Q&A with Brooklyn’s Half Waif
By Patrick Nolan
Half Waif, the indie-electro art pop trio brainchild of Brooklyn-based musician Nandi Rose Plunkett, is having an exciting year. Her newest LP, Probable Depths, dropped earlier this summer after a wintery recording session at her childhood home in rural northwestern Massachusetts.
The new LP has been acclaimed since its debut, earning spots on Stereogum’s 5 Best songs Of the Week, DIY Magazine’s Neu Pick of the Day and The Line of Best Fit’s Discovery Column, among other accolades. Half Waif has embarked on a national tour with up-and-coming indie rock outfit Pinegrove of which Plunkett is also a member.
Half Waif will open for SPORTS and Pinegrove at Milk Run in Omaha on Tuesday, July 26th (RSVP here). HN talked to Plunkett in advance of Half Waif’s upcoming Omaha debut. Read on to hear from Plunkett about DIY household sound-worlds, touring the country for the first time and performing electronic music.
HN: I’ve heard that your new LP samples directly from your childhood home. Tell me about that and about Probable Depths in general. What the direction, influences and genres did you have in mind when you went up to record in Williamstown?
Nandi Rose Plunkett: So Probable Depths was a collaboration between me and Zubin Hensler, who was the producer of the record. He was a good friend of mine and had played with the band for a while, and so he actually came to me right when I was finishing my first album, Kotekan, and said, “I really love your music, I have some ideas for how I would like to record this next project.” The idea was to approach the second album in a different way, whereas Kotekan was recorded in the studio in Brooklyn and was very much a studio album. Zubin and I had talked about how we wanted to record Probable Depths and we decided that we wanted a little bit more of a DIY, hands-on approach to it. We really wanted it to have its own sound, it’s own vibe and organic feel to it.
And so in order to achieve that, we decided to go to my house and home and in Williamstown, Mass. where my still Dad still lives. We went up in December when it was very cold, very snowy — blizzards outside — and you know getting dark outside at 4:00 p.m. We took my demos which I record on my own and brought Zubin’s really wonderful mobile recording set-up. We delved into the structures of these songs — the melodic and harmonic ideas — and create the sound-world for those parts. That naturally included sampling a lot of things from around the house. So, right away we were banging on the old wood stove or trudging through snow…it was sort of a new process for me but it’s been one that I’ve been using since then, sampling compounds and creating beats from that. Zubin showed me a lot of how to use that process – that sort of became the foundation of these songs.
That material from the house, where I grew up and spent most of my life but that I feel in some ways removed from now — I don’t go back very often, my parents have divorced — so there was a little bit of sadness sounding it for me, but also comfort. I think it really lent itself to the feeling of the songs. They really have a lot of sorrow to them but I hope sort of an inner warmth. Kind of like a warm house in the midst of a very cold winter.
HN: Wow…I see. you told me you brought some of your demos that you wrote in Brooklyn up to Williamstown. Did any of them change or take on a new life as you went into the new space? You alluded to that earlier it seems.
NRP: Yeah, so before we left when Zubin and I were in Brooklyn, we sort of looked at the demos and the structures of the songs and thought things like “Do we like this verse here? What if we…?” We actually took two songs and mashed them together. That’s the last track on the LP ,Tactilian. You can notice that it changes tempos drastically halfway through and that’s because it was originally two songs. We liked the beginning of one and the end of the other so it was kind of a Frankenstein. It’s actually been really interesting learning how to play that song live; I think we are finally nailing a few weeks of being on tour. That weird tempo shift, It was tricky.
But anyway, when we were up in Williamstown it was such a playground, it was just like “What sound do we to get?” There were some digital synths but we reamped everything so it had a sound in a room. It wasn’t just digital, it existed somewhere in the house. And the song “Desperado” we had intended to keep the demo because it has this intimate, casual “throw away” quality that can be really nice and difficult to recreate. But we got up there are we were having so much fun creating all our own new sounds so we ended up completely re-recording that with new drum sounds and new instrumental sounds and I think that was the right move because it made it so that all eight tracks existed in the same house.
