We’ve Got A File On You: Danielle Haim
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
Back in June, HAIM released their third album, Women In Music Pt. III. It was a long wait for the album, preceded by a string of singles stretching back to last year. When it arrived, it was worth it. Women In Music Pt. III is an endlessly relistenable collection featuring both surprisingly raw, rough-shod takes on HAIM’s Southern California rock and a bunch of muscular, insanely catchy but lowkey synth-driven tracks. It’s one of the best albums of 2020, an album that’s full of brightness and comfort in a total hell year.
While Women In Music Pt. III exceeded and/or confounded some expectations, we at least figured it was going to be a slick and infectious pop album. The Haim sisters, after all, are a special case: Consummate professional entertainers after a youth spent honing their chops, an organism of three minds and voices that seems to just toss off one perfect melody after another, a band that manages to seamlessly blend multiple eras of classic pop and rock all at once. This is stuff they’ve perfected over all the years spent making their way into the music industry.
Danielle Haim, in particular, cut her teeth early. When the sisters were still figuring out what HAIM could be, Danielle found herself touring with Julian Casablancas and Jenny Lewis in their respective bands. From there it’s more or less been a nonstop ascension for HAIM. Ever since their debut album Days Are Gone appeared in 2013, the trio have collaborated and cameo’d all over the place. Everyone loved that album, and it seemed like everyone loved hanging out with HAIM.
As a result, Danielle Haim has crammed a lot into the last seven years. On a Zoom call from her Los Angeles home one recent afternoon, Haim took us through all different corners of her career, from obscure comedy bits to sharing the stage with the legends that inspired the band to working with famous directors, and everything else in between.
Making Videos With Paul Thomas Anderson (2017-2020)
STEREOGUM: There aren’t a lot of artist-director relationships I can think of that are quite as ongoing or fruitful — or, you know, at least not with people like Paul Thomas Anderson. How did you first meet?
DANIELLE HAIM: We first met because our mutual friend Asa Taccone texted us one day and was like, “Hey, I was just at a party with Paul Thomas Anderson and he wanted me to give you his email.” The weird thing is: The first job our mom got when she came to LA from Philly was as a teacher’s assistant at a school that happened to be the school Paul went to for elementary school. My mom actually taught Paul art when he was probably six or seven. Whenever there’d be like Magnolia on TBS, my mom would be like, “I taught the director of this movie!” We’d be like, “Yeah, right Mom.” We ended up watching his movies all the time as kids.
When we got this random text from our friend saying hey email PTA we were like, “What the fuck, this is so random.” Obviously we’re such huge fans of Maya [Rudolph] too. We spent like an hour crafting this email. We met up with them, and the whole way there we were like, “Do we… mention that Mom was his teacher?” Because another sidenote, our mom would always tell us how he was the most rambunctious kid and she would tie him to the chair because he’d always be running around. So we were wondering like, what if he hated Mom? So we decided no, that’s creepy, that’s weird, let’s not go there. And then of course we got to his house and it was word vomit like, “Our mom taught you!” He was like, “What?” But yeah, we kind of became friends. Their family’s magical.
I think it was like a year later and we were trying to come up with some ideas for Something To Tell You. I feel like making videos as an artist is so hard. At least that was our experience before we started working with Paul and Jake [Schreier]. The process is: You get these treatments from people you don’t really know, and it’s like this moodboard. You’re like, “Is this what it’s going to look like?” We always found that process really, really tough. I think for every music video we came up with the concept and tried to find a director and it was just really stressful. So whenever we get to work with Paul, there’s so much trust there. It’s a pretty great collaboration.
STEREOGUM: To an outsider, it feels like there’s a very casual LA language to those videos — like, even small things like a car wash or the diners. I was wondering if there’s anything conscious behind that, besides the fact that you’re literally filming these in LA. Just the idea that you’re such an LA band and he’s such an LA filmmaker.
HAIM: We’re both from the San Fernando Valley, which is like — anytime I meet anybody from there, you have that connection in a way. It’s definitely not a conscious thing. Honestly, every video we’ve done with Paul there’s been no more than four days of prep. It’s very last minute. Like, “Summer Girl” was us having this song in June. We were finishing up the song, the bridge wasn’t even written, and we were showing it to Paul. Rostam was like, “We need to put this out, it’s summer! We’re not going to wait a year!” Paul loved it, and the first thing he said, “It feels like when you’re in the Valley and it’s the summer and you see a pool in the distance and you’re just ripping off your clothes so you can jump in because it’s so hot.”
