HalfNoise: The musical rebirth of Paramore's Zac Farro
Plus, check out some exclusive film photographs from Zac's own camera.
If you grew up in the glory days of Soundwave Festival, MySpace and HipTop mobile phones, chances are that Paramore were also spinning on your iPod minis and mp3 players. The Tennessee pop punk quartet were one of the pioneers of the genre and paved the way, one sassy line and bottle of orange hair dye at a time, for a slew of pop punk, emo and alt-rock acts to burgeon into the mainstream. Think Twenty One Pilots, 5 Seconds Of Summer and PVRIS and their peers in All Time Low, Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is... and Panic! At The Disco.
But if you looked behind the explosive stage presence and cool-girl charm of singer Hayley Williams, you'd find Zac Farro a few metres behind on the drum kit. And after six years of thrashing his kit around the world and in numerous studios, becoming part of the Paramore punk revoluton, Farro found he needed a big lifestyle overhaul. He quit Paramore in 2010, moved to New Zealand and found himself creating a whole new life for himself in his new band HalfNoise.
I catch him on a rare day off from tour in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - he and his motley crew of bandmates and friends are walking down to the water to catch the sunset. He's very chatty and excitable and laughs sort of nervously - at himself, it seems - but isn't afraid to open up.
"New York's not the most relaxing place but at the same time, it's still fun. We're hanging in Williamsburg, close to where we're staying. Even when there's nothing going on in New York, it always feels like something's going on, you know? It's so busy," Farro says.
"I think if I lived in New York, I'd live over here in Williamsburg. Because I was in another part of New York last week in the Manhattan area, doing a late night show with my other band, and it was just suuuper hectic. Lots of people around every corner, it's almost like playing human dodgeball. Just going down the road to get coffee you're dodging tourists and families, it's kind of overwhelming."
It's a testament to his humility that he refers to the Grammy-winning household name that is Paramore as "his other band", having rejoined in early 2017. Since unplugging from the fast-paced nature of the Paramore world for so long, it seems Farro's brain has reset and now he's back to being just a normal 27-year-old - that happens to be touring the world, but still.
I almost applied for a residency [in New Zealand] because I loved it so much. I was like, 'I dunno if I wanna make music anymore, I might get a job here.'
His musical brain has reset, too. HalfNoise is nothing like Paramore - it's The Beach Boys meets The Beatles, jangle-rock meets jaunty jazz, surf pop meets the Stones. He's taken inspiration from old French pop music, film photography, arthouse movies. He namechecks a slew of Australian and New Zealand bands like Tame Impala, Fazerdaze, POND, Gum, Connan Mockasin, The Babe Rainbow and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard without a moment's hesitation, like he's listened to them all his life. After playing in Paramore and being surrounded by punk music all of his formative years, you wonder how he even started expanding his musical horizons.
"It's a good question because I grew up IN Paramore, I started playing in it when I was 13. So it's like it was my life.
"So I removed myself and thought, 'I wanna travel a bit' and kind of lived life outside a tour bus and the backstage of a venue. I kind of just wanted to see what life was like. And when I did that, I always kind of listened to a bunch of music, but honestly it was when I moved to New Zealand that I started hanging with a bunch of different friends there and getting into that scene of '60s surf, '70s surf vibe... it was really influenced by that. When I got home I started delving into old Stones and Beatles records that I had never heard before," he remembers.
"I grew up with like, my dad was into old country music, James Taylor and Jackson Browne and stuff that I loved but nothing that I really connected to. But then I went, 'oh THIS is what makes sense to me', like old Beatles stuff, old Stones, and from that I started going down a bunch of different avenues. Like, Afrobeat, old '60s French pop music... it kind of opened the door for me. I don't even know how it happened, it was like a domino effect.
"I think it's interesting - when I hear about a person from a band I know stepping out and doing something else... like even Julian Casablancas, he does The Voidz thing, and it's so different than Strokes but you can still feel the vibe is there? With HalfNoise, it's very different to Paramore stuff."
He says HalfNoise's new Flowerss EP is "the most me" he's ever felt. And his excitement is palpable; it almost feels like he's discovered himself in a new, intoxicating relationship that changes every day, while simultaneously allowing him to appreciate the relationship he left.
