There are many reasons to know, love, and follow Zac Farro. He is a striking photographer and a world-renowned musician. He is a tastemaker, being one of the original members of Paramore, and the founder of Congrats, a record label Farro built from the ground up, which supports indie artists in his creative orbit and beyond. He has a wry sense of humor and impeccable style, with undeniably one of the best hat collections in the industry. However, if you don’t know Farro, there’s an easy in: halfnoise. Born during a period where Farro had stepped away from Paramore, seeking space and perspective from a band he’d been in since age 14, halfnoise offered an open road on which he could stretch out, explore new directions, and begin to understand other facets of music and art that interested him. And with each album under the halfnoise moniker, he has done just that, with grace.
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Today, Farro is back behind the drum kit, touring arenas with Paramore — following a triumphant year that has been wrapping up with two Grammy nominations for their latest album, This is Why. However, it hasn’t stopped the halfnoise train, and for that, we are grateful. Farro has continued to pull from a global assortment of genres and rhythms, from Fela Kuti to ‘60s French pop, interpreting them with heart, his signature swagger, and, again, that witty sense of humor — album to album providing a fresh POV. And this week, on the heels of the smooth, swooning love letter that was 2021’s Motif, Farro is once again transporting us to somewhere new. Consuming the breadcrumbed singles, “Baby,” “Love Fire,” and “Cool Cat,” which halfnoise have released and performed over the last six months, it’s been clear he’s working with a new palette of colors, with swatches that riff off Japanese city pop, and the literal city of Los Angeles. And it’s culminating in an album, aptly titled City Talk, which is out this Friday.
We sat down with Farro to explore the J-pop songs that influenced City Talk, the Beatles, and what it’s like to jump from the drum throne to center stage.
This album’s sound is heavily attributed to the city pop sound. Firstly, what was your way into that world? Was it a song, an instrument, or structure that struck you? And to someone who doesn’t necessarily know that subgenre, how might you describe it?
City pop or J-pop was started in the ’70s and ’80s. Sort of this classic synth-based Japanese disco funk. I can’t remember the first song I heard, but it could have been “Say Goodbye” by Hiroshi Sato. I became super obsessed with this sound. Around the time of making City Talk, I was also listening to NTS religiously. Especially their “Poolside” mixtape that is always playing city pop and Japanese music.
I can definitely hear world influences in previous songs, and a retro feel that could be a natural link to this album’s sound, but what was the progression for you? What feels new, and what feels like it’s still halfnoise at heart?
halfnoise has always been a vehicle for me to collaborate with other musicians. I’m super proud of all the songs on this album. But especially the songs collaborated with others — “Baby,” “Cool Cat,” “Love Fire,” and “Snip Snap” are standouts to me for this reason.
The previous album felt super personal, and while this one definitely dips into a romantic side, there’s a levity to it that feels different. Where the last one felt like a love letter to a person, this one has a more experiential and cinematic feeling. Can you speak to that?
I always seem to rebel against myself after a record is finished. I want the next to feel very different and super inspired. Motif was super intimate and venerable. I wanted City Talk to feel more mysterious and less focused on story and more focused on production and feel.
What was the collaboration process in making this record, especially given that you decidedly left your home of Nashville for Los Angeles to make City Talk?
I wanted to work with my producer friend Daniel McNeill on a project for some time. He seemed like the perfect fit for this album. He’s super talented and loves working on initial instinct like I do. So I felt we were a good match for this album.
What aspect of the album, a song or otherwise, are you most proud of?
I’d have to say the making of the song “Baby.” It came to us so effortlessly. We were trying to find a song to work on and weren’t getting anywhere. I sat down in a chair in the studio and started humming the verse of “Baby.” Daniel looked back and said, “What’s that song? Let’s record that.” I said, “I didn’t know. I had only written it the day before.” And within three hours, the song was finished and recorded.
You have a really unique, fun stage presence when you’re performing as halfnoise. It always feels like a party, and makes the audience feel like they’re invited. It’s a rare thing. Who have you idolized or looked up to for their stage presence? What’s the best live show you’ve ever seen? And lastly, what’s your pre-show ritual?
I really don’t know who inspired me onstage. It’s probably some insane hybrid like if Mick Jagger and Jerry Seinfeld collided. Before the show, I like to sing to Rubber Soul by the Beatles to warm up and get in the zone.
Aside from the obvious, how would you describe what it feels like for you, personally, to go from the drum throne to being the frontman and vocalist? What are the potentially scary elements, the exciting, the similarities and differences?
I try to not think too hard about any of it. I will get anxious if I dwell on anything for too long. So I like to keep things moving and stay inspired. I like the different positions each project puts me in. I feel like I learn a lot from each one, and they always benefit from one another.
How would you describe the halfnoise ethos, from the sound to the MO in one sentence?
Sort of like how people describe natural wine: Organic, fun, funky.
What are your top five city pop songs? Or, five songs that inspired you in working on this album?
There are so many. But here’s a few.
“Present” – Yukihiro Takahashi
“Say Goodbye” – Hiroshi Sato
“Day Tripper” – Yellow Magic Orchestra
“4:00 AM” – Taeko Onuki
“あなただけのもの” – Yumi Arai