That’s usually what it is. We’ll be talking and he’ll just come up with this idea. Because, I mean, he’s a genius. And it’s just like, “Yes, that!” The next day it’s like, “OK, let’s meet here.” He said, “Why don’t we start in the studio?” I found out it was the first day Conor [Oberst] was using Vox Studios to record the new Bright Eyes album. I know him a little bit so I texted him like, “Hey, can we pop in real quick?” We had no permits. [When we were filming the “Man In The Magazine” video at] Canter’s — everyone who works there is amazing, so I literally called Alex Canter like, “Can we come in right now?” It’s so last minute, but it’s also fun that way. I think we like working that way. Even in the studio, everything’s off the cuff.
STEREOGUM: Now your sister’s also in his new movie, which I guess is fitting since it’s set in the Valley. Have you been able to go visit her on set?
HAIM: I’m not really allowed to — you know, COVID protocol is very intense. I don’t really know what’s going on over there.
Playing In Jenny Lewis’ Band And Julian Casablancas’ Band (2009-2010), Performing On Jenny Lewis’ On The Line Variety Show And Covering “Under Pressure” With The Voidz (2019)
STEREOGUM: So before HAIM took off, you played in Jenny Lewis and Julian Casablancas’ bands. I didn’t realize this until recently, but I think I actually saw you play with Julian back then.
HAIM: I was the biggest Rilo Kiley fan and the biggest Strokes fan when I was 14. If you had told me, “You’re going to play in these bands in four years” … I don’t even know what I would’ve done. Truly two of my favorite bands when I was really getting into music in my teenage years. It was mind-blowing, I had to keep my cool. I did an interview where I basically divulged my love for Jenny but I had never really told her that much — because, I don’t know, I didn’t know what to do. Obviously she’s the best, and we’re friends. But when I was on her tour bus, I don’t think she knew how much Rilo Kiley meant to me as a teen. Not to be creepy. But yeah, it was a mind-blowing experience, I learned so much.
STEREOGUM: Then you wound up playing her own song to her on her listening party thing.
HAIM: Yeah, she came to my birthday and we all got wasted and came back over to my house. Whenever there’s a guitar or something at a party I run away. I can’t do that. But there happened to be a guitar out so people started playing songs, and my friend Grover — I don’t know how it happened but we started singing Rilo Kiley songs. I sang “With Arms Outstretched” to Jenny and she was like, “Oh, OK Danielle I didn’t know you knew that song.” Which then prompted her to be like, “Now that I know you know my stuff, can you be on my On The Line performance and sing one of my songs?” I was like, “Sure! Of course!” [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: You also linked back up with Julian, singing “Under Pressure” with the Voidz.
HAIM: Oh, God. I did do that. I did do that.
STEREOGUM: When you were first going back to HAIM after those stints, did you feel like you had a bit of wind in your sails?
HAIM: Oh, yeah. Looking back… We didn’t know anything. Our plan was to just play out — we never headlined a show in LA. That never even clicked. We just opened for our friends, we reached out to venues on Myspace, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We just thought, “One day we’re going to play in a club and some music business guy is gonna see us and sign us.” That’s what we thought! We played a couple times a month wherever we could get a gig. So, yeah, going out on tour and seeing like, what a manager was. Simple things about the business. Playing in other cities. We had never done that as HAIM. Julian actually randomly asked us if we’d want to open up for him during part of the US tour. That was one of the first times we made it out of LA as HAIM.
And again, I learned so much. I was obsessed with how Is This It sounded. Julian told me some great tips. He was like, “You really need to get a great recording.” And I knew that, but I didn’t know how. He was like “Use a lot of room mics” and I was like “Room mics, what are room mics?” But when I got back from the Julian tour and I did some writing with him and the Voidz — this must’ve been summer 2010? In New York. I was just really inspired. I was like, “We need to figure our shit out.” He told me to stop playing so many times a month and focus on recording.
Singing “Rhiannon” At Stevie Nicks’ House (2014)
STEREOGUM: Julian and Jenny are people who are a little bit older who sort of became peers you could look up to. But in terms of meeting heroes, it seemed like very quickly HAIM wound up around a lot of people. In 2014, you met with Stevie Nicks, which seems like a particularly big deal.
