There is a common misconception that if you want to fuel your creative side, living in a bustling city is your only option. The idea of feeding off vibrant communities full of eccentric, well-dressed artistic types is often sold to you as the only way to be “close to the action” and that making appearances is the only way to make sure the art that you will eventually make gets appreciated by the right people. For Nandi Rose, all of those semantics are too exhausting to even entertain when approaching the lush and experimental synth pop she creates under her moniker Half Waif. All of that hustle and bustle just seems to get in the way of the real work that can be done with a little peace and quiet.
Originally from Williamstown, MA, Rose moved to the quaint town of Chatham, NY back in 2017 and has found the picturesque beauty and those tranquil moments in the Hudson Valley have continued to inspire her on a daily basis. Immersing herself in the wilderness has kept her grounded and connected to the intense self-reflection and examination that would inspire her breathtaking fourth album, Mythopoetics.
Over the past year and a half, Rose has done her best to tune out the constant horror show being played out every day by losing herself in studying herbalism and learning about the birds that inhabit the area. “I’m just so incredibly inspired by nature more and more, I’m just called to be learning from nature,” Rose explained over an early afternoon Zoom chat with Ears to Feed, “It changes the perspective so much when you start listening and paying attention to the other living beings around you. It’s just such an antidote to the ego and the narrative. I think that’s really helpful for me as a songwriter who does a deep dive internally and lives in that space of excavation and internal landscape. I really need that other side to just completely counterbalance that.”
Out Friday, July 9th via ANTI-, Mythopoetics is an emotional clearing-of-the-deck for Rose that could have only been carried out under long stretches of seclusion. While working on last year’s The Caretaker, Nandi—along with her longtime musical collaborator Zubin Hensler—decided to leave her comfort zone for a long recording residency at the Gainesville, FL space Pulp Arts for the simple idea of recording some of her past songs with a more stripped down and piano focused approach. However, during the residency, Rose found that long gestating themes and song ideas had begun to spill out of her like an ATM with fried circuits spitting out twenties onto an empty sidewalk.
Having this distance between her and her day-to-day life back in Upstate, NY gave her space to explore subjects that she may have been scared to approach in the past. While The Caretaker deals with normalizing our shared experiences, Mythopoetics explores the reasons why and how we tend to assign meaning to the ways we operate and treat each other. It was a breakthrough moment for Rose and as a result she was able to write the record she has been wanting to make for the last 10 years.
The album was a way for Rose to examine the importance of the myths and stories that had been passed down from her family to explain life’s greater meaning and to look at them with a more speculative gaze. “For me with this record, thinking about the power of storytelling, it’s really a potent tool for creating a sense of distance from the source of our pain,” she said, adding “Storytelling and songwriting are both vehicles for us to get farther away from that. The immediacy of the pain of that moment. I think that sense of distance is a protective mechanism [which] I find both really helpful and also dangerous.”
There are some relationships with people in our lives that require a great deal of myth-making just to keep our love and respect for them in tact. Rose explained that over the years she has been navigating her relationship with a toxic and codependent loved one that she has now only been able to understand with this record
In the opening lines to the album’s emotional centerpiece “Sourdough,” Rose sums up her experiences over a meditative piano line. “I would stare at the sun if it’d help the ones I love,” she sings, adding, “though I’d burn in my skull I would smile to see them well.” If you have ever been in a similar situation with a friend, family member, or romantic partner who demands more than you can give, those opening 30 seconds smack like a sopping wet towel to the face.
As a songwriter who has always been transparent and autobiographical in her work, Rose felt with this record she could not do the lyrical blood-letting needed to move on from the pain she found herself in. In order to do so, she would have to find a way to tell the story of this codependent relationship with both sides represented fairly. Which was a task she felt was impossible to achieve.
“It was something at this moment which was in the Fall of 2019 that I really found myself in a very intense way with a member of my family who was getting sober,” explained Rose. “It’s hard for me to create boundaries. When a song like ‘Sourdough’ is about where I would stare at the sun for the people I love, I would hurt myself. I would leech all the energy from my body and the blood from my veins if it meant that I would like to save them. But that’s not healthy. That’s not healthy behavior.”
“So, at that period of my life—when most of these songs were written—I was really struggling with [the questions of], ‘How do I be there for this person?’ ‘How do I maintain strength in myself?’ ‘How do I not be crushed by how much they’re being crushed right now?’ And I don’t really even have the answer to that. But writing the songs was my way of navigating that tendency in myself and those behaviors and those patterns. If I can name this pattern, if I can see it, and say what it is, then I can break it.”
Although Rose is looking to dismantle a little of the fantastical elements she used to attribute to moments of coincidence, she is still holding onto the wonder she feels around serendipity. “Belief is a word that was coming up a lot for me when I was writing Mythopoetics,” explained Rose. “I believe things get better. So belief, not necessarily in a God, but belief in that magic. Belief in that thing that you can’t see, or touch or even name. We have to hold on to that. Otherwise, it would be really hard to keep going.”
At the time of our conversation, there was still some time left before Mythopoetics’ release date. With so much intense soul-searching behind her, Rose feels as though she can finally sit back and relax a little. Perhaps go for a walk outside and check to see if a rainbow appears after a thunderstorm that made itself known during our zoom conversation. She mentions that she has been kicking around a few sketches of songs and toying around with the idea of releasing a more ambient sounding record in the near future. But for now, she has slayed the beast in her own mythical adventure. I allude to this being her Daniel Plainview moment from the end of There Will Be Blood. She has finally bludgeoned her demons with a bowling pin, with nothing to do but to declare, “I’m finished!”
“It sort of does feel that way,” she resigned with a laugh. ”The person I was thinking so much about is doing so well and, obviously, it’s been a really hard year and a lot of ways but it kind of felt like I did that. I slayed that dragon and now I’m onto something else. I don’t know what it looks like yet, but I don’t feel that immediacy of doing more dredging and that’s a really good feeling. There’s been a lot of questions of ‘what’s my future going to look like?’ And ‘What is the future of the world going to look like?’ But in terms of the day to day, it’s been pretty nice to hang out with the birds.”