Haim Is the Most Open and Experimental They’ve Ever Been on ‘Women in Music Part III’

In their latest album, Alana, Este and Danielle Haim come of age, facing traumas and emotions on the record.

The Haim sisters photographed and styled by themselves for W magazine.

In March, two days before the market crashed, cases of COVID-19 in the United States spiked, and non-essential workers were instructed to work from home indefinitely, Alana, Este, and Danielle Haim walked through the red leather booths of Sarge’s Deli, a Jewish-style delicatessen in New York’s Murray Hill neighborhood. Among refrigerated cases of cheesecake, corned beef sandwiches, and tables packed with plates of pickles, there was a tangle of microphones snaking around the dining room; amplifiers and speakers, a keyboard, a guitar, a drum—and 50-or-so fans of the band Haim. They were there for the first night of the Haim Deli Tour, a series of rare, up-close shows in cities like Washington D.C., and Chicago where the three sisters would play songs from their upcoming album, “Women in Music Part III.” The lucky concertgoers had won tickets via an Instagram contest to see Haim, who traveled to New York that day from their homes in Los Angeles. It was a far cry from the usual stadium tour-sized concerts the band typically puts on at Coachella or Barclays Center in Brooklyn, both of which they’ve played in the past. Instead, this was an homage to their very first show as a band; around 2000, they performed in the LA equivalent of Sarge’s, Canter’s Deli. When Alana, Este, and Danielle took up their posts in front of each instrument, the fans squealed in delight, taking selfies in their dining chairs, which practically bumped up against the microphones.

“This is actually happening,” 34-year-old Este, who plays bass, said, clapping her hands. “This has been a fucking dream and it’s actually happening.”

“This is fun,” 28-year-old keyboardist and guitar player Alana said, as she tossed a towel over her drum head. “Should we play in delis all the time?”

The crowd seemed nervous to be so close to the three sisters, who encouraged everyone to sing along and dance in their seats as they performed “Summer Girl,” and “The Steps,” two singles from their forthcoming album “Women in Music Part III.” The producer and songwriter (and former Vampire Weekend musician) Rostam Batmanglij crouched near the makeshift stage, then came on to assist with guitar for songs he’d helped create on the album. Este performed a cover of Britney Spears’ “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” Everything seemed relaxed and impromptu. Danielle and Este were free of makeup, with their brown hair in unstyled bobs; Alana and Danielle wore crewneck sweatshirts and white tees. When Danielle stopped singing in the middle of a song because she was hit by a fit of laughter, Alana and Este broke out into a rap to encourage her to forge through cracking up: “Keep it going, Danielle, get it going.”

Left to Right: Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim photographed and styled by themselves at home in Los Angeles, California for W magazine.

Left to Right: Alana, Este, and Danielle Haim photographed and styled by themselves at home in Los Angeles, California for W magazine.

It was the beginning of what was supposed to be a month-long promotion of “Women in Music Part III,” which is, cheekily enough, their third album. (The record was originally scheduled to drop in April but that date got pushed once, then twice, due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will now be released on June 26.) After the New York show, they managed to perform inside just one more deli, Call Your Mother, in Washington D.C., then canceled the remaining tour dates and went home.

Months later, the band is living out a routine familiar to most of us by now: they’re on a Zoom call, quarantined at their homes in Silver Lake. The Deli Tour seems like it happened in another lifetime. In the weeks following this interview, George Floyd, an unarmed black man, is killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis—all three of the sisters, Alana explains over email, attended demonstrations in Hollywood and Downtown LA. “When the protests began, we knew there was a risk of getting COVID if we participated, but for me and my sisters, it didn’t feel right to stay at home,” she explains. “When I look back on this time, I knew that if I didn’t go, I would regret it for the rest of my life. We wanted to support this fight against the injustices black people in America face. And we needed to be around people, walking down Hollywood Boulevard with everyone chanting the same thing. It felt like we were all one body moving, and marching together.”

Este Haim photographed by Danielle Haim for W magazine.

It’s a sentiment similar to what they tell me over the video call: that it is unnatural to be stuck at home for this long, FaceTiming friends and family to stave off feelings of frustration and loneliness. Plus, they’re used to traveling, touring, and playing around the world. But Alana, Este, and Danielle are trying to be kind and patient with themselves, to quiet the negative thoughts that might pop up in their heads—allowing the good, productive days to be wins and not beating themselves up on more difficult afternoons spent hiding under the covers. Still, discussing the pandemic feels depressing. Once the Deli Tour, and live shows like it, are mentioned, all three members of Haim light up, talking at once.

