On the new ‘Flowerrs’ EP, HalfNoise’s Zac Farro wants to establish a distinctive sonic palette for his musical project - and across the seven tracks, he achieves just that. From the one minute interlude aptly titled ‘Inter Luau’, to ‘All That Love Is’, which sees Farro opening up, singing, “You know I can’t fake it,” when it comes to love.
It’s this lyrical honesty set atop the “janky” (Farro’s own description) instrumentation on songs like ‘She Said’ that defines HalfNoise, and with two studio albums, and now three EPs (which are being brought to life as a five-piece outfit, and even during Paramore shows now), Farro has truly found his stride.
While in New Zealand with Paramore earlier this year, we spoke with Zac Farro about the new HalfNoise EP, his film cameras, and faking emotions…
...as I get older I realise the importance of a season of time.
COUP DE MAIN: This new HalfNoise EP feels sonically different to the last, kinda more guitar-driven, was this a conscious decision for you?
HALFNOISE - ZAC FARRO: That there would be more guitars? It wasn’t a super conscious decision like, ‘I gotta use more guitars!’ But I think playing live was important to make us sound more like a band. I wasn’t really trying to do that, but with ‘Sudden Feeling’ I’d written a lot on keyboards to get a synth sound and build on that, and ‘Velvet Face’ was a lot more retro-sounding, I really wanted to strip it back and make it sound very minimal. So it wasn’t a crazy decision, but I kind of just started going with it. I used to stack all these things, and then the songs were too dense and I needed to take things away. I found writing with a guitar, if I added a keyboard part at the end, that was all I needed. It didn’t need anything else, less was more. If you strip the songs down to guitar you can hear the songs. I wanted it to be very digestible, I think, and with guitar, bass, and drums, it’s really easy to do that.
CDM: ‘She Said’ has a super carefree vibe to it. What was running through your mind when you were writing that song?
ZAC: It’s funny that it has a carefree vibe because the lyrics are really not carefree.
CDM: It’s very juxtaposed.
ZAC: I think that’s kind of like a lot of songs. I wasn’t trying to get too heavy, but the whole EP is really about how I worry too much, or did I let stuff get away? When I was writing, I was really feeling that riff <sings riff> and it just started like that. I sat down one morning, I’d stayed out really late with some friends, and I was having a lot of fun, and I woke up and ran downstairs and just started playing drums to the song - and that’s the actual drums that are on the EP, what I did in my house, in one take. I did all the fills I wanted to, didn’t edit anything really, at all I don’t think. We tried to re-record it in the studio, but when we properly recorded everything we just kept the drums - there was one mic on the drums, super minimal, but for some reason less was more again. We couldn’t get that tone, or that vibe again. Taylor [York] came over to the studio and we were listening to the first song, ‘Flowerss’, and we were trying to match the tone that I got in my demo. He was like, ‘Why don’t you just leave this?’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I didn’t think about that.’ He was like, ‘You’re just gonna be chasing this sound, this is weird and off the wall, you’re never gonna get that again. Just leave that, and then add nice stuff around it.’ It’s got this cool janky sound, but also produced, and I think that was really cool. With ‘She Said’, I was listening to a lot of The Beatles and The Kinks, and it doesn’t sound a tonne like that, but I wanted it to be, especially the chorus, a bunch of singing in the same register like a lot of those bands did. It’s kind of weird, I was so scared of this EP. With ‘The Velvet Face’ I knew, this one’s fun, with ’Scooby's In The Back’ and ‘French Class’, I just felt way more confident in that one. With this one [‘Flowerss’], we got busier with touring with Paramore, I just felt like the songs didn’t feel like they mix to me. But then when I heard it all together I thought, ‘Oh, it sounds like a small record.’ It takes you somewhere instead of every song sounding the same. I really feel like once you get past the ‘Inter Luau’, it kind of turns a corner in a cool way to a different sounding EP, which I kind of really wanted. Sorry, you asked about one song, I told you about the whole thing.
MY FAVOURITE SONG ON ‘FLOWERSS’ IS…
CDM: You said about ‘The Velvet Face’ that it was the most important piece of work to you thus far. Do you feel differently or more strongly about this new release?
