Catch a performance by sisters Danielle, Alana, and Este Haim, and you’re bound to notice the particular pluck of the character commanding stage left. Armed with a P-Bass, backed by an SVT, and bolstered by some serious fingerstyle, stickwork, and vocal chops, Este Haim represents a most welcome new breed of bass badassery. Following an accelerated course of study at UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology—where she studied Bulgarian choral singing, Brazilian drumming, Japanese shakuhachi, and North Indian tabla, to start—Este has hit the road hard with her younger sisters in support of their major-label debut, Days Are Gone, a fresh trip on the funkier tip of the new wave revival.
Let’s start from the top—when did you start playing bass?
My mom started teaching us guitar when Danielle was about 5 and I was about 8. Even though Danielle was younger, she completely surpassed me. I think my dad saw that it made me mad, and he reasoned bass has fewer strings and must be easier, so he got me a bass. I was like, “But I’ve never seen a girl play bass.” He played me Stop Making Sense, and I saw Tina Weymouth with Talking Heads. So I thought, Okay, it’s cool for chicks to play bass. It was hard to get into at first, but I played with my dad on drums. Then Danielle would get on the guitar and we’d get a little jam going. I later took lessons with a guy from the neighborhood, and he got me into jazz and funk.
From your perspective, what are some of the bass highlights on Days Are Gone?
“If I Could Change Your Mind” was a challenge for me because it’s all fast 16th notes. Trying to make it funky without a pick was a little difficult. That and “Falling” are the two funkiest songs on the record. Writing those bass lines was really, really fun.
What’s your main bass?
Blondie, my ’73 Fender P-Bass. It was kind of a big deal when I got it—I slept with it that whole first week.
Did you experiment with different tones making Days Are Gone?
We recorded at a place called Vox Recording Studios, which is like Toys“R”Us for vintage gear heads; pretty much anything you’d ever want is in that studio. So it was fun to have my pick of the liter. I played ’63 Vox hollowbody, and a few others. It’s hard to know which basses made it onto to which tracks, because I did so many takes with so many different basses. Experimentation is part what made the process so fun. I played a Höfner a little bit on Forever [National Anthem, 2012]. That was my first real go at playing with a pick. And that’s when I really knew that playing with a pick was not for me. It’s funny, because some of my all-time favorite bass players—Rick Danko, for example— generally played with a pick.
Who else makes your favorites list?
I obviously love Tina Weymouth—she’s amazing. Kim Deal. Kim Gordon. I love Paz Lenchantin, who’s now playing with the Pixies. Male or female, I think Paz might be one of the best bass players I’ve ever seen live. The way she performs—her tenacity and vibe—is the most mesmerizing thing I’ve ever experienced from a bass perspective. I love girls who play instruments. It makes me happy knowing that I’m in good company. But I also love Bootsy Collins.
What’s your general philosophy regarding gear?
Until a couple years ago, I couldn’t afford the gear that I wanted. But a good carpenter doesn’t blame his tools; it’s my job to make the bass sound good. When it comes to amps, I like power. I like being able to feel the amplifier when I’m onstage. Things like effect pedals are fun, but it’s all about your left hand and your tone—how you make your tone sound.
Haim, Days Are Gone [Polydor, 2013]
Bass 1973 Fender Precision Bass
Rig Ampeg SVT CL head, Ampeg SVT410HE 4x10 cab
Strings Ernie Ball Slinkys