Carli Naff Navigating the Dark

Carli Naff of Carli & The Dark

expresses through Poetry, Performance & Truth

Written by Carli Naff (she/her)


     Carli & The Dark the project of Phoenix-born singer-songwriter Carli Naff. After graduating from theater school in Arizona, Carli moved to New York City to work as an actor having never written songs before. She wrote her first few songs while auditioning and living in Queens, and would practice them by busking in the subway tunnels. She started building a small fan base playing living room shows around NYC and on the West Coast, and eventually teamed up with producer Jake Cheriff (Modern Diet) to release her first single Mimi on his label, Paper Moon Records. She is currently finishing her debut EP set to release in 2023. Her dark, dreamy sound and expressive voice have been compared to artists like Fleetwood Mac, Julia Jacklin, Mistki and Lianne LaHavas.

     If there’s one thing you can look forward to at an Ambient Pasta event, it’s an element of raw creativity. The AP team really cherish experimental expression and honesty. So, when preparing for my Through the Vine Session, I knew the door was open to try something off-the-beaten-path, or to go (as the pasta peeps like to say) “free jazz.”

     Lately I’ve been falling in love with poetry. As a kid in school, I used to think that poetry was
generally lame. That it was overly-dramatic or self-indulgent. As it turned out, my inner-critic held this same standard of judgment for myself! (This is the reason that I had never even tried to write a song until my mid-twenties!) So as I was continuing to break down this old notion of myself and of art, I started falling in love with poetry- what a gift.

      This is very millennial of me, but the real turning point in this journey was when I discovered an Instagram account called Poetry is Not a Luxury (highly recommend) where a curator shares daily poems from different poets, modern and classic. This exposure started a hunger that led me to a few great books of modern American poetry like What We Carry by Dorianne Laux (highly recommend) and Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (highly recommend). I was writing all the time and aspiring to the beauty of my new favorite authors. Nonsensical poetry started coming to me in my dreams. I see my
poems as young, but I am so fond of them and feel lovingly invested in their growth.
So anyway, I decided to have my first-ever poetry reading in the middle of this Ambient Pasta set that you are about to watch a clip from! I even typed up each of the poems on my friend’s typewriter and printed tiny copies of them for people to pick up at the merch table. I was very nervous and it went really well.

      This video is not the poem part, but two songs back-to-back, “Deep Blue/TALK.” I wrote the first half specifically for this show, to serve as a transition between the poetry and the music. It came about when I tried reciting one of my poems, “Wishing I Could Hold Your Hand at the Mall,” into this vocal effect software on my computer. It’s a harmonizer that makes my voice sound like a whole auto-tuned choir of me’s. I loved where the words took my voice and how it transformed the poem into this dynamic elegy.


Here’s the full text of the original poem:


Wishing I could hold your hand at the mall


Forearms taught

Veins reaching for mine

And finding them

like roots to water

It’s so much to learn,

I wish I could have taught him.

I can’t describe the rivulets

Stemming from the canyon

There are too many

Countless tiny branches

You think you know

And you don’t

I wish I could have told him

     I wrote this poem for my Dad who decided to end his own life in 2018. Since then, I have
experienced my own dark moments; and I have also been learning so much about my own mind, my own highs and lows and fears. It’s been long and rewarding and absolutely excruciating at times. But with time, and more time, and practice, and patience, I am realizing that these chapters, for me, were always just symptoms of something growing or healing in me. And that it just keeps going! That life is a lifetime of learning. I found myself wishing so much that my Dad would have made it past the excruciating parts to the parts where he might have found more patience with himself.
And I still find myself perpetually wishing that our culture held sacred this practice– of
understanding pain and of honoring honesty. I fondly call these overwhelming growing pains “Puberty 2.” I joke with friends that I wish we had educational videos like the ones from 6th grade sex-ed to prepare us for identity crises, depression, anxiety, and uncovering our harmful patterns in our 20’s and 30’s. So, with love, this one is for my Dad and for anyone else who has been in pain in a culture that doesn’t tell us about this shit ‘til it’s too late! I hope you enjoy.

_Carli Naff