Half Waif on Creating on the Road, Letting Go and Mortality
Nandi Rose Plunkett’s new album, Lavender, has arrived today (April 27) and to commemorate the occasion, Plunkett spoke to TIDAL about her experiences with a death that shaped the album, creating on tour and letting go of the intimate nature of the album.
Where did the creation of Lavender start? What kind of headspace were you in?
Most of the record was written at a time when I left New York in August 2016. It’s when I was leaving my job and focusing on becoming a full-time musician, which also meant having to move out of the city. I was committing myself to touring and being on the road a little more. It was this very different time in my life and there were some nerves and worries with being away from my home. I was seeing that being a musician wasn’t this big, glorious dream, but it was a job, like anything else. It was in that period of being a touring musician wholeheartedly for the first time.
I had this keyboard with a built-in battery pack and speakers, so I can play it on the road. I’d go into the van or the green room and that’s where a lot of songs on the album came from. A lot of this album I associate with being away from home. In a lot of ways, home becomes stronger as a concept when you’re away from it. When you’re not there, you’re looking back on it and it gains more weight in your mind. Being separated from New York and the life I had built there made me want to reach out to it.
How would you incorporate creating this album with the day-to-day rigors of touring?
I’d usually create at night. I’m realizing now that, when I’m home, I don’t really write at night. I’m not a night-time creative in that way. I’m most productive in the morning. Looking back at the previous EP, form/a, I was waking up at 7 a.m. to write. I had my sacred space with creating like that. In the van during the day, it was difficult because we were all cramped together.
I was touring with Pinegrove and it was the first time I had met or really heard Julien Baker’s music. It was so inspiring. I’d watch her set and she was so open with her emotions and connected with her audience. The song ‘Torches’ was finished in a van in Seattle, but I really remember starting that song up in Texas. It was really cold that winter and I couldn’t turn the car on to keep it warm, I guess because I didn’t want to run the gas while it’s idle. It was this strange space of writing the song, but my fingers are numb. All the songs were written in these different spaces and different circumstances.
You’ve mentioned that this album is concerned with thoughts of mortality and how that was evident in watching your elderly grandmother unknowingly live her last days and months. ‘Lavender Burning’ really captures those struggles. Is that a literal song?
I did write that song in real-time. Right after our first tour in Europe, I saw her. Her garden brought her so much joy. I was definitely recognizing that there were some elements of her that were not here anymore and leading her off this Earth. She wasn’t sick; it was very sudden. I didn’t write the album because she was very ill and about to die. I didn’t know I’d be doing interviews for this album and she would not be around.
A lot of it was recognizing that since she was old, it could be her time at any moment. It was the amorphous feeling of ‘we are moving towards an end.’ I knew I couldn’t do anything to change the situation, but I can control how much I savor these moments. I could control how present I was when she was around.
What are these new feelings about death that you had to confront?
I think growing older, even for myself, I’m thinking about it more. I’m turning 30 next year, so that’s a big milestone. When you’re younger, you have blinders on and you feel invincible. I know I’m still young, but I’ve built a foundation for my life. I’ve done a lot of things I wanted to do, so now I’m just aware more of those endings.
My grandmother had a very hard life. She was the most gracious person, though. She would always tell me how lucky I was with my life and how lucky I’ve been. She was so pure of spirit and such a beacon of pure love. She was so calming for me to be around. There was this sense of fear for her and awareness of mortality, but since it was her spirit encountering it, there was this hopeful acceptance of her death. I’m thinking of the last song of the album, ‘Ocean Scope,’ which is my most overt song about death that I’ve ever written, but it ends on this very hopeful chord. It resolves in this way of being mired in turmoil and being fragmented, but it comes together.
Something that really interested me throughout the album was this persistent percussion section. Was that drum pads on the synths or live drums? Also, does the lyrical content of the album match the sonics you pursued?
It was both! We wanted this album’s sounds to reflect the way we play live, which is a mix of actual drums and samples. Since I’m the keyboardist, I’ll load samples on the keyboard and play the beat like I am playing the piano. I enjoy it, it’s indicative of my training as a keyboardist, but my drummer, Zack Levine, would add live parts in a compelling way that evolve my beats into something very visceral. A lot of the song’s trajectories start out with electronic percussion, but it usually evolves and tumbles into something we wanted to convey, which was a composite of those worlds.
I’m definitely arranging from an emotional place. I think the mood and vibe of the whole album is matched by the percussion sounds. I’ve never been too preoccupied with lyrics being the vehicle. Prior to this record, I never paid too much attention to lyrics, it usually comes out and I settled with it. I wanted to consciously approach the lyrics on this album and treat all the elements of the songs as a language and an effort to communicate the overall feeling of the narrative.
Did you feel you were able to more completely communicate yourself on this project’s album since you stepped away from Pinegrove to focus on Half Waif?
Yeah, definitely. We moved to upstate New York to work on this record and we really fell in love with this town. Just being in a space where the sole focus was to work on a record; we treated this as our job and we were able to get much deeper into the record. It was the most fun I’ve ever had recording and I really fell in love with the process.
We have this conception of a lot of creation as tortured and certainly the subject matter has weight and was sometimes a dark process, but putting together this album with my bandmates Zack and Adan [Carlo], was such a sacred space. No song was approached the same way, every single one has its own map to creation.
Now that the record is out, how do you feel and what is next?
Part of the reason why it was fun to make the record was because, of those three to four months, it was just ours. There was something beautiful and protected about it. Once we gave it to the label to master it, it was a little bit of, ‘Oh, shit, this is not ours anymore.’
It’s hard to disconnect yourself from something you feel so close to. I’ve come to terms with that in time since. I’m ready to get working on a new album. All that to say, I feel really good about sharing it. I feel like I did my absolute best and whatever happens next is a part of me and my story.
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