Mr. ZAC FARRO [former drummer for Paramore] was recently visiting our shores with his solo project, atmospheric alternative-rock band HALFNOISE - think Sigur Rós meets Radiohead - to perform their first ever festival show on the Main Stage at this year’s Parachute Festival.
Spending a few weeks in New Zealand before his festival debut, we spent a Summer’s afternoon catching up with the younger Farro brother on why he’s been visiting New Zealand so often, which is "honestly one of my top five favourite things", what advice he would give to young musicians - "just be themselves and not let whatever their circumstances are change who they are" - and the future of his musical projects.
"...whether it was as massive as Beyoncé or as little as the local band playing at the pub, it has to mean something to you..."
COUP DE MAIN: You are the brainchild of HalfNoise - vocals, music, artwork, videos - everything is pretty much yours. Was it nerve-wracking to put so much of yourself out in the public, being the sole focus?
HALFNOISE - ZAC FARRO: Yeah and especially when I came from such a set-sounding band. Not only was it something that I was doing on my own... I wasn’t planning on being like: "Oh, I’m sick of the music I’m playing, I need to go and do my own thing I want the spotlight." It wasn’t anything like that, but it was the first thing that people would hear that was honestly of my own music and taste - what I pull from art and what I’m inspired by was pulled into this, so it was super nerve-wracking. But now it’s been really cool because my friends are all like 'hey man I really like your stuff' and have been really encouraging, so there have been some real key things that have encouraged me to not be so shy about it. I would never talk about it ever, no-one knew I was doing it, if we were on tour I would make music and no-one would ever know I was doing it. I don’t know why, I’ll play drums for anybody, but no-one really knew that I did HalfNoise. It started really quietly I guess, and then it was put out there. When you’re vulnerable like that, you can start to feel insecure but at the same time it’s all good, you know. I’m not really the most confident guy in the world, but I also don’t care too much about what people think about me either. I just try to be honest in what I like and see who likes it.
CDM: You’ve said that you love when art and music of a band coincide. Is having full control of the creative vision of HalfNoise - down to shooting your own album artwork and music video footage - something that is important for you to retain?
ZAC: Yeah, it is. It’s kind of inevitable. I was working with my friend Jason [Clark] so it was the two of us, before Dan [James] the producer came in, so Jason and I started HalfNoise together. There were songs that we both had and we kind of combined some of them. There is a song ‘Hide Your Eyes’ on the EP and that song started with... I was sampling a harp sound and then we started messing around with leaves and stuff, so the whole drum-beat is basically us stomping on a bunch of leaves, it’s really weird I don’t know why we started thinking about that. So yeah, Jason and I started this up and he had his own band so he was doing two things at once, so when Jason left to do his own thing I was like it was inevitable that it would be everything I did, the artwork and music and all that stuff, I kind of like it though because I feel like I’m kinda picky. I mean, I feel like I’m pretty easy-going, we haven’t slept on a bed since I got here, we’ve just been sleeping in the grass and under wedding reception tents... Rowan [Crowe] is probably the craziest person I’ve ever met in my life. When I got off the plane, he was like 'okay man let’s go get a cup of tea' and we got all my stuff sorted at his parent's house. Once we dropped my stuff off, we left and went to these massive mountains, so after two hours of getting off the plane, we started hiking this mountain. And not only did we get to the top, but we were rock-climbing up to places you weren't meant to go... if i would have let go I literally would have been dead, I seriously would have died.
WHAT A HALFNOISE SHOW LOOKS LIKE...
CDM: Having a hand in all aspects of the music and HalfNoise creative, what is your favourite and least favourite parts of the music process?
ZAC: That’s a good question. I think that it's honestly... I’ve grown into more of a songwriter and I’ve taken that on and that’s been more fun, I think. Just being less insecure about: "Oh but what will people think?!" That stuff just doesn’t matter, if I like it and it’s honest then that’s all I can do and I’ve accepted that. It is really stressful planning a show like this and getting all these guys together. I have my friend Gavin [McDonald] who plays drums for Paper Route, he’s playing drums for me. My friend Dan has his own stuff and he’s playing for me... so these guys are always all over the place. To get a group of guys together to come play Parachute was just... I don't even know how it happened. Then there’s this band called The Ember Days who are playing Parachute and Logan [MacKenzie] their guitar-player he’s playing with us too - and so, stuff like that is really stressful, assuming the leadership position. Recording-side of things, Dan and I kind of do everything together but at the same time he’s just the producer and so I’m always like: "What do you want for this song?" And we’ve had live strings, so just co-ordinating a guy to come play them and different studios and everything, it’s pretty hands on so that is stressful but at the same time it’s all fun and there’s nothing to complain about. Like, I’m in New Zealand to play music that I’ve made!
