Women of the Year

‘We Play Better Than Most of the Men in Our Industry’

Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim have won awards, sold out arenas, and honed their own sound in rock. But, as friend and fan Maya Rudolph finds out, the trio responsible for some of the most addictive music of the past decade still prize sisterhood above all.
Collina Strada dresses pants. Alana Mondo Mondo bracelet.
Collina Strada dresses, pants. Alana: Mondo Mondo bracelet.Lea Winkler

It’s been nearly a decade since sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim released their debut album, Days Are Gone, and the world fell a little bit in love with three actual Jewish Valley Girls from Los Angeles. “We were babies,” says Alana, who, the youngest at 21, was barely able to order a legal drink at the band’s first shows.

Reminiscing about their start is the only moment the three become slightly contemplative during their hour-long Zoom with friend turned interviewer Maya Rudolph. Otherwise, it’s all energy, all the time, from three of this era’s most beloved rock stars.

Este, Danielle, and Alana write and produce all of their songs, command stadiums filled with tens of thousands of screaming fans, bang on drums so hard it’s reasonable to be concerned about limbs falling off, and pull off guitar riffs that feel straight out of the 1970s. Critics have called their albums “perfect.” Their signature touring uniform is leather pants topped off with bralettes, because why not?

Alana: Oscar de la Renta dress. Este: Erdem dress. Danielle: Dries van Noten coat. Photographed by Lea Winkler; stylist: Sean Knight; hair: Mara Roszak; makeup: Edwin Sandoval; manicures: Emi Kudo; set designer: Kelly Infield; production: Ilona Klaver; location: Hotel Figueroa.Lea Winkler

The sisters coordinate and collaborate in all things, but they’re adamant that they are not the Brady Bunch. (They bicker! They’re human!) Still, protecting and supporting each other are values that have been ingrained in them since birth. Before Radio City Music Hall, before working with Stevie Nicks and Taylor Swift, it was Mordechai and Donna Haim who fostered their love of music—and taught them to band together in the literal sense. The sisters grew up around Donna’s vintage Yamaha guitars and Mordechai’s drum set; the soundtrack to car rides was ’70s rock. Washing dishes took place over disco. In the late ’90s, all five Haims performed as Rockinhaim before the sisters went solo.

Since Days Are Gone, Haim has put out two additional studio albums—Something to Tell You in 2017, and Women in Music Pt. III, whose title is a reclamation of a label that can seem inescapable. The album was released during the peak of the 2020 pandemic, offering a fearless and infectious soundtrack to quarantine life. “Everything that we’ve accomplished has meant way more because we’ve done it together and we’ve done it on our own terms,” says Este. “And if we burn up in flames, we’ll be fine with that because we made our own decisions.”

The decisions have been—according to all public markers—good. This past year Haim sold out Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl, and the O2 Arena in London, their first time playing at the 20,000-person venue since opening for Florence + the Machine back in 2012. They performed at the Grammys and were nominated for album of the year, becoming the first all-female rock group to be nominated for the top prize. Alana starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, which was nominated for three Oscars and earned her endless nominations in her own right. After cowriting the score for Netflix’s award-winning limited series Maid and the Sundance breakout Cha Cha Real Smooth, Este is serving as the musical consultant on season two of HBO’s Emmy-winning series The White Lotus. And Danielle, whose stories include touring with Jenny Lewis’s Rilo Kiley at only 19, are Haim family lore; the sisters are convinced she’ll have a biopic one day. “Danielle’s movie is going to be so fucking crazy,” says Alana.

Here, Este, Danielle and Alana talk to Maya about fake IDs, finding confidence, forging their own path, and well, being women in music. —Caitlin Brody

Danielle Haim, Maya Rudolph, Alana Haim and Este Haim together in Los Angeles in 2018.

Presley Ann/Getty Images

Maya Rudolph: You had this unique, singular upbringing, playing music with your family, and then you transitioned into something on your own. We don’t always do what our siblings are doing. We’re not always following the same paths—the sister thing is rare!

Este Haim: I think it was when we started to write songs. Our parents were never songwriters. In the family band, we never wrote our own music.

Alana Haim: There was the moment we were like, “Okay, if we start writing songs, we are going to just play this as sisters.” It would have felt weird to have Mom and Dad play these songs we just wrote in high school.

Maya: Is it hard to get onstage with your sister sometimes if you’re like, “She’s annoying—she’s really annoying”?

Alana: Honestly, I think when we play, it is so much easier. We had bands with other people. We all played music with other people. It was insanely harder to play with them. We do have a sister telepathy that is a weird sister power. I don’t hear their fucking thoughts, but it is this weird sister thing. We grew up listening to the same music. Danielle and me basically followed Este when it came to pop culture references—everything that she liked, we all three liked.

Louis Vuitton dresses.Lea Winkler

Este: About once a year, I will ask Danielle and Alana, “Did I do a good job?”

Danielle Haim: You did, Este. You did an incredible job.

