Este Haim’s copper Porsche—last seen in the music video for ‘Don’t Wanna’, the sixth single from HAIM’s third studio album, Women in Music Pt. III—is parked outside the New Beverly Cinema. Neither its owner, nor her sisters are anywhere in sight. I check my watch; the interview is set to start in one minute. Their manager told me to meet them here, on the sidewalk, but provided little other information. It’s a picturesque Los Angeles summer day; a balmy 31 degrees Celsius (88 Fahrenheit).
The streets are otherwise empty as Los Angeles residents self-isolate; I decide to bask in moment. There’s a musicality to the stillness, like a low brassy hum. After several seconds I realise that the hum isn’t imagined, it’s real. And it’s getting closer. I open my eyes just as the Haim sisters—Este, Daniele, and Alana—come into view, turning off of La Brea Avenue and onto Beverly Boulevard. A rogue saxophonist—the source of the music—is hot on their heels.
The Haim sister’s barrel down the street walking abreast with each other. Music journalists often joke that they are the only people who walk anywhere in Los Angeles. Their music videos frequently find them on foot, strutting from somewhere to elsewhere with an Odyssean kind of purposiveness. Until now I had thought this a cute gimmick. Witnessing it in the flesh, however, I find myself struck by their solemnity; it’s part Olympic Sport, part murmuration. As they approach Daniele shoots me a look that says, “Are you coming?”
I pick up what recording equipment I can carry and hurry after them, doing my best to match their impressive footspeed.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Josh: Thank you for meeting me today—
Este: Apologies, but you’re the fourth of six interviews, so if you could, like, get to it?
Josh: Naturally, naturally. Might I ask where are we walking?
Este: You want to waste a question on that?
Daniele: Try kindness, Este.
Este: It was a dumb question!
Daniele: I’m sorry about her, we’re walking to the Il Tramezzino on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Canon Drive. Aimee Cliff is meeting us there.
Josh: Aimee’s a wonderful critic.
Daniele: I agree. And I’m not just because she gave WIMPIIII an 8.6.
Josh: So that’s how you pronounce the acronym? Wimpee?
Daniele: Hard “ee”, if saying it doesn’t make you smile, you’re not saying it right.
Este: Is this gibber gab reaching a point soon?
Josh: No, she’s right, I was asking about where we were walking. In your music videos you three are usually walking around L.A, all in a row, very cool-like.
Daniele: It’s kind of our signature.
Josh: Exactly. In WIMPIII though, there’s an observable shake up. Some music video’s you’re standing still like in ‘I Know Alone’—great track by the way—and ‘Hallelujah’. Other’s change up the walking format. In ‘Now I’m In It’ Daniele is getting carried on a stretcher.
Daniele: Wish I was right now honestly; my feet are killing me.
Este: You were the one who didn’t want to take the car.
Josh: The car from ‘Don’t Wanna’? The one Este hops in to beat you to your destination?
Este: I like crushing my foes.
Josh: Excuse me?
Este: Why walk when you can drive? The supreme art of war is to subdue your enemy without fighting.
Josh: Is that Sun Tzu?
Este: What’s it to you, twink?
Josh: Hm. Anyway, in the ‘Summer Girl’ music video you’re followed by a gloomy saxophonist. Is he the same one with us now?
Daniele: Nah. Different guy. We just have a knack for finding them out and about.
Josh: Like… just around?
Daniele: L.A is full of saxophonists if you know where to look.
Este: And we do.
Josh: You three are very familiar with L.A, it feels like a secret fourth member of HAIM in some ways. The opening track of WIMPIII is literally called ‘Los Angeles’. There’s a particular lyric I’m fond of, let me see if I can find it here…
Este: Did you prepare at all?
Josh: Here we are: “Leave this city for the first time/wavin’ back my fear/city of mine/I wake up on the other side/send me love, send my tears”.
Daniele: Damn, that’s good.
Josh: I feel like it’s a real encapsulation of the ideas of the album. It’s like in the music videos, you’re doing what is essentially the same old shtick, but it’s more complicated, like your relationship to yourself, to others, to your home, is sort of…
Daniele: In metamorphosis?
Daniele: That’s definitely a prominent theme throughout the album. I’m sure you’re aware that we all went through a lot of Hard Shit during the time between Something to Tell You and WIMPIII.