HAIM: We got a call, “They want you to interview Stevie Nicks.” We were like, “What? Uh, sure?” There was a journalist there, I guess the idea was we were just going to have a conversation with her. We didn’t know what to expect. We got to her house and the first thing we see is Stevie coming down her staircase with like an iPod boombox on her shoulder and she’s blasting our song “Go Slow.” Like, this is some other shit.
We’ve spent years idolizing her and my dad, always when we were kids, would say, “Listen to her voice! It’s an incredible voice!” We were just starstruck the whole time. I don’t even remember what we asked her, but I think at the end of the interview she was like, “Look at my piano.” I think she started singing “Rhiannon” and we came in and I think this journalist had it on her recorder and released it? I’m glad I can revisit that magical moment.
STEREOGUM: I didn’t realize that was just like, a leaked recording.
HAIM: It wasn’t a professional situation, it was very off the cuff. It was just like, “OK, we know this song, we’ll come in.” Like, what else are you supposed to do?
Appearing In The Documentary Now! Episode “Gentle & Soft: The Story Of The Blue Jean Committee” (2015)
STEREOGUM: HAIM is in this Documentary Now! spoof as the young paragon of California music. You’re sort of playing the straight characters, as if you’re in a real documentary.
HAIM: We were such huge SNL fans. Este growing up wanted to be Gilda Radner, or Molly Shannon. We would watch it all the time, all the reruns. Our true dream was to play SNL.
We were on tour and we were playing Portland and the whole day we were making Portlandia jokes. We were like, “This is so cool, we’re in Portland, one day we’ll meet Fred Armisen!” We finished our show and there was a knock on our door. There had been rumblings, “We put you forth for SNL.” We thought, that’s never gonna happen. So we’re celebrating after the show and we open the door and it’s Fred Armisen. He was like, “Oh, I just missed your show, I really wanted to see it. Congrats about SNL.” We were like, “…What?” That’s how we found out we were playing SNL. In our minds we thought SNL sent out old cast members to tell [bands they were playing]. [Laughs]
Anyway, that’s when we first met him. I think he texted us about being a part of this Blue Jean Committee thing and we said absolutely, please, so stoked to do it. I think he might’ve mentioned it was based on these big rock docs. I love the Petty one, I love the Eagles one. So I think we just imagined we were in one of those docs.
STEREOGUM: What was that first time playing SNL like?
HAIM: We were just so nervous. We had been on tour in Europe with Phoenix and had to fly into New York. I remember being nervous, hoping I could sing OK. When it comes to playing shows, I don’t get nervous at all. When it comes to playing live, I’m just excited to get out there. But playing SNL, when that red light goes on… I really tried to be present, but I was freaking out.
Ending Up Onstage With Prince At SNL’s 40th Anniversary Afterparty (2015)
STEREOGUM: There’s another SNL video, this insane afterparty where you were up onstage with Prince.
HAIM: That night was crazy. Honestly, when we got the invitation we didn’t understand what it was. We didn’t understand they were inviting us to come see the show, we just thought it was a party. But no, we were in the audience. We sat in front of the Backstreet Boys. That was the first thing that was nuts.
But yeah, the party was insane. There was this setup of all these instruments and legends — Paul McCartney, everyone — and they were all going up to play a song. We were just in awe the whole night. Again, going back to Maya — one of the many things Maya and my sisters and I have bonded on is our love of Prince. She and Este can talk for hours about Prince. We’ve been deep, deep, deep fans since we were kids. I think at one point we got so drunk, and the performances were kinda dwindling after two hours of people going up and jamming. We were talking to Maya like, “Should we play a Prince song?” and she’s like, “Sure! Let’s go!”
So we saunter onstage — again, wasted — and I start to put a guitar on. I think we were going to do “When You Were Mine.” The crowd had dispersed, no one was actually paying attention, but Jimmy Fallon, who was kind of the host of this jam, comes up onstage and I thought, “Oh, maybe Jimmy’s going to sing with Maya and we’ll be the backing band.” And he goes: “There’s a rumor. That Prince. Is in the building.” I thought it was a bit. Like, oh Maya’s Prince, how did he know we were going to play a Prince song? Then: “If Prince is in the building, come to stage right now.” I was laughing to myself, tuning the guitar or whatever.
