Right now, Este, Danielle and Alana Haim, from Los Angeles, are three of the hottest names in pop, rock and r&b (and their sound is a blend of pop, rock and r&b — imagine Fleetwood Mac jamming with Destiny’s Child).
Their band, Haim (Hebrew for “life”) was recently judged by music industry taste-makers to be the best new one around, beating the 14 other contenders to win the BBC Sound of 2013 poll, an accolade previously afforded to Adele, Jessie J and Keane. The group — who played their first ever show at a kosher deli in Hollywood, for which they were paid in matzah ball soup, and who once considered calling themselves The Bagel Bitches — are certainly the hottest new all-Jewish sister act on the planet.
Haim, who have already played live with Mumford & Sons and opened for Florence and the Machine, are also earning a reputation for rock ’n’ roll hi-jinks and pleasure-seeking on the road. Even music paper NME, accustomed to wild behaviour, followed them on tour recently and were taken aback by their antics. And they seemed like such nice Jewish girls.
“I’d say we’re pretty religious,” insists Danielle, however. “And we don’t play gigs on Shabbas.”
Danielle is the middle Haim girl at 23 — Este is 26 and Alana, 21. None of the daughters of Mordechai Haim, their Israeli father, had a batmitzvah — because, explains Danielle, “where my dad is from, the women don’t read from the Torah” — but they did all have coming-of-age parties. Growing up in the suburban San Fernando Valley, in a sizable Jewish community, Danielle recalls: “I went to a lot of bar- and batmitzvahs — in fact, I went to one every weekend when I was that age.” The Haims attended the LA County High School for the Arts, the same “fame school” as singer-songwriter Josh Groban and actress Jennifer Elfman.
Their parents are both estate agents with some experience in entertainment. Mum Donna showed real promise as a singer, winning The Gong Show (America’s equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent). Unfortunately, her parents pushed her to become a teacher, perhaps why Donna and Mordechai, in contrast, have always supported their daughters’ desire to pursue careers as musicians.
So Mordechai paid for music lessons and the girls became proficient on a variety of instruments. The logical next step was to form a band. But one that would feature all of them, including mum and dad? Well, it worked for von Trapps.
“I was 10 and on vocals and lead guitar,” reminisces Danielle. “Este was on bass and Alana, then only seven, played everything from piano to timbale. Mum was on rhythm guitar and dad was on drums. We would play county fairs and street fairs all over California. It was what kept our family together.”
To begin with, they called themselves The Mummys and the Daddys (a play on ’60s harmony group The Mamas and the Papas) and then Boomerang, because the Haims would cover a lot of the classic rock — The Rolling Stones, Billy Joel and Santana — that was then coming back in fashion. Finally, they settled on Rockinhaim. Donna coined the phrase “The Partridge Family of the Millennium” to describe themselve.
“People compared us a lot to The Partridge Family,” says Danielle of the early ’70s fictional TV family-cum-pop group fronted by pretty boy David Cassidy. “There were definite similarities. We had a van and we’d drive round LA, putting on shows, playing cover versions of rock hits. It was fun, but a little dorky.”
After several years playing second fiddle to mum and dad, the girls took the tough decision to give their folks the elbow because they wanted to move away from golden oldies towards the new harmony pop of r&b girl groups such as TLC and En Vogue.
“We started to write our own songs and decided we needed a new drummer,” says Danielle. “We were, like: ‘Sorry dad, we should probably get a drummer our own age’. He understood, although he does give us guilt for it, in a playful way.”
When they first went out on their own, the girls were so young, laughs Danielle, that “we couldn’t even get into the clubs we were playing.”
But it was not until they hooked up with producer Ludwig Göransson that Haim achieved their dream fusion of winsome country-pop and shiny r&b. “We always wrote percussively — even our melodies are very rhythmic,” says Danielle, who in her spare time plays guitar on tour with Julian Casablancas of The Strokes and Cee-Lo Green.
She explains that Haim’s debut EP, Forever, which came out last year, took months to record because they each only had two hours a day to finish it — Alana was still working as a nanny and Este as a waitress.
She is still not sure what to call Haim’s musical hybrid, and laughs at the suggestion of “folk&b”.
“I don’t mind people calling it whatever they want,” she says, “but it’s probably best to say pop-rock r&b.”
Danielle mishears when I ask what it is like to be in such a sought-after band, and thinks I am questioning their druggy credentials (“The world’s highest band? Oh, the hottest!”). She believes people are making such a fuss about them because they are so relieved to see a girl group where the females in question do not just stand there and sing.
“They see that we play our instruments very seriously,” she says. “It feels lame to say that out loud, but that’s something they respect and admire.”
Despite being cruelly dumped from their ranks, Donna and Mordechai still join their daughters on-stage during shows even now that they are becoming famous. Theirs is a family affair — the girl’s grandmother even jetted in from Israel to watch them supporting Florence and the Machine at the O2 in London.
Now all Danielle’s got to do to make them proud is find a nice Jewish boy. How about Drake? She virtually faints at the mention of the hip-hop heartthrob.
“Oh, don’t even get me started,” she sighs. “I have my eye on him.” Sadly, there is a hitch. She is already hitched. “Actually,” she says, as though suddenly remembering. “I’m in a very happy relationship.”