Creator Chats: Alex Cohen (Alex Napping) & Nandi Rose Plunkett (Half Waif)

Welcome to Creator Chats - a conversation among two groups, bands or people in the music industry. Today we have Alex Cohen of Alex Napping interviewing Nandi Rose Plunkett of Half Waif. 

 Half Waif photo: Landon Speers

Half Waif photo: Landon Speers

Alex Cohen (Alex Napping): With most electronic music, there are a lot limitations that come with a live performance and figuring out how to perform those compositions live can be tricky. You currently perform as a 3-piece (and it's super tight and I love it, btw!), but if you could have the live set up of your dreams what would it look like? Who and what gear/instruments/performers would it include? 

Nandi Rose Plunkett (Half Waif): You’re definitely right that it’s a challenge to recreate the recordings with a three-piece, and to some extent we do try to do that, but in other ways we like to adapt the songs specifically for a live setting. Which is to say, sometimes the best thing isn’t to recreate that synth bass part, but to approximate the feel with another instrument. 

If I could have any instruments/performers on hand though (I love this question), I’d gravitate first to bass clarinet, which is one of my favorite instruments. And I think I’d like to have my friend Ng Chor Guan join us -- he is a master theremin player. If I’m dreaming big, I’d want Johnny Greenwood to write some wild string parts that my pals the Mivos Quartet could perform. And then I’d ask Emily from Florist to add some modular synth action.

AC: I have another project where I make and record music from home. Something that's a struggle for me is accepting that a song is finished when there are no constraints like studio time, other's availability to collaborate, etc. How do you know when to stop writing and commit?

NRP: Great question – I think for me, I’m a really impatient person. I’m dying for something to be done so I can move on to the next thing. These days, I’m working on many songs at once. And I do often ask myself, Is this as good as it can be? Am I too hasty to finish things that really need more breathing room and time? But when all the colors have run out in one song, when I’ve squeezed all the tubes and kind of painted in that one color palette for a while, I’m ready to move on to whatever’s next. I don’t like to dwell in my music. I do that enough in my mind.

AC: You've talked about how form/a is sort of about communicating and creating forms for your moods through music and have described yourself as a very emotional/moody person. I also identify as a hyper-emotional person but have, in the past, shied away from overtly embracing my sensitivity, especially in my art, because of female stereotypes and the unfortunate negativity that's associated with it. Even though form/a is it about your personal experiences, particularly within your current relationship, was it at all your intention to inspire a larger conversation about the harmful myth of the "chill" woman/girlfriend by being so upfront about experiencing intense emotions?

NRP: I hadn’t necessarily thought of that, but that’s a really interesting idea. As I’m getting older, I feel like I don’t want to constrain myself anymore by trying to be something I’m not. I don’t want to waste energy wondering if I’m being the right person, if I’m saying or doing the right thing, if people will accept me. I do still think about those things, because I’m human, but I’ve become more and more aware of how tiresome it is. So with form/a, and with my musical life in general, I’m stripping back some outer layers to get at the crux of myself, and I’m finding that being myself is so much easier than being anything else! Sure, sometimes it’s hard and weird to be honest, with myself and with others, about my relationship and my family and my life, but it’s the most natural thing to do. This has also helped me with my nerves when performing – I’ve always had pretty bad stage fright, so recently I’ve found that if I’m just 100% me onstage, being goofy or whatever when I interact with the audience, it calms me down. Because I don’t need to know any correct lines or social cues, I already know how to be me!

In regards to what you said, I really like the idea of this fearless honesty (which isn’t to say I always achieve that, just that I’m striving for it) can be a part of the growing conversation of what it means to be female or female-identifying in today’s society. It means embracing all aspects of our persona – the hard and the soft, the chill and the wild – and wearing them loud and proud.

 Alex Napping photo: Helmut.Studio

Alex Napping photo: Helmut.Studio

AC: Some of the music I produce uses found sounds or samples that have emotional significance tied to the content of the song's lyrics and themes, but I will then process and affect them beyond recognition. There's a strange satisfaction that comes with knowing those little nuggets of meaning are hiding in the composition. I know you use a lot of found sounds as well -- are there any gems like that hiding out on form/a? If so, care to elaborate? 

NRP: I totally agree, I love having meaningful sounds embedded in the very foundation of the songs. It’s just one more tool we have to communicate emotion. In past interviews, I’ve talked about the most obvious one on form/a, which is the heater clank sound in “Night Heat” that you can hear right at the beginning. I recorded it in the middle of the night when the heater kept waking me up and frightening me, so I wanted to take control of it. The choral singing that is the bedrock of “Magic Trick” comes from when I was sitting with my friends Temujin, Gideon, and Hannah in a strange resonant room at an arts center in California – we just started testing out notes to see how they sounded in the space, and then we started harmonizing improvised chords, and I recorded it on my iPhone. I love that that song includes the voices of some of my dearest friends.

AC: You have an amazing voice! It took me a long time to figure out that I should be doing vocal warmups & exercises almost everyday if I wanted to get better at singing and performing. Do you have any vocal rituals that you do everyday and/or before shows/studio time? Or any advice for taking care of your voice during tour or recording?

NRP: Thank you so much! I studied classical singing for about eight years, most seriously in college. I regret to say that I haven’t really kept up my training, but taking lessons for all those years helped me learn how to use my breath and sing in a way that doesn’t strain my chords, which is super important when you’re touring a lot and singing every night. I like to drink throat coat tea with honey and do some basic vocal exercises before I perform. I’ve also been told that it’s good to do some light humming and vocalizing in a hot shower, when your chords are nice and loose!

AC: I started a solo production project outside of Alex Napping specifically to remove dependency on other collaborators and that's come with its own set of struggles as well as a lot of treasured flexibility. You've said the next Half Waif album will likely be more of a collaboration with your band. What aspects of that excite you and what aspects are you most anxious about? 

NRP: My bandmates Zack and Adan are my best friends and are both astounding musicians. I trust them completely and know that the ideas they will bring to this record are going to elevate it. I’m excited that they’ll be bringing their skill sets and instruments to the album, and that we’ll have an opportunity to capture some of the energy of the live set. That said, because I’ve never really recorded an album with a band before, I’m anxious about what that process will actually look like. I’m trying to balance what I do alone, demoing and arranging things on the computer, with the organic process of writing together while jamming and trying out ideas in real time. I was just thinking yesterday how there’s an added layer of complication, because we’re not just coming up with parts, we’re also coming up with sounds. And sometimes those sounds inform the parts, and vice versa. So it can be confusing where to start. But we just rented a house in upstate NY for the summer so I’m confident that when we’re all living together and have all our toys set up and ready to go, we’ll find a process that works for us.

AC: Now that you've produced an album entirely on your own, do you have an interest in producing albums for other people? 

NRP: Interest, yes! Skills, probably not quite yet. But I’d love to get to that point. 

AC: If you could choose between producing a record for Beyonce or Solange who would it be?

NRP: This is a hard one! They’ve both proven with their recent releases to be risk-takers, which I love and admire a lot. My aesthetic probably aligns more with Solange, but as a vocalist, I’m more drawn to Beyonce’s voice. I feel like she can do anything with it! It’s liquid, it’s metallic, it’s every color imaginable. So if I produced a record for her, I’d have a lot of fun exploring the vast terrain of her instrument.