Whatever intent the group Haim may have had in titling its third album “Women in Music Pt. III,” it seems as if the Grammy Awards took that not just as a description but a command. In one of the two categories Haim is nominated in, rock performance, all six nominees have something in common that, collectively, makes for a historic moment.
“We’re so happy to see that everybody nominated in the rock performance category as a woman. It’s fucking awesome,” says Alana Haim, one of three sisters that make up the band. “For us from the jump, if we could get one girl to pick up a guitar, pick up the bass, pick up the drums or any instrument, feel comfortable and just be like, ‘I’m in the rock fucking community’ — we’ve always felt like that’s the most important thing.”
Haim’s competition in the rock performance category consists of Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, Brittany Howard, Grace Potter and the female-fronted Big Thief. That’s notable for a genre and category that usually skews heavily male, to say the rocking least. (It’s not the only instance of a gender imbalance being reversed with the 2021 Grammy noms. All five of the nominees for best country album are women, too, another historic first.)
“Growing up, sometimes it wasn’t okay for girls to pick up instruments,” says Alana, a guitarist and keyboard player in the combo. “People thought that girls didn’t belong in the rock categories. Girls don’t play rock music…”
“And clearly they do!” nearly shouts Este Haim, the bass player of the group. “We’ve been here for the job. And now that everyone that’s nominated in rock performance is a woman, that means so much to us. It’s fucking incredible.”
Haim is also in the presence of some strong women in an even more prominent category in which they’re contending: the top all-genre album of the year prize. Although that club doesn’t skew exclusively female like the other, there, they’re in the company of former tourmate Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Jhené Aiko, along with Post Malone, Black Pumas, Jacob Collier and Coldplay.
Truth be told, it’d be easy to imagine Haim submitted or accepted in any of three categories their three records realistically straddle — rock, pop or alternative. They embrace the blur but knew where they wanted to be when it came to the Grammys.
“We never really fit a genre, but I will say that we’re a fucking rock band,” says Alana, repeating the phrase for emphasis. “We’re a touring rock band, and we’ve always felt like we were a touring rock band.” Este does chime in, though, with the amorphous obvious: “We can’t really be put in a box, which I think is cool. And clearly we’re doing our own thing and making the music we want to make. What is genre anymore, right?”
When Variety caught up with the sisters via phone late Tuesday, they were indulging in another pastime that transcends genre or gender: celebratory consumption. “I started on tequila and moved on to whiskey, so let’s see how my hangover is tomorrow,” said Danielle, the group’s singer, guitarist and sometimes drummer. Countered Este: “I’ve just been staying on tequila. I don’t mix. I just stay with the good stuff.”
That “Women in Music Pt. III” would make the cut in the album of the year category, a first for a female group, may come as a surprise to almost everyone but those who’ve heard it. One of 2020’s best by plenty of subjective standards, It’s a satisfyingly sprawling collection that picks up on the sisters’ interest in everything from their classic Fleetwood Mac influences to modern electro-pop, with an introspective tone that isn’t necessarily at odds with their musical sense of play.
Ironies exist aplenty for an album that, as they said in a Variety profile earlier this year, came out of a season of depression or feelings of isolation the sisters were sharing in their own individual ways — which makes it the perfect album to share in a communal quarantine. Also, though, they always imagined it being played on tour, not in fans’ home echo chambers.
Asked if they ever imagined album of the year Grammy recognition, Danielle says: “Fuck no. Honestly, for us making this album, we really just went into it because we just had so much to talk about. It was really like more of a version of therapy for us. Making it, the only thoughts that were going through our mind were: ‘What is going on in our brains?’ And: ‘How are we going to tour this album?’ Those were the two main things. I mean, we’re a rock band, and that’s why we couldn’t wait to tour this album. And because of COVID, we couldn’t. But we just had a lot to talk about after touring for over 10 years. And we came together and made this record and never thought anything of it, other than the fact that, shit, we have a lot of things to get off our minds. So that was really the vibe of this record.”
For the honor, “We’re just thankful,” Danielle says. “Putting out a record is such a scary experience just in the sense of, okay, all these people now are going to be listening to a record about our post-tour depression.”
“All of our most innermost thoughts and feelings just out there,” agrees Este. “It was definitely an exercise in trust. Truthfully, it was really cathartic. And after we were going through bouts of depression and insecurity and a whole host of health issues and everything else that was happening when we were making this record, to now have it not just out in the world but for it to be recognized in this way, it’s truly surreal. We don’t have the words to truly capture how we feel. I woke up to this news and I felt like I was on drugs. It’s mind blowing for us. And at the same time, to be able to do this as a family, also, and to call our parents — you know, our mom was crying. It really means so much to us to be recognized in this way. We’re truly humbled and it’s truly fucking crazy.”
“For us growing up, I think there were definitely records that we gravitated for more than others,” she says — “you know, the Joni Mitchells and the Stevie Nicks-es and the Chaka Khans of the world. They really sang and wrote about loneliness and love and loss in such an incredibly personal way that it made us feel less alone. That’s something that we’ve always strived to do, and I don’t know if we’ve ever known how to make music in any other way, but to be personal. Especially in a time like this, when everyone’s so isolated, and it’s harder to feel connected to people… if we can do that in any way, shape or form for anyone during this crazy time, I think that’s all we really wanted to do. But we didn’t know that that was going to happen when we were making the record. We were just talking about our feelings of isolation and depression for a multitude of reasons.”
They are eager to break quarantine for the Grammys. “We definitely want to perform” on the telecast, Este affirms, “and you can quote us on that. Any excuse to perform —but this seems like a great one. Get us on the stage.”