Este: I’m sorry for the new metal phase. I mean, I’m not sorry that I love new metal, but—

Alana: Don’t apologize. Don’t apologize because, honestly, it’s a layer.

Maya: What does that feel like, to write something and then perform it publicly and have people sing it back? I can’t even imagine what that feels like.

Alana: It’s surreal. Best feeling ever.

Este: Best feeling ever. Super surreal. Also, when we were first writing songs, we would kind of open our journals and go through lyrics and stuff. Danielle would say a line or Alana would say a line, and I’d be like, “Damn, dude, are you okay?”

Do you know what I mean? It was really revealing. We were in these transformative periods of our lives. Danielle was fresh out of high school. Alana was still in high school. All of us were kind of in flux. And we were talking about going to shows together. And then to be able to have these experiences, write them down and then share them with one another—I think also just brought us closer.

Maya: Did it feel natural to write?

Alana: I think writing songs in general is such a vulnerable experience. It just felt like a safe place. If anything, it felt more safe to be with my siblings than to be with other people. With Este and Danielle, it was kind of like, “Let’s just try it, and if it works, that would be cool. And if it doesn’t, we tried.”

Custom tour looks by Louis Vuitton. Danielle and Este's guitars: courtesy of FenderLea Winkler

It was this one summer in 2007 that we were just like, “Let’s try.” We sat and spent a whole summer just playing music, and I think we wrote five songs. And then we got our first gig at the CIA in The Valley, which is the clown museum.

Este: The California Institute of Abnormalarts.

Alana: All our high school friends were there, so it felt like it was the biggest gig of all fucking time. You got a feeling of, “Oh, my God, I think—”

Este: “We’re sick. We’re fucking doing it.”

Alana: And then all our friends graduated and left, and there was this mass exodus to schools in New York. Of course, the next gig we had, I think my parents were the only people in the audience. It was really embarrassing, and nobody showed up for three or four years.

Maya: Really?

Alana: No one came.

Maya: While you guys were talking, I was thinking, too, about how people want to strangle their family members sometimes. We all do. But at the same time, to love something so much and then to love the people you’re doing it with and to want to make sure they’re okay is a different pressure. I just want to point out that it is rare.

Danielle: We’re all human.

Este: Listen, we're not the Brady Bunch, but I think that we’ve learned over time how to kind of defuse situations quickly.

Alana: Well, back to our parents: My parents really instilled this mantra of life that was like, “Look at your siblings. They will always have your back. They will always have, no matter what happens. Life is fucking crazy. But your siblings—they’re your blood, and they will always have your back.” And it worked.

We had curfews, obviously. But if we were together, we could go out a little bit later. Parenting hack! Rules are off when you’re together, so you may as well hang out with each other. And Este got me my first fake ID! My parents knew about it. They were like, “Yeah, we want you to go out with Este.” They’d rather we were going with Este than my friends.

Danielle and Este: Rodarte dresses. Alana: Jonathan Simkhai dress.Lea Winkler
Lea Winkler

Este: Well, they knew that as a diabetic, I couldn’t drink.

Alana: They were like, “Este is Mama Bear.” Este was probably worse than our parents.

Este: All the concerts were in the clubs that were 21 and older, so I was like, “No funny business. We’re here to see the music.”

Alana: Este made me close my mouth because I had braces. I’d say something and she’d be like, “Do not open your mouth.” I think it said I was 29 on my fake ID. I was fully 15.

That’s how Este, Danielle, and I met Jenny Lewis. We went to a free Jenny Lewis show. We were huge Rilo Kiley fans, and we ended up going to some jam afterward. She was there, and she was like, “Who are you girls?”

Este: We were like, “I can’t even believe her talking to us.”

Alana: And then Danielle got to go on tour with her.

Danielle: I was like 19.

Alana: Danielle went off. It was like Waterworld.

Este: She found dry land.

Alana: She came back and was like, “There’s land.”

Este: “There are places outside of LA where people play music.”

Maya: Is that what propelled you into the next stratosphere?

Danielle: I think so. I feel like I just learned so much. We didn’t have a manager at the time. I didn’t even know what a manager was. We just didn’t know shit. So having that experience really taught us so much.

Alana: Danielle really gave both me and Este the confidence to be like, “I think we can do this. I think we should really just really go for it.”

Maya: It’s such a good example of not waiting for things to happen. When I started acting, I used to think I had to wait for people to give me jobs. It took me years to figure out that you could just write your own stuff.

Este: Right? And create your own opportunities.

Alana: Judy Turner dress. Este: Paco Rabanne dress. Danielle: Rodarte dress.Lea Winkler

Maya: It took me a long time to understand that. And I don’t know if it’s just an old-fashioned notion, but you’ve completely blown that apart and created your own thing, and now people follow you. That’s the funny nature of it. And that’s the beauty of it. Not to mention you have to be incredibly talented, which you are. Because if you weren’t, this would be a different conversation.

