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August 2018
Feature|Feature

HalfNoise: "I'm more focused and more passionate than I've ever been"

Back in Paramore and with a new HalfNoise EP, ‘The Velvet Face', Zac Farro is a very busy man. The drummer turned frontman gives the lowdown on that reunion and the development of his burgeoning indie-pop band.
Published: 2:14 pm, April 15, 2017
HalfNoise: "I'm more focused and more passionate than I've ever been"
Stood outside his Nashville home, Zac Farro is thinking back to his departure from pop-rock heavyweights Paramore back in 2010. "The story goes like this," he begins. "I think the reason I really left was that we had been working so hard, and I just felt really tired from working for seven years straight. All seven of those years were my teenage years, and we were just touring all the time. I didn't anticipate playing music at all after I left."

But the thing is, Zac is the kind of artist who can't sit still for long without those creative juices beginning to bubble inside him. "I left Paramore, and I had no intention of playing music," he says. "I knew that I'd always love it, but what happened was I started writing again, and my friend hit me up, and he goes ‘I'm trying to get into production, could I produce your new songs?' And I'm like, ‘Dude; I've never shown this to anybody!' But of course we did record together, and I fell in love with music again."

And so, HalfNoise – Zac's ‘other' band, an indie-rock inspired, alt-pop cacophony of laid-back sounds and retro beats – was formed. Then, like any good musician, he took his project out on the road. That same friend who recorded the very first HalfNoise music, and who produced the band's new EP, ‘The Velvet Face', invited Zac on tour. At first, he was sceptical: "I was like, ‘No, I'm not singing in front of anybody!'" Zac exclaims. But his friends convinced him, and those first HalfNoise shows were a success. "The first time I sang in front of anybody was in front of a couple of hundred people on tour, and it was fine! I wasn't great at it, but I think the drumming with Paramore and having been on stage before helped me."

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Zac never wanted to be a frontman; as a youngster, he didn't want to sing or be the centre of attention. "I'd never been sat back there in Paramore going ‘I wish I was where Hayley [Williams, vocalist] is,'" he claims, but leaving the band seven years ago allowed Zac to pursue a style of music he'd always been fond of. "I started playing with Paramore when I was thirteen-years-old," he reflects. "We were all quite young – Hayley was only fourteen – so we started super early, and the music that we made was the music that we loved then, and we still do. Rock music has been a part of us since we were kids."

"But Taylor [York, Paramore guitarist] and I have always been pretty diverse in what we listen to; I always loved upbeat rock music like Paramore, but also bands like Radiohead and Sigur Ros, which have a more ethereal kind of sound. And obviously indie music was huge for me, like The Strokes and Vampire Weekend, and that's still very influential to me today."

"It wasn't ever my intention to make HalfNoise sound a certain way. I left Paramore, and I just wrote based on whatever I was listening to at the time. 'Sudden Feeling' was very rhythmic, very afrobeat, and kind of new-wave or psychedelic," Zac explains of the band's second LP, released last year. "And now ‘The Velvet Face' is more straightforward and influenced by 50s French pop, The Beatles, the soul era.

"So it was never my intention to make HalfNoise sound like Paramore. I do find it weird when someone from a band leaves a band, and then they start a project that sounds like their original band with a piece missing; it's like they're taking what they're good at and just doing it on their own, instead of making something quite different. So that was my only goal: I didn't want to make these drum records that sound like I'm just drumming on Paramore."

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HalfNoise certainly sounds nothing like Paramore, nor does Zac's drumming with one band echo the other. In fact, your average Paramore fan will probably be surprised by the music HalfNoise has to offer. That's not to say they won't like it, just that it's different. HalfNoise is a band that is, as Zac states, "influenced by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks." It's a smart, stylish, 21st-century take on vintage pop music, sharing much more of a kinship with Tame Impala than Taking Back Sunday.

Take his new EP's lead-single, ‘French Class'; a song which Zac describes as "upbeat and dancey, and a representation of where HalfNoise is headed, at least for this record." It's a chilled-out, carefree, organic-sounding track. There's no angst here, just good vibes, fuzzy beats, and a delightful dose of melodic vocals layered over the top. It might not have been his life's ambition, but Zac Farro is a gifted vocalist and lyricist who sounds at home at the forefront of a band.

