“Everything Changed the Day The Chicks Interviewed Haim”
On their third album, Women in Music Pt. III, Haim has made the leap. The band emerged fully formed with their 2013 debut Days Are Gone, the product of a childhood spent performing alongside their parents in a cover band. Their 2017 follow-up, Something to Tell You, confirmed their talent, establishing them as a trio with the ability, rhythm, and swagger to tightrope-walk between classic rock grooves and pop harmonies. But with the new record, which the Haim sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana would like for you to shorten to WIMPIII (pronounced “wimpy”), they venture into uncharted waters, plunging new emotional depths while deepening their signature sound. Written during the comedown of their last tour, the sisters, finally alone, were able to excavate traumas that, at least in their music, they’ve managed to keep at bay. But this is Haim we’re talking about, and even songs about depression, grief, and loneliness, have a way of making you want to dance, which in turn makes WIMPIII an ideal album for this cruel summer. As they tell The Chicks (formerly Dixie Chicks, as of earlier today), that was the plan all along. Sort of.
ESTE HAIM: Before we even go into this, we’re your biggest fans. I feel like we told you this when we played with Taylor [Swift]. We had a gush-fest.
NATALIE MAINES: I met you guys when you opened for, was it just Stevie or was it Fleetwood Mac?
ALANA HAIM: I think we were all at a Fleetwood Mac rehearsal.
NATALIE: But there was also a Stevie Nicks show where Harry Styles was there and I talked to you guys.
DANIELLE HAIM: MusiCares?
NATALIE: MusiCares, yes.
ALANA: The MusiCares show was Danielle’s worst nightmare because a tube in her amp blew out during her solo.
DANIELLE: That’s never happened to me on stage.
ALANA: I’m so happy that your amp died in front of every musician we’ve ever been a fan of.
MARTIE MAGUIRE: What’s your living situation? Are you all living in one big, happy house?
ALANA: I wish. We’re all living in separate houses, but we only see each other. I haven’t seen one other human. Are you guys all in the same city?
NATALIE: I live in L.A.
EMILY STRAYER: Martie’s in Austin, I’m in San Antonio.
ALANA: I’m waiting for the day when we all move away from each other. That’s going to be a crazy day.
ESTE: We live five minutes from each other. We had to get out of the Valley because our parents still live there. When we finally moved out, our dad would still drive by to make sure that our cars were in the driveway by midnight, and if they weren’t, we’d get a call. He’d be like, “Where’s your car?” I’d be like, “Dad, I’m at a bar. I’m 25 years old, I’m allowed to go to a bar.”
NATALIE: I met your dad and got a sense of his personality, but what’s your mom like?
ALANA: My mom is a baby angel of this earth. I don’t know how our parents have dealt with us after all these years. We were pretty angsty teens.
EMILY: What are your personalities? If you each had to describe yourselves.
ALANA: Este is definitely the outgoing one.
DANIELLE: I’m shy.
ALANA: Danielle is quiet. I’m somewhere in the middle.
ESTE: You’re the feisty firecracker of the group.
EMILY: You’re the baby of the family, right?
EMILY: The baby always has to fight for attention while they’re growing up, so I think you end up being feisty.
NATALIE: Danielle, that’s funny, because you’re the lead singer.
DANIELLE: I definitely come out of my shell on stage.
ESTE: She becomes Danielle 2.0 on stage. She becomes a rock robot.
NATALIE: Do all of you feel a little different on stage?
ALANA: Me and Este are more in competition on stage than we are in real life.
ESTE: It’s a very Abbott and Costello situation on stage.
NATALIE: In competition for the spotlight, or in competition for how many mistakes you make?
ALANA: I always win that. I’m always the one who’s like, “You guys, I don’t know what I played today, but tomorrow’s another show.”
ESTE: That’s the great thing about playing live. You can do it again the next night and be better.
NATALIE: Do you find that you’re so focused on yourself that you don’t even notice?
ESTE: Yeah, exactly. We’ll get off and be like, “That was the worst show,” and someone’s like, “That was the best show.”
MARTIE: One time Natalie actually fell down on stage and I didn’t even know.
NATALIE: I was wearing ridiculous, four-inch heels, and twisted my ankle and went down. What’s everybody’s most embarrassing moment on stage?
DANIELLE: My amp exploded in front of Fleetwood Mac. But actually, Red Rocks was the biggest show we ever played, and it was a week after we finished our U.S. tour. So we went home and then flew back, and our dressing room case didn’t make it so we had no clothes. But we figured out something to wear, and I had these faulty pants and my zipper just exploded halfway through the set and I couldn’t change, so I put my guitar in front of my zipper and ran with it.