Then the audience parts — like the seas part, literally. And Prince and 3rdeyegirl start to walk on to the stage. I immediately throw the guitar off, like, why am I even up here? But it was amazing timing because we got to be onstage when Prince did “Let’s Go Crazy.” We could’t believe the timing of everything. It was wild.
STEREOGUM: Did you get to talk to him after?
HAIM: No, just like that, poof, he was gone.
Funny Or Die “Why You’ve Never Met The Fourth HAIM Sister” Sketch With Brie Larson (2017)
HAIM: We knew Brie for a while. She was part of our musical LA crew, she was dating one of our friends at the time. We kinda came up, as sisters, with the idea [for the sketch] and asked her if she’d want to be in it. She said yeah, and then we were like, we’re not directors, how do we do a sketch? Este ended up asking D’Arcy [Carden] to help out to do this short. They wrote a script, they got a crew together.
STEREOGUM: Oh, so you sort of pitched it to Funny Or Die. It’s kinda interesting you say that, because it’s like, there’s this recurring thing of the fourth sister. It’s the premise here, it’s a joke online, it comes up in the Vanessa Bayer Sound Advice bits you did. Why is everybody so obsessed with there being a fourth Haim?
HAIM: [Laughs] I have no idea. That’s how we came up with the idea for Frime Haim. We were trying to come up with ideas for the Something To Tell You era and that was one idea, “Let’s find the fourth Haim.”
STEREOGUM: Did this put it to rest? Did people stop asking about a fourth sister?
HAIM: Ummm. No, I don’t know. No.
Appearing In The Lonely Island’s Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience (2019)
STEREOGUM: Like we said, with Documentary Now! you were kind of playing it straight. This is not that. You are in an IHOP parking lot with Maya telling them to shake their nasty butts.
HAIM: That was the Lonely Island, Akiva [Schaffer] and Jorma [Taccone] and Andy [Samberg], they had this idea. I can’t remember if Maya put us all in touch. But Asa, the guy who put us in touch with Paul originally, is Jorma’s brother. They asked us if we wanted to be a part of it and, of course.
STEREOGUM: What was filming it like?
HAIM: I think Este and Maya came up with the choreography. We practiced it a couple times and then shot it. It took like, a day. It was super fun.
Collaborating With Charli XCX For “Warm” (2019), Drumming On Songs For Tobias Jesso, Jr. And Brandon Flowers (2015)
STEREOGUM: HAIM have had a million musical collaborations over the years, and we certainly don’t have time to get through all of them. But I wanted to highlight this one with Charli from last year. I feel like you and she came up around the same time, this kind of new era of pop. It seemed cool you wound up working with her all these years later.
HAIM: We’ve known Charli for a long time because Ariel [Rechtshaid] did a lot on True Romance. I was a huge fan of the stuff they did together. I felt like we were kindred spirits for sure. We’ve kept in touch, we have a lot of the same friends. When she asked us to collab with her it was a no-brainer.
STEREOGUM: And that was actually in the studio?
HAIM: Yeah, she had some dental work on the day we were getting together to work on the song. She sent me the track — she had her part written, and she was like, “Let me know if this is something you’d be into.” We wrote our part in the studio with her after she had this dental work. [Laughs] But yeah, a huge reason I wanted to work with Ariel was because I heard “Nuclear Seasons.” It was that, the Cass [McCombs] record and then like “Climax,” and I was like “Who is this producer and are they reading my diary?”
STEREOGUM: Was he also the reason you ended up playing drums for Tobias Jesso Jr. and Brandon Flowers on their albums?
HAIM: Yes. I actually ended up meeting Tobias at a party the night before I was supposed to play drums for him and he was like, “Hey, I’m Tobias, you’re playing drums for me tomorrow.” It was like, “Oh! Crazy!” Super random. I love Tobias. I remember hearing his song “Hollywood” and being super into it so I was like, “Yeah, I’ll hop on the drums.” I mean, playing drums for me, it’s so fun. It’s probably the most joy I have playing an instrument, probably more so than guitar. Anytime I can play drums for anyone I’m like, sure!
