Half Waif is a band based in Brooklyn, founded in 2012. Half Waif is made up of Nandi Rose Plunkett, Zack Levine, and Adan Carlo. Half Waif recently completed their second album, titled Probable Depths, scheduled to be released in May 2016. We interviewed Half Waif about their music and Prosperity Catalyst, an organization that creates opportunities for women in distressed areas in order to achieve economic empowerment.
Alt Philanthropy: Your music has a very distinct style about it. It has an electric sound, yet still keeps the sense of coffee house. How did you find your style?
Half Waif: I wish I could pinpoint it! Because I feel like a lot of what I struggle with as a human and an artist is not really knowing what I’m doing, not knowing where I fit or where these sounds fit or how to best present it to people, or even which people might want to hear it. I guess that goes back to being in middle school and feeling totally weird. But I credit the sound with just being my way of filtering a lot of random external influences: my dad’s love of Celtic and folk music, my background in musical theater and pop a cappella singing, my mother’s late-night chromatic piano improvisations. I started out as a singer-songwriter at age 9 and then at age 20 I felt ashamed of that term, because “singer-songwriter” had such a sterile feeling. So I threw myself into studying avant-garde composition and computer music and opera, like those held the secrets to a deeper sort of art. I’ve since realized that it’s in the reconciliation of the two that I feel most comfortable, and that my perceptions of those two musical spheres are completely arbitrary and shouldn’t limit me in choosing whatever I want to write.
ALTP: What is the story behind your name? It's a really unique name for a musician and we would love to learn the meaning behind it!
HW: After I graduated college, my parents put my childhood home on the market and I moved all my baby stuff out of my old bedroom. It was kind of a numbing experience. I was feeling like I had just left these two places that made me feel safe – my house in Massachusetts and my college in Ohio – and now I was thrown to the world, a waif in that way, a wanderer with no mooring. And yet, the reality was, I didn’t have no home, I had many homes: Massachusetts, Ohio, Maine, India, England, etc. Places that I felt I belonged in some way or another. A half waif, not a whole one. So it was that fractured feeling of belonging to everywhere and nowhere all at once that sort of birthed this project and gave it its name.
ALTP: Do you have any particular musicians you look up to while creating your music?
HW: I tend to go through phases where I listen to something heavily and that shapes the music I write. Stumbling across something new and inspiring will inevitably lead me to write a song (or many) that seems to be my interpretation of those feelings/sounds through my own musical lens. I like to listen to contemporaries, musicians whose journeys I can relate to, whose styles seem like more concise or unusual versions of my own - usually women. But my very first idol was Tori Amos, and I think her storytelling and adventurousness with melody and harmony will always be things that guide me, though I don’t actively listen to her music these days.
ALTP: What is your favorite part about working in the music industry?
HW: I don’t know how much I’d say I’m working in the “industry” – but the thing I love about being a working musician is getting to travel and connect with such diverse audiences.
ALTP: When you picture people listening to your music, what does the image of your audience look like in your head?
HW: Young, old, every possible shape and color, smiling or staring with a kind of understanding.
ALTP: What has been your biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a rising artist?
HW: Balancing writing music with working a “day job” I care about and also having a social life. I’ve found that it’s really important for me to do all of those things – be creative, be engaged in my work, and be a good friend. But sometimes it can be tricky to manage all of that and still be as productive and dynamic of an artist as I’d like to be.
ALTP: If you could play any show for any audience, what would it be?
HW: I’d love to play a show for my 94-year-old grandmother, who lives in Ashford, Kent, outside of London. She’s never seen me perform this music before.
ALTP: What charity did you choose to draw awareness towards?
HW: I chose Prosperity Catalyst, an organization that invests in women-led businesses. It’s been proven that when we invest in women and young girls, economies grow more readily. This is because women invest more of their earnings in their families, and the education of women & girls greatly grows the workforce and thus helps to generate more wealth & vitality for communities.
ALTP: Why would you like to help Prosperity Catalyst?
HW: They’re a small, focused organization that I’d love to draw more attention towards. Their strategy is so smart, I feel: rather than giving charity in the form of money or goods, they’re imparting tangible entrepreneurial skills to these women and emboldening them to make their own money based off of their own efforts. True empowerment, which is so very needed for women who are constantly having feelings of power and self-worth torn from them.
ALTP: How has Prosperity Catalyst impacted you throughout your life?
HW: I actually used to work for them! Back when they were just getting started. So I really understand and admire the work they’re doing. It’s been wonderful to see them grow and refine their mission while impacting the lives of so many enterprising women in Haiti and Iraq (where they primarily work).
ALTP: In what ways do you hope to use your platform as a music artist to help others?
HW: Being in any public sphere gives you the ability to reach people and stand up for the things you believe in, in a more visible capacity. I don’t take this ability for granted and hope that as I share myself musically, and have the chance to talk about my background and the inner-workings of my mind, opportunities (like this one) will arise for us to also share our thoughts on the world and offer small solutions for how we might help. It’s a humbling sort of position, because on one hand, you’re like “Who am I to be making grand statements about the shortcomings of our societies” but on the other hand, you’re like “Wow, cool, people are valuing me as an artist as I talk about my relationships and my insular mental world, and maybe that means they will pay attention to what else I have to say.”
ALTP: How have you found yourselves helping others around you?
HW: The day job I mentioned earlier is something I care deeply about: I work for a music non-profit called Found Sound Nation (FSN) that develops collaborative music-making projects around the world that help build healthier communities. Our largest program is OneBeat, a music exchange program that brings together 25 musicians from around 17 different countries for one month of music-making, conversation, social engagement, and performance. FSN also produces smaller programs that target more specific regions, like the Dosti Music Project that creates a space for Indian and Pakistani musicians to interact and collaborate. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this team of musicians, producers, and social change-makers.
ALTP: Who are your role models?
HW: Musically, I really admire the journeys of St. Vincent and Bjork. They’ve both taken this path of constantly widening out, expanding their skills and sonic experimentations, while simultaneously honing in and getting closer to their essential sound.
To learn more about Prosperity Catalyst and what they do, you can visit http://www.prosperitycatalyst.org.