The HalfNoise evolution becomes all the more interesting when you dig into the backstory of Zac Farro. An original member of Paramore, Zac was playing drums and touring the world as a teenager. At the the age of 20 he stepped away from the band to seek respite from a life of international touring and heavy recording schedules.
With the intention of taking a break from music, he relocated across the globe and began a “Three year holiday.” It was during this time that Halfnoise was born. What initially started as a solo writing project has since evolved into a band and somewhat of a community.
New Zealand. It’s not the most rockstar place that springs to mind, but for Zac Farro it was a unique paradise where he could spend the best of three years, catching up to the life prematured by years on the road. Farro was 15 when the idea of visiting New Zealand was first planted, after meeting a friend who lived there at Warped tour. Some years later, that same friend was encouraging him to visit.
Zac Farro: I was kind of reluctant, because I’d been traveling so much I just didn’t want to go anywhere. I’d toured since I was 14 til’ I was about 20 so I kind of wanted to take some time – but then I was hooked. I’d never really done anything for myself. I’m one of 5 kids, I was always touring with a big group of people; always around people. It was the first thing I did for myself. I went back and ended up going back – the longest period I stayed was almost 10 months. I’d leave the winter and summer hop for 3 years.
I started HalfNoise and really developed it there. Figured out that I wanted to do it. It was of one of those coming of age places for me. I grew up on the road and felt this imbalance – I felt really mature in work ethic, because I’d been touring around managers, people and labels. As a kid I was advanced… I could play a show and be in a meeting, but I didn’t ever have friends in high school. I didn’t ever run around, go surfing and be a kid. So that’s what New Zealand was like for me. I bought a van from my friend and I just lived in it. I drove my van to a cafe that I’d go to with my friends every morning. One day it occurred to me that I was literally driving my house to coffee shops and it was like, “okay, I should really go home, back to work and play music.”
Farro’s time in New Zealand was pivotal to the beginnings of HalfNoise. The project was founded whilst holidaying in the country and with space, time and a lack of pressure or expectations, it flourished.
Zac Farro: I left playing in Paramore when I was 20, and I’d started when I was 13. So I didn’t do anything besides tour. Most people would be like, “This is probably what you dreamed about doing as a kid” it was never like “What did you want to do when you were a kid?” I was a kid when I started, it happened so quickly I didn’t have a choice to think about what I wanted to do. I wanted to play music, but I was 13 – so young when you think about it. When I went to New Zealand, I didn’t really want to do music anymore. I was kind of done with it. At least for a little bit. After having a break and being so physically far from home, that spark came back and I figured out that HalfNoise is what I wanted to do. I think it was huge for the development of HalfNoise. It’s funny how sometimes you have to change up your scenery to get some fresh inspiration. That’s what it was for me.
Joining a band and achieving great success in your early teenage years has a major impact on one’s life. With it comes a certain level of notoriety and expectation, which goes on to influence identity and sense of self.
Zac Farro: I never really thought of myself as a musician when I was a kid. I was never like, “oh, I’m going to be the next Ringo Starr” or something. People think that being in a band is the coolest thing of all time, and it is amazing, but a lot of the time you’re just sitting in an airport. Or in the back of a venue, bored. People think you’re always drunk or doing drugs, when that’s not how it works. It’s so different.
It is weird to only be identified with one thing – “you’re the drummer of this.” That’s why it was so cool to go to New Zealand, no one knew me. They knew my background, but they didn’t know my family, didn’t know my friends. People were like, “where are you from?” and for the first time I could be whatever I wanted to. I don’t think it was an identify crisis, but I was only associated with one thing. That gets tough sometimes, my personality type, I feel like a million different people in one day. Starting something like music at 12, or 13, you don’t really know what you want to do yet. You don’t even know who you are yet. I remember being in Germany, and we were playing to a sea of people and I was 16 or 17. It was so weird, not only did I expect this but it wasn’t a dream of mine or a goal. It just happened. I kind of feel like I fell into it in a way, but I’m really thankful because when I stepped away from music I was like “what the hell else would I do?” I have no idea. I’d probably just work at a shitty coffee shop, or an office supply company.
HalfNoise came about at a time in Zac Farro’s life where he was mostly taking a break from making music. After initial anxiety about what the project was ‘meant’ to achieve, it was welcomed as a freeing experience, completely within his control.
Zac Farro: There was an EP we put out last year called The Velvet Face and it really didn’t feel right until that release, really. Before that, I think like all artists do, I questioned if it was even good. You work so hard on something and it’s like, “is this even going to do?” I really think rejoining Paramore took the pressure off HalfNoise ever having to ‘make it’ – because I have this other awesome side to me with very different music and I get to be the drummer. Then this side, I’m free to sing and write, leading the band. I feel like I’ve found my groove now, I know what I want this to be.
