An old chest for a coffee table collects the family ephemera: a hefty photo album with a soft floral cover, novelty pencils in the shape of drumsticks, an issue of Teen Vogue with Haim (pronounced like “rhyme”) featured inside and two bottles of aspirin. In the corner of the room, there’s a wicker chair that once belonged to their grandmother, and on the wall are tacked-up photos from a party they attended at West Hollywood’s Soho House. Ask for directions to the bathroom, and they point down the hall and respond in unison: “You see the wood plank on the floor?” Their dad jammed it down there, wedged against an exterior door, to protect them from intruders.
The sisters clearly admire their father, Moti, and often break into impressions of his bad advice and vanity. “Even if it’s just a hobby, like drumming, he thinks he’s the best at it,” says Este, 27, the oldest and tallest with bold, maraschino lips. She adopts a deep Israeli accent and punctuates an impression of their father with a cocksure shrug: “You’re a painter? I paint. I’m like Picasso. I’m better than Picasso.” Once a professional soccer player in Israel, Moti was recruited by an American league and emigrated to Ohio in 1980; he grew restless and made his way to California, where he took up real estate and met their mother, Donna, a folk singer who had reinvented herself as a local disco queen. On their first date, his glassware drumming to the Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” won her over; instead of a first dance at their wedding, they performed a first duet. A few years and daughters later, their home was full of instruments, and when the cover band they had formed with another couple broke up, they gave the girls free rein over the gear. Four-year-old Alana, the youngest with wide cheeks and a sharp chin, took up calamitous percussion, while their mother taught three-chord guitar versions of Joni Mitchell songs to Este and Danielle, the shy middle child, now 24, with Haim’s darkest hair and most severe stare. When Danielle proved a more adept student of guitar, their dad moved Este to bass, figuring its fewer number of strings would make for easier lessons. Moti drummed, and Donna strummed and sang lead until the sisters were old enough to remember the lyrics.
In 2004, Rockinhaim played a show in nearby Sherman Oaks. After, a woman app-roached Este and Danielle and invited them to come play in the Valli Girls, a band of teenagers she had assembled. (Alana, then 12, says she was too young.) “She said there was a deal on the table from Columbia,” Danielle says. “We were like, We want to play music, we want to be signed. We had never played without our parents before.” Columbia’s Valli Girls press release describes Este—then 17 with an ungainly, top-heavy mullet—as “in-your-face” and “boy crazy”; Danielle was assigned blue and white hair extensions, which she chopped off the same night they were installed. Though writing and recording had oddly been completed before the sisters joined, they co-starred in a number of music videos, including the pop-punk theme to the Trollz doll TV show (sample lyric: Conquer evil, then go shopping) and “Born to Lead,” a Destiny’s Child knockoff sponsored by CosmoGIRL. Soon after their appearance at the 2005 Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards, drowning in the inanity of prefab pop, Este and Danielle pulled out of their contracts.
When the sun comes out, the three sisters drive 10 miles south to Café Stella, a chic French spot with an adobe patio tucked into Sunset Junction. In the LA sun, all three are fair. The stereo in Este’s Honda Accord is busted—“It feels like a part of me is broken. I have dreams about it,” she says—so in its place, they gradually work their way into song. First, Danielle and Alana quietly hum the nonsense notes of children playing alone in the garden. Soon, prompted by god knows what, they all suddenly shout a line by 2 Chainz: She got a big booty, so I call her Big Booty. Este takes off on a medley of Disney songs, with Alana singing doting backup and Danielle drumming hard on her black-jeaned thighs. Este has a particular flair for songs with French accents, sharply enunciating the subtle intonation of lines like, Be our guest, oui, our guest. All three sisters attended LA County’s High School for the Arts, but Este is the lone theater kid, the winner at 16 of best female monologue in the city. Back then, she dreamed of acting on Saturday Night Live. “Now,” she says, “I just want to play on Saturday Night Live.”
Inside a Burbank studio, they’re rerecording vocals to their first-ever single, “Forever,” originally released 15 months prior. Perennially of-the-moment producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has bridged indie and major label sounds through recent work with Vampire Weekend and Usher, mans a big iMac. He has a scraggly nest of orange hair and large, protruding ears that, like the tubular snout of an anteater, suggest an inborn gift for his craft. Alone in the adjacent booth, over a pre-recorded foundation of her own muted guitar, Danielle fumbles a tricky vocal run, overstressing her Ts: So come on, baby/ Trigger the sound, let’s figure it out/ Let’s get back to where we started out. “It just sounds like you’re thinking about it,” Rechtshaid consoles her in a forgiving, encouraging hush. “Don’t worry about it. You’re doing good. Just try again.”
Danielle describes Haim’s writing process, to which all three contribute equally, like putting together Mr. Potato Head, part by part. And like the sisters’ preference for looks that blend thrifted clothes with high fashion—say, a ragged Dallas Cowboys T-shirt under a studded suede vest dyed the color of night sky—the end product is a stylistic patchwork of ’70s rock, ’80s pop and ’90s R&B. A new track, “Edge,” features an opening bit suited for the soundtrack to Top Gun, with Danielle singing over a soft synth pad, clusters of toms and tittering hats and bells. Este takes the bass for a walk and comes home to a canned breakdown that sounds like drums spilling from a tunnel, and the song opens to reveal a funky oasis. Haim has got hooks upon hooks, but their lyrics on breakups and get-togethers are rarely witty. Thankfully, they’ve got strange enough voices to carry them. Danielle employs a decidedly retro honk and punch, presumably guided by the Rockinhaim cover songs chosen by their parents. Sometimes at shows now, mom and dad will come out for an encore to play “Mustang Sally.” It’s like the physical manifestation of Haim’s secret weapon: they’re wholesome.