Sunflowers and nature are not two things you immediately think of when listening to Half Waif – aka Nandi Rose Plunkett’s – latest album, Lavender. Its glitching, nocturnal take on synth-pop can be both jarring and comforting, but its often icy stabs are more likely to conjure images of cold city streets than wholesome mornings, reading and drinking coffee in rural Upstate New York. But surprisingly, this is what Plunkett’s morning is looking like before I interrupt with a phone call. Even more surprisingly, this is exactly how Plunkett laid down her breathtaking third album.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had working on an album.”
So, it was in a house by a pond, far removed from the bustle of the city, that Plunkett and her collaborators Adan Carlo and Zack Levine recorded Lavender in May of last year. Most of the material had been written while on tour with her other band, Pinegrove and the recording location, she says, could not have been more different from where the songs were first conceived, “in a cramped van in the cold.”
“Being surrounded by so many plants and animals created a really good headspace to work,” reflects Plunkett. The detachment from the situation in which the songs were originally written also allowed Plunkett to be more “holistic” when creating the album, which led to it being “probably the most conceptual” body of work Plunkett feels that she has created. “Being in this peaceful space made making Lavender very fun,” she says of the recording. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had working on an album and I think it also showed me a new way of approaching creating.”
In spite of this, Lavender aims to “face the darkness,” and is a vessel that allows Half Waif to tell her stories, which often feel fraught, anxious and with an undercurrent of melancholy. “We all have things about ourselves that we don’t like, in the way we interact with others and the world,” she says. “I think getting to talk about that and explore that side of myself in the songs is a way for me to kind of expel it and pack it away in a safe space.”
The experimental, pulsating production throughout her work has always thrilled, but on Lavender one of the tracks that stands out most is ‘Back in Brooklyn’, a piece centred around just her voice and a piano. “It’s really hard and scary for me to have just a piano song,” she admits. “It seems like a personal boundary that I’ve set for myself that I don’t like.” But by challenging herself, Plunkett has created a truly arresting song – a new delicate voice and emotive piano playing bringing to life her pain of feeling a stranger in a place she once called home.
“[Lavender] showed me a new way of approaching creating.”
Plunkett’s drive to constantly evolve and challenge is at the heart of Half Waif, but on Lavender, Plunkett feels that in some ways, the project has come full circle: “I feel like I’m entering this new phase of the project, which involves moving up to the country and revisiting the self I was when I started this and honouring the progress… Continuing to create without a lot of self-criticism. I’m feeling in a kind space right now, I guess you could say.”
“We start as these big blocks of clay and then whatever scenario you’re in, you start to take shape a bit more, based on how you react to that situation or that new experience, and I think that’s coming across in the music with each new release,” Plunkett reflects, as our conversation draws to a close. “But I feel like I’m still chipping away – and will be for the rest of my life.”
Half Waif plays the Crofters Rights on 27th September, with her third album, Lavender out now via Cascine.