In a move that’s 180 degrees away from his stint keeping the beat in Paramore, ZAC FARRO has struck out on his own with a solo project under the name HALFNOISE. Farro, with the help of producer Daniel James, created HalfNoise, a mini-LP of songs that embody much more atmospheric vistas then regular linear songwriting. That’s not to say his music is impenetrable or cloying: Hell, there was a moment in time when he didn’t even want to play his music for his closest friends. He’s since gotten over that phobia, and now HalfNoise is turning into a vehicle for the 22-year-old to pursue whatever tangent he chooses to explore. He talked with Jason Pettigrew about his personal musical tastes, getting over his fears as both a songwriter and a frontman, and whether or not a career modeled after Phil Collins is such a bad idea.
INTERVIEW: Jason Pettigrew
The music you’re making under the name HalfNoise is not the kind of thing that would get a boost from a sticker on the cover that reads, “Former Member of Paramore.” How did the particular aesthetic for HalfNoise come about? Was that electronic, ambient, atmospheric vibe something you’ve been into?
ZAC FARRO: Yeah, I’ve always had kind of a… I wouldn’t say super-diverse musical taste. When I was younger, I would get music from my brothers. My older brother would come home from school, and people would show him Radiohead and Sigur Rós. I listened to Hanson and pop music as a kid, and then we started getting into more rock music: Foo Fighters, Failure, kind of more heavier, more aggressive. Then I got into Sunny Day Real Estate. I just loved the heavier-hitting drum sounds—and Jimmy Eat World, of course. That’s where my inspiration as a drummer came from.
But at the same time, I really loved the ambient, atmospheric vibes of Sigur Rós, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear, like the indie music scene. So throughout playing with Paramore, I would always go to my own little place and write music. When
Paramore were home off tour, I always liked experimenting with sampling and it was just a different setting. I went from playing really heavy drums to making chilled-out music myself, so I guess it was a good contrast and a good balance for me. That’s always the thing I’d leaned toward if I was listening to music rather than playing. I would always play pretty upbeat and aggressive rock music, so the sound kind of came naturally just out of what I like to listen to. That’s my vibe and my pace. I try to pull from the experience I got from listening to bands like that.
HalfNoise is more of a textural, atmospheric project, but it still has a structural aspect.
My biggest thing was coming up with ideas and never really completing [them] so the textural side was really brought out of me through my friend Daniel James. He has a band in Nashville called Canon Blue, and he’s been reaching out to all of his friends saying, “Hey man, when I’m off tour, I’d love to produce some songs for you because I really want to get into that.” He’s produced a handful of my friends’ [bands], and he’s done amazing stuff on his own. He recorded his record in Denmark with the Efterklang guys, and then he went to Iceland and had Amina [the string section for Sigur Rós] record on his album. He’s the texture master. So all the textural and ambient bits on the recording were really brought out of me by Daniel.
A lot of people are like, “Well this doesn’t really sound like anything you’ve done before.” I attribute a lot of it to just expressing more of the stuff I listen to, but having the help of being able to express that in the way I wanted to. I needed that nudge, so that’s why I was really eager to work with Daniel.
It’s like you knew where you wanted to go, so you’re driving the car but you needed someone with the map.
Totally! And he’s had that experience. He knew how some of my favorite bands recorded. He’d read online how they recorded their records, what they used. He studies up on all of that stuff. “Oh, how did múm from Iceland record their Finally We Are No One record?” That’s one of my biggest influences, HalfNoise-wise, and he knew exactly how they recorded. He had the map, for sure.
The name HalfNoise is anything but. There are melodic concerns and ideas but it’s not like some really impenetrable, weird avant-garde thing that’s a whole room-evacuating maelstrom of sound. It’s not really brash and brusque like a lot of these projects can turn into. Did you have it mapped out in your head where HalfNoise was going to have texture, but there was going to be song structure, as well?
That’s a great question. I was very directionless. With the name and everything, I didn’t just want to have a name that sounds cool. I definitely wanted there to be meaning before I released it to the public. I didn’t even want to show my friends my songs: This is just private for me. Then I was like, “You know what? This is what I do. This is what I’m into.” Who knows, people might want to hear about it.
Weird for weird’s sake? That just doesn’t make sense. I hate when I listen to a record and you can’t tell if the band wanted to put something out that says, “I don’t care what you think, this is what I like.” I don’t like that. I like when songs get my attention, and they don’t have to be four-on-the-floor Top 40 songs, but they’re still exciting in their own way with a cool beat, but there is some different aspect or something more interesting than the normal linear verse and then a big chorus. So I definitely wanted to bridge the gap between structured pop songs and then really atmospheric nine-minute Sigur Rós songs that are just kind of like, “How would I show my friends this song?” My friends would be like, “Cool,” or people would be like, “What? Why did you put this out?” With Daniel, we came together on a lot of that stuff, and I’m really pumped on it turned out, and it’s enough of each, I feel.
Are there any things that don’t have anything to do with music that inform what you do? Architecture, literature, visual art? Are there things that inform the music that people wouldn’t really expect?
Yeah, totally. I appreciate these questions because in other interviews it’s been, like, 75 percent a normal Paramore interview and five percent HalfNoise and then the rest of it is another Paramore interview.
The way I look at it, you’ve already done the Paramore interview and that stuff is already out. There isn’t a lot [of press] concentrating on HalfNoise.
I don’t mind talking about [Paramore], but I really do appreciate the fact you’d start with my music. I just want to thank you for that.
But yes, I’m a very visual person. I’m intrigued when a band ties in their music really well with a music video or an album teaser, or it can be the album art. I really just love when the art and music of a band coincide. I really got into photography while doing this record. I took a trip to Sweden and England, and that’s where I got all the photos for the EP. I took all those photos. With HalfNoise, I’ve tried to do everything DIY. All the footage for the music videos and album teasers, that’s all footage I took. I had a friend help me edit it all together to kind of make sense. The cover of the EP is a picture of my friend running up a hill. I’m really intrigued when an artist or band incorporates more of their talent and what they’re into, more than just, “I recorded this record. I wrote this song, but someone else interpreted the music and made art.” I really like doing it all myself because it’s all my vision. I’m not a big reader, but I like reading some poetry, especially for writing lyrics now. It was never really something I did before, but now that I’m somewhat of a lyricist, I gotta [read] now.