Music Monday’s: Half Waif Interview

Music Mondays: Half Waif Interview

Monty Daniel

KCSU Music Director Monty Daniel had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Nandi Rose, aka Half Waif and discuss living in quarantine during COVID-19 and her new album ‘The Caretaker’. Special thanks to Pirate Promotion, Terrorbird Media, Anti and Epitaph Records and of course Nandi Rose herself for making this happen. All music was used with permission from the artist, label and management. Below is a transcription of her interview:

MD: So the first question I wanted to ask you was where your artist name came from?

NR: That’s a good question. So I sort of have two answers, one is the silly one and one is the serious one. But I think both kind of fed into the origin story. So first off, it was from college; a friend of mine coined the term. We were talking one day about my romantic prospects and how they never seem to pan out. And he was like ‘You know what Nandi, you’ve gotta stop going after all these waifs. Like, we’ve really gotta find you a half waif.’ I loved that phrase and it stuck with me. A couple years later when I was starting this project and I needed to come up with a band name, that phrase just sort of floated back into my head. At that time, I had just left college and was feeling sort of adrift in the world. I had left college, we had moved out of my childhood home, I found myself suddenly living in New York City and in some ways felt like I identified with the plight of the waif. You know, being kind of destitute and without a home. But the reality wasn’t that I didn’t have a home, it was that I had many homes and my heart belonged to so many different places at that point in my life. So… I felt like I was really more of a half waif. 

MD: That’s really interesting.

NR: The name stuck. 

MD: That seems to really reflect in a lot of your music, too, which is really cool.

NR: Yeah! You know, I think that this idea of place and belonging and home has really been threaded through my life as a whole. I’m half Indian and grew up in western Mass(achusetts). I held onto this sense of identity as a way of feeling special I think. You know, that I was half Indian in this community that was all white. So this idea of being half-something has sort of followed me. That’s something I’ve been keen to explore, like where is my place in the world? You know, coming from these two different worlds. 

MD: Yeah, for sure. I guess feeding into that, can we talk a little bit about your new album, The Caretaker, maybe some of the process leading up to the release?

NR: Yeah, totally. So The Caretaker is out in the world now, which I was not expecting it to come out in these circumstances. No one foresaw this time that we’re in. But it’s really fascinating to me that this record is coming out right now because I wrote it at a time in my life when I was experiencing deep feelings of isolation and a sense of removal from the world. I had moved to upstate New York, where I live now, I live in a really really tiny town. I was just experiencing this sense of stepping away from New York, where I used to live, and stepping away from some formative friendships and relationships in my life. So this album was a product of that time where I found myself alone a lot. My husband is also a musician, so he was often on tour and so I’d be alone in the country, kind of ruminating and reflecting on the state of my relationships and sort of the things I had done in my life to bring me to this point. So it is interesting now that this record is out in a time of collective isolation. Maybe it makes the music, I hope it makes the music resonate a little more deeply with people to also be able to enter into that headspace. But I also worked on The Caretaker over a long period of time. Maybe not long in the grand scheme of things, I think often artists can work on records for many years. But for me this was definitely the most focused I’ve ever been working on a record. I wasn’t touring that much and I was very stationary, again, in this small town and this house. So I was coming at this record with a sense of letting it unfold maybe a bit more organically than past projects. I didn’t feel any rush, I guess is what I’m saying. That’s also kind of reflected in this time that we’re in right now. The pace has really slowed down and it’s given us more room to reflect and pause. 

MD: Yeah, definitely. I definitely felt that a lot on the record. So it’s really cool to hear you say that because it definitely did give me that feeling as well. 

NR: Cool. 

MD: Your music seems to have some really vivid imagery in it, was there any kind of scenes or stories that seemed to influence you a lot on The Caretaker?

NR: So this view that I’m looking out at right now I would say was a really formative image for this record. I’m looking out at my yard and there’s a train that goes right through the backyard. It’s funny because leaving New York, I was gonna get away from the subway sounds, instead I’ve moved to this house that has a freight train that goes like right through it. But it’s something that I’ve found very comforting, actually. Again, I don’t see too many people where we live. We see a lot of birds and a lot of animals where we live and we see this train. So there are these non-human signs of life kind of populating the backdrop of this record. You can hear that in the sound of insects, these sort of night bugs that would come up in a big chorus in the backyard. They make their appearance very literally on the record a couple of times. But also in some of the synth sounds that I was using, I was trying to emulate just the sort of like fuzzy chatter of these bugs in the yard. And the caretaker, this character that sort of emerged in my mind as I was finishing the record, her narration really takes place on this porch, looking out at the scene. She was charged with taking care of the land, but instead, the land is completely overgrown: much like my own backyard. And so the weeds are sort of growing up all over in the cracks of the house and the animals are taking over. So this setting of almost like untouched nature became a big backdrop for the record. So those are a lot of the images I was pulling from. 

MD: Yeah, that’s really cool. There’s a freight train that actually goes through Fort Collins and I can see it like right outside of my window, too. So —

NR: That’s so cool!

