“Soft is Strong” – A Conversation with Half Waif

Interview conducted by: Makenzie Creden

Half Waif’s Mythopoetics, released July 9th on ANTI- records, is a collection of very personal stories and tender emotions interwoven between simple keyboard chords, crescendoing electronic arrangements, and explosive vocals. The album sounds of true catharsis.

This week we had the opportunity to chat with the lovely Nandi Rose of Half Waif on the new album, finding power in vulnerability, and the upcoming tour.

You mentioned that your songs are like these stories, and I mean it’s obvious that you have this amazing way with words. You’re a natural storyteller. I’ve read that you’re a fan of Shakespeare, which is cool. Is that something- lyrics/words/writing- is that something that comes easily to you?

That’s a great question. I would say I’m definitely a literary fan. I love reading fiction, nonfiction, poetry. I love all of it. I’m constantly immersed in some sort of reading and absorbing literature. 

…but you know I actually find lyrics to be the hardest part of writing songs. It’s really challenging, I think, because when I’m feeling an emotional undercurrent that propels me into this room to write, the first thing that usually comes out is the music: the chords and the melody. It’s primal. It’s the most primal expression to use the voice and string together notes and sounds. 

Often when I’m writing, it’ll just be a stream of consciousness. I’ll be putting in random words, sometimes made-up words, whatever… It can be really hard then to go back, edit, and think about really wanting to be specific with my words and saying what I want to say. It’s been a long process for me, but I think I’m learning. It’s a skill that you have to hone. I’m trying to hone that over these albums: How to just be as precise with my words as I can and think a lot about the legacy that I’m leaving behind with the word. 

So much of my heart goes into the music, and that’s where my first impulse is. The sound of the voice and the sound of the instruments, in itself, is a form of expression. But also then taking that same kind of thoughtful and conscious approach to what the words are saying and what stories are being told. 

Y’know I feel like every album I approach I say, “I don’t want it to be a sad album. I don’t want it to be my legacy of just sad songs,” but I’ve also really come to recognize the power that I gain from transmitting those feelings of devastation and powerlessness. Writing songs is such a transformative act. I’m just trying to get more specific with the stories I tell, while also leaving room for the stream of consciousness. I think that’s important too. I think it’s a balance, as all things are.

Is it ever scary for you to allow yourself to become so vulnerable through your music and through your lyrics and share that with the world? I mean, to me that seems terrifying.

It’s gotten a little scarier having more people listen… Of course, I’m not complaining at all. It’s amazing to be sharing these songs with an audience. An audience of any size is an honor. 

Taken from Nandi’s Instagram

When I started writing songs it’s always been this vehicle for me to explore and reflect: a lot of self-reflection and a lot of diving deep to understand the cliffs and valleys of the emotional landscape. That’s the only way I know how to write songs. There is a part of me now that kind of takes a step away from that and looks at the songwriting and the albums and I’m like “Oh man, I wish I could write a chill album,” but I also think there’s something really beautiful about recognizing and accepting the ways that we are. 

That was a lot of this album too: What do we accept about our stories as part of who we are and kind of be content with that? And what do we have the power to change? And so I think there’s a little bit of both going into that.

Absolutely. I think that vulnerability is such a beautiful thing and it’s also a scary thing, so much respect for allowing yourself to do that.

Thank you! And vulnerability is totally a form of strength.

Yes! Oh my gosh yes!

I remember in my senior thesis I was doing a vocal recital and I had a line in my notes for the program and I thank my parents for teaching me how to be both vulnerable and strong. I think that has been a beautiful lesson that I have learned through my family and through my upbringing and through the kinds of music I was listening to. 

Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos both came into my life when I was around 14 years old, and those two women I think embody that “vulnerability is strength.” It makes a lot of sense that those were my initial muses and guideposts to see that truly expressing the highs and lows of life, the full range of emotion, is a very powerful tool that you can wield.

Soft is strong, soft is strong. That’s the line I was saying over and over when I was working on Mythopoetics and that’s sort of a mantra I carry with me.

That is so beautiful. Does it get overwhelming after you’ve gone in and kind of eternalized all of these highs and lows and all of these stories and the weight they carry with them- does it get emotionally overwhelming or draining? Or does it feel like a weight has been lifted?

Absolutely the latter. I feel like songs are the receptacle of all that weight, and then I don’t have to carry it around with me, which is always interesting with how album cycles work. I finished recording this a year ago, so I don’t feel the weight of those stories anymore, thankfully. Yeah, the process of making an album is like a lesson for myself. It’s all teaching myself how to grow through it and transform the pain.

So yeah, I think sometimes when I hear people think of the music or say like, “I’m going to go listen to Half Waif and cry now,” it is. There are dark themes, but I also hope people take away that same feeling that I do when I’m writing: when we move through it, we are gaining that strength and we are gaining that clarity. 

I’ve always been a big proponent of looking our emotions in the face and sitting with them, and how awful it is to feel those things sometimes. Y’know, you just want to run away. You just want to feel good, but you can’t get to the other side of it unless you really dive into that dark water, so you can resurface and appreciate it all the more when you feel that weight lifted. I think that’s really important.