“The Deli Tour will commence at some point in the future,” Alana says.

“We want to do it again,” Este adds.

“We hope so,” Danielle says, nodding.

“We miss touring, but we really miss going to shows, too,” Este chimes back in. “That was the first thing that solidified, I think, our sisterhood. Was going to see live music in LA.”

Live shows are a central part of Haim’s origin story. As kids, they played in a family band called Rockinhaim with their mother and father, Donna and Mordechai, covering The Eagles’ “Hotel California” at local events around their hometown in the San Fernando Valley. When the sisters broke off from Rockinhaim to write their own music and Donna and Mordechai were relegated to roadie status around 2007, their band name was “First of Three”—a nod to constantly opening shows for other, bigger acts around Los Angeles. Since their first record, “Days Are Gone,” in 2013, they’ve stuck to a fairly consistent routine of making an album, releasing it, going on tour for a year, coming home, then spending the next two or three years writing and recording the next album, ready to initiate the cycle again after it’s dropped. It was a routine they became comfortable with, like getting up in the morning and taking the train to work. Each sister also says she simply loves performing in front of a crowd. But increasingly, going on tour became a way to avoid sitting with discomfort.

“When you’re on the road, it’s so easy to feel distracted,” Alana explains. “It’s like a high when we’re on tour, because you’re traveling and you’re meeting new people and you leave everything that you don’t want to deal with at home. You’re like, maybe when I come home, the feelings won’t be there anymore. Maybe I’ll come back and I’ll be fine. And then you return and those feelings you hoped would leave multiply, if anything.”

Alana Haim photographed by Este Haim for W magazine.

They realized, both separately and collectively, that they’d gone through difficult emotional events they’d staved off dealing with by focusing on work. Before the first tour they embarked on as Haim, Alana’s best friend passed away. “In a way, I was escaping having to deal with something so tragic,” she says. “I remember going on that first tour and hoping so much that when I came home, I would be okay.” While working on their previous album, “Something to Tell You,” Danielle’s partner, the band’s producer Ariel Rechtshaid, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He didn’t want to talk about it, so Danielle tried not to speak publicly about it, either. And each time Este, who is a type 1 diabetic, returned to LA after months of touring, (as she describes it, performing live is her favorite part of being a musician. “Being in the studio is not my happy place—it gives me anxiety because I’m a perfectionist and I want to get it right the first time,” she says), she’d meet with her endocrinologist. These appointments, during which her doctor inevitably gave her a slap on the wrist for having higher-than-average blood glucose levels, grew more and more stressful. “It triggers something in you where you feel like you’ve failed your body, because you’re responsible for the outcome,” Este explains.

In 2019, each sister took stock of her emotional status. Danielle was feeling depressed, Este and Alana were worried for her. The sisters realized they needed to face the emotions they’d been pushing down, whether consciously or not, for years. They’d all reached a point where they could no longer ignore the way they felt. They leaned on each other for support, as they’d always done—but this time, with an openness and maturity they hadn’t experienced before. Then they got to work on the album.

The result is “Women in Music Part III,” a record that combines the best of Haim—guitar shredding, Sheryl Crow-esque power ballads, 1990s hip-hop and r&b influences, and a sound that’s unidentifiable by a genre name, one that’s all their own. WIMPIII, as they lovingly refer to the album, is also their most intimate, open, one yet, especially lyrically speaking. On “Hallelujah,” each sister gets a turn at a verse: Danielle sings about being the middle sister to two “angels” who supported her through bouts of darkness; Este does too, particularly when it comes to her trials as a diabetic, and Alana addresses the death of her friend in song for the first time. Sonically, WIMPIII is the most experimental listeners have heard Haim: the album opens with a loose saxophone riff, then a breakbeat, which slides into the surf rock melody that carries the love letter to their hometown, “Los Angeles.”

Equally as integral to the making of this record were the ideas of spontaneity, having fun, laughing, not giving a fuck. Humor is their main method of communication with one another—like most sisters do, they tease each other constantly. (“Alana always dates Brits,” Danielle says at one point in our conversation. “I—thank you, Danielle,” Alana stammers back as Este guffaws with laughter.) Knowing what you want and going for it, no matter what judgments others might cast upon you, has been a chief ethos of Haim’s since the band’s beginnings. But this was the first time they truly put that idea on wax.