CDM: The music of HalfNoise has so many textures and layers - how do you approach the songwriting aspects? Do you have a structure mapped out in your head, or is it an organic natural flow?
ZAC: Honestly, I heard something when I first got here this trip, we met with this guy and he said because I’m a pretty goofy person, this guy said: "The most crazy and funny and goofy people usually have the most serious side to them." And I think that’s kind of what this project is. I don't want it to all be melancholy and slow - and it’s all really meaningful to me, but I think that I don’t ever have a lyric in mind or anything, I really write emotionally so whatever mood I'm in, or if a chord hits me a certain way that’s what I’ll go off of. I’ve been trying to write, like, what would I write if I was jumping off a cliff in NZ rather than like writing a song about my parents getting divorced or something like that. It kind of just starts with different notes and chord structures, or even a way a drum will sound. When I took drum lessons as a kid the teacher would always ask me if I practiced, and I’d be like ‘nope’ and he’d be like: "Well you’re not going to be able to play the beat." So I would ask him to show me, and he’d show me and I’d be able to hear it and play it, so I’ve always not really been good at reading things. It’s more sounds, if I can hear it I can kind of play it. I guess that’s how I write, just how something feels.
CDM: What do you want people to take away from listening to your music?
ZAC: Honestly, I hope that it does to them what it does for me and it just chills me out, it just moves me... that sounds kind of weird because it’s my own music. I would never really listen to my own music or whatever, but I write music so I can deal with things and I hope that some people can relate in that. Maybe help people, or just bring a smile to their face or make them feel cool or something.
CDM: Where do you pull lyrical inspiration from?
ZAC: It’s honestly just different for every song, it just depends on the vibe of it I guess. But mainly, life experiences with my family or travelling as a young kid, I feel like I had a different lifestyle than a lot of people leaving on tour when I was fourteen and stuff, so I pull from that.
CDM: Lyrically, what's your favourite HalfNoise song that you've written so far?
ZAC: Well there are some new songs that I really like but they’re not out yet. This one song called 'Tunnel', but I don't know if that is what the song name will end up being, it’s just a working title for now, that song means a lot to me. But the song ‘Reproof’ on the ['HalfNoise'] EP it really, I think, that one lyrically just because it was a time in my life where I wasn’t focusing on the right thing and I knew that spiritually for me - I take my faith seriously - I was getting off and so it was refreshing to write lyrically on something that got my focus back on what I needed to and things that mattered.
CDM: You’ve only released one EP so far, are there plans for future releases at this point? When can fans expect a full-length album?
ZAC: Yeah for sure, I think in this next year I hope to release a full-length. I was thinking about doing like a couple of EP’s, just putting them out there and not even worrying about them, but I think I have enough songs now that I just want to get them out, I don’t want to wait... so hopefully a full-length in this next year!
CDM: Obviously people were quick to compare your music as HalfNoise with previous projects... I’m sure that wasn’t surprising for you, but is it a comparison that bothers you or does the reference not bother you much?
ZAC: No, I mean there’s nothing you can really do about it... it’s just like the fact that I have brown hair, it just was part of me and they’re going to compare it and I honestly feel bad because it sounds nothing like Paramore and I honestly didn’t mean it... every song that I would write for Paramore would be too slow, or just not the right style, and so it’s not like I intentionally was like: "Oh well Paramore sounds like this, so HalfNoise has to sound like this." But I knew that there were going to be a lot of people who were going to be taken aback by it just because it’s a little bit different.
CDM: You’ve been in the music industry since a very young age... I know in previous interviews you alluded to the fact that you felt being in a band from such a young age had robbed you of some of your childhood. Do you still feel that way? Would you have done anything differently if you could go back?
