Alana Haim is on a mission: “Right now I’m literally walking the streets trying to find Drake,” she says over the phone from Toronto.
The 21-year-old, along with her sisters Este, 28, and Danielle, 24, are in the final stretch of a year-long world tour for their debut album, Days Are Gone, a dazzling collection of retro rock that mixes mid-’80s art-pop and ’90s R&B. (Fleetwood Mac, TLC, and Kate Bush are frequently invoked for comparison.) With Danielle shredding on guitar, Este on bass, and Alana on percussion, guitar and keyboard, Haim rocks with a hair-flinging intensity that sells out shows in minutes and whips fans into sing-along frenzies. They played together for six years before ever releasing a record (and for years before that too, as part of a family cover band called Rockinhaim), but the Haim sisters are now living the dream: They’re goofy, loud, California valley-accented rock stars who, if you believe them, cannot believe this is all even happening.
“I’ve only met [Beyoncé] once and it was kind of the most surreal experience ever,” Este says. The sisters are well-known Beyoncé superfans and include a cover of “XO” on their current setlist. “She was so beautiful and so, like, nice. It was almost like I was having a conversation with one of my girlfriends. We walked away from it being like, ‘That happened.’”
While Haim and Beyoncé haven’t crossed paths again, the sisters are relishing touring, writing new music, and enjoying each other’s company—even with all the quirks of sisterhood that never go away. Este, the eldest, says she’s the most maternal. “I’ve had my friends be like, ‘OK, Mama Bear Haim, calm the fuck down. Like, your sisters are gonna be OK, you don’t need to keep texting them to make sure they’re all right. They’re grown ass ladies.’” And Alana, though she says there is “no hierarchy” among them, does have one complaint about being the youngest sister.
“The only thing my sisters do that they have done since I was little is like, we’ll all sit down to eat and then Danielle will be like, ‘Can you get me a waterrrr?’ and Este will be like, ‘Can you get me a coooke?’” she says. “And I’ll be like, ‘You guys have feet. You can get your own drink.’ They’ll be like, ‘But pleeease? Can youuu get it for me?’ I’ll be like, ‘Fine.’ It comes with the territory.”
The Daily Beast called up Este and Alana to discuss touring, the follow-up to Days Are Gone, and problems in the way we discuss women in music.
Hi! How’s the tour been going?
Este: Touring in America has been kind of crazy because we’ve never toured here before. [Laughs] We’ve been in the U.K. and Europe for pretty much the last year. We started our tour officially a year ago two days ago. It feels awesome to come back to the States and see that people know the songs and they’re singing the lyrics back to us. It’s super surreal.
Alana, is this the first time you’ve been away from home for so long?
Alana: Oh yeah. Easily. I am the baby of the family. My parents really want me to stay at the house until I’m married, and even when I’m married they want me to stay. My mom’s like [shrieks], “Nooo, my baaaby, don’t leave!” So to be away from the house for a year…I mean, none of us went to college out of state, so to have all of us leave at the same time, they’re like freaking out. “The house is way too quiet! What are you doing? When are you guys coming home? We miss you.” We’re like, “Sorry, we have to go tour the world, Mom and Dad! God, you’re embarrassing me.” It’s awesome. My parents come and visit us on tour when we’re not working, so we still see them sometimes. They come to the fun cities, like, they’re not gonna come to the random, Middle America cities. They’re like, “Well, we’re gonna come to New York and Barcelona.” I’m like, “Oh, cool. The two cities where I would like to go out and party.” They’ll come so we can have, like, family dinner.
Right now your dates are listed until the end of August—are you taking a break then?
Este: Yeah, I think we’re gonna take a little bit of a break then but we’re in the process of writing now and getting ready to do the second record. We’re always writing and demoing stuff out. But yeah, I think we’re gonna take a little bit of a break. I think we deserve it, you know? Just a little one.
How different is the music that you’re writing now from Days Are Gone?
Este: Um, I think the only difference now is that we’re not in Danielle’s living room in Venice. We’re on a tour bus and we have a little setup where we just kind of noodle around and try to demo stuff out. Everywhere we go, inspiration hits us and we just kind of mumble things into our iPhones. But that’s pretty much the only difference. Everywhere is kind of inspiring to us right now so we’re trying to take advantage of that and demo things out and just kind of stay creative on the road. But I think once we get back to L.A. and we have a chunk of time when we can actually record things, we’ll bust out our GarageBand demos and see what we’ve got.
