was, or where it was, we just wanted to play.

Danielle: It was hard in the beginning. We didn’t really know anyone outside of the Valley, so we just played around when we started in 2006. Our first gig was in North Hollywood, at the CIA, which was kind of a weird venue, but it was the only place that would allow us to play; and it was pay-to-play, which kind of sucks. And from then on we just played wherever we could play for the first two years. And then we started making friends around L.A., playing The Cobalt Café, Spaceland, the Echo, always opening up our friends’ residencies. We did that for five or six years straight.

MC: This being Music Connection’s “Managers Issue,” we have to ask: how did you hook up with Jon Lieberberg, your manager?

Danielle: We were still playing around L.A. even in between my tours [in backing bands for Jenny Lewis, Julian Casablancas and CeeLo Green], but my sisters were still in school so we couldn’t really get off the ground. Then we opened for our friends Chief at The Troubadour [in 2010]. John was in the audience to see them, not us, but he came up to us and asked if we had a recording. We always told everybody that it’s getting mixed or something, but we admitted to him that we didn’t. We were writing new songs, and so we kept in contact with him, and later we decided that we should work together. And after that, things started taking off.

MC: Your manager was with Live Nation, but now works for Jay Z’s entertainment company, Roc Nation. And you’re on Columbia Records. So now that you are in the big leagues do you have people trying to put in their two cents about your career and what you should be doing?

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