The PV Q&A: Paramore's Hayley Williams on the New Album and That Solo Career That Never Was

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Paramore performs at SXSW 2013—click here to see the gallery. (PHOTO: Beth Stirnaman)

By Tom Lanham

By today’s standards, it’s quite a generous offering. Paramore’s eponymous new fourth album (their first without founding guitarist Josh Farro and his drumming brother Zac, who quit in December of 2010) features no less than 17 tracks, and clocks in at over an hour in length.

The self-titled album was carefully conceived by Hayley Williams, bassist Jeremy Davis, and guitarist Taylor York, in all-for-one, one-for-all, Three Musketeers fashion. From its AC/DC-ish “Fast in My Car” opener, to a hip-hoppy “Grow Up,” the Bon Jovi-huge anthem “Daydreaming,” a propulsive proto-punker called “Ankle Biters,” and the folk-jangled “Future” closer—in which Williams optimistically chirps “I’m writing the future/We don’t talk about the past.” Holding the work together are three ukulele-strummed “Interludes.”

"And I think they are absolutely one of the most important parts of the album,” notes Williams, a wise old 24 now. “But maybe not for the reasons that a lot of people will think. “Taylor bought a ukulele after our trip to Hawaii—he was just super inspired. And those 'Interludes' are actually the reason that we were able to get through two different bouts of writer’s block. And honestly, I think a lot of the creative block came from me trying so hard not to write bitter, angry songs. So I feel like all 14 actual songs on the album are not angry, they’re not bitter. And the 'Interludes' are what helped me sarcastically—and humorously—get through some of my feelings that I was having when we started writing this album.”

PureVolume: It’s easy to forget that you’ve been doing this a long time, that you started out in your early teens working with serious adult songwriters.
Hayley Williams: I guess I never thought about it. I just liked being around people who were creative, who played music or wrote music or whatever. Jeremy and I, we met playing in a covers band, and we were playing political parties and birthday parties for geezers, and he was 16, I was 13. And it’s crazy to think about that now, because at the time, I didn’t imagine that those people were all that older than me. I just thought, ‘I wanna play songs tonight! I wanna sing a Chaka Khan song—So what?’ And now that I look back on it? We’re taking a band called Kitten out on tour, and the singer Chloe [Chaidez] totally rules. And I look at her and I’m like ‘Oh, you’re a little baby that I just want to cradle!’ But she is actually a year older than I was when we started really hitting the road hard. And I can’t imagine the way that people looked at me, because when I was 16, I looked 12, and she actually looks like a 17-year-old girl. So I never really thought about it until I was way past the point of even caring.

Paramore performs at SXSW 2013—click here to see the gallery. (PHOTO: Beth Stirnaman)

But you made a crucial decision back then, not to become a glossy solo artist, to front an actual band instead.
I was 13 or 14 when Avril Lavigne got massive. And you know how labels are—once something like that starts, they’re jumping on it, like sharks trying to find minnows in a pond. So I guess I looked the part: I was the girl singer-songwriter who could play guitar, and I had written some songs. But little did they know that I was in a band, and I had my own sort of agenda, and my own plan that me and the guys had already set in motion. Which basically meant that we were practicing in the garage once a week.

So by the time labels started calling me, I had already made up my mind that yeah, I can write on my own, I could probably do this on my own. But why would I wanna do that? I remember being in second grade and assigning friends instruments, like ‘We’re gonna be in a band! And we’re gonna do this!’ I just have always wanted to be a part of this, it’s been my dream my whole life, and I just would much rather play music with my friends. So I got very lucky that I somehow made a good case for myself and people listened, and the guys and I got to go on this ride and be Paramore.

And to be honest with you, there’s no way that ‘Hayley Williams’ would be around as long as Paramore's been around—it just would never work. I think people want what’s real and what’s genuine, and what’s genuine for me is being the singer of this band. Selling my name on a billboard or on the cover of a CD? That just wouldn’t be me. And I just don’t think that ‘Hayley Williams’ would have survived on her own.

Paramore performs at SXSW 2013—click here to see the gallery. (PHOTO: Beth Stirnaman)

But the point of all this is, you knew exactly what you were doing, and you knew how to compose material. Why would the Farro brothers walk away from that? Or you?
I don’t know. Quite honestly, the story that we told from Day One is still the story today. They weren’t happy, and we aren’t in the business of forcing people into doing things that they don’t want to do. So Taylor and Jeremy and I, we sort of had a few talks about it without having actually talked about, and we decided that we weren’t finished, and that we still wanted to move forward as Paramore. And we had a lot more to say, just as human beings on the face of the planet. And that’s how album number four came out. So I guess I feel like—and it’s super-cliché—but everything happens for a reason. And if Josh and Zac weren’t happy, it made Taylor and Jeremy and I realize that we are absolutely happy doing this. So I’m pleased with everything that’s happened.
From the Interludes to the track sequencing itself—which seems to have been meticulous—it sounds like you’re going through the stages of grief on Paramore.
Yeah, I guess so. And at the time, I didn’t recognize that. I thought that I was over it completely by the time we were ready to write the record. But shades of the past would come in and rear their head, through like one line in a song. And I’d be like ‘Really? Is that how I feel?’ I felt like I was surprising myself.

And there were moments where I did choose to hold back and not say things that I probably would’ve said on the last album. Because I wanna grow, I wanna become a better person. I don’t wanna go backwards when I can be moving into something new and more exciting.

Paramore performs at SXSW 2013—click here to see the gallery. (PHOTO: Beth Stirnaman)

In “Ankle Biters," which will probably be a huge hit, you say ‘Some day you’re gonna be the only one you’ve got.’
Well, that song is about accepting who you are, about embracing yourself through all your flaws and past mistakes. Or whatever you think that you have a problem with.

I keep seeing things online, where kids are like ‘I feel like Hayley’s growing up into this really confident woman.’ And on one hand, yeah, I feel that way. But on the other hand, I think that I’m a pretty normal 24-year-old woman, and I’ve only just over the last couple of years decided that I’m okay with growing up into a woman.

So I’m every day figuring out what I’m okay with and what I like about myself or don’t like about myself. And a song like “Ankle Biters” is about me. About me not accepting who I was at one point in time.

So I felt like ‘It’s now or never—you really have to get a hold on this and decide that you’ll just accept who you are.’ And I go in and out of that sort of thing. One day, I might feel so confident and have no issues with myself, no issues with the world, and then the next day I’ll be completely insane. So I'm learning.

Paramore performs at SXSW 2013—click here to see the gallery. (PHOTO: Beth Stirnaman)

But you clean up real nice for award ceremonies. Have you gotten any cool new makeup or fashion endorsements?
Yeah. We did this MAC makeup collaboration that I thought was cool. In the beginning, I thought ‘This is absurd that they wanna work with me!’ But I do feel like we made a collection that really represents who I am, so I’m very comfortable with it, and I’m really excited about it. So there’s that, and then there’s stuff like the Nylon magazine cover – I’m getting opportunities like that. And me and the guys will talk about it, and I’ll be like ‘I dunno . . . I dunno . . .’ And they’re like ‘Whaddaya mean, you don’t know? This is so cool! You’ve always loved this magazine!’

And it’s like I was saying before about just waking up one day and feeling fine, and then the next day kind of doubting myself. I’m still going through that. But it’s exciting to have people interested in me as a girl, in those ways. But it’s only been recently that I’ve come to terms with it, that I’m okay with it. So now I feel very comfortable about accepting my ... my . . . femininity!

Paramore's full-length self-titled comes out tomorrow, April 9, via Fueled by Ramen.

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