HN: That makes sense. Did you have a particular genre or musical style in mind?
NRP: That was the idea behind how we wanted to record it — and it was a lot of fun haha. It was wonderful to be able to work one-on-one with someone whose musical vision I trusted a lot and I think we were able to create a pretty unique album. I don’t really think about genres and I find it almost kind of frustrating — I know a lot of artists do — to have to articulate genre. I am very confused on that! I think it’s almost made it hard to figure how to market the music and figure out who the audience is because I don’t really know what genre it is! And that’s because we set about creating this music that just felt true to the sound-world and we didn’t really have a lot of thought about what kind of music we were making.
HN: I see. Part of the reason I asked that specifically because as I was listening to the EP I was wondering exactly, as a music journalist, how I would describe it. I mean that is a positive quality of the music but it’s part of the reason I asked.
NRP: Having this patchwork of inspirations is something that I like and hope to continue to hold on to. I listen to a lot of kind of music and obviously I have this project but I also play in Pinegrove which makes music very different to Half Waif, so it’s wonderful to absorb these different sounds and bring little tidbits from different styles of melodic writing, harmonic writing and different song structures. So I think it sounds like the idea of being a Waif, which is like being around the world without a home, sort of destitute, a wanderer. So to me the idea of being a Half Waif is like “Well, I do have a home. I actually have many homes.” So I pull … from a lot of different musical inspirations from all over the place.
HN: Going over to the tour, it seems like electronic groups each do their shows a little differently. So I was wondering what format we can expect from Half Waif at your upcoming show at Milk Run.
NRP: So playing live — as I said we are a trio — has been a really fun time to not play the tracks. There are so many sounds on the album and you know I would love to just have every single sound in the live performance but I think the only way to do that — unless we had like a 15 piece band — was to play the tracks and we just didn’t want to do that. We have a drum pad that Zack plays in addition to the drum kit, so he has a lot of those percussion sounds that Zubin and I created on the album. We actually took some of the exact sounds. He also triggers some synth parts which is cool because people ask me how these sounds are made and where it even comes from. They come up to me after and say “You weren’t playing that!” Adan has a bunch of sound pedals for his bass so sometimes he sounds like he’s playing synth. I have a keyboard that splits into two different sounds so I can layer tones. I also have a vocal pedal that people are always very interested in that is a harmonizer.
We have a lot of toys, and I think we are all pretty proud of the fact that we are a trio that can make a full sound with just the three of us and maybe someday we will have another synth player or play with a string quartet. We actually did have strings, my friend Elena played all of the strings on the new album! It sounds like an orchestra sometimes but it’s just one violin; she would play lines and stack them with each other which was amazing. She’s come on stage with us a few times in Brooklyn like at our release show. It’s fun to have some real live instruments on stage with us beyond the electronics, so hopefully more of that in the future.
HN: Tell me about how the tour has been and if there is anything that you are looking forward to about coming to Nebraska. I understand it’s your first time.
N: Yeah! So this has been my first time doing a full U.S. tour so there is actually so much of this country that I haven’t seen. I am walking around in 105 degree whether in Phoenix right now and it feels kind of crazy. Obviously touring with Pinegrove, they are all my best friends, and that’s been really fun. We just bought a 15 passenger van right before this tour so we can all sit together plus our tour manager. It’s been a real motley crew.
And the tour has been really well attended! A lot of them have sold out. We are playing a sold out at Echo in LA, so it’s been cool. These are the biggest audiences we’ve played to before and it’s been pretty consistently packed. That’s attributed to Pinegrove. I don’t think people have necessarily been coming out to see Half Waif yet,but I think we’ve made a lot of new fans and it’s a new audience for us. It’s really cool to have people come up after the show and say “I’ve never heard of you before but I love your music” and that really moved me.
It’s obviously a somber time for our country. Somber and upsetting. To be in Louisiana two days after Alton Sterling was killed and then to be in Dallas two days after the shooting, it’s a really strange feeling. Normally we would be at home in the Northeast but now we are actually going to these communities and talking to people there makes me think it’s an important time to be visiting the entire country.
