Best known for his on and off again stint as the drummer in a little known outfit called Paramore, Zac Farro is a man of many talents. Co-founding the punk pop powerhouse at the age of 13, mastering every instrument from the guitar to his own pipes and boasting the skills of a print photography pro are just some of the achievements listed on his glittering resume. But his personal pride and joy is his solo gig HalfNoise.
After leaving Paramore in 2010, Farro put his creative energy into the artistic venture and since then has released two studio albums and two EPs with HalfNoise. But if you’re not familiar with it, you probably wouldn’t pick that the dreamy, synth-laden psych rock was the side project of the punk pop prodigy.
HalfNoise draws inspiration from 60s and 70s rock n roll, as well as the music scene and landscape of New Zealand (which he called home for over three years in his early 20s). Although Farro is the lead vocalist and sole constant member of HalfNoise, the band has an open and revolving door policy of friends and contributors.
Farro returned to Paramore just in time for the release of After Laughter in 2017, but his packed touring schedule hasn’t slowed HalfNoise down. In fact, the now 27-year-old has today released EP FLOWERSS.
We had a chat with the Tennessee multi-instrumentalist and beanie connoisseur about the collaborative process behind the new EP and why it’s his dream to land on the Laneway lineup.
Music Feeds: You released FLOWERSS and announced the new EP last month, what has been the reaction to the single?
Zac Farro: It’s so good. It’s been the best response that HalfNoise has ever gotten. Also, sorry if it’s hard to hear me, I’m just in my old Mercedes car and it’s really loud. It’s a diesel so it’s just like (mimics loud car engine), so bear with me (laughs).
But anyway, the reaction has been so much better then I could’ve ever hoped for honestly. We’ve never really had any plays on triple j before and that’s been massive and we got on some triple j playlists. It’s just been going so good. And playing the songs live, they seem to translate more and more when we play them live and with the band. It’s been exceeding my expectations for sure.
MF: You were probably writing and creating a lot of this record while you were on the road and working on After Laughter with Paramore, right? So what was the creative process like this time?
ZF: I kind of always write no matter whether I’m on the road or on tour, I always try to stay creative. So it was kind of like the same as normal but a bit of a busier schedule, trying to slot it in. It kind of worked out because the songs were already in a place that were pretty much completed, so we just had to go in and produce it. It actually slotted in perfect because we had a month back in August where we just smashed it out. It’s a cool thing because, I was telling a local magazine here when they were asking me, “So what was the process like and how did you find time?” It’s honestly just been plotting out really well. It’s a lot of work but it’s been really cool.
Everyone kind of knows what to do now. Everyone kind of knows like, “Oh, sweet. I can’t wait to come over. I’ll just stop by and I’ll play something on it.” They honestly just stop by and I’ll be like, “Grab a guitar and play something on it.” It has just become this very free for all. There are no rules, it’s not super traditional and that’s just the way we like it. We’re working hard but also having fun along the way. It’s really cool to find that rhythm within this band.
MF: It sounds a lot more organic than the structure and process that usually comes with recording an album.
ZF: Yeah, exactly. It’s really low key and I really feel like you can hear that as well. I wanted more than ever to not trim the fat on this EP. There will be times when you can hear someone picking up a tambourine and most of the time people would just edit that out. When you hear an old The Beatles record or something, there are always these moments where the human element is so important.
I even think just having the vibe of people being around the studio 24/7 and different mates being around has an impact. There was one day where I looked back and Hayley (Williams) was just sleeping on the couch and I was like “When did you get here?!” (laughs). I didn’t even know she was coming and she was just like “Oh, I needed to take a nap and I knew you guys were here.” So it really is just like a revolving door.
The guy (from the magazine) was asking me earlier today “So are you still the focal point?” and I was like “Man, I guess I would be but I kind of like to think of it more as a host of a party and I’m just bringing all of my friends together and initiating the fun times” (laughs).
MF: That’s awesome that it’s so collaborative. You worked with a lot of your friends as well as Joel Little (Lorde, Sam Smith) on your previous EPs, so was that the same this time around?
ZF: Yeah, that was a really interesting time in the HalfNoise world. I was trying to suss out what I wanted it to sound like and I think that just comes with the territory of being a new band and trying to suss out what you want to be. I think we really found our stride and found our rhythm and it really is just a bunch of friends in Nashville. It’s always been a friend-oriented band but more so than ever now. The only record or EP I haven’t worked on with my friend Dan in Nashville is Sudden Feeling (2016) which is the last LP, so he’s done every single thing from there. And we worked on records a few years ago together in New Zealand, he came over there with me when I was living there and I lived there for like three years on and off over in Auckland. That’s even how I got hooked up with Joel Little, was through mates in New Zealand.
