Zac Haley, front man and founder of local psychedelic synth-rock band Bazooka Zoo, has been steeped in Reno’s music scene since he moved here from Las Vegas in 2010.
Collaborating with a collection of local musicians informally called “No Labels Entertainment,” Haley—better known as Bazooka Zac—has toured with several different acts over the past five years. In the last year, he’s honed his psych-rock and electronic influences into a solo act dubbed the Chillwave Theater—and with a new album and list of tour dates, Bazooka Zac is a man with a plan.
“Recently I was at a job that was kicking my ass,” Haley said. “All that shit was stressing me out so hard. I was like, ’all I want to do is make music—I’m dying.’ This is like my parachute to freedom, to just be independent and creative.”
After years of splitting his time between a demanding day job and an increasingly ambitious tour schedule, Haley decided to pursue a goal he’d had for a long time—to live as an independent musician. A year ago, he moved alone to Carson City to work on an album.
“I’m planning on coming back to Reno, but I had to get out there to launch this project and become independent. It’s all part of my isolation chamber of, like, fucking truth.”
Haley dedicated himself to learning how to operate electronic musical equipment and software in order to blend live instruments, pre-recorded and patterned beats, and audio-visual elements of his own design.
“The Chillwave Theater is what this current project is called. And all that means is it’s an audio-visual, down-tempo, multi-instrumental performance,” Haley said. “You’re going to watch me play guitar, beat pad, effects, synthesizer. I might sing—and [be] working the visuals too. It’s a whole performance.”
Chillwave Theater is driven by Haley’s funk and psychedelic instincts, with eclectic beats and shimmery, jazzy synth tones occasionally pierced by a howling guitar solo or drum breakdown. He has toured venues all over the West Coast for the past year with his debut album, Patterns in Nature, which features guest performances by almost a dozen local musicians.
“It’s inspired by technicolor spider webs and morning dew and double rainbows—that’s the texture of the whole thing,” Haley said. “It’s kind of tying it all together, bringing humanity to electronic music. It’s kind of bringing nature to the civilized world and to the digital world, too.”
With track titles like “Diamondback,” “Flowing Water on Mars,” and “Great White Pelican,” Haley found inspiration in his love of nature and his previous work as a desert biologist.
He performs in front of lighting effects and coordinated psychedelic visuals projected onto a screen behind him.
“That’s what’s so cool about the audiovisual thing, you can really take the imagination to its limit and create an experience that’s bigger than the artist,” Haley said. “It’s more about the whole room and experience.”
Haley may have found independence in developing Chillwave Theater, but he said he also intends to continue collaboration with other local groups this summer—and for the forseeable future.
“I think I’m just going to be loosely on tour for, like, the next 10 years,” Haley said. “I have no plans to stop.”