"We’re a wolf pack. No one can fuck with us" – DiS meets Haim
“ARGH! I hate Haim!” was a phrase that came out of my mouth more times than “milk with one sugar” this year. Since their announcement as the winners of the BBC Sound Of 2013, I had a knee-jerk reaction to loathe the Cali trio. It was the slap-bass lines, the Lemmy-chewing-a-gram-of speed facial expressions, the derivative 80s radio-friendly gleam, the comparison to one of my favourite bands (Fleetwood Mac) that made me recoil and break out in an unbearable sonic rash.
At the mere mention of their name I would offload my distaste for the band that seemed to have every critic, mother and child fighting their corner. I spent half of Drowned In Sound’s editor’s birthday bash giving another writer - who’d unknowingly professed his love for them - the verbal slap-down as he tried in vain to persuade me to give them a second chance: “Go on, just see them live - they’re different”. “You make them sound like a belching alcoholic ex who says the strongest thing he drinks nowadays is Shandy Bass and that he chews Rennies like Wrigleys”, I screamed, without taking it personally at all. “They may say they’re different, but they’ll still stink the second time around”.
So, when I was offered the chance to interview Haim I smiled with vengeful glee at the tantalizing thought of offloading 12 months of pent-up malice down one unsuspecting phone line. I set about what I assumed would be painful research. As I trawled through gushing interview after interview I stumbled upon their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s, ‘Oh Well’. I took a deep breath ready to have a fit of The Rage – only it was good, really good. I then took another deep breath and listened to the album, Days Are Gone, not skimming through it as I had before but really listening to it. And I liked it, like really liked it.
Opener ‘Falling’ is perfectly-honed carefree rhythmically charged pop, title track ‘Days Are Gone’ (co-written with Jessie Ware) is a snarling beat heavy RnB beast, and ‘My Song 5’ - with a riff reminiscent of King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ – shows the strength of the band’s songwriting even when all the production is stripped back. Lyrically the album is instantly relatable; Este, Danielle and Alana may walk the well-worn subjects of love, break-ups and rejection but they do so with such heartfelt conviction and knowingness it makes Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ look like a ‘miaow’. Listening to the record I realised, setting my pride aside, that at a time when pop is falling further and further under the DJ ‘s decks with EDM, Haim are a welcome reminder about the importance in pop of hooks, harmonies and beats.
In a year when the portrayal of women in popular culture hit an all time low, Haim have also stood out as artists that have thankfully managed not to be defined firstly by their sexuality and then their music. At a time when I’ve become more and more familiar with major female artist’s labias than I care to mention, watching the Haim have the upper hand in the video to ‘The Wire’ is - and somewhat sadly - a refreshing and fun change.
After eating a lot of humble pie I snatched a quick 20 minutes with Este when the band were on tour in Europe supporting Phoenix. She’s every bit the verbal hurricane Haim have become renowned for, talking at great length, making the need for questions virtually redundant. During our chat Este talked openly about the band’s experience as women in music (“there’s been situations .. and automatically we shut it down”), the consequences of dedicating a song to David Cameron (“I was just having fun”) and why they'll never go solo.
You’re currently on tour supporting Phoenix in Europe. How’s it been so far?
We started with them in Toulouse. We were supposed to go out with them a few days earlier but Thomas had a vocal injury, which was fine as he got over it within two dates. Our first show was in Toulouse, which was pretty surreal opening for them. Obviously, we’re huge Phoenix fans - we’ve been Phoenix fans since 2005/6 - so to open for them was pretty mind-blowing and obviously they killed it and the audience were really good. Everyone’s been really nice, it’s been really fun just being able to hangout with them has just been awesome - the 16 year old me is freaking out the entire time and screaming!
Totally fangirling on the inside and totally trying to be cool and not creepy on the outside.
You’re heading out on your own UK tour soon. How do you think you’ve changed as a live band since you first played in the UK last year?
Well, we’ve come out with a record since being in the UK and there’s a lot of sounds and sonic landscapes on the record that we really wanted to showcase in the live show. We’ve added our friend Tommy who we’ve known for years to the show - he plays keyboards and he’s awesome – if anything it’s going to make the record come to life more when we play live. Now, we finally get to play the new songs that we’ve never played before so it’s going to be fun really fun.
It’s been such a big year for you as you were named the winner of the BBC’s Sound of 2013, you played three times at Glastonbury and then released your debut album, Days Are Gone. What’s been the highlight for you this year?
I wanna say the highlight is probably Glastonbury as we had such an amazing time. Y’know, to sing back-up for Primal Scream and we played the Pyramid stage it was fucking incredible - we had the best time man, we had so much fun. We just ran around the festival when we weren’t playing and we got to see so many bands. It was really magical for us and that for me is pretty unforgettable, I will never forget that.
As a band you always seem to have so much energy in the music you make, on-stage and in interviews. Do you have downtime? Are there days when you just simply can’t be arsed to be so enthusiastic?