Singing On Father Of The Bride (2019)
STEREOGUM: HAIM as a trio have appeared on a lot of songs. But this was almost more akin to you being in Julian’s band, like you temporarily became a part of this Vampire Weekend world. They also happened to be working on Father Of The Bride in your backyard. So is all this stuff kinda happenstance or is there like, a stress relief to being a part of someone else’s vision for a while?
HAIM: Behind The Music was my favorite show. I love seeing other people’s processes. It’s so fun for me. I’m truly enamored by other artists. Being a little fly on the wall is so exciting for me because I think I also learn so much from it. Like, playing in Clairo’s stuff was great. I loved that song when I heard it. Playing on “Sofia” and “Bags,” I remember hearing that stuff and thinking it was amazing. But yeah, again, huge fan of Vampire Weekend and Ezra’s. We’ve gotten closer, I think, over the years. He had this idea for me to guest on a couple songs. I wasn’t going to say no, you know?
U2 Basing “Lights Of Home” Off “My Song 5″ (2017)
STEREOGUM: In 2016 you were invited into the studio to work on some music ideas with U2. What was that day like?
HAIM: We got a call from their manager and it was kind of cryptic. It was like: “Do you want to come to the studio? We have a question to ask you.” First of all, Achtung Baby is one of my favorite albums. I’m still so inspired by it. I’m a huge U2 fan. That was mind-blowing. Going back to Julian, I remember him getting a letter from Bono when we played a festival in Ireland. Like, “Oh, my God! These rock stars are talking to each other!”
But anyway, when we got this call it was shocking. I remember we brought a bunch of food and like, presented it. We didn’t know what do — should we bring dessert or something? We went to meet them and hear this question they had. I think it was a cake. I think we were eating this cake, and the whole band was there, and they asked us, basically, “Hey, look, we wrote a song around one of your guitar parts.” I was like, “What!?” It turned out it was the guitar for “My Song 5.” They were like, “Is that OK? Do you want to be a part of the song? Do you want to sing on it?” Like, yes to all of the above.
They wrote a whole song called “Lights Of Home.” The melody is even the guitar part, which is crazy, to hear Bono sing this little lick I wrote. We spent that night singing on it. They were still figuring it out. Again, being a fly on another artist’s wall — Edge and Bono literally taking a microphone and being like “No, I hear this” or “What if it does this?” It was unbelievable.
Appearing In Thundercat’s “Dragonball Durag” Video (2020)
STEREOGUM: I also did an interview like this with Thundercat this year and we talked about “Dragonball Durag” then, too. This video just cracks me up, like how at the end Este’s going to go off with him.
HAIM: We have a lot of mutual friends with Thundercat. He’s an LA music/jazz staple. We grew up with so many kids who were super into the jazz scene in LA, with Kamasi [Washington] and all that stuff. We’ve known Stephen for a long time and I think he just asked Este if she’d want to the in this video. He came with Zack Fox and literally a little camera and we went into the back of this building and he jumped into the dumpster. We just played out this scene twice. I think it was Zack’s idea like, “Hey, Este, you’re into it.” And she was like “OK!” But that song is so good. It’s one of my favorite songs this year, and that album is one of my favorites this year.
“Rock N Roll Rules” With Ludwig Göransson For Trolls World Tour (2020)
HAIM: So Ludwig made our Forever EP with us. If we hadn’t met him, I don’t know what would’ve happened. I had all these songs on Garageband. We had tried to record like five EPs with our own money, going into these bare studios and bringing all our gear. We couldn’t figure out our recordings. We’d go into a really nice studio for a day and record five songs and we didn’t know what we were doing. I mean, we’re still figuring it out how to get something like it sounds in our heads.
We met Ludwig, and he was this funny Swedish guy who had just graduated USC and was doing the music for Community and he had his own studio. We met up and we’d just go work on shit. He was also working with Childish Gambino, that’s how we met Donald [Glover]. It was amazing to work with him. He produced that whole EP with me. What he’s done with his career is insane. He’s an Oscar winner now. When we heard he was doing Trolls we were like, “Wait, we want to get in on this!” It sounded fun, we hadn’t done something like that before. I kind of bullied him into it. But yeah we went into the studio and wrote that song.
STEREOGUM: In the world of Trolls the rock ’n’ roll trolls are the villains right?
HAIM: [Laughs] Honestly, when we wrote it we weren’t allowed to see the movie. We got like a breakdown of what was happening, but yeah I didn’t know that either. But, cool! I don’t know.