We’ve been tracking Half Waif’s presence around NYC and beyond pretty much since we started our On The Rise series. They’ll be bringing their dreamy, moody, “avant-pop” sound to On The Rise later this month, and we got to chat with them about their roots, classical inspiration, and more. Get to know them below, and don’t miss them play on August 25.
Half Waif is a band with clear ties to the scene at Kenyon; nearly all of your band members went to school there, and you are touring with fellow Kenyon band SPORTS. Is the Kenyon scene particularly vibrant for smaller, alternative shows?
So it’s actually just me in Half Waif who went to Kenyon! But Evan of Pinegrove also went there, and that’s how we met, and it was through him that I met the other members of Half Waif (Zack and Adan, who also both play in Pinegrove). The music scene at Kenyon has really blossomed over the years – I think that’s due to student interest and initiative, as well as funding, that has helped to make the student-run venue on campus, The Horn, an attractive destination for touring indie bands. They have a really legit sound system now! I was a music major, and while there were only 6 majors in my class, nearly half of the student body took some sort of music class or was part of a music ensemble, so there’s definitely a lot of creative energy rattling around the small campus.
You’ve said that the band’s name is based in your post-college experience of “being a wanderer with no mooring.” Frequently, musicians refer to a specific place out of which their music flows; do you feel that your music is rooted in a space and place, or, as your band name might suggest, the absence of one?
That’s a very good question, and something I’ve thought a lot about. Some of the most compelling albums have come out of a certain place with a distinctive atmosphere, so in many ways, that’s what I strive for – a sense of sonic belonging. And with Probable Depths, we attempted this through the sampling of site-specific sounds, taking bits of character from my childhood home in Western Mass. But generally, I think there’s a restlessness to the way I write and the way I think about sound. As a result, it’s more about constructing and exploring internal worlds than it is drawing from external ones.
You studied classical composition in college. What place do you feel composition and theory have in modern rock or indie music?
It’s not something I think about consciously when I’m writing, but I do consider chords to be like colors, which I guess is a concept from Wagner and, later, Debussy – the idea of tone color, painting with swaths of sound. This translates to some unexpected chord progressions or phrase structures, which some of my favorite artists (Radiohead, James Blake) use frequently too.
Much of Half Waif’s sound is electronic; songs like ‘Ceremonial’ rely heavily on synth sounds and drum machines. Does the bulk of this composition come from you, Nandi, or other members of your group? Do you find it challenging to replicate this electronic sound in a live setting?
Up to this point, I’ve written the songs, made demos, refined the electronics during the recording process, and then brought the tracks to the band. We’re entering a new, exciting phase where we’re writing more collaboratively – we went to the Catskills in August on a writing retreat to prepare for our next full-length, which will be a full-band recording for the first time. It has been a bit challenging to prepare songs for a live setting, partially because we’re just a trio and there are many many sounds on the recordings and we are committed to playing each sound in real time rather than playing to tracks. But it’s a fun challenge and we’re getting better at it. It makes us push the limits of our instruments.
Many refer to your band’s sound as avant-pop, citing inspirations like Bjork and St. Vincent. You refer to Half Waif as mood-ring pop. How do you feel Half Waif’s sound fits this genre tag?
“Mood ring pop” is kind of a tongue-in-cheek term. The music is obviously emotive, moody, with dark moments – that’s the mood ring. But it’s also playful, curious, probing – the ring pop. I don’t know, I really have no idea what this is! It’s just a constant push towards coming a little bit closer to knowing myself.
Half Waif headlines our August 25 On The Rise showcase, with sets by Hannah Epperson, Fern Mayo, and Pollens starting off the night. Tickets for that show are on sale here.