HalfNoise had been Zac's main, and for the most part sole musical focus since leaving Paramore – ‘The Velvet Face' is the band's third extended release in as many years – but now the Nashville native is preparing for his artistic life to get extremely busy. Following February's announcement that Zac had re-joined Paramore, he finds himself once again in the public eye. His official return to the pop-rock titans surprised some, but speaking to Zac, it seems like it's something that'd been in the works for a while. He just wanted to make sure that HalfNoise didn't suffer for it.

"I wasn't anticipating on putting anything HalfNoise related out this soon after ‘Sudden Feeling'," Zac explains, "but there was a turn of events with me joining Paramore again. I played on their record, and it was just meshing really well, and it seemed a seamless step in my life." The reunion meant Zac faced a decision: does HalfNoise get put on the backburner to concentrate on Paramore, or does he find a way to continue this project he's been growing for so long? For Zac, it was an easy choice; he just wanted to make sure everything was in place to make it work. "I met with my manager, and we talked about how this year is going to be full of Paramore stuff," states Zac. "But HalfNoise is something we have been building up, and although the world might get busier juggling both things, this is something I want to maintain, and it's something that is important to me." He continues, "I have poured a lot of time into it, and I don't want people to think ‘Oh, he's re-joining Paramore and now he's going to put HalfNoise to rest.' So that was kind of the idea with releasing ‘The Velvet Face' now. I had music spinning around my head; I just needed to get it out there."

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As well as scheduling, there was, on the face of it at least, another potential barrier to the Paramore reunion: would Hayley and Taylor accept Zac continuing his work with HalfNoise if he re-joined the band? According to Zac, that was never in doubt: "One of the biggest things for me re-joining Paramore was knowing that Hayley and Taylor really support what I'm doing with HalfNoise, and knowing they appreciate how I've grown as an artist and musician on my own," Zac says. "Obviously, there's going to be times where I'm touring with them, and I can't physically play shows with HalfNoise. But I think in 2017 – especially with a band the size of HalfNoise – people know it'd be hard to tour full-time."

Zac is a man who appreciates honesty, both regarding the people he surrounds himself with, and in the music he takes inspiration from and makes. He describes Hayley Williams as "someone I look up to not only on stage, but off stage. I've learnt so much from her as a businesswoman, as a person and as an artist." As well as getting the all-clear from the Paramore camp to continue his work away from the band, it's clear that Zac appreciates the input of his HalfNoise team, even if they choose to critique him at times. "I didn't start out as a frontman in HalfNoise feeling comfortable at all," Zac claims, "but now I'm excited, and I've found what works for me; I trust my manager, my band and my friends. These are people that won't bullshit me or tell me something is good when it's not."

When it comes to honesty in music, Zac looks to the biggest band ever for inspiration. Speaking of The Beatles and their influence on HalfNoise, Zac states: "There's this honesty within that music to me. When the song starts, and you hear that guitar line from George Harrison, it just feels so direct and honest." He continues, "I think when I was originally trying to develop HalfNoise's sound, I tried to make this thing that was very computerised and sample-based, but with ‘The Velvet Face' I tried to strip away all the fat and make it more honest."

It's a theme that even extends to the EP's artwork. "It's one of my friend's paintings," Zac explains. "It's a kind of self-portrait, and I thought there was a real honesty to it, and I feel it mirrors the stripped-back, retro sound of the record. There's honesty surrounding this whole EP."

Zac seems determined to practice what he preaches when it comes to straddling Paramore and HalfNoise going forward, too, pledging to give all he can to both bands. "I feel like the biggest challenge is that I could spread myself too thin because I want to exist in both bands and be fully present," Zac confesses. "I want to be a hard worker, and really deliver in each area of my life. That's something I'm working on because when I play a Paramore show, I don't care if we're playing in the middle of Russia to nobody, I want to play the best I can. But this is what's cool about everything: I'm more focused and more passionate than I've ever been because I've stayed busy. I think when you just exist and you don't have any goals or plans – for me, anyway – my mind starts turning into mush, and I don't have any direction or any drive, but now that I have both bands I'm even more driven. It's funny because it sounds like my plate is too full, but I work better that way. I think it's going to be a challenge, but I'm really excited about it!"

So there you have it. Whether he's pounding drums in stadiums for Paramore or strutting his stuff as the HalfNoise frontman in rock clubs, Zac Farro will remain at his core the same humble, hopeful and above all, honest performer; a man fuelled by a desire to be the most genuine artist he can be.

HalfNoise’s EP ‘The Velvet Face’ is out now. Taken from the May 2017 issue of Dork. Order a copy below.




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