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Cat DeLuca’s new EP boldly explores dark pop
By Rebecca Lowry
Pop music seems to be a fairly uncharted territory in The Good Life these days, veering instead towards roots, rock or country. It takes a bold soul to travel that road, and that is exactly what Cat DeLuca has done with her debut release, The Unloved Kids Club.
Towing the line somewhere between Lorde and Evanescence, DeLuca has curated this particular trio of songs for a first release with an unflinching desire to tell her truth, exactly how she sees it. The tracks on The Unloved Kids Club read like the honest, backward, twisted fairy tale, beginning at the end of ‘happily ever after.’
“The Game” is about a toxic relationship DeLuca was in and their constant back and forth ‘who can hit the hardest’ type of fighting. “December” is about her coming to terms with and being able to accept missing the memories while separating those feelings from missing that person. The title track is what emotionally happened to her after the resolution of that relationship and it’s affects.
“I didn’t want to grow up or fall in love again because of the vulnerability and responsibility that came with it,” DeLuca says. “So, I created the unloved kids club as an actual thing in my own head.”
DeLuca recorded the EP at Icon One Music, collaborating with Alfonzo Jones as producer. Jones, who has produced albums for Icon artists Dominique Morgan and Jus.b, is known for his ability to transform R&B and Soul songs into dance floor magic. For this EP, DeLuca sought him out specifically to add his own touch to her melancholy melodies. The unadorned “December,” in particular, with its rich harmonies and minimal piano, becomes just as reminiscent of an R. Kelly chapter of “Trapped In The Closet” as it does of Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life.”
The videos for “The Game” and “December” were a collaboration with Roland Massow. A third video, which will complete the trio as a visual album, is currently in production.
The Unloved Kids Club is available now via iTunes, Spotify and Soundcloud.
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Laughing Falcon shares vintage classic rock video
Lincoln rock band Laughing Falcon has put visual to its loud, heavy metal sound, releasing a new video for “Getting Somewhere.” The track comes from its 2015 full-length release Sonic Possession.
It opens in a vintage classic metal haze, created by images of fire, maggots and skeletons fading into footage of the band shot in a dark, cave-like Bourbon front room. Like the flames licking the top of the screen, “Getting Somewhere” is a slower burner, singed by Kevin Chasek and Matt Kaminski’s searing riffs and Chasek’s raspy howl. Drummer Nate Christiancy and bassist Kyle Gibson keep the track chugging forward.
Laughing Falcon has a handful of shows coming up in the next month, including opening for “Dirty Old One Man Band” Scott H. Biram at The Bourbon Monday, Aug. 8. This weekend, it plays the O’Neill stop of the Good Living Tour with Rachel Price, Mesonjixx and DJ Relic.
See all of the band’s upcoming shows and watch “Getting Somewhere” below:
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Photos of Saint Motel, MUNA at The Waiting Room
HN contributor David Gass was at The Waiting Room last night, snapping photos of Los Angeles touring bands Saint Motel and MUNA. See them below:
Photos by David Gass
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Tonight, Soul Asylum comes to Vega, 350 Canopy St. The Minneapolis-native alt-rock band formed in 1981, becoming a kind of grunge precursor with fame locally and internationally but, initially, little nation-wide. The band broke big more than a decade later with its triple-platinum album Grave Dancers Union, which featured the band’s Grammy-winning single “Runaway Train.” The follow up record, Let Your Dim Light Shine, also went platinum. More recently, Soul Asylum released its 11th full-length Change of Fortune March 18 via Entertainment One. Omaha’s See Through Dresses and High Up open tonight’s show. RSVP here.
And it’s Dad’s $1 Beer Night at Duffy’s Tavern, which lately has meant live music as well. Unmanned (formerly Powers) and Red Cities play tonight at 9 p.m. for donations. Unmanned released full-length album Night Friends earlier this year, and Red Cities is currently working on one of its own. RSVP here.