ZAC: I think I’m just a very emotional person, so when something is right in front of me it’s the best thing in the world.
CDM: So ‘Flowerss’ is now the best thing in the world?
ZAC: Yes! That period of time [‘The Velvet Face’ EP]… it’s really weird coming to New Zealand, flying in. I remember when Paramore came here when I was living here, and I was like, ‘That’s so weird, I used to be in that band.’ Now I’m here with them, and I lived here, and I went swimming yesterday and went to dinner with all my friends - I felt like I lived here again. I went to work with my friend today and helped him fix a couch, and went to a café. So, as I get older I realise the importance of a season of time. It was really special when we recorded that EP, both of them, for different reasons. ‘The Velvet Face’ for different reasons, everyday was a fun party in the studio, people were laughing, people would just stop by, the door was revolving. The ‘Flowerss’ EP we did it kind of more during business hours, so people were working, didn’t get to stop by, but there were still big hangs. The studio is still fun, people will just be hanging out, we’ll be recording. It’s a really non-traditional kind of band, and that’s why I love it. I have Paramore as a really cool set gig, it’s just very different - with HalfNoise it’s a little bit more free for all, because it’s not as many people involved, you can kind of have a bit more leeway, more control of stuff. I was talking to one of my friends, and he was like, ‘Man, I would be kind of worried if you weren’t scared of this EP.’ You never want to get to a place where you’re like, ‘Sick, I got this.’ I think there should be an element of being timid--
CDM: That’s how you know you’ve made something really personal, when you’re a little bit afraid to share it.
CDM: But the EP is so good, honestly!
ZAC: Thank you! With ‘The Velvet Face’ I was like, and I still am, I love listening to old music, retro music, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. I realised that there’s a lot of bands that I love that go that route, and it’s super on the nose like that era. Not only do I not live in that time, it’s kind of funny to try to be super 60s and then get your cellphone out. I get people pulling from that, but for me, I really want to start figuring out what HalfNoise sounds like. I know it sounds crazy, two records and three EPs now, and it’s taken that long, but I feel like the past few EPs have been really honing in. We’ve been playing more shows, and there was a turning point, we played this Chinese restaurant in Nashville called Lucky Bamboo. People were just like, ‘You’re playing at what?! I’ve had dumplings there.’ It’d be like playing in Mount Eden or something. It’s really quite big, but there was a stage in the back with a disco ball and all these ribbons, so we decided to play there. Our friend Ryan from Australia flew over from the U.K. just to play that one show, and there was like 400 people there. It was the first show we started playing ‘Scooby’s In The Back’ and ‘French Class’ twice just for fun, and at the end of the night there was like 16 people on stage, it was crazy. So that’s kind of set the bar.
CDM: I hope all future HalfNoise shows will be like that.
ZAC: Yeah, the ones in New York, Nashville, and London have been, but it is that mindset of cultivating that kind of energy and that kind of experience. It’s all a process with music too, cultivating the experience, like, ‘What do I want? What do I want people to think?’ When you think about The National, or Tame Impala, or Radiohead, you get this feeling - you know what to expect.
CDM: It’s like their sonic palette.
ZAC: I want HalfNoise to have that.
CDM: ‘All That Love Is’ has a few little French samples in the song - where did you take that from?
ZAC: It’s my friend from Paris, I just asked him if he’d tell me a story in a voicemail.
CDM: Do you know what it translates to?
ZAC: He’s so bad at English, it’s incredible. It’s something like, ‘We’re walking hand in hand, sitting on a hay bale, and we dance all night, and kiss,’ or something. It’s a really sweet, made-up story. It’s funny because then the song is like, ‘All that love is, is empty corners around this town.’ It’s very sad, and kind of like a dance-off for being heartbroken - it’s being funny, but actually it’s the perfect set-up.
CDM: “You know I can’t fake it,” you sing in that song. Do you think love is the hardest emotion to fake?