ZAC: No I don’t think I would change it at all, I definitely wouldn’t. There are things like... the grass is always greener, you know? When you’re a kid and you’re in a classroom, anybody would die to be hanging out in London or having their sixteenth birthday in Japan. Stuff like that is awesome but then there is the other side and why I said some of that stuff. When we were in the band our family had gone through something really tragic and had separated, and a lot of stuff happened so I felt kind of like I’d go home and nothing would be the same. So I think that’s what I was pulling for them, there are some things I feel like I missed out on which are a bummer, but I wouldn’t trade it. It’s such an amazing experience and I know so many people that I wouldn’t have ever met had I not have been travelling since I was fourteen. For the most part, I’m extremely thankful for the life I have and what I get to do in the future.
CDM: Is there one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you first started out, that you want to spread to other young musicians?
ZAC: Yeah, it’s kind of harsh I guess, well maybe not harsh, but it’s just a lot of work and I think what I would express and stress to people is that... to just be themselves and not let whatever their circumstances are change who they are. I’ve watched growing up... like we’d go on tour with bands and then go back on tour with them and just music changed people, the money and fame. I’d be like: "Man we were such good friends on that one tour." And then we’d go on another tour and it’d be like: "I don’t even want to hang out with this person anymore." And we would have been like best friends on that first tour, and then a couple of years later and you’d be like: "Oh dangit." So I would just say, know why you’re getting into it and make sure you’re always honest with yourself and that you’re always happy because at the end of the day, you’re the one who in fifty years is going to look at your record and say 'I made this and I loved it' whether it was as massive as Beyoncé or as little as the local band playing at the pub, it has to mean something to you. And I think a lot of people today are like: "What does it take, what does it take?" And honestly, being in a band that had that success and fame and whatever, it’s like, still my point would be that even when you’re there, there is something else that you want if you’re not content. So many bands are like: "We want to be famous, we want this, we want that..." But there’s still people more famous than you. We would do tours with a bus, and people would be like: "Well yeah, but Miley Cyrus has eight buses." And it's like: "Okay cool, what does that mean?!" There’s always something, so just know why you like to do it and just do it out of your heart.
CDM: You also have the project Novel American with your brother, Josh - what is happening with that?
ZAC: I hoped that there would be more, but nothing’s really taking shape so that’s why I’ve been focusing more on this. We looked for a singer for about a year and a half and we tried some people but nothing really clicked. I wouldn’t say it’s never going to happen, but I’d say it will just take more time.
CDM: A friendship-crush is someone that you have no romantic interest in whatsoever, but just really wish that you were best friends with them. Who would be your top five friendship-crushes, living or dead?
ZAC: Okay, well see, my thing is I’d love to be friends with Thom Yorke but if he wasn’t a nice guy it would ruin everything for me, I probably wouldn’t be able to listen to his music. I don’t like meeting bands that I like, because in the slight case that they might not be cool, it kind of ruins it for me. But I would probably say Thom Yorke, he’s the man.
CDM: What are your five favourite things in the whole wide world?
ZAC: I love coffee, I love my family, I love being in New Zealand - that’s honestly one of my top five favourite things - faith is important to me, and I hope to be married one day. I love that coffee was number one. Music and friends are the most important to me really, it’s all I ever do.
IF YOU HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO DO?
CDM: If you could have the clothes from any character in any movie, who would you choose?
ZAC: Oh are you kidding?! I already know! Bill Murray from 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'. I would wear that every single day, I want to be him and he might be my friendship-crush actually. I might take Thom Yorke back and say Bill Murray because every movie he’s in I laugh, even if he’s being serious. Have you seen that movie? He wears that red beanie, that’s why I even own one, and then he wears that blue suit with those shoes every day, he’s so awesome.
CDM: What are the main things on your bucket-list to accomplish with HalfNoise?
ZAC: I’ve never put expectations on this band, but if I could play a show with Sigur Rós that would probably make my life. If I could just go to their show, I don’t even have to play, if I could just see them I would probably pee my pants. Or to have somebody say: "Through this song, I found what mattered in life." That’s the point of music, to not be selfish and to help other people, I think.
HALFNOISE's self-titled debut EP is out now. Click HERE to purchase via iTunes.
Click HERE to read CDM Issue #7.
Watch out-takes and highlights from CDM Issue #7 interviews below...