Oh man, the is the thing when we’re onstage it takes a lot of energy and we have a lot of fun, but being on tour we’re just being so energized just being out and being able to play. We try to go out and immerse ourselves in whatever city that we’re in; if we have time we have Segway tours, that’s like our thing, and we try to see the city and soak-up whatever’s going on. Everyone has their days, obviously y’know we’re human, but for the majority of the time we’re too busy having fun to be grumpy.
Live you always have a good line in onstage banter. Why’s that important to you?
I welcome the heckle, if anything I incite the heckle. You know you have to be prepared – if you can’t stand the heat, you get out of the kitchen. If I didn’t like it or didn’t think it was appropriate I just wouldn’t start it. Honestly, it’s because I love having an interaction with the audience - I don’t think there needs to be a fourth wall when you’re performing. I’ve never enjoyed shows where I feel like I’m an outsider and I’m not included in the performance. I like performances where I feel like everyone’s in a living room or something and you’re hanging-out with the artist. I think that to me, those shows, are the ones that really resonate with me the most when I’ve gone to see music.
When I perform I like to have an interaction with the audience, it’s weird to pretend they’re not there! I’ve never understood that, I thought that was so awkward, it just makes the audience feel awkward too. I like being able to talk to them.
Your performance is in direct contrast to a lot of British bands who just stand there and look cool and don’t interact with their audience…
It’s weird as there are some bands where… The Strokes just play the songs they’re not the biggest talkers, but Julian has a way. He still talks to the audience, it’s minimal, but he still has a way of making you feel like, ‘oh my god he’s talking to me. I’m not the only person in the room and he’s performing for me’. I guess, you have to find a happy medium, maybe it’s just charisma? There has to be a way of making your audience feel comfortable and invited even if you aren’t doing stand-up on stage and doing a spiel, I guess.
When I’m on stage I just want to have an interaction, that’s all. If people shout at me, I welcome it. The shouting I think is because I’m not going to hear it unless they screaming it at me. I welcome it and think it’s great, that’s what a performance should be it should be uproarious - it should be a hootenanny.
You were on the Andrew Marr Show with David Cameron and you dedicated a song to him. Why did you do that?
First of all, I was just trying to lighten the room in the mood because the room was just so intense! We finished the songs and I was just like, ‘that one’s for you bud!’ I had no idea it would be such a big deal as for me I was just having fun. I called him ‘DC’ and it was obvious I was trying to have fun with it, that’s like calling Barrack Obama ‘BO’, I mean come on?
I was obviously just trying to have fun and I think people took it out of context. I don’t even really remember what happened that day - all I remember was it being really awkward and intense. I had a great time and it wasn’t until after when people made it a big deal I was like, ‘come on guys, lighten up’.
In comparison to how you are live Days Are Gone is quite clean and polished. What did you want to achieve when you started recording? Did you want a different level of production?
I think for us when we’re onstage it’s the only time when we’re truly able to let go. I think we truly let go when we’re onstage and the more rockier elements come out, because we’re not thinking about being pretty or sounding clean. We’re not thinking about that we’re thinking about having fun and letting the music come through us.
For the record we had a certain sound in mind and we knew what we wanted it to sound like, and what we came out with is what we love and we’re really proud of it. I think also like I said with adding Tommy to the mix we’re trying to make the record come to life now and make it sound like we are live and vice versa.
Reviews of the album have often compared you to Peter Gabriel and Fleetwood Mac. Do you think they’re fair comparisons? Where do you think you draw your influences from?
Getting those comparisons are very…erm, those are some big, big words! Getting compared to Fleetwood Mac and Peter Gabriel there’s a lot of pressure I think, if anything, obviously we’re big fans of them but to say that we sound like them is a lot. We pretty much draw inspiration from everything; we got most of our inspiration from Los Angeles radio - it’s hard to explain because I think LA radio is very specific - when you’re an Angelino you spend 85% of your time in a car so the radio better be good.
We grew-up having really good radio stations. The sound of it’s really clear - sonically it sounds like you’re in a studio listening to surround-sound - no matter how shitty the speakers are in your car the radio always sounds good. Just the radio stations themselves and the variety of music they play was the biggest inspiration for us, because we grew-up listening to everything.
Our parents used to listen to Motown, funk and classic rock and when we were good kids we were able to listen to the top 40 station… We pretty much listen to everything, but obviously each of us has our favourite artist to listen to but I don’t think we necessarily wanted to emulate anyone or be like, ‘I want to be like this band’. We were more inspired by individual musicians, like I loved Kim Deal and female bass players were more my inspiration.
What’s your favourite Fleetwood Mac album?
I think my favourite - obviously everyone loves Rumours, I love Rumours – I think my favourite is a toss-up between Tusk and Tango In The Night. Tango In The Night is totally one of the more unpopular ones as everyone thinks that’s when Fleetwood Mac fell off, but that’s actually one of my favourite records of theirs.