Alana: The thing that I think that was hard for us to learn was that it’s okay to fail and make the wrong decision. I remember just getting signed was such a big fucking feat. It took us so long, and there were so many times where it just felt like it was never going to happen. You start doubting yourself. The thing that kept us going is we each had each other to be like, “No, we’ve got to keep trudging along on this path.”

It’s okay to say, “I’m learning.” We had absolutely no route and no rule book when it came to getting into this business.

Este: That’s not true. Our rule book was Behind the Music on VH1.

Danielle: That is true. That was our college—Behind the Music.

Maya: I feel sorry for people that didn’t experience Behind the Music.

Alana: What a show.

Maya: I feel like, working in the entertainment industry, there’s always going to be a moment when you’re asked about being a woman in the business. You’re always going to be asked about being a woman in music, being a woman in comedy. It never ends.

When I was at SNL, I was with a large female cast at the time, and there was always a big story about it. And the first question they’d always ask us was, “So is it really a boys’ club there?” And it wasn’t! I realized it was an old story! Wherever that story originated from, it was the story that everyone led with, because that was all they knew.

It occurred to me that we needed a new story. You need to tell a new story. I hated having to have this fucking conversation all the fucking time. But at the same time, I feel like if I can just [answer this question], I can help them progress this story to where I would like it to be.

I don’t think we’re ever going to be in a universe where people aren’t looking at us, like, “Wow, you’re a woman. What’s that like?” Why? I have no idea.

Este: I have no clue.

Alana: Things like that happen still to this day—at least for us. When we were in, I think, Spain, a friend of a friend came to see us play. I was backstage with this man. And there was a language barrier there. So I can’t really pontificate on exactly what he was trying to say, but it was very much along the lines of like, “Wow, you can actually play!”

That comment just never gets old for me. It’s so funny. You’re like, “What?” How do you even respond to that? Again, we’re so lucky that we have each other. When something like that happens, you can’t help but fucking laugh. You’re like, “Yes, I can actually play, because I’m a musician.”

To your point, it’s so tired. It’s so incredibly tired. And I don’t necessarily know what we do about it. That is why we named our album Women in Music: Pt. Three. Danielle had a dream about it, and that’s where it came from.

Este: And not only that, but we also play better than most of the men that are in our industry. There’s a lot of men that we can run circles around.

To your point, Maya, naming our record Women in Music: Pt. Three was our way of rewriting the story. And trying to push the narrative that it’s almost bone-chillingly, clinically insane that this is still what people want to talk about.

Maya: You want to feel that just by not responding, that is enough. Give me a fucking break that I have to even entertain this.

Alana: It’s true. When we talk to other women that are in bands, we all have the same experiences, which is so comforting to know. We’re like, “We’re just going to go play our instruments and do our art. If you want to talk about it, cool. We’ll be onstage.”

Danielle: You’ll get the person who is like, “All right, level with me. So who is playing?” And you’re like, “I am.” And they’re like, “Okay, thank you, but you’re in a safe place here. Who is actually playing?” And you’re like, “I am.

We love changing people, but the fact that we have to change people’s insight is fucking insane. We go onstage like we’re fucking beasts. It’s a powerful thing to be a woman and feel like a fucking beast onstage and feel like you have fireworks shooting out of your guitar. When you’re so passionate about what you do, it doesn’t fucking matter what people say. I don’t give a fuck. I’m going to go play my fucking instrument. Sorry.

Maya: To see you live, it’s electric. It’s almost like “Avengers assemble” when you’re onstage. You all have stage personas, wouldn’t you say? Do you feel like that at all?

Este: We do kind of come onstage like Avengers!

Maya: Is that stage persona important? Is it a layer to protect yourself? Or is it more this is this natural part of you that comes out?

Alana: I feel the most confident ever when I’m onstage. I think that’s the thing. It’s my comfort zone. I still obviously get so nervous before a show, because we do care. We had a teacher who told us, “If you’re nervous, it means you care.” And we care so much about our live show, and we care so much about putting on a good show. When we get onstage, I think we all kind of feel like we’re wearing this armor that we don’t have when we’re walking around or like when I’m at my house in my underwear with zit cream on.

Este: No.

Alana: Onstage, it’s this weird curtain that you go through when you become like this new human. It’s not me. It’s a feeling that I wish I could take off-stage. It’s why I think we love touring so much, because when we’re onstage, yes, it just feels like we’re superheroes.

Este: Putting on an instrument, I think, also feels like armor. I know when I put on my bass, I feel like I can take over the world.

Photographed by Lea Winkler; stylist: Sean Knight; air: Mara Roszak; makeup: Edwin Sandoval; manicures: Emi Kudo; set designer: Kelly Infield; production: Ilona Klaver; location: Hotel Figueroa.

Thank you to the Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles for hosting this shoot. The property originally opened in 1926 as an exclusive women's hostelry, and has recently been remodeled. It offers 268 distinctive guest rooms, art installations from local artists, a stunning pool and intimate private event spaces.