Most people don’t end up on stage much in their lives. You get to be the center of attention just a few times—maybe at your wedding, or a graduation. Maybe you’re particularly skilled at karaoke and get an extra round of applause at a holiday party. Not so for Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim, the trio of sisters who make up California rock group Haim. They’ve grown accustomed to stardom and its often excellently abnormal ways. They have collaborated extensively with Paul Thomas Anderson. They’ve sung with Stevie Nicks. They are fashion week mainstays. On stage, all three share instruments and vocals. At any given moment during a Haim concert, you’ll see at least one very cool Jewish woman banging the shit out of some drums.
Jews, even those who don’t later become rock stars, do get the chance for one extra moment in the spotlight: their bar or bat mitzvah. In the Jewish faith, a bat mitzvah signifies a girl’s transition into womanhood. Traditionally, to signify that growth, on a Saturday morning falling near her 13th birthday, she leads the service at the synagogue in Hebrew. That’s not quite how it went for the Haim sisters, who skipped the religious stuff and went right to the celebration. Alana and Este did, at least—Danielle was too nervous no one would show up and skipped the party, too.
Now, the sisters are gearing up to release Women in Music Pt. III, their third full-length album. They’ve always written catchy rock songs tinted by the California sun, and WIMPIII is no exception. But where they sometimes sounded effortless, they now sound powerful. Drums crash, guitars squeal, saxophones wail. They’ve been known to cover Prince, and the Minnesota icon’s chunky low end is an influence throughout. And some of the R&B they danced to in middle school is, too. It’s impossible for anyone to look back at those teen years without at least a modicum of embarrassment. Was the same true for the Haims? Were the Haim sisters always such chic performers, even at 13? Did they wear YSL and serve fancy hummus? Did the DJ play exclusively French disco? Before they could be Women in Music, the Haims had to become women, with music. Here, they look back at another time of celebration in their lives, one that featured significantly less making out.
GQ: What were your bat mitzvahs like?
Este Haim: My bat mitzvah was in 1999, the year the music video for Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” had come out, and I was like, “I want to have my bat mitzvah at a roller rink.” Turns out the exact roller rink that [Sugar Ray] shot at was in Reseda, deep in the [San Fernando] Valley. I’m sure everyone was like, “Why are we going all the way fucking to Reseda to go to this bat mitzvah?” There was also a music video for “Inside Out” by Eve Six, where there's a girl in roller skates and she's wearing little short shorts, and I told my mom I wanted to wear those hot pants and my mom was like, “That's funny. Not happening. You're wearing overalls.”
Alana Haim: Those overalls were iconic. And I think you had a Blossom hat with a sunflower on it.
Este: My mom let me put on mascara. Big deal.
How many people were there?
Este: They were probably like 50 to 75 kids and then 50 of our family members.
Alana: It was a rager.
Este: My parents ordered a bunch of pizza from Little Caesars and we got a cake from the Jewish bakery around the corner from our house. The game that I remember the most was “Who knows Este best?” We split the roller rink in half and it was like Este’s favorite artist is Fleetwood Mac or Tori Amos? It turned out to be Tori. That's like Sophie's Choice. I remember feeling like such a star at my bat mitzvah. I was like, “I'm going to be the center of attention, I'm going to be doing like triple axels on these roller skates.” But I didn't know how to fucking roller skate. The reason my mom wanted me to wear overalls was because she wanted me to wear kneepads under them, so no one would see.Very smart, but it didn’t do anything. I got home and my knees were completely fucked. I was like a wounded gazelle all week. But you know what? Even years later, my friend Gianna was like, “Your bat mitzvah...that was where I made out with a boy for the first time.”
Alana: So jealous.
Danielle Haim: Never had ever happened to me.
Este: All I ever wanted.
Alana: That was like the ultimate goal. Like, if you make out with someone, you are so tight.
Este: All I wanted to do was make out with a boy at a bat mitzvah. A boy like takes you into a broom closet and you sort of makeout and touch each other for 20 minutes. We never went to, like, Jewish sleepaway camp, because that shit was too expensive, so we never got to do all the shit that all our friends did. The first time I saw boobs that weren't mine was when a bunch of boys brought Playboys to a bar mitzvah. It was a bunch of dudes going, “Look! Oh, oh!” I was like, “Wait, like, I'm right here. This is IRL. These are boobies IRL.”
What did you do?
