Google defines a waif as a living creature removed, by hardship, loss or other helpless circumstance, from its original surroundings.
In whatever ways electropop trio Half Waif may feel themselves outsiders, their incredible music has found them a comfortable place in New York’s indie scene. The Pinegrove offshoot’s 2016 album Probable Depths is a collage of sample-laden landscapes, warm monochromatic drones, and minimal wave sequences – all traces of today’s Brooklyn indie sound. Yet there are shades of subcontinent rhythms, sampled tablas and harmoniums that beckon toward India, and a constant drive toward the experimental and the untried.
Stronger Sex shared the stage once before with Half Waif – an unforgettable night at a now sorely missed DIY space on Pennsylvania ave called Above the Bayou. When we heard they were playing DC9 on April 3, we jumped at the chance to get on the bill, and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask singer Nandi Rose Plunkett a few questions.
What is performing to you? What drives you to keep touring and performing?
Performing is a way to lessen the distance between me and others. It’s a way for me to share a part of myself that can’t be felt or heard or seen otherwise, a secret part that is made public onstage in front of strangers so that life is a little less lonely and a little more transparent.
Your new EP form/a sounds like you’re experimenting with more with different electronic instruments. What electronic toys/pedals/machines are you into lately?
Yeah! I love the very basic concept of sound, discovering the little nooks and crannies that make sounds unique and special. On form/a, I was getting to know the recording software Ableton better. A lot of the sounds are MIDI, actually, which made it possible to record it in my apartment. But I was also playing around with samplers to create my own drum kits and synths with found sounds and my own voice.
Like us, you play and tour in multiple projects, most notably Pinegrove, whose members also play with you in Half Waif. I’m always debating with myself the relative merits and drawbacks of spreading myself out over multiple projects What drives you to stay in multiple bands?
It’s a challenge for sure, logistically and mentally. Zack and Adan and I are pretty much constantly on the road at this point with one or the other project. But I’m playing music with some of my best friends and the best musicians I know. Why wouldn’t I want to do that as much as possible, by doing it twice as often in two bands? It’s fun, and this is what I’ve devoted my life to. It was pretty recently that we all quit our jobs to focus on music, so sometimes I have to remind myself that this is my life. I get to do this all the time. I don’t really want to be doing anything else in this existence.
Where does the compulsion make music come from? form/a’s album art makes me think your inspiration comes from your abdomen then bursts out through your arms. Is form/a the manifestation of something internal? Did external forces influence this album as well?
I love that you reference the album art, because that’s exactly what that is! It was kind of taken from the lyric in “Cerulean” that goes: “My mood has no form / it sits on my chest heavy and warm.” This EP was very much an attempt to make sense of my many moods, to draw them out and visualize their colors, their temperatures, their weight. Going back to what I said about performing, it was like a plea for greater understanding – both from others and from myself. I went digging inward to figure out the secret part of me so that I could grow and learn from it.
Do you see yourself as a waif? Why only a half waif?
A waif is someone who doesn’t have a home. So, that’s not really me – I have many homes. That makes me only a half waif. But sometimes having many homes can feel like having no home because you don’t know where to land or where your heart is most connected to. And right now, actually, I don’t have a place where I live permanently. It’s funny, I’m realizing now that in making an active musical project that focuses a lot on the desire to have a home, I’ve ironically condemned myself to not having a home, as I tour a lot and bring these songs on the road. It’s a cat and mouse tale. I’ve made my bed, and now I’m going to write about it.
I read an interview you did for the Village Voice in which you said you’re driven to master your craft in part to prove yourself and to shift something very deep-seated in the foundation of our culture. When I read that, I felt you articulated perfectly something i’ve felt as a woman and a musician. Were you talking about deep-seated misogyny? Do you think it’s working – is culture shifting?
It’s hard to be like, “I’m going to make this big cultural change!” when you’re just one person. But I do think we have to be aware of our individual power, how instrumental that is in bringing about deeper change. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about in light of the huge, horrifying shifts in our government. How do I connect to the resistance as a performer/musician?
What I’ve come to realize is, performing is resisting because it facilitates connection between people. When you share your music, you are sharing a part of yourself that you wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise, thereby creating deeper human understanding, which in turn leads to channels in which individual power can be amplified.
This translates even more so to being a woman on a stage – the most heartening thing is when other women, particularly younger women, come up to me and say, “It made me feel really good and powerful to see you up there.” I have to put up with a lot of shit being a woman fronting my own band, but it is completely worth it to know that it can motivate other women or non-binary artists to strike out on this path and work towards forcing the industry, and the world, to make space for them.
We played together at a house space called Above the Bayou. That spot, like many DIY venues that operated back then, has since closed. Do you see a decline in DIY culture in NYC?
R.I.P. ATB. We loved that venue very much and I’m so glad we got to play there (with you!). I don’t believe ATB closed because it was forced to, I’m pretty sure the owners just graduated from college and moved.
But there are a lot of important spaces that are being forced to shut their doors, most recently Shea Stadium in Brooklyn. I don’t think DIY culture will ever die, it’s too vital for that. But it does feel like a spring of energy that keeps being diverted by people who have no idea how powerful it is. If our community remains committed to preserving these sacred spaces, that energy will keep spurting through the cracks.
A lot of blogs ask my band, “What are you listening to on the road?” and they’re always disappointed when we say something like, “An audiobook on the life of Abraham Lincoln.” Tell us about some of your unexpected listening choices or other idiosyncrasies of Half Waif van life.
We love podcasts! We used to play a lot of games in the van but now those have gotten old and we just like to learn new facts and try to keep our brains robust. Our favorite podcasts are Reply All and Hardcore History. Hardcore History is great for long drives because each topic goes on for like ten hours. The most recent episode is called “Hardcore History: Blitz Edition” because Dan Carlin was told to keep this one short, but it still ended up being six hours.
Give us a brief run down of what’s on the agenda for Half Waif: upcoming tours, releases, videos, other projects we should be checking out, etc.
Our upcoming tours are still in the works and under wraps, so I can’t say much about that, but we do have a music video coming out in the next couple weeks. I filmed it in 10-degree weather in Western Massachusetts in early January. We’re also super excited to start arranging and recording our next full-length record this spring. The three of us are moving to Upstate New York for a couple months to focus on that. This will be the first thing we’re working on as a full band, so expect more live drums!