Half Waif on new album Lavender
Personal apocalypses run through Nandi Rose Plunkett’s new album, but Half Waif also offers a collective sense of comfort to hold in the darkest of times
Nandi Rose Plunkett is talking about crystals. She doesn’t claim to be an expert, but she admires their aesthetic beauty, and also because they are formed by the earth’s raw power. “There’s this confluence between the mysterious and the spiritual with the scientific,” she says. “I think that’s pretty cool that crystals embody both.” She’s also intrigued by the idea that, in a spiritual sense, crystals give abstract feelings and concepts a physical shape. “Giving a tactile form to something more amorphous is really kinda comforting,” she says. “I think the same thing can be said about calling this record Lavender.”
Under her moniker of Half Waif, Plunkett has released two albums and two EPs, including last year’s form/a. Her latest album Lavender arrives hot on its heels, coming quickly together because, as she says, “I like to share things, I like to experiment. I like to try things and I find that I learn a lot through sharing music that I don’t feel like I could have learned just from writing and keeping it to myself.” It’s also a record that comes in the wake of some personal upheaval, as Plunkett quit her job, left New York and moved in with the parents of her partner, Half Waif drummer Zack Levine. “It was a big time of cutting those ties, moving on and starting the next chapter of my adulthood and musical life,” she explains.
The next chapter includes an opening up of Half Waif’s sound to include both Levine and bassist and guitarist Adan Carlo. “It wasn’t until I started playing with Zack and Adan that I felt like I’d found this musical family, and for the first time was more comfortable with the idea of letting other musicians into the recording process,” Plunkett explains. “There’s so much magic that can happen when you trust other people and when you give yourself over to a process that’s not totally in your control.” As such, the album contains live drums, electric bass and guitar, mixed in with synths and programmed elements. Lavender presents an effortless blend between the electronic and organic, giving Half Waif’s glacial alt-pop even more bite and emotional urgency than ever before.
Nandi Rose Plunkett on songwriting, and Lavender's inspirations
Writing the songs themselves, however, still remains an endeavour that Plunkett undertakes solo. “My private, special place is writing. I don’t really see myself co-writing songs regularly because I so much enjoy the solitary writing space,” she says. The personal nature of her writing even extends to the album’s title. Lavender is a nod to her grandmother, and the way in which she would pluck the flower from her garden before boiling it on a stove. The adoration that Plunkett had, and still holds, for her grandmother can be felt as she speaks candidly about their bond.
“With removing it one generation, you kind of get that unfiltered love, that very easy affection and easy company and pure love. That’s what I felt with my grandmother my whole life,” she explains. This deep fondness was something that felt effortless, beginning even from Plunkett’s initial encounters with her grandmother. “From my first meeting with her I felt really calm in her presence and it was just easy,” she says, “that feeling of calm and peace when I would be in her home, that was what lavender is, this piece of calm that you can bring into life.”
When Plunkett was writing Lavender, her grandmother was still alive. “Of course now, it’s come to stand for something much bigger, which is the memory of who she was for me when she was alive,” she reflects. That something bigger is also the very final ending that people experience in their lives, the spectre of death, just one of many different endings that Plunkett touches upon on Lavender. Themes of decay and disintegration run through its 12 tracks. Even on opener Lavender Burning, she laments 'I miss New York and that’s the loneliest feeling / To be on a road and not know where it’s leading.' With In the Evening she touches on a sense of losing oneself: 'There’s a life going on but it doesn’t feel like me.' Solid 2 Void reflects on the divorce of her parents, while Keep It Out muses on a sense of disengagement that can come with being in a relationship.
Plunkett often places these concepts in very stark terms, laying her feelings out for the listener. It’s often emotionally raw, but also deeply open and honest. “Art as catharsis is an age old idea and I definitely believe in that,” she says. Writing like such is Plunkett’s way of dealing with personal apocalypses. “When you’re in a state of turmoil, that energy is just buzzing around your brain and I think expelling it in whatever way you can, whether it’s running or writing or singing or dancing, that emotion calls for an action,” she explains. “I very much find that writing songs is a way of dealing with that darkness. Not fixing it necessarily; I don’t feel like I’m offering a solution – ever! – but even just singing about it and being in that space with it and seeing it head on, not shying away from it.
"As much as I write music for myself for the sense of catharsis and the search for beauty, I also absolutely want to forge connections with other people through these songs. I find that the best experiences for me as a performer are when I can feel that the audience is connecting to the words, even if they are thinking what their own apocalypse means.”
“This is an extremely scary time to be alive and be an American..."
Many felt a sense of collective apocalypse in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, that night in November 2016 symbolising a form of decay in America. It’s perhaps little surprise that Plunkett wrote Torches, a track that gently simmers before erupting into a blaze, in the wake of the election. “This is an extremely scary time to be alive and be an American,” Plunkett says. “Our basic freedoms and rights are being eaten away and threatened.” Even in this time of political and social unrest though, she is hopeful that there is still a chance to salvage or forge something better from Trump’s presidency: “What I do know is that I have to tell myself that it’s not going to be this way forever, and that we will eventually reach the end of this time of terror and get out of these burning fields and find some form of peace.”
For all of its seeming brutality and darkness on the surface, it’s that very sense of hope and peace that cuts through moments of Lavender. Plunkett herself muses that she frequently uses the night as a metaphor on the album. “I’m actually afraid of the dark; I don’t hate the night but I’m not a night-time person, I’m very much into the morning and the daytime!” she admits. “But I want to be able to literally stay up later and see what the night is about, but also metaphorically come to terms with the darkness in my life and our collective lives as human beings.”
But all nights must come to an end, broken by the light of a new dawn. Lavender shows moments of that light, perhaps most touchingly on Leveler as Plunkett finds solace in a single fact: 'I’ll be happy that I knew you.' “We have these endings in our lives all the time but life continues and we’re still here,” Plunkett says. “The night ends and there’s another day and a lot of opportunity to accept that cycle and not fight it so much.”
With sunrise comes a sense of tranquillity, a state that Plunkett says can also be garnered from lavender itself. “You can listen to the whole album and go to these dark places but at the end of the day you’re left with the name, the reminder,” she says. “It’s a way of counterbalancing the darkness within by calling it the very thing that I hope will help me deal with these harder times. It’s the ultimate reminder that there are these elements in our lives that can bring a sense of calm to us.” Just as the flower brings her this harmony, Lavender is an album that reminds us that sometimes it’s darkest before the dawn, but that those better times are always on the horizon.