The more you care about making good music, being free to be yourself, I think people pay attention to that. I feel like I’ve found what I want HalfNoise to be, especially at the shows. The shows are really fun and turn into this big party. If we feel like playing a song we’ve already played, we’ll just play it again. There’s really no rules. I think having structure is really cool with the other bands, but this just helps me be the eccentric side of myself. It allows for a free artistic side with no rules on it. Not saying that in Paramore there’s ‘rules’, but there’s more people involved and it’s a different thing.
I feel really level now, in my life. When I was just doing HalfNoise I was just like “I hope this works out” – I was trying to make it something it wasn’t? That’s the tough thing about music and art, you have to make a living to keep it going. But you also don’t want to sacrifice something pure to make some money. I don’t have to sacrifice anything at this stage. It comes naturally and I’m not forcing anything. It feels really cool to have something like that in my life.
Farro spent 6 years away from Paramore before rejoining the band first as a studio musician in 2016, then an offical member the year later. It was a welcome return, with his Paramore bandmates embracing everything he’d worked on as HalfNoise.
Zac Farro: Taylor [York] and Hayley [Williams] were so rad and super supportive of HalfNoise stuff. Even at Paramore shows, we’ve played 1 HalfNoise song in the set. My Halfnoise drummer is my drum-tech and plays percussion, so he jumps on the drum kit and everybody plays the song. It’s really cool. I didn’t really feel like I had to change myself and who I’d become to be back with them. I opened up those 6 years, finding out what music I was into and who I was. I feel like they were on the same trajectory in their own lives. We met in this really cool place. I think you can really hear it in the new record too, it’s a very different record for us. It felt very seamless.
I don’t feel like “oh, I’m playing with Paramore i’d better be this other person” but in HalfNoise I feel, I can’t not be myself. I’m not good at faking anything. That was really nice, to feel this cohesiveness throughout my life. That’s why I decided to rejoin – because it felt, and it still does, like a really equal balance. Like I’ve been saying, it’s the best of both things. It was really cool, it was really weird, I left when I was 20 and didn’t think I’d ever go back and play with that band. I had weird dreams where they’d call me and be like “our drummer can’t play” these weird anxiety dreams where I’d be like “okay, I’d better learn these songs” (laughs).
Dreams aside – though an exclusive takeaway here, “Escargot gives [him] the weirdest dreams,” Zac has settled back into the musician lifestyle, thriving after some much-needed time away.
Zac Farro: It’s so cool, I’m just so thankful. I drove my van to cafes on and off for three years in New Zealand. I didn’t do very much of anything for a while – which is cool, because I worked so hard and then just chilled. It’s really weird to be back in the van and working double. But I almost feel like I’m making up for that time I took off. I’m not only playing with Paramore but with HalfNoise, directing music videos and getting really into photography. I’ve just been going for it. Now I feel very levelheaded and ready to work hard. But I got to the end of my road at like, 20. I was 20 years old and felt like I didn’t want to do anything anymore. It’s all relative though, right? When you’re never home for 7 years it catches up to you.
It’s not just the sound of the project which Farro dictates, but the visual elements as well. There’s a certain aesthetic that envelops the artwork and music videos. It’s deliberate, and Farro himself plays a large part in bringing it to life.
Zac Farro: I only shoot film. I’m a pretty… indie guy (laughs) I only go to vintage stores and if it’s not retro music it sounds like retro music. It’s like, when you go to a new city you Google ‘hipster part of town’ – you get to a point where you’re going to try so hard, you might as well cut to the chase. Just accept who you are.
I’m pretty particular, especially with HalfNoise stuff. I used to want it to be ‘cool’ or whatever ‘cool’ is, but now I just want it to be and environment for people. I want people to enter into our world that we’re creating. When you see the photos and you see the visuals, the music videos, then you come to a show – it’s all very cohesive. Being cool and being relevant has a time limit on it anyway. Even with the music and the art, I just want it to be our world. I don’t really care if it’s cool. One thing is cool right now then it’s out the next week. It’s more about the world we create now.
I used to want to do all of it, right? Direct the music videos, take the photos, design the cover of the records. That got too much for me, I ran out of time. I can’t do everything so I found artists I really like. The last EP, my manager painted that photo. The Flowerss cover, this artist did some work for Pond. My roommate was like ‘Have you seen this guy? His art is really cool!” so I hit him up on Instagram. I think involving likeminded people is cool because you bring people into the world. When I was trying to do it myself it was just me, you know? It’s really cool to involve people and make friends along the way. That’s what it’s all about, you know.