ALANA: We have a really big problem with zippers in this family. My most embarrassing moment was a wardrobe malfunction. We decided to wear pleather pants on our last tour.
ESTE: Big mistake.
ALANA: You can’t really wash them, it was gross. We wore the same pants the entire time, and by the end of tour I was having truck-stop pizza and taquitos and quesadillas.
ESTE: They didn’t fit.
ALANA: I remember really going for it and the whole back just exploded. That was at the beginning of the show and I was like, “I’m not going to change now.”
NATALIE: Really? You played the whole show?
ESTE: We don’t stop.
NATALIE: Wow, good for you. I split my pants on stage once, but thank god it was the final bow. And it was a slit down the crack. If that had happened in the beginning the show I would have had to say, “Take it away. Girls. I’ll be right back.”
DANIELLE: I want to tell you guys that “Goodbye Earl” solidified our relationship. Your music videos are so good.
NATALIE: We were just talking about how good yours are.
ESTE: It’s all smoke and mirrors.
NATALIE: No, it’s not. It’s very real. Ours is smoke and mirrors.
ALANA: I hate being on camera. Being on stage is totally fine, but when it comes to music videos, I’m always like, “Are my eyes crossed?” Do you guys like doing music videos?
NATALIE: I used to. Now at my age it’s like, “Can’t somebody just animate us? How about we come out in The Masked Singer costumes?”
MARTIE: What I like about your videos is that you guys have no body issues. You just get down to almost nothing.
NATALIE: Well, they all have great bodies.
DANIELLE: That’s kind of a new thing.
ESTE: That’s definitely a new thing.
MARTIE: I have three daughters and I’m just telling you it’s really empowering for them to see that.
ESTE: I love that. Just make sure you give them instruments and make them start a band.
MARTIE: I was watching another one of your videos and I said to one of them, “So? Are we starting a band?”
ESTE: We had a band with our mom and dad for, like, 15 years. When we were going through it, I was like, “Dad, I just want to go to the mall.” I thought every family had a family band. My friends would be like, “I’m going to the [Westfield] Fashion Square on Saturday. Do you want to come?” And I’d be like, “Don’t you have practice on Saturday? How are you going to the mall?”
EMILY: At what point did you guys kick your parents out of the band?
ALANA: It happened when Danielle was about to graduate high school.
DANIELLE: I knew I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to try something in music and at that point we had just started writing songs.
ALANA: We never wrote songs with our parents.
DANIELLE: Just covers. I ended up getting gigs as a touring musician. I toured with the lead singer of the Strokes, and with Jenny Lewis, but we didn’t have a manager. We didn’t know anything. We were just playing around, never going to get signed.
ALANA: It felt like you’d watched cartoons of people getting signed. It’s like you play that one show and there’s a guy with a cigar and a contract already there: “Sign on the dotted line, here’s your dreams.”
DANIELLE: We just had no fricking idea. And at that point I came home and for the next two years we got our shit together, found a manager, recorded more, and then we went to SXSW in 2012.
ESTE: It took us five goddamn years.
NATALIE: You all seem very disciplined.
ALANA: Do you guys write on the road?
NATALIE: We always swear we’re going to, but we’ve never written anything.
ALANA: Us, too. The thing is any songs we write on the road are pure trash. That makes me happy that you guys don’t write on the road because we can’t do it.
ESTE: Our brains are tour brain and then studio brain.
NATALIE: Totally. You’ve got to compartmentalize. At this point, we have nine children. But even before that, we had a million reasons to not write on the road.
ALANA: You guys do it all. You make incredible music and you have families.
EMILY: We have divorces, too.
NATALIE: And we took a 10-year hiatus. It’s easy to tour with kids until they’re 5 and get their own lives. That changes things for sure.
MARTIE: Do you ever feel like you have to tell the label and management, “No, we’re not doing that. We’re tired”?
ESTE: Oh, yeah.
MARTIE: They squeeze every little bit out of you.
ALANA: It’s crazy. Especially on our first tour when we were doing Days Are Gone. We were doing nine U.K. tours where we just went around the U.K. nine times, because we got signed there first. At that point I developed a slight British accent. I was like, “I think I need to go home.”
EMILY: I have to say, this album you all just made is so good. It’s like another level for y’all.
