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Cover Story: Haim

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Alana Haim is stumped by the question at first. And she takes a minute to ponder it. When asked to provide the appropriate rejoinder to a paraphrased old adage, she initially repeats it to herself, then defers to the wisdom of the fellow passengers on her tour bus. “Hey! Finish this sentence! ‘The sisters that play together….’ What?” she barks. The response is instantaneous. “Stay together!” another girl’s voice yells. Haim is satisfied that this is the correct answer, and she reiterates it with phone-a-friend-on-that-millionaire-TV-show certainty: “Stay together! That’s from Este Haim, who’s sitting right next to me.”

And you really have to forgive the momentarily-scattered singer and multi-instrumentalist for not knowing the classic family-band-ism right off the bat. You see, she’s been quite busy lately, touring with her, ahem, little family band. Dubbed, of course, Haim, the group revolves around Alana Haim, 22, and her two older sisters – guitarist/vocalist Danielle, 25, and bassist/vocalist Este, 28, plus longtime drummer Dash Hutton. And the group’s kooky camaraderie has paid off; Its whimsical 2013 debut disc Days Are Gone bowed in at #1 and #6 on the U.K. and U.S. charts, respectively, ratcheting up the buzz surrounding the group to a near-deafening level. Staying together – which the siblings have instinctively done through thick and thin – certainly has had its benefits.

Watching Haim perform live, you’re immediately struck by not only their sweet sisterly harmonies, but their kinetic – and personally unique — physical energy, which seems to pass from one to the other like welding sparks. It starts with Alana, swiveling to monitor her various keyboards, percussion, and six-strings (“Este, Danielle, and Dash call me Merlin, because I literally have the craziest station and I switch off so many instruments,” she chortles). Then it passes to Danielle at center stage, undulating like a python with the sinuous R&B-based rhythms she’s chording, and ultimately ends with the rigid-spined Este, who throws her entire body into every last note, her eyes often shut, her features passionately contorting with each emotional lyric. They play together, alright.

“And touring is a breeze,” Alana would like it to be known. “A lot of people think that I’m lying, and behind closed doors we’re weirdly Oasis and we each have different tour vans. A lot of people seriously think that that’s what the vibe is like, and it’s not. We love each other. I love my sisters more than anything in the world.” She thinks about it, decides to up the ante. “I would die for them. I would take a bullet for both my sisters and Dash – Dash is in there, too. We’re just the biggest lovefest on tour, and we’ve been in a band forever. And I feel like if something was going to go wrong, it would’ve happened during our awkward 13-year-old stages. It would have happened by now, and it hasn’t.”

How close are these Los Angelenos today? Put it this way, Alana says. In all their lives, they’ve found maybe five other girls that they can all hang out with, simultaneously. They prefer their own company instead. And they weren’t going to let little things like a club drinking age stop them. “Este and Danielle would be like ‘Take your braces off! We’re taking you out!’” she recalls. “I’d get arrested if I tried that today – that shit would not fly. And literally on my 16th birthday, they presented me with a fake ID and said ‘Welcome to a whole new world of your life! This is a new chapter!’ And from the time I was 16, they took me to every single show at The Echoplex, The Silver Lake Lounge, all these places that were 21 and over. I’m so glad I turned 21, because I must have ulcers now from trying to get into clubs. Because I cannot lie. I literally cannot lie, and giving a big, scary bouncer a fake ID is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do. My hand would have the ID out, but I would shake – you could totally tell that I was not 21, and I think my ID said that I was 27.”

