"It's hysterical to think about now," says Danielle Haim, guitarist from Los Angeles band Haim. "But honestly we never even knew we could make money playing shows. We played for free so many times that we could have gotten paid; I felt bad even asking." And yet somehow, with consistently crammed shows and a few famous admirers, Haim have been building a serious local buzz.
It's a sunny weekday afternoon and the three sisters Haim -- bassist Este (oldest), guitarist/keys/maracas Alana (youngest), and Danielle (middle) -- all vocalists as well, are sitting around the living room table in their parents' Valley Village house where they rehearse, and where Alana still lives. Their mother Donna emerges from the kitchen with a bowl of Israeli chocolates. Their father Mordechai, who is Israeli, comes into the living room now and again to check on his daughters.
Their Hebrew last name means "life" in English, and the Haim sisters are definitely full of it. Chatty and jovial, they often finish each other's sentences.
"People get weirded out because we are so close," says Este.
"We're kind of like a unit," says Alana. "If one of us shows up somewhere, people are like..."
"Where are your sisters?" chimes in Danielle. "Our parents somehow created a family dynamic where we love hanging out with each other," says Este.
That dynamic came about because for nearly 15 years they played oldies covers with their parents in an act called Rockinhaim -- with Mama Haim on guitar and Papa Haim on drums. They traveled around in a Dodge Caravan and played gigs including street fairs. Eventually, however, the sisters wanted to branch out. "It was almost like a weird dare to ourselves," says Este. "Like, 'I wonder if we could write our own songs.' And we sat down and wrote a song in half an hour. It wasn't the best song, but we progressively got better."
They're drawing notice, and have been invited onto a series of notable gigs, including opening for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at Royce Hall and touring as openers for a leg of The Strokes' Julian Casablancas' solo shows, with Danielle doing double duty playing in Casablancas' band, too. (Danielle has also toured with Jenny Lewis.)
Additionally, Haim will open for Phantom Planet at their upcoming reunion performance in June. "Their drummer was one of our drummers," says Alana. "He was playing with us for fun, but he has an actual job and he couldn't tour with us. We were huge Phantom Planet fans back in the day and when we were asked to play with them, the 16 year old in me was like, 'Oh my god! No way we're opening for Phantom Planet!'"
Though Este speaks of their earliest songwriting as "super emo," Haim has learned to write sophisticated songs infusing their influences, which range from The Zombies to Fleetwood Mac to Eagles. "First we do gibberish," says Alana. "And then we make words out of what the gibberish sounds like."
"We're all drummers, so we're super percussive when we write. I think my dad put me on drums as soon as I could hold my head up, like at 3 months old. But he didn't want us to actually be drummers, because he didn't want us to have to lug drums everywhere. Of course, we each have drums onstage with us now. Not a full set, but toms."
Five years ago, when Haim had written enough songs to complete a short live set, they played their first show at California Institute of Abnormalarts, a bizarre and macabre North Hollywood venue which houses a collection of strange artifacts including a mummified clown encased in glass. "It's super cheesy, but we had nowhere else to play," says Danielle. "There was a big concert that day," says Este. "I think it was Live Earth, so we called our set Haim-Aid."
Haim was off to a good start, playing to a packed house filled with their high school friends. However their second show, at Good Hurt in Venice, was not quite as successful. "It was terrifying," Alana says. "I remember being so freaked out because we literally played to one person. Do you know what it's like to hear just one person clapping slowly in the back of the room?" "I was like, 'I have heard of bands that have played to no one before, so we've got to go for it,'" says Danielle. "Since then, we've been really lucky," says Alana. "That's never happened again."
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Last week, Haim released their EP Forever for free on their website. So far, the reception has been positive. Nylon Magazine called its title track one of their five favorite songs of the week. In support of the EP, rapper/singer Ke$ha Tweeted to her followers to download Haim's EP, describing the songs as "tunes that will melt ur face." And their recent Echo performance was packed.
The group is also headed to South By Southwest in March. "Playing live is so much fun for us," says Este. "I can't really explain how good it is for me to look over to my right and for me to see my sisters onstage with me. It's the best feeling in the world."
Haim performs at The Satellite tonight.