Josh: If you could just recap it for our readers?
Este: Oh, sure. Just dredge up our trauma for your entertainment, is that how it is?
Josh: Well, you are musicians.
Este: …you win this round.
Daniele: I’ll go first. I guess one of the big things I bought to this album was this knot of depression that I had been feeling. My partner, and band producer, Ariel Rechtshaid had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2017.
Josh: I’m sorry.
Daniele: Don’t be. It’s just how it is. Life’s a bitch.
Josh: And then you die?
Daniele: And then you keep on living. That’s what this record is about for me. My sisters too, I think. Is that fair to say?
Este: By and large, yes.
Daniele: We’ve all had to process a lot of complicated, mostly negative emotions. This album is really about that period of processing, but it was written in the aftermath. So, in that way it’s more like us reconciling people we were with the people we’ve become. For me song that really embodies this is ‘Summer Girl’.
Josh: The closing track on the extended version of the album.
Daniele: The very one. You see, ‘Summer Girl’ is this song I started writing for Ariel, to cheer him up I suppose. “Summer Girl” is a persona, an ideation of happiness born out of this really sad period, I want to be this bright thing, supporting him through this really tough time. It’s like there’s this grim thing hanging over us, like the Sword of Damocles, and I’m trying to avert it. And if I’m positive enough, and bright enough, maybe I can, and maybe he’ll be happy.
Josh: That’s beautiful.
Daniele: Thank you. So “Summer Girl”, isn’t a person, she’s not real, but she became real in a way, because the desire to embody happiness sort of manifested it in me.
Josh: So ‘Summer Girl’ as the closing track is symbolic?
Daniele: Exactly. It’s like “I’ve been through this terrible period, and it’s hurt, but I’ve processed and I’m healing” and “Summer Girl” represents that perfectly. She’s this thing born out of hardship, both me and also a seperate entity–the coalescence of who I wanted Ariel to see, who I tried to be, and who I am. And that’s what growth looks like, for me at least. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that. I mean you’d understand, you’ve listened to the song a couple hundred times—
Este: Spotify can send streaming figures for individual listeners if we want.
Josh: That’s a huge privacy breach.
Este: This is the 21st century, grow up.
Josh: Ok, fair.
Este: I know.
Josh: You were saying Daniele?
Daniele: Just that being “Summer Girl” is more complicated than just being happy. Lyrically, the song is very emotionally tangled.
Josh: It feels almost like it’s operating in this liminal space, somewhere between happy and sad, where you’re going and where you want to be. The lyric’s “the tears behind your dark sunglasses/the fears inside your heart as deep as gashes”, especially.
Daniele: Well that—what do you call it, liminality? Liminality, ok—that’s where a lot of this album’s emotions spring from, the place between the sad times and the happiness you envision for your future.
Josh: What about you Este? What’s your trauma?
Este: Well… it’s mostly dealing with Type One Diabetes.
Josh: Tough to be certain.
Este: Don’t pity me.
Este: Whatever, nerd.
Josh: Geez louise.
Este: Look what you have to understand is that it’s very taxing on the body, touring and shit. Anyway, I was really letting it get the better of me. I wasn’t resting properly—I mean none of us were, but I really wasn’t. So, the Doctor tells me that I might not be able to tour forever.
Este: Yeah! And it’s like “woah, ok, this thing that felt infinite, that’s integral to who I am and my connection to the people I love, it’s finite now, and it could be gone at any point”.
Josh: That’s rough.
Este: It’s fucked! I don’t know where I would’ve been without Daniele and Alana. That’s what ‘Leaning on You’ is about. Like that song is really for them, about the way they supported me through it all.
Daniele: We supported each other.
Este: We did.
Josh: And Alana, you’ve been pretty quiet, what was going on with you when you made the album?
Alana: A foul storm was forming on the horizon, a deluge stored in its heart. If cracked, that deluge would flood the land, washing the world away. But as what once was lost, what would be would grow in its stead. The end would herald a new spring, new life!
Josh: What the actual fuck?
Daniele: She’s being spending a lot of time with Stevie Nicks.
Josh: Nick’s has been mentoring you guys a bit, right?