ZAC: A lot of emotions are hard for me to fake. I’m probably the worst person to ask. Especially as I get older. I’ve never been able to lie, since I was a kid my Mum would be like, ‘Did you do this?’ and I’d be like, ‘Yeah…’ I just can’t lie. I think love is the hardest emotion to fake, especially after a while. It depends on what you define love as. If it’s the romantic love you see in a movie then it's just gonna go anyway, so at that point what are you faking? Are you faking this feeling you had, and trying to get it back to that, that idea? Or do you actually love this person? I think what actual love is, they actually start becoming like a family member, not in a weird way, but they’re like not this magical person anymore, after about a year or two. That can even develop into even more of a connection. But I would say it’s the hardest emotion to fake.
CDM: “If only I could turn the hands of time,” you sing in ‘Every Single Time’. Do you think humans are forever fighting against the inevitability of time?
ZAC: 100%. I think whether it’s past, present, or future, we’re always trying to fight it. We’re anticipating something too much, or we’re not fully content, or we’re regretting something. Or there’s a tendency to do that. That’s why writing songs is really cool, because it helps you to remember where you are now. For me, I’m not one of those people that sings the song live and feels it all over again - I kind of want to get it out, kind of like an emotional vomit. “If only I could turn the hands of time,” was that a waste of time being with you, or was that a waste of my love to love you? That was kind of what that song is about. It seems like every single time I date someone or put myself out there, it’s kind of for nothing. It’s as simple as maybe I should take a drive through the pines, and I’ve never told anybody this… On the way to Rowan [Crowe]’s old house, he used to live on the coast, there were these nice big pines on Motorway One?
CDM: State Highway One?
ZAC: Yeah. So there’s all these pine trees, and I would listen to music by myself, and go home to the coast. He would work in the city, and I would go write at his family’s house in Whangaparaoa - they don’t live there anymore. When I would think about needing some space, I would think about that highway, which is cool, ‘cuz it’s in New Zealand!
IF I HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND…
CDM: I've noticed that you've been getting even more into film photography. What kind of film camera do you use?
ZAC: I got this Kodak one, they seem to be breaking on me. I have quite a few of them. I’d have to say my favourite one is my Minolta Hi-Matic F, my little brother had one, it’s really cool. It’s quite hard to focus it, but I’m starting to like that challenge. I’ve been shooting with point-and-shoots, I had this Contax T2 but it broke.
CDM: I feel like all your cameras are breaking!
ZAC: They are! I had this Canon AF one, that broke. What’s going on? I just got a Kodak one in Melbourne, and it’s super cool looking, but up close it blurs out. I’m still on the search for my perfect camera though. I think the Contax T2 with the right film, is super reliable.
CDM: You’ve mixed up which HalfNoise song we get to hear in a Paramore show - it was ‘Scooby’s In The Back’ and now it’s ‘French Class’. Is there a new EP song that you’re thinking of playing next?
ZAC: We’ve talked about that… We’re having a lot of fun with ‘French Class’ right now, and it was not my idea either - Taylor and Hayley were like, ‘We should play one of your songs!’ And I was like, ‘That makes me feel weird. That’s crazy,’ but it’s been awesome to do that.
CDM: I saw the video of ‘French Class’ in Paris and it looked crazy.
ZAC: It was so fun, it was the first time we played it in France. Maybe one of the new ones, ‘Flowerss’ or ‘All That Love Is’, the dancey ones - then if people don’t know it, they can still have fun.
CDM: When Paramore finish up touring your latest album, will you be spending more time focusing on HalfNoise?
ZAC: Honestly, I’m just doing them both the same. I would really like to do a full HalfNoise record, that’s the next move. We’ve been finding the time to do both, going home from Paramore tour we have a couple shows in California, and a couple more tours in the works. It’s actually been working out great, and having the schedules work together means when we have time to chill, we have more time off. It’s not slowing down at all, and I don’t want it to.
CDM: Please come do a HalfNoise show in New Zealand.
ZAC: I really want to.
CDM: You should play next door at The Tuning Fork - it’s a restaurant!
ZAC: Oh, sweet! That would be cool. Perfect. We’re working with a label in Australia now, so hopefully we’ll start doing more shows, so we can tack on one in New Zealand. If I go to Australia, there’s no way I won’t come here.
HalfNoise’s ‘Flowerrs’ EP is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the ‘She Said’ music video below…