This presented something of a problem when Haim began playing live at the same sort of adult venues. Junior couldn’t use her fake ID because it featured a different last name, and the marquee listed a sister act. “So every single club would make me have my own bouncer,” she sighs, dejectedly. “Maybe they thought that I would do something crazy, like run away and down 50 beers. I have no idea why I would need my own bodyguard. But I would literally stand outside with my own bodyguard for an hour while Este and Danielle would party inside. And then ten minutes before we had to go onstage, they’d usher me in and then escort me out afterwards. I’d show up thinking ‘Yeah! I’m so cool! I’m in a band!’ And then all of a sudden, you’re like ‘Oh. I have a babysitter and big-ass black X-es on my hands. Now that’s super-sexy…’”

This kooky tale of clan togetherness could explain harmonic concert classics like the staccato “Better Off” (from 2012′s Forever EP) or Days Are Gone’s echoey “Falling” and the decidedly Fleetwood Mac-ish “The Wire,” “Go Slow,” and “Don’t Save Me.” Almost. The girls have their own oddball approach to a pop hook, but it didn’t happen overnight, and – in some ways – was never their decision in the first place. They not only were raised on their parents’ vintage rock albums from the ’70s, they were recruited as school children into their family band, too. With Israeli-born dad Mordechai, or Moti, on drums and mom Donna on guitar, the sisters joined Rockinhaim. “No joke,” chuckles Alana. “I was four years old at the time.”

What was Mordechai planning? Alana thinks she understands, in retrospect. “My dad was obsessed with Sheila E., and he envisioned me being the new Sheila E. So he bought me timbales. But I was pretty chillin’ at four – I’m not even kidding you. I definitely had rhythm.” There was just one minor snafu. “The timbales stand wasn’t made for a four-year-old, and it wouldn’t go low enough. So literally, I was playing timbales with my hands stretched out over my head – I couldn’t even see the top of the drums. I just whacked ‘em, and it was great. So I started with just percussion, and then I moved on to piano and eventually graduated to guitar. My dad definitely woke up from a dream and saw us playing music together – it was the craziest experience, ever.”

From age four to 12, Rockinhaim remained enjoyable. But at 13, Alana recalls, things got awkward. “I was in middle school, and I’d have to play county fairs that my friends would go to,” she says. “And the most embarrassing one I ever played was this Sherman Oaks street fair, where I definitely saw the cool group of like five girls walking toward me as I was playing. And I was like ‘Oh, my God! What am I gonna do?’ And I couldn’t really do anything. But they actually thought it was cool. But I definitely broke a sweat. But my parents are super-awesome, so it’s kind of hard to be embarrassed around them. I feel like my parents might be cooler than I am, which is just crazy.”

In high school, kid sis was simply known as ‘the tall chick.’ “For some reason, my parents gave birth to giraffes – I don’t know why,” she jokes. “So mostly, I’d hear ‘Oh, sh-t – there’s that tall chick Alana that plays with her family!’ But I never listened to other people, because I had my sisters to be like ‘Whatever.’ My sisters have always been my best friends since we were kids. And I’m not kidding – this isn’t me trying to be cheesy and cute – I always had them to be my wolf pack. And Este would sometimes come by and pick me up from school and just mad-dog anyone that was giving me shit. She was like my mama wolf, and she always had my back. So no one really fucked with me, and I was pretty okay going through my awkward stage. Thank God!”

But when the Haims gradually reached college age, they left the nest, one by one. Este completed a five-year ethnomusicology degree in a scant two years. Danielle became a hired guitar gun, touring behind Jenny Lewis, Julian Casablancas, and even Cee-Lo Green as part of his all-female backing group Scarlet Fever. Alana, meanwhile, became a professional nanny for three neighborhood children. “I would totally pick up the kids from school, bring them back to their house, make them a snack, help them with their homework, make them dinner, and then I would actually tuck them in at night – I got the job done,” she declares. “And I actually felt like a mom, which was crazy. But the craziest was picking them up from school, because all the other moms either thought I was a mistress or one of those teen moms, and I’d get the craziest dirty looks from all of them. Like ‘Oh, she’s totally with the husband! You’ve gotta watch out for that one!’ Or ‘Poor child! She’s had three kids, and she looks like she’s only 17!’ It was actually the weirdest, funniest experience of my life.”

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