Following his departure from Paramore, Zac Farro began working on his own project; HalfNoise. What started off ten years ago as an exploration into dreamy indie music, has since evolved into sleek synth-pop. Now as he releases his third album 'Natural Disguise', it is blindingly obvious that HalfNoise has blossomed into something more.
After the 2016 release of his full-length 'Sudden Feeling', Farro reconnected with his old friends Taylor York and Hayley Williams; subsequently spending two years on the road touring their album 'After Laughter'. In between these tours, Farro was carving out a new path for HalfNoise by going into the studio and recording what would be 'The Velvet Face' EP and 'Flowerss' EP.
As the Paramore tour was winding down, he realised that the time limitations placed on his own projects gave him the push to work on something longer. "I kinda wish I made more time and made those two EPs one full-length body of work," he explains, "and so I was kind of itching for a whole completed thought."
Getting to grips with older music really helped Farro hone in on the sound he was looking for in his next project. "I never really listened to The Beatles or The Stones or The Kinks, so I never really knew where all that stuff came from – or Jimi Hendrix. I was drumming into that only a few years ago, and it had a huge impact on me."
It was this exploration that crafted the more definitive sound that HalfNoise have extended to, today. "I was listening to Mardi Gras, African, afrobeat records from the 50s-70s that have just really crazy distorted guitar tones, and it was very sloppy and human."
It was like a lightbulb going off in his head when he noticed that there weren't really many indie voices over afrobeat-inspired music. "I was trying to channel the energy of afrobeat stuff and the energy of 70s Stones and The Kinks – songs like 'You Really Got Me Now." This led to exploring a different path to what he has already known and pushing further ahead in his field.
There is a transformative step-up from HalfNoise's eponymous debut EP, and this is something that Farro is well aware, and quite frankly proud of. "I think all this stuff just takes time. To hone in on your craft and your art; sometimes it takes a couple records and a couple years to get there."
"There's a lot of music out there from HalfNoise," he continues, "but I feel like all of that was just one big step to make this record. This is genuinely the first step into something HalfNoise is going to be forever. It's a really wild feeling to feel like I pushed past something." There's a significant shift in direction towards a more psychedelic sound that has been slowly creeping into the music. With this jolt of energy into something new comes a juxtaposed sense of breezy control that has seldom been seen in HalfNoise.
'Natural Disguise' was recorded last September at Farro's house in Nashville. This is the first record that he entirely wrote, recorded, and produced by himself. Farro says that being able to put his head down for a month was detrimental for letting the record just be what it is. "I'm a very extroverted person, and I was surprised at myself for locking myself away," he explains. "It was a quick process, and I just felt like I got it all out. It was something that I needed to do, and the cool thing was that I was a bit nervous cause I'd never recorded or produced anything on my own."
By giving in to the isolation of it all, Farro felt fear and would constantly second-guess himself, but realised it would do nothing for his creative freedom "other than squashing anything potentially great" – so instead, he followed the songs rather than try to push them in any direction.
"The whole point about the record is not disguising yourself and trying to act like nothing is going on. I wanted to really strip it back and be as vulnerable as I could with the lyrics and the music."
Notably, Farro talks about stripping things back lyrically, as it feels like the songs are more amplified and sonically layered than ever before – from the psychotropic jam session of 'Boogie Juice/Apple Man' to the gloopy maracas and scratchy Hendrix-style guitar riffs of 'Natural Disguise'.
A part of the reason behind the additional layers comes from trying to shed the simple approach that Farro took with 'Sudden Feeling' – "I didn't play drums on that record. It was mainly a drum machine. I guess being a drummer, I was like 'I ain't gonna play drums on my record, am I?' I wanted to separate it so much as I'd been a drummer for so long."
Going into the recording process with such a concise idea about what he wanted to achieve, but still allowing the songs to flow in whichever direction they needed to, made for some interesting cuts. 'Natural Disguise' opens with the whimsical 'Woodstock Snap' which is a lot more sonically grittier than anything we've heard so far.
Digging into 40s Rockabilly and old Southern rock influences, Farro's intention was to open the album in a way that people would stop and say, what the hell just happened!? In a similar vein is 'The Groove Is Divine' – inspired by afrobeat artist Francis Bebey who speaks in French over old drum machines – which just oozes cool. The words "you can't stop smiling / you look up at the sun, and the sun is looking down at you / and it is divine" transport you to a desert strip in the 70s. You can feel the heat reverberating off the synths, as the song increasingly gains volume before dissipating almost as quickly as it started.
The obscure moments in 'Natural Disguise' are what make it shine, and Farro finds it strange that there aren't many people doing a similar thing. "We're in 2019, and people are weirded out by records going to different places. Like, man, in the 60s and 70s [musicians] were going crazy and that was fine, yet now we're playing it safer. That sounds bogus to me."
It's the idea of façade that ripples at the heart of the album. "With this record, the main point is even if I'm writing a song about somebody acting fake, or they're trying to act natural while acting fake; I have to hold that mirror to myself."
We see this introspection in songs like 'Beautiful Someone' and 'Daisy' – "I was listening to a lot of 'Let It Be' and there are so many songs on that record that have that stream of consciousness tied through them."
As if being a multi-instrumentalist wasn't enough, Farro is also an avid photographer and in retaining the majority of creative control over HalfNoise, has dabbled in recording music videos for the singles. In a world where a lot of the time, the way we take in music is just via streaming apps on our phones, sometimes videos can feel redundant.
From Farro's perspective, it's more about creating an extension of the music rather than making a video specifically for people. His intention is to make you think of the accompanying visual each time you listen to a song – "I think that's the difference between a video and a visual extension. I definitely wanna make more visuals for the record because I feel like it's a very visual record. I'd love to make a video for every song, but that's not realistic. I'm excited to put this record out because I'm excited to sit back and see what people gravitate toward. I really hope this has a lasting power."
Taken from the November issue of Upset. HalfNoise's album 'Natural Disguise' is out now.
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