Alana: The tree shades the forest floor. The tree houses the birds. The tree’s roots run deep and thick, soil congealing around it, earthy and firm. Such is she to we.
Josh: That right?
Este: None of your sass.
Josh: I wasn’t—
Este: Homosexuality may be a gateway to bitchiness, but that doesn’t mean it’s use is a given right.
Josh: Christ, ok.
Daniele: Alana, can you tell the critic about your trauma?
Alana: On the 13th day of the 5th month, a raven flew westward, riding on the East Wind. I heard it call thrice: caw, caw, well you know how it goes. Not moments later I found my closest friend of many years deceased.
Josh: I’m terribly sorry, Alana.
Daniele: She doesn’t like to speak about it too much.
Josh: Is the friend’s death what ‘Hallelujah’ is about?
Daniele: In part. It’s also about the process of coming together and supporting each other.
Josh: “Three roads/one light”?
Daniele: “Now and then I can lean my back to yours”, exactly. Funnily enough, if that lyric is about any one of us, it’s about Alana. Her soul has a robust constitution, she arguably experienced the worst loss of the three of us, but it was also she who pulled us out of that dark place. She got us back in the recording studio, it was important she said, that we write a bit of music every day, that we jam together.
Josh: The relationship between trauma, community, and sisterhood feels really pivotal.
Daniele: Our primary source of strength came from within, but there were a lot of people around us too.
Este: Stevie Nicks especially.
Daniele: Stevie gave us this writing advice. She said to keep a diary. On one page, everything that you did in a day, and then on the other page, turn those events into lyrics.
Josh: Does it work?
Daniele: Sometimes. I think what matters is that we’re doing it together.
Josh: Nicely put. How far away from Il Tramezzino are we?
Daniele: Not too far off, I’d say.
Josh: Ok, I’ll get to it.
Este: You were waffling this whole time?
Josh: No, I— It’s all important! I just have a very sporadic style.
Este: I’ll say.
Josh: Oh, fuck off, Este.
Daniele: Sorry, she can be a lot.
Josh: It’s fine, just carrying all this recording gear and conducting and interview and walking, it’s very stressful.
Este: I have Type One Diabetes. That’s stressful.
Josh: Yeah, I heard.
Este: Are you demeaning my suffering?
Josh: I don’t know demeaning of that word.
Este: Why you—
Alana: Times runs in rivulets of choices made and unmade. Some carry you on their stream to where you wish to be, other’s drag you under. What choice will you make?
Josh: …I’m sorry Este, I was being testy.
Este: It’s fine, it’s fine. We’ve just been walking all day is all.
Josh: You could sit down for interviews you know.
Este: Our manager says that would dilute our brand.
Daniele: About five-minutes to Il Tramezzino, to answer your question.
Josh: Right, thank you. Is Il Tramezzino important by the way? Like, your music videos circulate around L.A places that are famous or sentimental to you three, or both. How is this place important?
Daniele: It’s not, they just make a mean coffee.
Daniele: It’s a fair question though, we tend to feature a lot of places close to our hearts.
Este: WIMPIII especially. The deli in the cover art is where we played our first gig, so we’re leaning back into our past while looking forward at the same time.
Josh: Comes back to that whole idea of complicating your personal history really.
Daniele: Exactly, we tried to embody it in a lot of different ways. In terms of composition and production, we feel like this album is a real departure.
Josh: Absolutely. I thought the inclusion of non-musical elements especially was really fascinating, the yawn at the start of ‘Up From A Dream’ made me jump when I first heard it.
Josh: HAIM, to me, has always seemed like a spiritual successor to Fleetwood Mac. Your quasi-maternal bond with Stevie Nicks really hammers that home.
Alana: She is a Bella Donna, guiding us in our flight to unknown shores.
Daniele: That’s great, Alana.
Josh: This album was the one that sounded the most like Fleetwood Mac. ‘I’ve Been Down’ and ‘Hallelujah’ would sound at home on Rumours.
Daniele: Thank you.
Josh: You are very welcome. However, I want to loop back to the production. Because that, in tandem with a lot of the lyrical content, actually reminded me a lot of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love.
Daniele: Este, do you want to take this one?
