Julia Jacklin, Half Waif
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 7:30 PM
Hailed as the new vanguard of indie rock following the breakout success of 2016’s Puberty 2, Mitski returns with Be The Cowboy, out August 17th via Dead Oceans, and presents the album’s lead single “Geyser,” with an accompanying video directed by Zia Anger. Mitski’s carefully crafted songs have often been portrayed as emotionally raw, overflowing confessionals from a fevered chosen girl, but in her fifth album, Mitski introduces a persona who has been teased before but never so fully present until now—a woman in control.
“For this new record, I experimented in narrative and fiction,” comments Mitski. Though she hesitates to go so far as to say she created full-on characters, she reveals she had in mind “a very controlled icy repressed woman who is starting to unravel. Because women have so little power and showing emotion is seen as weakness, this ‘character’ clings to any amount of control she can get. Still, there is something very primordial in her that is trying to find a way to get out.”
In Be The Cowboy, Mitski delves into the loneliness of being a symbol and the loneliness of being someone, how it can feel so much like being no one. Lead single “Geyser” introduces us to a woman who can’t hold it all in any more. She’s about to burst and unleash a torrent of desire and passion that has been building up inside. While recording the album with her long-time producer Patrick Hyland, the pair kept returning to “the image of someone alone on a stage, singing solo with a single spotlight trained on them in an otherwise dark room. For most of the tracks, we didn’t layer the vocals with doubles or harmonies to achieve that campy ‘person singing alone on stage’ atmosphere.”
There is plenty of buoyant swagger on Be The Cowboy, but just as much interrogation into self-mythology. Throughout these 14 songs, the music swerves from the cheerful to the plaintive. Mournful piano ballads lead into deceptively uptempo songs. “I had been on the road for a long time, which is so isolating, and had to run my own business at the same time. A lot of this record was me not having any feelings, being completely spent but then trying to rally myself and wake up and get back to Mitski.”
Julia Jacklin thought she’d be a social worker.
Growing up in the Blue Mountains to a family of teachers, Jacklin discovered an avenue to art at the age of 10, thanks to an unlikely source: Britney Spears.
Jacklin chanced upon a documentary about the pop star while on family holiday. “By the time Britney was 12 she’d achieved a lot,” says Jacklin.”I remember thinking, ‘Shit, what have I done with my life? I haven’t achieved anything.’ So I was like, ‘Mum, as soon as we get home from this holiday I need to go to singing lessons.”
Classical singing lessons were the only kind in the area, but Jacklin took to it. Voice control was crucial, and Jacklin ourished. But the lack of expression had the teen seeking substance, and she wound up in a high school band, “wearing surf clothing and doing a lot of high jumps” singing Avril Lavigne and Evanescence covers. It wasn’t much but she was hooked.
Jacklin’s second epiphany came after high school. Traveling in South America she reconnected with high school friend and future foil Liz Hughes. The two returned home to the Blue Mountains and started a band, bonding over a love of indie-Appalachian folk trio Mountain Man and the songs Hughes was writing.
“I would just sing,” says Jacklin. “But as I got my con dence I started playing guitar and writing songs. I wouldn’t be doing music now if it wasn’t for Liz or that band. I never knew it was something I could do.“
Inspired, Jacklin began educating herself. From Fiona Apple she learned to be bold with words; from Anna Calvi, the cut and presence of electric guitar. Now living in a garage in Glebe and working a day job on a factory production line making essential oils, the 25-year old found time to hone her craft – to examine her turns of phrase, to observe the stretching of her friendship circles, to wonder who she was and who she might become. That document is Jacklin’s masterful debut album, Don’t Let The Kids Win - an intimate examination of a life still being lived.
Recorded at New Zealand’s Sitting Room studios with Ben Edwards (Marlon Williams, Aldous Harding, Nadia Reid), Don’t Let The Kids Win courses with the aching current of alt-country and indie-folk, augmented by Jacklin’s undeniable calling cards: her rich, distinctive voice, and her playful, observational wit.