Absolutely. When I listened through the album for the first time I was like “Oh, this sounds like catharsis and this is a healing vehicle.” Specifically on Orange Blossoms, y’know I’m not sure if this is where it came from for you, but as someone who does and has struggled with depression, it resonated with me on a very deep level as I’m sure it does for many. But I guess my question here is: Why such a beautiful delicate name for such a dark song? Is there some sort of symbolism there?

Well, first of all, I just got full-body chills, thank you for sharing that with me. That itself is a vulnerable expression. That song, I think, in a lot of ways, is the linchpin of the record for me. I mean, it is that plea to be saved from something that’s overwhelming you that you feel you don’t have control over. And yet, that theme kept coming up from me during this time of like, “Nobody’s going to save me. Nobody’s going to do it for me.” Likewise, I was watching someone I was very close to get sober and battle a lot of demons. I wanted to save them, and I couldn’t. I needed someone to save me, and no one was going to do it. 

It’s this tricky thing that we go through as humans where we make such deep connections with each other, yet we are in our own bodies and are responsible for our own lives. That song, that litany of desperate pleas, kind of moves through that desperation, taking some accountability for my life and taking the actions that I can. I want to appreciate what I have while I have it. The fleeting-ness of life is so poignant, so as we kind of emerge from the murk that is our own head and we look outside… 

In the music video at that point, it opens up into this beautiful vista. Nature has so many gifts for us, so the orange blossom in the snow is this delicate thing that we have to protect and cherish because it’s not going to last. 

While I can, while I have the strength in my own body, I’m going to carry my own bags knowing I’m not going to do that forever. I’m going to call my dad because I won’t be able to do that forever. I’m going to love my partner because I’m not going to be able to do that forever. I think that was the antidote to that desperate, depressed feeling. That was the catharsis I needed, and I had to create it for myself.

On a lighter note, how’d you settle on Mythopoetics as the title of the album?

I was definitely searching for a name for a while but was also trying to let it happen organically. It wasn’t until I had already recorded everything, and I was up in Maine at my family’s cabin.

I was reading this book that my best friend’s mom had given me, called The Indigo Bunting, a book about Edna St. Vincent Millay, an amazing poet. I really didn’t know her work, but I love indigo buntings. I’m a big birder and they are one of my favorite birds. Edna St. Vincent Millay was a poet and a birder, so there were a lot of synergies that I was feeling between this amazing woman and my own life. She lived 15 minutes from where I live now, so again there was a connection there. All of these connections…

You know when something comes into your life, and you just have that feeling that it’s going to give you something you need? Whether it’s a book, or a person, or a movie, or a piece of music…You just have that gut feeling like I’m meant to come into contact with this.

Yeah, yeah for sure.

 I really had this feeling when I opened this book. It just had this sort of aura around it. So I was definitely attuned to the words in that book. At one point the author describes Edna as having a “mythopoetic presence,” and I had never heard that word before. I loved it immediately. Myths and poetry and family stories… and I was up at my family’s cabin, where there are so many memories: painful memories, beautiful memories, all of the stories swirling in my head. That word just struck me and I knew immediately that’s what I wanted to call it.

Wow… props to you for not, like, jumping the gun and kind of waiting and letting the universe point out all these synchronicities and listening to your intuition and gut feeling about the title and everything. Y’know, society is loud and it’s hard to block that out sometimes.

It’s helpful to go up to a cabin in the wilderness, and then it’s all quiet. You can really hear everything. 

Oh man that sounds lovely and also terrifying.

Photo by: Ali Kate Cherkis

[Laughing] Yeah!

So you’re closing out your tour this fall in Chicago with Lightning Bug, another artist we love here at the station.

Yes! Yea! Oh my gosh, that new record is so amazing!

What are you looking forward to on that tour?

I’m SO excited to see them live, to tour with them, and to be back in Chicago! It’s one of my absolute favorite cities. I’ve never played at Schubas, but I think it’s going to be a very momentous night to end in a city where I feel like it has one of the strongest music scenes in the country. It’s a really beautiful music community of kind souls, and I think that feeling really permeates the city for me as a musician there. It’s the perfect place to end.

Well, we’re excited to have you! I’m definitely going to make it out to that show.

I have one more question for you: What are you doing for yourself now? How are you staying grounded? What is bringing you joy?

Aww, I love that. That’s a wonderful question. I have my first garden this year. For someone who sings about plants a lot, the fact that it’s taken me this long to have a garden…. 

This year I was like, this is the year! It’s just two small raised beds, we don’t get a lot of sunlight so it’s just salad greens and herbs. Going out there and checking in on the plants, doing a little pruning… We have lemon balm, sage, mint, thyme… When I’m pruning those plants I like to make them into a tea.

I was about to ask!

Yes! Yes! That feels like a very sweet ritual, just like communing with the plants, spending some time there, and taking that delicious energy into my body. That feels like the best thing I can do for my body and soul right now.

Be sure to check out Mythopoetics on streaming services now, as well as catch Nandi and Lightning Bug at Schubas on November 21st!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.