California’s coolest sisters tell Hannah Flint about ‘lost weekends’, being friends with Taylor Swift, and why they fired their agent over equal pay
Alana Haim, the youngest sister in her family band, is grilling me about the royal wedding, a breakfast burrito in one hand, a pot of guacamole in the other. A self-confessed Anglophile (‘England is my second home’), she’s probably the only person who can claim to find landing at Heathrow a ‘cathartic’ experience. But there’s another reason she’s so excited: this month she and her sisters, Este, the oldest, and Danielle, Haim’s lead singer, will play at London’s Alexandra Palace – a venue they’ve held as a career benchmark ever since they signed their record deal six years ago.
Their date at Ally Pally, as the sisters affectionately call it, sold out within hours. A second night was added, and then that sold out too. It’s a long way from their first ever gig in the capital back in 2012, when they performed in front of just four people. But then again, a lot has happened in those six years. There was their debut album Days Are Gone in 2013, and finally its follow-up Something To Tell You last year. They’ve been celebrated by everyone from Stevie Nicks to Jay Z, whose record label Roc Nation they were signed to until last year. In April, they opened for Beyoncé’s historic Coachella set – and then sprinted into the crowd afterwards to watch her. And last month, they got parodied on SNL by Tina Fey and Nicki Minaj – a sign, they reckon, that they have officially Made It.
They’re itching to get back on the road, having taken a break from their aptly named Sister Sister Sister tour. And after Ally Pally, they’re most excited to play their beloved festivals. ‘We love them, that’s definitely not a secret,’ says Alana, 26. ‘For the past four years, we’ve played all the most amazing festivals we could ever dream about. They’re like a summer camp for musicians. You meet all your favourite bands and trade stories.’
Once upon a time, having fun on tour wasn’t an option: they wanted to focus everything on their performances. But these days, they’ve relaxed their approach. Alana is clearly the party girl of the group (‘I’m the baby of the family, I have to live up to my stereotype!’) and recounts a ‘lost weekend’ in Australia on tour last year, where she ‘disappeared for a couple of days and found some homies. It was fun as fuck, and even my sisters don’t know what happened.’ They’re also more relaxed now when it comes to their other passion: fashion. ‘In our early photo shoots, we’d just wear jeans and a T-shirt, because we were very protective,’ says Danielle, 29, wearing Nike Air Max and a Prada bumbag slung over her chest. ‘I feel like the music industry would maybe be like, “Oh they’re a fashion band.” Unfortunately, being a woman, in the early stages a lot of people think you can’t really play. We were conscious that some people might not take our music seriously.’
‘What was really scary to us was feeling like if we acted a certain way, people would think we didn’t play our own instruments,’ adds Alana (they do this a lot, interrupting each other and finishing one another’s sentences). ‘I still get so many people asking me, “So who really writes your songs?” A lot of people automatically accept the fact that an all-male band writes their own songs, but when they see an all-woman band they’re like, “Oh there must be a man behind it, fuelling their fire.”’
They’re patently aware of just how lucky they are to have each other (‘We’re a fortress,’ says Este, 32). Yet they’ve still repeatedly been burnt by a sexist industry – especially when it’s come to equal pay. Last year, they found out they had been paid 10 times less than a male artist at a festival – despite being just one space below on the line-up.
‘We had been told that our fee was very low because you played at the festival in the hope that you’d get played on the radio,’ explains Danielle. ‘We didn’t think twice about it, but we later found out that someone was getting paid 10 times more than us. And because of that we fired our agent.’
Alana, suddenly searingly serious adds, ‘That’s why I love my sisters so much. I trust them with my fucking life. We’re all in this together. But it’s scary out there and it’s fucked up. It’s fucked up not even to be paid half the same amount. But to be paid a tenth of that amount of money? It was insane.’