You can hear it in opener ‘Pool Party’, a gorgeous lilt bristling with Jacklin’s tale of substance abuse by the pool; in the sparse, ‘Elizabeth’, wrestling with both devotion and admonishment of a friend; in detailing the slow-motion banality of a relationship breakdown in the woozy ‘L.A Dreams’; and in her resolve to accept the passing of time on the snappy fuzz of ‘Coming Of Age’. The album hums with peripheral insights, minute in their moments but together proving an urge to stay curious.
“I thought it was going to be a heartbreak record,” says Jacklin of Don’t Let The Kids Win. “But in hindsight I see it’s about hitting 24 and thinking, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I was feeling very nostalgic for my youth. When I was growing up I was so ambitious: I’m going to be this amazing social worker, save the world, a great musician, t, an amazing writer. Then you get to mid-20s and you realize you have to focus on one thing. Even if it doesn’t pay-off, or you feel embarrassed at family occasions because you’re the poor musician still, that’s the decision I made.”
In person Jacklin is funny, wry, quick to crack a joke. It makes the blunt honesty and prickly insight laced through her songwriting disarming, a dissonance she delights in. “Especially coming from my family,” says Jacklin. “They don’t talk about feelings at all. I love writing songs about them and watching them listen and squirm. To me that’s great. I enjoy it.”
The title track was the last song Jacklin wrote for the album. “My sister’s getting married soon,” she says of the closer. “And it hit me – we used to be two young girls and now that part of our lives is over. Seeing her talking about wanting to have a baby and...it’s like, man I can’t believe we’re already here.”
Don’t mistake this awareness for nostalgia. “It’s not that I want to go back to that time at all,” says Jacklin. “It’s trying to gure out how to be responsible when you don’t identify with who you were anymore.”
“All my friends at this age are freaking out. Everyone’s constantly talking about being old. Don’t Let The Kids Win is saying yeah we’re getting older but it’s not so special. It’s not unique. Everyone has dealt with this and it’s going to keep feeling weird. So I’m freaking out about it too but that song is trying to convince myself: let’s live now and just be old when we’re old.”
Nandi Rose Plunkett writes, records and performs under the name Half Waif. Her music is deeply personal and engaging, reflecting her lifelong endeavor to reconcile a sense of place. Raised in the bucolic cultural hub of Williamstown, Massachusetts, Nandi was the daughter of an Indian refugee mother and an American father of Irish/Swiss descent. She was one of Williamstown’s only non-white residents. As a kid, she listened to a wide mix of music that included everything from Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos, to Celtic songstress Loreena McKennitt and traditional Indian bhajans. In college, she studied classical singing and became enamored with the works of Olivier Messiaen and Claude Debussy. Her output as Half Waif reflects these varying influences, resulting in a richly layered collage of blinking electronic soundscapes, echoes of Celtic melodies and the sad chord changes of 19th-century art music.
Next to her touring schedule as a member of Pinegrove, Half Waif has already self-released two EPs and two albums – a split 7" with Deerhoof, the Future Joys EP in 2013, and then albums KOTEKAN (produced by Devin Greenwood) in 2014, and Probable Depths (produced by Zubin Hensler) last May. It was with Probable Depths that Half Waif caught the attention of the worldwide music media, with NPR singling out track ‘Turn Me Around’ and Pitchfork awarding it their coveted Best New Track distinction. It was also during this time that Half Waif’s relationship with Cascine began.
Half Waif’s latest work is newly complete. The form/a EP is a collection of tracks that expand on her exploration of home. She explains, “there’s an inherent restlessness in the way that I write and think about sound. I’m the daughter of a refugee, and somewhere in me is this innate story of searching for a home. As a result, I have many – a collection of places that I latch onto, that inspire me, that fuse themselves to me. I’m sentimental, nostalgic – yet constantly seeking what’s next, excavating the sound of my past and coloring it to make the sound of my future. I’m a child of divorce, fiercely loved but forced into independence at a young age; I rocket into relationships with the desire to find roots, commonality, to create stillness in the midst of public noise. In this way, my songs are like the notes of a large scavenger hunt, clues pinned to trees I have known, or tucked under rocks on my path, urging the listener to keep looking a little deeper, because maybe they will find something special in the end.”
form/a was released as a limited-edition 12” in February 2017 on Half Waif’s new label home, Cascine. Half Waif is comprised of Nandi Rose Plunkett, Zack Levine and Adan Carlo.