How Haim's Three Geeky Sisters Became the Year's Coolest New Band

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The next day, the sisters converge around a corner table at Little Dom's, an old-Hollywood-style Italian restaurant in Los Feliz, for brunch. The tour has been going well. They went thrift shopping in Lawrence, Kansas; hung out at a 2,300-acre pecan farm near El Paso, Texas; took a Segway tour of D.C. On the road, they peruse Chowhound for foodie recommendations and kill time watching Selena and A Goofy Movie over and over. "I've cried watching A Goofy Movie on planes," Danielle says. "Make sure you see the original and not the sequel, though," Alana warns. "It's awful. Pauly Shore is in it."

They've just finished giving their order when a burly fortysomething in a check shirt approaches the table. He introduces himself as Chris. "I'm taking my daughter to your show tomorrow night for her birthday," Chris says. He hands Danielle a copy of the Days Are Gone CD liner notes and a Sharpie.

"Do you carry around our CD all the time?" Alana asks. She and her sisters, grinning, give their autographs. "Well, uh, I'm a fan, too," Chris replies a little bashfully.

"This is the first time anyone's ever done this to us," Este says. "We'll look out for you guys in Pomona!"

The guy leaves. "Did you just say Pomoda?" Alana asks Este.

The first instrument any of the Haim sisters learned was the drums. Their dad had a kit set up in the living room, and he'd put his daughters on his lap and teach them to bash. He soon assigned each child a different instrument, enlisted Donna, and Rockinhaim were born. They were a cover band, partial to classic rock and funk. Danielle was good at guitar early on; Este wasn't, so Mordechai, thinking that four strings might be easier, "bought me this shitty Fender Jazz Precision bass for $50," Este recalls. "I was like, 'This is the coolest thing ever.'" All three sisters took piano lessons, learning to read music.

In 2005, Danielle and Este briefly joined a prefab pop-rock act called the Valli Girls, landing a song on the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants soundtrack. They're only faintly embarrassed by this – it wasn't their dream sound, but they've always adored pop. In 2007, inspired by acts like the Strokes, and Phoenix, the sisters played their first show as Haim at a weird museum in the Valley. "Looking back to our early songs, everything was percussive," Danielle says. "That's how we wrote. We like rhythm. It's all these parts interlocking." Danielle began using her voice, deep and rich, as another percussive element, punctuating melodies with staccato phrasing and Michael Jackson-style exhalations.

Hollywood was just over the hill, but a music-business breakthrough seemed a universe away. Este worked as a hostess at a Cheesecake Factory ("I made bank on Valentine's Day") and got her real-estate license. It was Danielle who finally made inroads into the L.A. scene, playing at a jam session in Laurel Canyon that Jenny Lewis attended. This led eventually to a guitarist spot in Lewis' touring band. Around this time, Danielle began dating a local musician named Blake Mills, who played with Dawes, toured with Lewis, and today collaborates closely with Fiona Apple. Julian Casablancas came to a Lewis show and wound up hiring her for his touring band. Haim, meanwhile, persisted in the crevices. Finally, Casablancas gave the sisters some advice: Stop gigging so much, write some stronger songs and make a great recording, since these days people encounter new music online.

Haim took a year off to write, crowding into the Venice apartment Danielle was renting and fooling around with a used Yamaha drum machine and GarageBand. "That was the turning point," says Danielle. "We could fuck around with samples; I could plug in my guitar." Hip-hop and R&B influences crept in, augmenting tricks swiped from Eighties rock. Many of the songs from Days Are Gone sprang from this period, and the sisters began playing live again. Their music made its way to Florence Welch, who invited them to open in London; after this came arena dates around the world with the Mumfords.

Haim made the album in gaps between shows, working at Rechtshaid's studio and, after they landed a major-label deal, at big-bucks rooms like Sunset Sound. Their arena gigs help explain the heft of their recorded sound, and the experience taught them to perform bigger, too: mugging for the cheap seats, breaking into synchronized routines. "In small venues, you don't have to do much for it to seem like a big gesture," Alana says. "On a stage as big as a house, you have to do more."

"We haven't bought our CD yet," Danielle says. "Wanna come to Amoeba with us?"

Este's 2000s-era Honda Accord is parked around the corner from the restaurant. We pile in, and she rolls down the windows. Alana, sitting shotgun, finds a station playing "Don't You Want Me" by the Human League and cranks it up. The sisters don't merely sing along, but act out the lyrics with elaborate head shakes and hand signals. When Nelly's "Ride Wit Me" comes on, they do the same, but with more finger pistols. When the opening notes of "Hotel California" ring out, they scream "Nooo!" and change the station. "That was a Rockinhaim staple," Danielle explains. "We love the Eagles, except for that song."

At Amoeba, they hunt down the "H" section, find the plastic divider marked "Haim" and pose for a grinning picture in front of it. Alana tweets out the image to her 50,000 followers, adding the hashtags #WTF and #biglifemomment.

Only one thing could make the moment any sweeter. "Oh, shit!" Alana cries out. She's just noticed the price sticker on the CD. "It's a dollar off!"

This story is from the November 21st, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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