Many words have been used to describe Half Waif’s synth-pop music: devastating, haunting, atmospheric, beautiful. But one word particularly demands to be added to the mix: earnest.
We had the chance to talk with the frontwoman (pretty much the everywoman) behind Half Waif, Nandi Rose Plunkett, before she hit the road for her first U.S. headlining solo tour – a quick five-show trip up the West Coast.
Plunkett, who came to prominence as a member of New Jersey rock band Pinegrove, speaks without pretension and with a great deal of self-awareness. It was clear that her lyrics reflect the writer behind them with fidelity as we spoke about vulnerability and power, growth and stagnation. And while she chooses her words with care and conviction, they’re underscored by a persistent insecurity.
Nandi Rose Plunkett joined us via phone ahead of her recent tour stop in Portland at the Doug Fir Lounge. And yes, we did ask about the allegations of sexual coercion involving her former band (Plunkett left Pinegrove in 2017), but she declined to speak on the record except to say “Obviously, this has been a really big part of my life and my writing – I think a lot of those themes will come across in my next album.”
Read on to learn how she faces challenges and transitions, her relationship with Lavender nearly one year after its release and why you won’t be hearing new music from Half Waif in 2019.
Emily Reiling: Now that you’ve been playing more headlining shows, have you noticed a difference in energy and comfort than when you’re opening or touring with another act?
Nandi Rose Plunkett: It’s a new phase for me. I was completely terrified to do it the first time when I was going over to Europe in September — I was dragging my feet out the door, sobbing in the kitchen the day I went to the airport, like ‘Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I putting myself in this extremely vulnerable position?’
Imposter syndrome is always something that I have to battle with, and this feeling of why? Why not stay home and be comfortable and not have to face this big new challenge? Then there’s the other part of me that knows in the back of my head that if I’m resisting this hard, and feeling this scared, it probably means that I should do it because there’s something that I need to learn about myself through that process.
As scared as I was, I also had a feeling it was going to be a really big time of growth for me. And that’s exactly what I felt.
ER: Was it difficult transitioning from creating your music pretty independently to letting go of the control, to letting other people have input and influence?
NRP: I would describe myself as a bit of a control freak. That loss of control was scary, but when you’re working with people that you trust as musicians and creative beings, it’s a joy to see what they are going to bring to the table and what ideas they’re going to put forth.
Now I’m on the flip side where I’m back to being fully in control again. There are elements that I miss with playing with my bandmates and experiencing that shared music-making on stage, but I’m really enjoying seeing how the skills that I’ve built over the years have enabled me now to be in control of everything on stage and feel confident in my ability to do that.
ER: You mentioned that you’re working on a new album. Can you tell me anything about it?
NRP: Right now, I’m in the process of writing as much as I possibly can. I’ve released something every year for the last three years, and in 2019 I’m not releasing anything.
I’m curious to see how this album is going to sound knowing that I have had a lot of physical and mental space to really make sure I’m saying what I want to say.
I really want to spend my time and be really considerate about what this album is as a whole – the themes, the feelings, the sounds. I have some ideas about some new instruments I want to incorporate, but that’s all I’ll say on that front. It’s going to unfold slowly, and I feel really grateful that my life allows me to do that.
ER: Since writing and recording Lavender and touring with it, has the meaning of it changed for you, or the meanings of any of the songs? How has your relationship with it changed over the past year?
NRP: A lot of the songs were written on the road, so there is this sense of travel and displacement and missing home and yearning for something far away. That’s interesting because every time I’m performing those songs, I’m on tour. I immediately enter back into that headspace. Those are themes I think every touring musician experiences, and part of me really likes that those themes will stay true for me every time I’m on the road. But another part of me hopes that when I write songs I can expel a feeling that I don’t want to feel.
That’s usually why I write a song: something ugly and upsetting is brewing inside me and I don’t want it to be in me anymore, I want it to be externalized. To play these songs and sometimes be experiencing the same things that I did when I wrote them can make me feel kind of frustrated or disappointed, like ‘Oh man, I haven’t evolved past this yet – I was hoping I would be done with that but it’s the same as when I wrote it two years ago.’
ER: You’ve written and spoken about sexism in the music industry and being tokenized as the “girl in the band” during your time with Pinegrove. Has being your own frontwoman as Half Waif changed that experience at all for you?
NRP: It’s almost been a way for me to take back power. It’s like being a lightning rod where you’re the one person on stage, daring someone to say that you’re not doing enough when you are literally doing everything. It makes me feel like a force. And that is something I needed to do for myself. I feel scared and insecure a lot, and I try to become more than that when I’m on stage to convince myself—maybe that will give someone else strength too.