NATALIE: So many different styles and beats and melodies. I really like how broad the sound is. Have you ever listened to The Belle Brigade?
ALANA: How do you know The Belle Brigade?
NATALIE: I love The Belle Brigade.
ESTE: Ethan [Gruska, one half of the band] was Alana’s first boyfriend.
NATALIE: Are you serious?
ALANA: Yes! I was 17 when we started to date and he was the only boyfriend who treated me right. I was obsessed with The Belle Brigade. I love Barb [Gruska, his sister and bandmate].
DANIELLE: Barb was the drummer in Jenny Lewis’s band when I was singing so, yeah, we have a deep connection with The Belle Brigade.
NATALIE: Danielle, I think your voice on some songs is a blend of Ethan’s and Barb’s.
DANIELLE: Oh my god, that’s the biggest compliment.
ESTE: That’s so funny. Out of all the bands in the world.
MARTIE: I feel a really warm ’70s vibe on this record.
EMILY: It sounds like you learned a lot of that music in your family. I hear old Linda Ronstadt records.
ESTE: You hit the nail on the head. We all grew up listening to the same shit and thinking the same music was cool.
ALANA: Este went on her own journey with metal.
ESTE: There were some squirrely moments, I’m not going to lie. I took a detour to the land of nu metal and then I came back.
NATALIE: Emily and I are both big hair metal fans.
ESTE: Did you always know that you wanted to do music?
MARTIE: We’re supposed to be interviewing you.
ESTE: We didn’t get the memo.
DANIELLE: We have so many questions. We just love you guys so much. Sorry.
ALANA: We’ve been preparing for this interview our whole lives.
ESTE: The first time I cried to a song was to “Cowboy Take Me Away.”
ESTE: Usually I’m not emotional in that way. And then I remember hearing the song and tears shooting down my face and it suddenly clicked in my head where I was like, “Thank god I’m not a sociopath. I actually have feelings.”
NATALIE: Always a good thing. Mart and Em, before you got on this call, they were saying right before quarantine they were on a Deli Tour, but they had to stop.
ALANA: Our first gig was at the Kibitz Room at Canters in L.A.
NATALIE: Would there be people outside the doors waiting to get in?
ALANA: Well, that was when I was 7. I don’t know how my dad got us this gig. It was on a school night and there was this one guy who went to Canters every night. That was his vibe, he sat at the bar every night and just drank. There was that one drunk guy and then maybe two of my parents’ friends at this gig. I think my dad didn’t give the guy all the information. I think he was like, “I’m in a band and we need to play.” We had a guitar teacher who would play there for matzo ball soup every week. I didn’t know how to play any instruments yet. I could only hold drumsticks so I played timbales.
DANIELLE: Dad also wanted you to be Sheila E.
ALANA: My dad saw Danielle and Este and was like “Danielle is really good at guitar. Este is really good at bass, and you’re 5, I don’t know what you’re going to do. Let’s have you be Sheila E.” So I played timbales and cowbell and anything I could hold.
EMILY: What do you do during quarantine? What’s your daily routine?
ALANA: The first two months we were all collectively going nuts because we were in New York, and no one knew what was going on. This was also when people weren’t wearing masks yet. We were on the plane, and no one was wearing masks. We were wearing masks because we were super scared and when we got home we all were like, “We’re not seeing each other for a month.”
ESTE: I went a little cuckoo. I started talking to myself and answering back. I talk to myself all the time normally. But it got to a point where I was like, “I think it’s a good idea to do the dishes today.” “Yeah, Este, you’re right.” I was like, “I think I need a homie to talk to.”
NATALIE: So no boyfriend for you?
ALANA: I’m the only single one.
NATALIE: You have a boyfriend, Este? Where was he during quarantine?
ESTE: He was at his apartment. But he was like, “Listen, I want you around for the rest of my life. So I’m just not going to see you for a month.” Which was fine. He sent me flowers on my birthday. He made sure that his presence was known. He’s honestly the fucking best.
NATALIE: How long have you been dating?
ESTE: Almost three years now. Tick tock, tick tock.
ALANA: I’ve yet to find a dude who’s supportive.
ESTE: I think that’s the hardest thing, finding a boyfriend who is proud of you and who doesn’t get jealous.
NATALIE: It takes a strong man.
EMILY: When you guys decided to push the album back, what was that process like? Because I know it was really hard for us.
ALANA: About two weeks before the record was set to come out we got something from the label that was like, “Post about it,” and we were like, “No.”
DANIELLE: It just didn’t feel right.