Alana: Before this tour, we were still mixing the record on the road so we couldn’t really explore the places we were in ’cause we were stuck in our hotel rooms with headphones on, listening to our stuff. This tour, the record is out so we’re able to go to a city and explore and really take everything in. I brought a bike, so when I go home and people ask, “How was tour?” I’m not gonna be like, “Oh, nothing happened, I was stuck with work most of the time.” I get to be like, “I went on my bike! And I was here!” I’ll actually have, like, memories to share with people.
You guys have such recognizable hair, I’ve always wondered what happens the day one of you decides to get bangs or something.
Alana: I think we all kind of want to cut off our hair when this tour is done and like, start over. But the thought of not actually having long hair terrifies me. I’ve always had long hair my entire life. I’ve never dyed my hair, I have like pure, virgin hair. So I kind of just wanna be like, “Fuck it, I’m going pixie cut.” But then I look in the mirror and I’m like, “OK, I definitely have like a big ass nose, I don’t think a pixie cut is gonna work for me.” But I mean we’re always open to change. Maybe next record I’ll go bald or something.
You guys addressed something a few months ago that had been bugging me about the coverage of your music: the “girl band” label that some people give you, which Alana said she takes as an insult.
Este: I mean it’s no secret that my sisters and I are all about girl power and being passionate about being a woman. I think for us it’s just more about, you know, I think people just need to change the verbage and the way that they describe music and the way that they look at women in music. I definitely felt growing up that I wasn’t an equal and I never understood why. You know, I jammed with a bunch of guys and sometimes they wouldn’t even let me jam. I’d even hear from dudes that were just like, “Yeah, women can play music, but it’s not rock music. There’s a place for women in music, but it’s not in the rock world.”
I played a rock instrument, I played the bass. And I was flabbergasted. At the time, I was kind of scared to really stand up for myself. But now I’m not fucking scared. I’m not scared to stand up for myself in that regard at all. I don’t think it’s OK for people to say shit like that. It always bothers me, even when I heard people call us “girl band.” Honestly, at the end of the day, the fact that people are even talking about us is pretty surreal. I just never understood, like, you would never call a band like The Killers a boy band. So why are we a girl band? You know? We’re a band.
I always think about this story, Joni Mitchell tells this story all the time. She was walking down the street and someone came up to her and was basically like, “Oh, Joni, I wanted to tell you, you’re my favorite female songwriter of all time.” The guy was probably just trying to tell her how much of a fan he was and that’s amazing. But to have there be a gender stratification when it comes to music? Why do you need to stratify it? I just never understood. And [Joni] kind of was like, “all right, all right” and walked away but I think the guy was a little like, “Why aren’t you being nice about it?” Of course it was because why couldn’t she just be his favorite songwriter? Like, why does that have to happen? That kind of always frosts my cookies.
But yeah, I’m all about women in music and women being creative and passionate in general. I’ve always been most attracted to women that are strong and powerful and that know what the fuck they’re doing. ’Cause nine times out of ten, I just feel like people don’t have the verbage and that’s the problem. We need to switch the way that we talk about women. That’s what I think needs to change. I think sometimes they don’t even know that they’re doing it and that’s the problem. You say the word “feminist” and already, like, you can feel the eye rolls in the room. Like, fuck off, man. Fuck off. It has this crazy negative connotation that I never understood. So yeah, that’s all. I’ll get off my soapbox now. [Laughs] I’m just all about ladies. I love men too, don’t get me wrong.
Lastly, the video for “If I Could Change Your Mind” was such a hit, do you think you’ll do more synchronized dancing again?
Alana: That music video was so fun because we honestly had no idea what we were getting into, we were like, “Let’s do a dance video, it’ll be so much fun!” And then we got to rehearsals and our choreographer, Fatima Robinson, who did all of the Aaliyah music videos back in the day, literally like, whipped our asses into shape. We walked into it thinking, “Oh my God, it’s like a fun way to spend our week! We’re gonna learn the dance and we’re gonna film it!” No. It was like, full blown dance rehearsal, sweating bullets—it was the craziest fucking thing ever. But it was so much fun. There were so many hilarious moments of us trying to keep it together for serious dancing. We’re such goofy people as it is, so to be serious and do synchronized dancing—it was hilarious. Like, thank God for editing because I don’t think we ever got through the dance once all the way through perfectly because we just could not keep it together.