It’s home for Haim
By Christy Khoshaba (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
Their debut album entered the chart this month at No. 6. In England the record sold more copies than the latest by Justin Timberlake. Reviews have been nearly uniformly ecstatic, as has praise from fellow artists such as Katy Perry and Mumford & Sons.
To the uninitiated, Haim’s success might resemble the overnight variety.
But the L.A. group — built around a trio of sisters — played its first show in 2007. Before that, the siblings performed in a band with their parents, doing Beatles and Prince covers at school functions and church fairs.
“It was fun to do,” said bassist Este Haim, 27, “and it seemed normal to us.”
As a pop sensation, though, Haim is anything but the norm. The band — which also includes singer-guitarist Danielle, 24, and guitarist-keyboardist Alana, 21 — has an appealingly ungroomed look and a lived-in sound that forgoes the super-polished dance beats of Top 40 radio.
Sitting backstage at L.A.'s Fonda Theatre on a recent afternoon, the women were dressed in dark vintage clothes, their long hair hanging loose over their shoulders — more Joni Mitchell than Miley Cyrus. They were discussing their not-so-distant days growing up in the San Fernando Valley, including Este’s job at the Sherman Oaks Galleria.
“Alana would be at the mall with her friends, and she’d come by and I’d give them free French fries and soup,” said the bassist, who worked at the Cheesecake Factory in the shopping center. “Then her friends started coming separately — they cut out the middleman.”
“They didn’t need me anymore,” Alana agreed with a laugh. “Way harsh.”
If the sisters seemed nostalgic, perhaps it was because they were home for the first time in months. Haim — the name rhymes with “lime” — has been on the road in the United States and Europe for the better part of 2013. (The group is rounded out by an unrelated drummer, Dash Hutton.) Last week the band’s tour stopped in L.A. for a sold-out concert at the Fonda that served as a kind of hometown celebration of its hit debut, “Days Are Gone.”
A classically minded pop-rock record framed with clever postmodern production out of hip-hop and R&B, “Days Are Gone” pulls from any number of instantly recognizable sources — Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar — yet never really sounds like any of them. Danielle’s percussive guitar playing and stuttering lead vocals in particular give the music a unique tension that physicalizes the romantic indecision in her lyrics.
Ariel Rechtshaid, who co-produced the bulk of the album with the band, said they were determined to create a record distinct from those by Haim’s indie-scene peers as well as from the group’s own live show, which emphasizes a rawer style.
“I caught them in the middle of a storm, when all the attention was creating real demand for the record,” said the producer, who’s also worked with Vampire Weekend and No Doubt. “But I wanted to be sure not to paint them into a corner. ‘Three girls that rock from the Valley’ — that’s easy to categorize, easy to write about. We were striving for something that doesn’t set up those boundaries.”
The Haim sisters said “Days Are Gone” finally captures a sound they’d been struggling for years to catch. Other engineers in other studios might hear the Strokes in the band’s background but not the OutKast; the results were always “vanilla,” said Este, with none of the adventurous textures the women admire in hip-hop.
“People our age, we grew up with Pharrell,” Danielle said, referring to the producer behind dozens of slippery hits by artists like Jay-Z, Kelis and Robin Thicke. “But we still wanted to make it sound like a band.”
Now that they’ve pulled it off, the sisters don’t intend to slow down — or to log much more time at home. Next month Haim is booked to open a string of shows in France and Germany for the French group Phoenix. Then it’s on to the U.K. in December, followed early next year by Japan, Australia and another European tour.
Ashley Newton, who heads the band’s U.S. record label, said Haim’s “explosive launch” in Europe has so far prevented it from capitalizing fully on the buzz here. (The outfit will squeeze in an appearance Nov. 5 on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”) But Newton’s mission for 2014, he added, “is to get them back to America and make it real,” with more TV appearances and songs on the radio.
The members of Haim themselves seem less concerned with where they’re playing — as long as they’re playing somewhere.
“Of course you miss your friends and your house when you’re away,” said Alana before she and her sisters headed to the Fonda’s stage for soundcheck. “But we still have each other.”
Some things, too, are easier on a tour bus. “I was driving on the freeway today,” said Este, “and I definitely forgot for a few seconds which pedal does what.”
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