It’s the first time the girls have disclosed the incident, and they’re clearly still furious. The worst part, Danielle goes on, is that they can’t even be sure it won’t happen again. ‘It’s so hard to check: everything’s so secretive about how much people are getting paid, and that’s bullshit.’
They hope that just by playing huge stages across the world, they’re changing the narrative of what it means to be a woman in rock music. The dream, they say unanimously, would be to headline Glastonbury. The first time they played there, back in 2013, Alana was so overcome with emotion that she almost cried. When she saw Este walk off the stage, she assumed she was going through the same emotions. ‘I was like, girl there’s no time to cry, we can cry after the show.’ But it turned out Este was experiencing something entirely different. A type one diabetic, her blood sugar had dropped dangerously low, and she was desperately trying to find some sweets.
These days, there’s a Snickers bar on stage in case of any such emergencies, and she has an insulin pump as well as a continuous glucose monitor. What’s it like navigating diabetes on tour? ‘I won’t lie, sometimes it’s hard,’ she says. ‘But I don’t like to use it as an excuse. I’ve never let it bring me down or cause me to do something I don’t want to do.’ Her voice starts cracking, and I realise she’s holding back tears. ‘Sometimes it gets a little tough. I want to live a really, really long life. I want to be able to dance at my granddaughter’s wedding. I’m trying not to get emotional about this, but it’s really important to stay healthy. Sometimes that can be hard when you’re on the road.’
And then, amid her sister’s sadness, Alana lets out a noise that halts us all. ‘OH MY GOD, I’m so sorry,’ she says. ‘That was disgusting. I don’t know what just happened.’ ‘I think she coughed up a loogie!’ screams Este. ‘You’ve been politely trying not to burp this whole time, and I’ve been seeing you like, “Dude, it’s literally OK. We’re amongst friends.”’ They laugh; Danielle visibly recoils.
And that, I realise, is exactly why Haim are quite so likeable. One minute, they’re achingly cool, the next delightfully dorky, unafraid to make fools of themselves. For proof, see Este at this year’s BRITs, when she crashed an interview with Liam Payne and Cheryl Cole (she was comically labelled an unknown ‘hilarious drunk woman’ by numerous news websites). It’s presumably what has won them friends in Karlie Kloss, Gigi Hadid and, yes, Taylor Swift. Much has been made of their friendship with the latter, from bikini shots on divine- looking holidays to their apparent reticence to discuss her. More recently, there’s been doubt as to whether they’re even friends any more. So, are they? ‘Affirmative, we are still friends with her,’ says Este. Is the ‘squad’ still alive and well? I ask. ‘I don’t even know where the whole squad thing originated from,’ says Danielle, sounding somewhere between baffled and exasperated. ‘But we just saw her show and it was great.’ ‘Just make sure your phone is charged,’ interjects Este when I mention that I’m going to Taylor’s London date. ‘You’ll want to make sure you take videos of everything. It’s like a feast for the eyes. She fucking killed it. She MURDERED it!’
There has been a tentative start to Haim’s third album, but the writing process will begin in earnest once their tour is over. They’re certain this album won’t take another four years, in part thanks to the confidence they’ve now built around writing records. ‘In the early days I’d feel so intimidated,’ says Alana. ‘As a woman, you instantly feel like you don’t belong or have the knowledge to step up to the board. And that’s bullshit! Now it’s not like that: we walk into a room and know what’s going on and feel comfortable picking up guitars. It’s such an amazing feeling.’
They hug me goodbye, twice each, before getting into Danielle’s car. As they drive away, I remember an article published by The Cut last year, in which a writer somewhat harshly asked, ‘Is it corny to like Haim?… Is it cool for an adult to like them? Do I look like a dork when I’m bopping my head to a breezy Haim track, dreaming of wearing grommeted bell- bottoms while skateboarding through Silver Lake, high as hell on moon dust?’
After a day in their company, I say: Yes, it is absolutely cool to like Haim. And even better to look like a dork while you’re doing it. It’s what these girls would want.