ESTE: But also, full transparency, we had a family member who is very, very close to us who got it and was in the hospital for three weeks.
ALANA: We couldn’t focus.
NATALIE: How did you decide, “Okay, fuck it, let’s get it out”?
ALANA: It felt like a summer record and the thought of putting it out in August just seemed like summer was over and it didn’t fit. We’ve actually never had a record that we sat on. We go to the bitter end and we never have a plan. So this is the first time we’ve ever had a record where it’s done and we just have it. I’m sure for you guys, too, it’s been a crazy process putting out music during COVID. No one has ever really done it before. We’re pioneers.
MARTIE: I have a question for you, kind of along those lines. You share a lot of baggage in your songs but it seems like more personal stuff. Do you all have the conversation about if you should speak out about certain things? Like, “Should we stay out of politics or any opinion on world happenings?” Do you guys talk about that?
ALANA: We’ve always been super vocal about what we’re passionate about. We were going through so much when this record was being written. It’s weird because a lot of it changed its meaning with quarantine. We wrote a song called “I Know Alone” that was about post-tour depression. And it turned into, “Oh no, this sounds like we wrote it in quarantine.” We’re very stream-of-consciousness with our writing and our brains don’t really click until way later where we’re like, “Oh, we were really going through some shit.”
EMILY: Are y’all able to just kind of do what you want at this point in your career versus having to battle Sony about when a song can come out?
ALANA: I think with this record, and maybe on the two records before, the one thing we were always super cognizant of was radio. It’s such a crazy game to play.
DANIELLE: We’ve never been on the radio.
ALANA: In the U.K., yes. But in the U.S., no.
NATALIE: What do you think that’s about?
ALANA: From what I’ve learned about the process of getting on the radio in the U.K., it’s really if a DJ likes your song, then they can play it. That’s so freeing to me. Because we were playing to four people, and then we heard that this woman, Marianne Hobbs, who works at XFM, was playing our song “Better Off,” which was on an EP that we put out for free. And I’ll never forget our first big show was at this place called Dingwalls in Camden. And I forgot something in our van or something, and I opened a door and there was a huge line outside and I literally asked the first person, “Who are you waiting for?” And they were like, “You.”
ESTE: I think people in radio like to put people in a box.
DANIELLE: Alternative radio specifically. We’re a rock band and what we’ve heard through the grapevine is, “You’re more pop than rock.” I think unfortunately some of that has to do with that we’re a band of women and people are like, “You’re women, so you’re pop.”
ALANA: It put us in this box, like, we can’t put a drum machine on this song because then they’ll think that we don’t know how to play our instruments. For this record, I was so tired of wanting to foresee what other people want from us. I just wanted to make the music that I wanted to make. For lack of a better word, we had real “fuck it” mentality.
NATALIE: Radio is becoming less and less, I don’t want to say relevant, but there are so many other ways to be heard now. It’s a really lucky time to be a band. And rock radio is almost obsolete. So I could see how you kind of had to find another area. But you’ve done it and that’s super cool.
ESTE: We’re trying, man.
NATALIE: What’s been your favorite musical collaboration?
DANIELLE: We did a song with Kid Cudi.
ESTE: Yeah, I was going to say that one.
ALANA: Also we took Lizzo on our last tour and we did “The Boy Is Mine.” I want to collaborate with you guys.
DANIELLE: How has that not happened?
ALANA: I think if that we’re just such fans. Like, after this call is done I’m going to cry.
ESTE: Zero chill will be had for the next 10 days.
EMILY: Can you just teach us how to dance? I love when you guys dance.
DANIELLE: Oh my gosh, thank you.
NATALIE: Who is the best dancer?
DANIELLE: Este, by far.
ESTE: Hands down. Not even a question.
ALANA: I think it goes by age. Este is the best, Danielle is in the middle, and I’m the worst. I have a really bad memory.
NATALIE: Have any of you ever tried to play the banjo or the fiddle?
NATALIE: Whoa, okay, what are you waiting for?
ESTE: I tried to play banjo in college. There was a bluegrass band called the UCLA Grasshoppers.
EMILY: That’s a great name.
ESTE: They were like, “Just stick to the upright bass.”
DANIELLE: I did play violin in elementary school. I wasn’t great.
ESTE: But that would be interesting to revisit if I played banjo and you played fiddle and then Alana was the lead singer. It might be—
ALANA: A whole new band.
ESTE: “Everything changed the day The Chicks interviewed Haim.”