MD: Definitely can relate. You can hear it wherever you are in Fort Collins, I swear. 

NR: Oh, I love that! Yeah, it’s like a nice reminder, I don’t know. It feels like everytime I hear the horn, you know, and it’s approaching from down the tracks it’s like a little hello. 

MD: I love that. Well, I wanted to delve into specifically two songs on the album. The first one that I think hit me kind of hard was “In August” (segment of song plays) I kind of felt like in the song, you were struggling to let go of someone who had maybe hurt you. Could you maybe tell me a little bit about the story behind this song?

NR: Yeah! This was, as I was sort of alluding to earlier, this was a point in my life when certain friendships were no longer working. And I think a lot of that is a product of growing up and leaving the sort of easy bonds of school and college. And even those early years in my twenties in the city when everyone was sort of bumping into each other. Some of those friendships sort of form easily and quickly. And then, as you get a little bit older, you know, people move away and maybe lose touch. As I was turning thirty, that was just something I was thinking a lot about. There’s a really particular kind of poignancy to a friendship ending. We hear a lot about break-ups and romantic relationships ending and that’s really its own precise sadness and pain. But I think I was trying to get at the heart of this nostalgic sadness, remembering this person. You know, in a situation where it really isn’t anybody’s fault. This song was me trying to find where I went wrong in the hopes that in taking some of the responsibility for that relationship ending, this other person could do the same and maybe somewhere down the line we’d be able to come back together. 

MD: Yeah, I think that’s a really good perspective to come at it from, because I don’t think there’s too many songs out there about, you know, friendships ending or of either party really going through it themselves. So, I really appreciated that perspective on it. 

NR: Thank you. 

MD: And then, the other song I wanted to go into was “Generation” (segment of “Generation plays”) It’s a song I kind of saw as being more optimistic at points but then it had still these tinges of, I’d say, desperation. So can you tell me a little bit more about this song or what inspired you on this song?

NR: Yeah, my mom calls this “my anthem.” When I first played it for her, she was like “This is your anthem for your generation.” I was like “Okay, mom, chill out.” But it was very sweet that she connected with this song so strongly. You know, the way that I pace the record, and this one in particular, was with the idea of it ending on a more optimistic note. I mean, this is really a journey. This is like, the caretaker’s journey, you know, throughout this record. As she’s trying to, you know, let go of some of the thorns of her past in order to emerge stronger and more loving and more mindful and more connected. So, “Generation,” I’m glad that you feel like there’s some optimistic elements because for me, it was that song. It’s an effort to discard maybe some of those ancestral pains and ancestral hurts. I think that we take on a lot of our family legacy. I think I’ve carried a lot of pain from my parent’s divorce, which happened when I was fourteen, so it’s been many, many years of carrying that. And also just the stories of the struggle of ancestors. And so this song, I was coming at those ideas from this new vantage point of getting married and literally changing my name. Our names are so much a part of our identity and they link us to our past. So, I think I was kind of grappling with that idea of moving forward, still connected to my past, yet forging a new future for myself. And I think that’s where that line is, I am my own generation and that’s partially like I’ve gotten here on my own, that’s like a little bit of a show of strength, right? I am my own person. Despite the pains of my family, I’ve actually kind of emerged more self-sufficient. And then it’s also like I am the source of my own inspiration, my own pain, my own music. I generate the material for that. And then it’s also taking control and ownership. We can write our own stories and we don’t have to feel bound to our narratives. We have the power to write ourselves out of that, out of those cycles. I think by the end of this record, this caretaker’s journey, I was really hoping to relinquish some of those cycles and break those patterns and start something new. 

MD: Yeah, you can’t see me, obviously, but I was nodding my head through a lot of that. It’s weird because I’m like “They can definitely see me, I’m nodding my head” then I’m like “Oh, wait…”

NR: Right! No, I felt that, though, and I just so appreciate these questions and it’s also a chance for me to kind of remember where I was when I was writing this because it was obviously a little while ago now. But it’s nice to have the chance to kind of get back inside the songs.

MD: Yeah, for sure. Well, I just wanted to know what your major goal or message is with this new album?

NR: I like that question. You know, I think, for me, going really deeply inside to kind of stare my personal struggles in the face, has always been important to me in order to move forward in a lighter, happier, more joyous way. I think sometimes we feel afraid to go to those places because they’re dark and they’re painful. But I’ve really come to value that process and it’s something I sing about in “Ordinary Talk.” It’s part of the process, that going deep inside because there’s so much that awaits you on the other end when you go into that deep journey with yourself. I think it’s getting to know yourself better and when we become more connected and more aware of what’s going on and our emotions and moods and our visceral experiences, we can be more compassionate toward other people. We can be more aware of our impact on our communities and the environment. Those sound like lofty goals, but I think it starts small. I think it starts in those small, kind of personal inner moments. I’m really grateful that I get to do that with my music and I hope that it also helps people kind of expel some of those thornier feelings in an effort to live a more meaningful life.