Este: Yeah, Hounds of Love. I’d say there’s an influence there. A lot of the non-diegetic production really functions in kind of the same way. But also, like, you know they share a lot of ideas, I guess.
Josh: Reconciliation of desire and reality?
Este: I mean, yes, but no.
Este: Shush. I’m getting there. I was meaning more in the way they reference dreaming. Hounds of Love is this record very clearly divided between dreaming and waking. The first few tracks, up to ‘Cloudbusting’ are awake, then she’s asleep for most of the B-side. Then she wakes back up in the final track, ‘Morning Fog’, but only after this moment of epiphany in ‘Hello Earth’, where she realises that the distance she’s feeling is nothing in comparison to the distance between Earth and the rest of the universe.
Josh: So, there’s something similar going on in WIMPIII?
Este: Half right, as usual. It’s more this: we really strived to mix notions of dreaming and waking. Throughout we’re writing them not as oppositional states of being, but rather extensions of each other.
Daniele: Angels are a recurring motif. They’re both a way of physicalising of L.A—
Josh: City of Angels.
Este: Do you get off on being annoying?
Josh: If I said yes what would you do?
Daniele: —but also a way of embodying how we perceive dreams.
Este: You’re being maddeningly opaque, Daniele.
Josh: I’ve gotta agree with, Este.
Daniele: I’ll explain it better.
Daniele: It’s like you said, L.A is in many ways the fourth member of the band.
Alana: Blood in our veins, the beat of our heart.
Daniele: Exactly, Alana. In the process of writing this album we rediscovered, but also reshaped, our connection to home. I think when people think of dreaming, they think of this really ephemeral notion. But reshaping is a kind of dreaming, it’s a process, a desire to manifest what we believe should be. The angels are a way of bringing that to life throughout the album.
Josh: And the non-diegetic stuff too?
Daniele: Absolutely. Like we wanted to put a real focus on waking. There’s the yawn, and the phone call, things that pull you out from slumber, but also of moments that precede interaction with other people.
Este: Loneliness is like sleeping, connection is waking up.
Josh: Pretty fitting for a band built on a bond as tight as the one you three share.
Este: Don’t do that.
Este: Try to relate to us.
Josh: Oh, I’m sorry that your music connected with me.
Este: Oh it “connected” with you, huh? What do you know about sisterhood?
Josh: Well not sisterhood per se. I only discovered your music because one of my best friends really likes you guys, and she’s always recommending it, Days Are Gone especially.
Este: Oh she’s one of those people who said we had a “sophomore slump” with Something to Tell You, huh?
Josh: I really couldn’t say, she likes all your music really. For the record, I like Something to Tell You a lot, maybe more than Days Are Gone.
Este: Brownnosing won’t curry favour.
Josh: I wasn’t—you know what, never mind.
Daniele: You were saying?
Josh: Just that my friend really loves your music. Anyway, we went through a period a few months ago where we didn’t get to see each other very often.
Josh: Lockdown, internship, university, work, all of it.
Daniele: Busy, busy.
Josh: It was pretty hard; I missed her a lot sometimes. I started listening to you guys because I associated your music so much with her, and it made me feel, like, closer to her?
Josh: Yeah. I just find it interesting how these ideas of community recur. It’s a prominent theme in your music, it’s integral to your creative process. Even among people who listen to it, community feels, I don’t know essential? I think WIMPIII feels special because it’s so much about growth and change. Like that friend and I have been through a lot together, supported each other through big moments. This album really explores that kind of relationship, what it means to develop and grow as person of your own conception, but also in the mind of others.
Este: Is that your great thesis statement?
Josh: I suppose so. Is that a problem?
Este: …no. No, I don’t think so.
Alana: Hark! Il Tramezzino looms close. Our voyage is closing, and so too must our dialogue.
Daniele: Look’s like that’s all we have time for.
Josh: Wait I wanted to ask about your working relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson.
Daniele: Sorry, but we don’t have the time!
Daniele: It was lovely speaking.
Este: Later loser!
Alana: Until the fates deem that our souls reconvene, farewell.
The Haim sisters begin to accelerate, faster and faster, until they are walking at a pace brisker than most people’s run. As they pass Il Tramezzino Aimee Cliff runs out and to join them. The women walk onward, out of sight, over the horizon.