Interview: Hayley Williams Is Still Into Paramore
When Paramore released their latest single "Still Into You," they likely had no idea how relevant the song's title would become. The jaunty, hard-rocking track is culled from the band's self-titled new album — their first full-length recording without founding members Josh and Zac Farro, who departed in 2010. Any doubts that a lineup change might derail Paramore's career were rebuffed when fans catapulted the new album to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking the band's first chart-topper.
Still into you, indeed.
Paramore's breakout success caps a dramatic triumph for frontwoman Hayley Williams, bassist Jeremy Davis and guitarist Taylor York. As befitting their romantic name, Paramore veritably swept radio listeners off their feet with albums such as 2005's All We Know Is Falling, 2007's Riot! and 2009's Brand New Eyes. They captured GRAMMY nominations for Best New Artist and Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals for "The Only Exception" in 2007 and 2010, respectively. Also in 2010, Williams and York earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Visual Media for co-writing "Decode" from the Twilight soundtrack.
Now, armed with a beguiling new collection of pop-injected punk songs, Paramore are taking their show on the road. On the heels of launching Paramore's 2013 worldwide tour, firebrand vocalist Williams revealed the inside scoop on the new album in an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com.
How does Paramore differ musically and lyrically from your previous albums?
Musically, it couldn't be more different. Taylor stepped in as my partner in crime to write music and work on some demos. Every time we'd go to write a new song, he would surprise me by coming up with something on accident that was even better than what we'd originally set out to work on that day. The songs are more melodic, more adventurous musically, and less concerned about what anyone's going to think. The new sounds and rhythms inspired new melodies and lyrical subject matter for me to play around with that actually left me feeling completely liberated as a writer. By the time all three of us had our hands on the songs in the studio, we were completely surprised by what we could get away with if we just tried.
The first single "Now" is all about determination and perseverance. Does this theme extend throughout the other songs on the album?
That theme is one of the threads that pulls all 17 songs together. Not only is it present in the lyrics, but it's the spirit of the whole thing. When Taylor wrote the riff for "Now," I felt more sure than ever that we were headed towards something great … as people, as friends and as Paramore. I just wasn't sure what it was. I guess you could say it was a mix of determination and me just being an impatient brat.
The last two years have been an emotional roller coaster, punctuated by feelings of frustration and disappointment. Lyrically speaking, did you resist the urge to go "angst-y" with the new songs?
I didn't want our new album to be Brand New Eyes, Pt. 2. We've been there already and it wasn't what I would call a fun time. When we started writing I actually blocked out a lot of how I felt about struggles as a band and losing two members and friends. It started to be a problem when I had this intense bout with writer's block. All my lyrics were garbage. There were crumpled pieces of lined paper all over my room. It was frustrating. I let myself go a little bit in the interludes and in a few lines of a couple different songs and just told myself, "It's OK to [be] honest. … Just don't be mean about it."
The band introduces some new sonic textures on this album such as funk slap bass, a gospel choir and strings. Was there any concern about incorporating these new textures without sacrificing the band's signature punk/pop sound?
The attitude throughout the entire recording process was "try everything!" We never shot an idea down without at least giving it a fair chance. As far as remaining true to the genre that made us who we are, I don't think we did anything all that sacrilegious. Look at Blondie, or the Ramones or the Clash, for goodness sake! If you can't do what you want in your band or in a song in the name of punk rock, then what is it good for?
The new album marks the band's first time working with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen. How did you choose him?
His work on M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. is undeniable. We were massive fans of that album when it came out. When we decided to set up a meeting with him, we all thought he would be too cool for us. I mean, he tours with [Nine Inch Nails] and Beck, what would he want with our band? Then we all met and immediately connected over multiple things — different things for each of us. It felt like fate. We met a lot of other guys, the A-list producers. No matter what though, we couldn't stop thinking about making a record with JMJ.
Is there a reason you chose to title this album Paramore? Is it an existential, "we're-still-standing" statement?
It's absolutely a statement to us, and hopefully to anyone who's been following our band for some time. This is the album we were always meant to make. It just was never the right time until now.
The band tapped its vulnerable side on the GRAMMY-nominated 2010 single "The Only Exception." Did the song mark a big step in the evolution of the band?
At the time, it just felt like a love song. I get it a little more now. It was different for us; a softer side to Paramore when we were most known for our angst. If anything, it may have been the start of realizing we can get away with following our instincts as songwriters.
What has the experience of the last few years taught the band?
The most obvious thing is that the three of us know now, without a doubt, that we all really want to be here. Anyone who wasn't committed with their whole heart couldn't have lasted this long. Other than that, we are better friends to each other than we've ever been. That's what's most important.
(Bruce Britt is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Billboard and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.)