Este: I think it was more of a flex to be like, “Yo, dude, look what I have on my person right now.” And it was just a bunch of dudes being like “Yeah, that’s the kind of girl I'm gonna marry.” And I was just like, “Well that's not what I have going for me.” As much as bar and bat mitzvahs were fun, I definitely remember a lot of hurt feelings and tears.
Alana: My theory is that how you acted in seventh and eighth grade informs your whole life. I still feel like I'm a seventh grader—I have the confidence of a seventh grader still. To this day, all I want is a dude to make out with me at a bat mitzvah and it just never happened.
So it didn’t happen for you either?
Alana: Not until high school. Late bloomer over here.
Este: I had my first kiss at 16. But I remember seeing people making out at your bat mitzvah, Alana.
Alana: My group of friends were way crazier than your friends.
What was your bat mitzvah’s theme?
Alana: I wanted it to be “masquerade,” but I didn’t know the word, so it ended up being “Mardi Gras.” It's so random. I had never been to New Orleans before. I didn't even know what Mardi Gras was. Now, bat mitzvahs are fucking insane, like My Super Sweet 16 shit. But my parents found a place in an office building that had a party room in it. It was so tiny. My friends figured out there was a door that would open to this weird office building, and that's where they went to make out with people. The only person that I wanted to make out with was this guy Harell Dahari. I was like, it’s my moment, it needs to happen. And he was like, No. Hell no. I got shut down.
As you’ve gotten older, has Judaism remained an important part of your lives, as it seems like your experience was largely cultural?
Alana: When it comes to Judaism, the thing that really kept us together was the family aspect. It was the High Holidays, coming together as a family for an event. A meal.
Este We did Shabbat, but that was more about just coming together as a family.
Alana: I also think my parents knew that Friday was when kids got into trouble. That was my parents’ evil play. Every Friday, all the cool kids would go to the Galleria and every Friday night, I remember being like, Mom, can you please drive me to the Galleria? And she'd be like, let's see how we feel after Shabbat. My parents would drag Shabbat out for as long as they could and then be like, “What, are you going to go for a half an hour and then I have to pick you up? This isn’t happening.”
Have you played any bar or bat mitzvahs?
Alana: No, and I’m down! My dream when it was bat mitzvah season was to be a bat mitzvah dancer. What a fun fucking job! You get to go to bat mitzvahs all the time and just get the party started. That still might be my dream. I've never experienced more parties in my life. I'm fucking 28 years old and I may be going to a party once a year. That was every weekend for a year. I was the belle of the ball. It was really a roaring bat mitzvah season, and I do miss it. We were, like, freak dancing in front of grandparents. We were grinding, and I would literally would see someone's poor grandma who they rolled out...
Este: ...who’d survived the Holocaust
Alana: And I'm literally getting down to Ciara. What was I thinking? I guess hormones are just like, We don’t care! Let’s go! If I went to a bat mitzvah now and I saw like, like, 12 and 13 year olds dancing how I was dancing, I would run away and cry.
Danielle, have you thought about having a bat mitzvah now?
Danielle: I should!
Este: A not mitzvah.
Este: Your 26th birthday is your not mitzvah, and then 39 is your hot mitzvah. Hopefully 13 years after that, hopefully you celebrate your kid’s bar or bat mitzvah.
What advice would you give your 13 year old selves?
Alana: I would tell myself: Keep going. All these dudes that are rejecting you are going to come back around one day. So fuck them! Harell Dahari, you could have had this! If I could go back if I could, like see myself as a 13 year old, I really wouldn't be like, just wait until those braces are off. Your life is gonna change when those braces are gonna come off. I know you cry every night. Wait till those braces come off. You're gonna be great.
Este: I would probably tell my 13 year old self to start therapy now. I think the worst time of anyone's life is middle school. That's when you need therapy the most—to have an hour to just talk about how you're feeling and your problems. I read back on my diaries—I had super terrible emo poetry. Obviously looking back I'm like, Bitch, shut up. However! However, when you're going through it, and you're feeling all the things, it would probably have been helpful for me to be able to talk to someone. I talked to my parents as much as I probably could, but when you’re 13 you don’t think your parents understand you
Alana: I'm not gonna go to my mom be like, “Mom, Harell Dahari just won't make out with me. How can I seduce Harell Dahari? Can you give me a play by play?”
Este: Mom's advice was always, like, “Keep a little mystery.” I have no idea what that means. Also, my mom didn't let us shave our armpits or our legs.
Danielle: That would be my advice: just do it. Once it’s gone, your parents can't fucking do anything about it.
Alana: Save your fucking life and don't be the hairy girl.
Originally Appeared on GQ