When Este Haim was approached to take on the executive music producer role on National Geographic’s limited series A Small Light, she felt ready to step out of her comfort zone and take charge.
“I’ve always had this saying that people who say ‘yes’ have adventures, people who say ‘no’ play it safe and people who say ‘maybe’ spend their whole life saying ‘maybe.’ So I said yes,” the HAIM vocalist and bassist tells Billboard of the opportunity.
Turns out, she felt a special connection to the show’s story. The series is inspired by the true story of Anne Frank and follows the carefree and opinionated Miep Gies (played by Bel Powley) as she encounters Anne’s dad Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber), who asks her to help hide his family from the Nazis during WWII. “The producers and the writers of the show got in contact with me about doing a show about Miep and I guess they kind of assumed that I didn’t know who she was, but I knew very well who she was because I’ve read the diary of Anne Frank, cover to cover, a handful of times,” Este recalls, noting that she read The Diary of a Young Girl for the first time at just eight years old. “I thought that it was really interesting the way that they were telling the story of Anne Frank and I jumped at the chance to be involved in a TV show that showed the story through Miep’s eyes.”
For the soundtrack, Este was tasked with creating updated versions of classic songs from the 1930s and 1940s with her friends and fellow musicians, something that she was “super jazzed” about. “Pun intended,” she adds with a laugh.
“I’ve been listening to that music since I was a kid,” she says, noting that her great-grandmother, whom she affectionately calls “Bubby Blanche,” would play vinyl records for her as a child when she would visit her home in Palm Springs, Calif. “We would listen to the The Andrews Sisters, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk — she was such an avid music lover and I’ve come from a long, long line of musicians, so I already had a foundation when it came to knowing and understanding the material.”
Her passion for the songs that influenced not only who she is as a musician but also history in general led to a robust Small Light soundtrack that features everyone from King Princess and Orville Peck putting their spin on Bing Crosby‘s “I’m Making Believe” and Angel Olsen’s rendition of Larry Clinton‘s “My Reverie” to Remi Wolf‘s take on Nat King Cole‘s “Autumn Leaves” and Moses Sumney taking on Billie Holiday‘s “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
“Moses’ version of ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ is so f—ing heartbreaking and beautiful,” Este gushes. “He knows how much I love him and his artistry and his songwriting, but his voice is just so incredibly, insanely beautiful. For him to have signed on to this, I was over the moon.”
She adds that there was a few criteria for which artists she chose for the project. “They needed to be a vocalist that could really handle the material because it’s not easy material,” she explains, before jokingly adding, “But also I wanted people that I selfishly just wanted to be friends with and hang out with.”
Este even worked with her sister, Danielle Haim, on a rendition of Doris Day‘s “Till We Meet Again,” which she says was different than a regular HAIM recording session. “We’re all producers in our own right, but this time, Danielle just was kind of looking at me like, ‘Whatever you want to do,’” she said of creating the song with her sibling and bandmate. “It was different in the sense that we go into every session knowing that it’s a three-way democracy. This time, it was like, ‘This is your gig. I’m just here to sing the song.’ Thankfully, I know Danielle’s voice so well, so we finished ‘Till We Meet Again’ in, like, a day.”
She continues, “Danielle is just so f—ing talented and she has the best voice, and there’s a vulnerability to her voice that I knew would really lend itself to that song.”
As for what she hopes fans will take away from A Small Light, Este is rooting for everyday people to stand up for what’s right. “Miep is a shining example of an ordinary woman doing an extraordinary thing,” she says. “Now more than ever, I think that it’s important for people to stand up for what they believe in and to also protect their community.”
Listen to the full A Small Light: Songs From the Limited Series album below, and watch the show over on Disney+ and Hulu.