With her latest project, Half Waif‘s Nandi Rose Plunkett has successfully bridged the ever-growing chasm between “avant” and pop, taking Radiohead’s lesson to a more intimate and less pretentious place. The band’s sophomore album ‘Probable Depths” is an intriguing blend of synth and orchestral pop full of texture and otherworldly melodies. We asked Plunkett a few questions about her creative process and gear.
What events and records have been inspiring the music in ‘Probable Depths’?
At the heart of ‘Probable Depths’ is the experience of recording the basic sounds for the album in the house where I grew up, in Western Massachusetts. It was very cold and very snowy when we were recording, yet the house was lit up with warmth from the old wood stove. To me, the album has this slick, constructed outside atmosphere that feels like the sharp air and the architecture of the house. Inside, in contrast, there’s the personal nature of the lyrics, the inner warmth of my thoughts, a sensation of being nestled inside a world of sound. That house has a lot of history – a lot of memories, joys, and intense sorrow. There’s a depth there that you might not feel when looking at the quaint red New England exterior, just like I hope there’s a depth to the music that requires a few listens.
In your experience, is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
My approach to writing music has changed so much over the years, I don’t even know what I believe anymore. When I first started writing, it was all random, all blessing – an unfiltered middle schooler, just pouring out sounds and feelings. But as I became a more discerning adult and realized I didn’t really like what the random outpourings sounded like, writing became more intentional: a reasonable brain coping with unreasonable emotions in a methodical yet creative fashion.
We’re starting to work on some new songs for the next full-length album, and these songs – unlike past material – are more collaborative with the band, with arrangements being constructed in a live band setting. Adan, our bass player, got the most incredible pedal recently, Montreal Assembly’s Count to 5. It’s a wacky playground of sound.
What are your other essential songwriting tools and sound sources?
I used to record solely on Logic, but lately I’ve been using Ableton for everything. My standard set-up these days is an M-Audio Oxygen 25 controller straight into my laptop, and then my Nord Electro 5D and cheap Blue Mic into a Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 interface. It’s all such rudimentary equipment, but it allows me to capture a range of found & digital sounds when making demos.
Thanks! Yeah, I did actually record them myself (though my friend Raphael who mixed the record is a total wizard, so he deserves so much credit for how everything sounds). I borrowed an old Neumann mic from my job, as well as a Universal Audio Apollo interface, and I recorded all the vocals in my apartment over the course of two agonizing weeks. The Neumann sounds really nice, but for the EP I just finished, I used a very cheap Sure SM58 knock-off for all the vocals, and I think that sounds really cool too. So it’s good to recognize that nice gear and respected brands are not at all necessary. It’s a little more arbitrary and magical than that.
Don’t you ever get over-analytical working on your music by yourself? “Paralysis of the self-analysis,” they say…
Ha, for sure. That’s why I think it’s so important to have collaborators and musical partners you can trust more than anything, to help you sift through your ideas and elevate them, to push you to write your best stuff and then be there to love you when you hit the lowest limits of self doubt.
Is there a person outside the band that’s been important in perfecting your recorded and/or live sound?
Zubin Hensler AKA twig twig produced ‘Probable Depths’ with me and has been a huge mentor to me in terms of shaping sounds. A true kindred musical spirit – there’s more in store for our partnership for sure, and I feel really lucky to be growing alongside this super talented and humble human.