"It just is what naturally happened. I'm really happy though because I feel like they really compliment each other. When I play with Paramore, I feel like I can bring some different life and different things to that band, but I also learnt a LOT from being back in Paramore. You learn a lot when you're behind the kit playing drums, you also learn a lot when you're out the front singing. Even though it's a lot of work, I like that it challenges me to always stay on my feet in a way.
"I love playing drums, it was my first love in music when I was nine years old, so it's what I know best. And HalfNoise is like this new thing where I know the least? But it's more exciting, that time away from the band was everything because I came back and appreciated that for a whole different slew of things. We play big shows, and we have a bus, and we tour in a way that's so different than HalfNoise touring and playing. But what's so cool is that all my friends that play with HalfNoise play with Paramore, so it's like the same mates everywhere. It doesn't feel that different, we're just playing different songs in a way? We're all together. Even though stylistically they're different, it feels like the same family," he says warmly. He's probably sitting by the water and watching the sun set over Manhattan at this point, surrounded by friends from back home in Nashville, as well his mate Gabriel from France.
Farro's move to New Zealand happened soon after he left Paramore, around the age of 21 or 22, and he explains he went back a number of times during the consequent years.
"[I lived around] Whangaparaoa, and I lived in Ponsonby after that. I got a couple different flats there. I loved it, it was super cool. I had two different kinds of New Zealand living - one with the family, they had chickens and it was right by the beach, and then the recent one was in the city, cafes everywhere, kind of like the Melbourne scene," he remembers fondly. "I almost lived there full-time! I almost moved there, I almost applied for a residency because I loved it so much. I was like, 'I dunno if I wanna make music anymore, I might get a job here.' But I'm so thankful that I had that experience and took it back with me to Nashville."
Musically and personally, it was the turning point he needed to come back to music with a fresh mind and a fresh spirit.
"I was kind of discovering who I am and who I was, and I was like, 'I guess I kind of like writing'. And the opportunity to try out whatever I wanted without the pressure of like, 'this song's for something on the radio!' I was just like, I don't have to write for anybody.
"Not that I had the pressure before because I didn't write in Paramore when I was in the band the first time; I do now. I didn't have the pressure of that while I was in New Zealand though - I wrote songs for fun, you live by the beach. I would like, write a song, go run on the beach and listen to it, it was just this cruisy time. Even for my photography - I'm doing a lot of photography now - I have this freedom of... like, I had this voice in my head which was like, 'it's not good enough, the photos aren't good enough because you don't know how to operate cameras' and stuff, but I just bought a bunch of disposable cameras on a trip out to LA and I just started taking photos of like, the most random shit. I was like, 'this is actually kind of cool!' and from that I've had the freedom to not care," Farro admits.
"I think thinking too much about anything, people can TELL, for one, and two, it's not genuine. For me, personally, that's kind of how I found my groove with HalfNoise. I let it all go. Letting go being cool, or having the next big pop song, I let all that stuff go and I was like, 'what do I enjoy doing? What do I wanna listen to?' If you don't believe in your song yourself, you're gonna get sick of it really quickly and that's where I was when I started writing. Going to New Zealand and having that freedom to go like,' stuff it, let's have fun and see where it goes.' When I got back to America, I was just fully into it, writing all the time with the mindset of 'if I don't like it, no one else is gonna like it or believe in it'.
"When fans come up to me at shows and go, 'what's a piece of advice?' I always say, do it because YOU love it. You have to have the right intentions otherwise you're gonna be let down if it doesn't go the way you thought. If you're writing music to make money or get successful, the chances are really low! And I think that you're left with that expectation, but not with any music you love. I think you're kind of doing yourself a disservice. I try and take that model and put that over HalfNoise."
I let it all go. Letting go being cool, or having the next big pop song, I let all that stuff go and I was like, 'what do I enjoy doing?'
It's heartening to hear how at peace with himself Farro is these days. Like tapping a part of yourself that you never knew existed, HalfNoise seems to have brought out a maturity in Farro that only comes with time away from something you love and the opportunity to reflect on what else you love.
"Sometimes I'll meet someone who recognises me and they say, 'I used to LOVE Paramore when I was younger' and it's like, we're the same age. I was in the band and she was listening. It's funny because some of those bands I grew up playing with were like my age NOW, nearly 28, and now I'm doing a whole different thing. And I'm not their age but did all that stuff with them, it's kind of a weird vibe.
"I feel like I've lived a lot of different lives," chuckles Farro.
HalfNoise's Flowerss EP is out now via Caroline Australia.