Monday 18 December 2017

Are Haim the best thing to happen to music in years?

FROM hosting SNL to partying with Harry Styles, these girls live it up.

Can we agree Haim are the best thing to happen to pop music in years? A hyped band who actually live up to the hype, their tunes are stacked high with heartbreaker harmonies, zingy kiss-offs to crap boyfriends and the best seventies-slathered melodies this side of Fleetwood Mac. Listening to their fantastic debut album, Days Are Gone, you are whisked away to an alternative universe where pop stars star are fully dressed, play their own instruments and think before opening their mouths. It's like Twerking never happened.

Almost as impressive is Haim's determination to stay grounded in the face of a hype-storm bigger than Kanye West's ego. Though extremely famous in the Twitter-verse and vaguely so in the real world, the trio of siblings -- Haim, rhyming with time, is their second name -- are at pains to comport themselves like normal human beings. When, for instance, Este , lead singer and eldest sister, was introduced to Jay Z a few months back, she responded much as you or I would -- with stuttering incoherence.

"We're signed to his management company, so I guess you could say Jay Z is our boss," she says. "You never think you are going to meet someone like that. Honestly, I assumed he hadn't heard of us. I thought it was one of those TV shows where you are pranked. We went in to meet him and expected someone to start laughing and walk out from behind a curtain with a video camera."

Este (27) seems slightly dazzled by the celeb-studded universe into which Haim -- sisters Danielle (24) and Alana (21) complete the line up -- were ushered over the past 12 months. Without question, they've been on a rollercoaster. Parties with One Direction's Harry Styles, a bizarre appearance on a BBC politics show (support act one David Cameron), a turn on Saturday Night Live alongside Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Games. Who can blame her if her head is spinning a little?

"Doing Saturday Night Live was a highlight," says Este. "It was definitely on our bucket-list. As a kid it was a dream of mine to be on that show. Growing up in California, Saturday Night Live was an institution. To go and do it ... man that was really, really surreal."

In America, it can feel as if the whole world is watching Saturday Night Live. That, of course, is a double edged thing. Nail your performance and everyone is slapping you on the back. Squeak and scrape your way through that big hit and your credibility as a live artist can suffer a rigorous pummelling. Just ask Lana Del Rey, whose grievous SNL tilt at Video Games was less a musical recital than a random act of sonic violence. Her reputation as a live singer has never truly recovered.

"People put a little too much emphasis on singing or playing that doesn't sound perfect," says Este. "On Saturday Night Live they don't let you use backing tracks or recorded vocals. What you are watching is real and mistakes are going to occur."

Speaking backstage at Cologne's hulking Bürgerhaus Stollwerck venue -- from the distance it gives off the ominous whiff of a Dickensian workhouse, up close sort of resembles a low-rent Project Arts Centre -- Este proves to have a spiky side to go with the laid-back San Fernando Valley charm (she and her sisters are literally valley girls). One subject she isn't at all keen on discussing is Haim's car-crash turn on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show in September.

"Honestly, I don't see the point going over old territory," shrugs Este. "I mean, yeah it happened. We didn't understand what was going on. As a result, we felt awkward. But you know that was SUCH a long time ago now. We believe in always looking forward. It's the same with Saturday Night Live. We were psyched to do it. Now, it's over. We're looking forward to getting back to Dublin. It goes on."

The classic overnight sensation a decade in the making, the Haim sister have been in bands since childhood. As teenagers, they performed with their mother and father in a SoCal covers group, Rockinghaim. They'd play county fairs across greater Los Angeles, throwing down sun-tinged versions of Santana, Jackson Browne and Van Morrison. If you were a hip Jewish kid in LA, they were THE act to book for your bar mitzvah.

Success came slowly. By the mid 2000s their parents, fed up driving hours to gigs every weekend, stepped back from Rockinghaim. Meanwhile, real life seemed destined to derail the sisters' musical dreams. Este went off to college, Alana took a job waiting tables in a burger restaurant. Only middle sis Danielle appeared to be getting anywhere: in 2009 she landed a dream gig playing guitar with Julian Casablancas, as he took his solo album on the road (included a stop off at Dublin's Academy -- the venue Haim grace tonight).

However, they never stopped writing and recording and, gradually, things started to happen. First they secured a contract with RocNation, Jay-Z's management company. A record deal followed, their emergence as hot newcomers consummated in late 2012 with a support berth on Florence Welch's arena tour. In a heartbeat, Haim had arrived.

Or at least they had sort of arrived. There was the small matter of a debut LP, which they had not even started work on when they placed first in January's BBC Sound Of Poll. Though their record company was completely respectful of Haim's artistic vision and understanding that the creative process takes time, nonetheless, as month after month rolled by, the question was left hanging: where the heck was the album?

"We gave 100 per cent," says Este of Days Are Gone, which finally saw daylight in September.

"We guessed it was done the day none of us could stand to listen to it any more. Our ears were burnt out. It was at the stage where it was like 'if you don't like our album -- well fuck you.' We were confident it was good. If you are iffy about a project, people's opinions can get to you. We are proud of the album. So don't care what anyone thinks."

Alongside the beyond-catchy melodies and gorgeous arrangements, one of striking aspects of Days Are Gone are Haim's lyrics which, on cursory listen, sound like aggrieved reflections on a string of horror-show relationships. Is this a break-up album we see before us?

"The songs span from 2008 until this year," explains Este. "They are a snapshot of us in our teens and early 20s. I'm 27 now. I've been through a lot of shit over that period. You go through break-ups and make-ups. Of course, it isn't only about our relationships. It is about what our friends have gone through also. We are very open with our girlfriends. I think the relationship you have with your female friends is very special. Our best friends are people we've known since we were kids. Several songs are written from their perspective. You see them crying, affected by stuff, and you want to write about it."

Haim sensed they were going places when, headlining a tiny LA venue last Christmas, they looked into the crowed and recognised a familiar quiff bobbing up and down in the front row. One Direction's Harry Styles had swung by to check the sisters out. Pinch yourself moments don't come any pinchier, says Este.

"He popped backstage to talk and was the most normal guy," she says. "Weirdly he started chatting to us in Yiddish. He mentioned a friend of his spoke it, used it as slang. Harry had picked it up from him. I was like 'okay -- talking Yiddish with Harry Styles ... now that's a challenge I'm prepared to accept."

Haim's new single is Forever. The band play Academy, Dublin tonight.

Irish Independent

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