“It was the vibe this album to not be hard on yourself if you want to try something that’s out of the box,” Danielle says. “In our lives, we have an allergy to being self-serious. And I feel like classically, music is the one thing we take so seriously. I did get the feeling that we’ve never really been loose in song, or on an album. Maybe before, we’d freak out if there wasn’t an electric guitar on a song, because it’s like, ‘Fuck, are people going to think we don’t actually play our instruments?’ We’ve heard stuff like that, alternative radio stations trying to put us in a box, thinking that we’re too pop-y because there’s not enough guitar. And on this album, we’re like, ‘You know what? I don’t even fucking care.’”

Danielle Haim photographed by Alana Haim for W magazine.

While writing WIMPIII, Danielle listened to André 3000’s “The Love Below,” at home and in her car. She liked the way he poked fun at himself in the record. Vignettes and interludes like “Good Day, Good Sir” saw the Outkast musician speaking in jolly-good platitudes with Fonzworth Bentley.

“You really feel like you’re almost in the studio, laughing with him,” Danielle explains.

“We wanted WIMPIII to be a peek into: what would it be like if the listener was actually inside the studio with us?” Este adds.

Haim’s frequent collaborators appear on the latest album—part of which has already been released on a five-song LP called “I Know Alone.” Batmanglij, Haim explains, was responsible for making the uptempo track “Now I’m In It,” and the thumping guitar line therein. Francis Farewell Starlite of Francis and the Lights—for whom Haim opened in 2010 at UCLA, Este’s alma mater—provided the choreography for the “I Know Alone” video. He taught them the steps over a Zoom video call, a process not without its hiccups.

“We were all on different beats,” Alana said. “Zoom has a mirror feature, too, so for the first half, we were all on the wrong foot.”

And Paul Thomas Anderson, the director who’s been a close collaborator for years and worked with Haim on the short, “Valentine,” returned for their videos “The Steps,” and “Summer Girl.”

The Haim sisters photographed and styled by themselves for W magazine.

Although the sisters’ mom, Donna, was one of Anderson’s teachers when he was just breaking out into film in the 1970s, they insist, all of them speaking at once, almost rolling their eyes, that they did not meet the director through her. In fact, Anderson found them—at a party, the director asked the band’s friend Asa Taccone, the frontman of Los Angeles duo Electric Guest (another band Haim’s opened up for in the past), if he knew of “this band of sisters that lives in the Valley.”

“Asa called us the next day and was like, ‘Hey, PTA wants your e-mail,’” Alana says.

“I don’t know what his directing style is in movies, but with us, it’s a lot of: ‘Okay, just walk around,’” Danielle adds. “With ‘Summer Girl,’ it was like, ‘Just do your thing.’ I was like, ‘Should I do it this way? Should I be—?’ And he was like, ‘Just—just do it, just do it, it’s not a big deal.’”

“The first time we worked with him was for ‘Valentine,’” Alana says. “He came to the studio and just filmed us there. He didn’t give us any direction, it was just like, do you. After that shoot, because we had never shot with him before, we were like, ‘I hope whatever he got was even usable.’ And then you see it on a screen and you’re like, ‘Goddammit, Paul, you’re a genius. Get outta here.’”

“The Valley is fruitful,” Este chuckles.

“We have the same references as Paul. We went to the same places, we randomly grew up kind of on the same street,” Alana continues. “When two Valley groups come together, it’s a beautiful thing.”

The Haim sisters photographed and styled by themselves for W magazine.

In the absence of shows, the band has been writing. There’s no question that the pandemic caused their usual schedule of album release and tour to capsize, but that’s not necessarily a downside. They take each day as it comes, create when they can, and try to relax if the juices aren’t flowing. I ask them if they could see themselves releasing back-to-back albums within the same year, or if they think they need the span of a couple of years to experience life, travel the world, perhaps, go on tour, meet people, be stimulated, and then get back to writing. They respond the way they have to each question that resonates with them, or they feel strongly about: they all talk at once, their voices, similar in pitch and tone, crossing over one another’s.

“We’re always trying to create,” Este says. “I don’t think it would be the craziest idea.”

“Right now we are feeling very, very creative,” Danielle adds. “So I wouldn’t rule it out.”

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