There’s been a lot of debate lately about the place of women in music sparked by Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Awards and culminating recently with Lily Allen’s ‘Hard Out There’ video. What’s your experience of being a woman in the music industry?
When I was younger, when I was first starting to play bass, I would go to jam sessions with friends and I was always the only girl in the room and I’d be lying if I said everyone treated me like an equal - I definitely felt a little out of place and I definitely got comments.
This was one guy I’ll never forget – this guy in my high school a jazz musician, music guitar player – he was adamantly talking to me about how females should not play rock instruments, adamantly, they’re not meant to and that’s it, period. This guy was 17 or 18 years old and it was mind-boggling to me that he could stand there knowing that I was a female musician - he’d never seen me play which was the fucked thing. I was like, ‘dude you need to fucking see me play and I’ll shut you the fuck up. You’ll shut the fuck-up if you see me play’. He was like, ‘dude, I don’t care. Girls aren’t supposed to play rock instruments’.
I’ll never forget he came to see my band play – I had another band when I was 17 with a bunch of kids from high school – and he wouldn’t talk to me after the show. I knew the reason he wouldn’t talk to me after the show was because I shut him the fuck-up and he couldn’t say anything to me.
Have you ever experienced that attitude now you’re a part of the music industry and established as a musician?
Now, I don’t feel that at all. I think it might be because people are scared of me! I’ve never felt like I wasn’t an equal and I think that also comes down to the fact that I have two sisters and we’re a solid and united front; if anyone tries to fuck with us I have two back-ups or Danielle has two back-ups or Alana has two back-ups.
I think no-one really tries because they can’t and there’s been situations where a photographer will be like, ‘do this or wear this’, and automatically we shut it down, it’s an automatic ‘we’re not doing that’, and then both of my sisters will be like, ‘we’re not doing that’. Then what are you going to do, you can’t fuck with three people? It’s a unanimous decision, it’s like ‘fuck that!’
I think for us the proof is in the pudding and there shouldn’t be any gender stratification in music, period. Obviously, to me women in music are fucking killing it and we’re demolishing everything that comes in our path and I don’t think that’s a new thing - since rock music has come to be I don’t think we ever necessarily stopped. I think all we need to do as women is just keep doing what we’re doing and keep being strong and fun females, and making good music and playing our instruments like we fucking do and that’s it.
Also, being able to stand-up for ourselves, but the thing that’s fucked-up is that we have to stand up for ourselves in the first place – it’s hard, I grapple with this all the time – it’s like I shouldn’t have to stand-up for myself but I do if I comes my way and it’s frustrating, it is frustrating. At the same time, it’s not something at the forefront of my mind as I feel it’s something I don’t have to worry about it as, like I said, I do have my sisters with me and I feel like I have this support system, which is great as we do really stand-up for each other - we’re a wolf pack, no-one can fuck with us.
When are you going to start work on your new album?
We’re always writing and we’re always staying creative and trying things out in soundcheck, different ideas - our iPhones are our friends that little microphone is very, very helpful. We wanna be able to come-up with enough material for us to start even thinking about making the new record, but we’re always staying creative; being able to write and being on the road has been a great inspiration and meeting people and being with the Phoenix guys and seeing how they perform. Who knows? Honestly, for me I want to put out a record when we’re ready but obviously as soon as we can.
Would any of you want to have a solo career or write for other artists?
Solo careers is a little farfetched now as we’ve been a band since we were kids, we’ve always been together, and that’s what’s felt natural to us. Doing solo stuff, I mean, I feel weird when I go to the movies without them so I think doing solo project would feel equally if not more weird! I don’t see any of us doing that anytime soon or in the future – maybe, you never know. But, as of right now we’re not thinking of that we’re thinking of making music together and we have a lot of fun doing it and doing it by ourselves is not fun.
Writing for other artists? We love writing songs and honestly I think we’re perpetually writing songs, so one out of ten songs we write might not necessarily be a Haim songs and giving it to someone else, why not? Writing with other people is a new thing for us, because when we were writing the record we’d never written with anyone else. Writing with Jesse Ware was the first time we wrote with someone else and it worked and we liked it. We’ll see, maybe another song with Jesse who knows.
When you finally get some time off what are you doing to do with all those air miles?
Oh man, I want to go to Brazil, I want to go to Bahia and I want to go to samba school. I really want to go to carnival and play in a carnival drum school as you know they play for 24 hours - it’s a crazy party where you literally run around the city playing drums for 24 hours – it’s the most fun thing you could ever do and it’s definitely the trip of a lifetime. I definitely want to do that when we have some off time.
The thing is even when we’re working we make the most of it and we have a lot of fun, it’s not like we’re in dire need of a break. I think if anything, we want to keep touring and keep going because this is really fun for us.
Days Are Gone is out now.