So it was always a friend oriented thing but I think because my schedule now doesn’t really permit me to change it up too much, but it’s also rad because we found our stride and we all know what to do now. Even my other bandmates come over and they know “Oh, cool. Can I sing on this?” and they know they can help out and we’re all operating on the same times.
So it’s really special and feels like a band that would be in like the 60s and there’d be times and I’d turn around and my friends would just be there with their families and their babies and they’re just sitting there listening to us record. And the owner of studio is in his 70s and he’s recorded some stuff on it. Everyone who worked on it understands that’s what it’s going to be like. It’s more of like a family band than “Let’s go find the coolest producer that we can.” It is very organic and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.
I think it plays to the style of music and pulling from the inspiration of the 60s and 70s and psych rock and even fringe pop from then. So I think it kind of plays into that vibe as well.
MF: You have spent a lot of time in New Zealand and Western Australia, but you recorded FLOWERSS in Nashville, right? How do you think these different environments have influenced the final sound of the EP?
ZF: It’s crazy, I feel like the stuff I’m writing now is more inspired by my time in New Zealand and I really relate to a lot of the Australian psych-rock scene like Tame Impala, King Gizzard and Opossum in New Zealand and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. There’s a whole thing around psych rock that I really connected with when I was there and I think I took that with me to Nashville. There’s also a rad scene developing in Nashville like that as well. There’s like a lot of cool likeminded people in that world. So it feels like although it’s taken a few records to really hone in on that sound, it was really inspiring to be there.
We were just in Australia with Paramore and we had a day off in Brisbane and we went to the Laneway Festival and I saw so many bands that I love like POND and The Babe Rainbow are friends of mine and Mac DeMarco. That’s kind of the world I live in and I would love to play Laneway, I feel like that would be a perfect thing next summer. It was really cool to go all the way to Australia and be like “Woah, this is crazy. This is happening in America too.” I kind of knew it was happening in Australia and that scene has been developing for the last five to ten years, but it’s kind of just happening in Nashville. So more than ever I felt at home and that’s why it was so cool to hear about all of the triple j love, because that’s so important to me. Out of all of the markets in the world, I really relate to the Australian crowd and I’m not just saying that too, and I’m glad people are picking up on the music because it’s what I’ve wanted to happen for a long time.
MF: Well, hopefully if you keep getting Triple J radio play we’ll see you down under for the likes of Laneway or Splendour!
ZF: Yeah, it was always kind of my dream when I was living in New Zealand to play Laneway, so it was really cool because I hadn’t been to one in Australia. And I wasn’t even really writing so that wasn’t really in my mind like, “I want to fit in the scene right now,” it was just something that happened naturally. So it always cool to feel surrounded by likeminded people.
A lot of that world for me can be very like intense and that’s one thing I don’t want HalfNoise to be. I don’t want it to be like the coolest band. But I felt like people in Australia just love having a good time. HalfNoise shows have just been taken to another level and we made a shirt that says “I got this shirt at the HalfNoise party” because it really has just turned into like a massive dance party and that’s how I felt when I saw people watching The Babe Rainbow and stuff. Even if you could tell they’d never really heard them before, they were really getting into it. Even playing the Paramore shows, the Australian crowds are just so rad and they’re just there to have a really good time. So that’s really cool.
MF: So aside from hopes and dreams of playing Laneway, do you have any plans of touring down under following the release of FLOWERSS in May?
ZF: Yeah, I’d love to play some headlining shows there, that would be great.
MF: I read that just before you returned to Paramore, you were considering putting an end to HalfNoise. That’s pretty crazy since you’ve recorded two albums since then. What made you change your mind and stick to it?
ZF: It just got this point where I felt like…well, HalfNoise is just this free and organic and personal thing to me. I didn’t want to ruin it by trying to make it something that it wasn’t and make it a pop band or something that that is unnatural for HalfNoise. So I was just like I’ll do this record and see if it connects with people. Especially as I get older, I can’t fake anything and I can’t not be myself. So if I was going to do something like HalfNoise that was for myself and for my creative freedom and independence and as an outlet, I needed it to be a vehicle for me to be inspired and really be myself. If I didn’t have that and made it something really manufactured, I think it would’ve been a bunch of garbage. So I was just like well, I’m just not going to do it and let it stay pure than try to make it something that it isn’t.
And that’s what’s been so cool is that getting back with Paramore I got to play drums again and it operates on such a more massive level. So I had that as well and HalfNoise could be even more creative and have even less restrictions and pressure. I think it’s good to have pressure, like a healthy kind of pressure but when you try to make it into something else, just to get famous or get on the radio or something unnaturally. People are smarter than that, they can see through that.
MF: And you’ve been doing this since you were a young teen, so obviously you know that getting on the radio or reaching massive commercial success isn’t the right goal for everyone.
ZF: Yeah, I mean I think that works for some people but that’s just not how it works when you work with me (laughs).