Hayley Williams on Love, Haters, and ‘Paramore’s Soap Opera’
Frontwoman discusses the band's new beginning, growing up, and trying everything at least once
“At least now, if anything, we have an excuse,” Hayley Williams said over the phone from Los Angeles, where Paramore still had some business to take care of before playing Austin’s South By Southwest. And true, it’s been almost four years since the Tennessee band’s last album, 2009’s half-million-selling brand new eyes. Not to mention the fact that two founding members, Josh and Zac Farro, quit the band in a blogspot-ready huff just before Christmas 2010. But Paramore’s self-titled fourth album, due out April 9 on Fueled by Ramen and recorded in L.A. with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Tegan and Sara), sounds nothing like a group hedging its bets. These sprawling 17 tracks encompass ukulele-based sauciness, twitchy new-wave romance, made-over alt-rock snarl, new-jack-swinging gospel-funk, Arcade Fire-style rafter-raising, even goth-y atmospherics.
Williams, who’s joined in Paramore by bassist Jeremy Davis and guitarist Taylor York, talked with SPIN about haters, growing up, and trying everything at least once.
You’ve said there’s no dubstep crammed onto the record, but there’s just about everything else. What was the mindset going in?
The mindset was, like, we have no idea what we’re doing. We found a lot of freedom in just letting everything happen, because we tried to force it in the beginning. The first couple of months we battled pretty insane writers block. But when we were writing we were trying to recreate something that Paramore had already done. And it just didn’t make sense, because we had already done it.
Your producer, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, told an interviewer recently that he had been “blessed with a clear mandate” when he went into the studio with you guys. What was the mandate?
It felt like our band started from scratch all over again. So we didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what things should be. It was only, how could it be? Or how far can we take this? It became like a bunch of kids throwing around instruments every day. “Oh, let me try this! What does this sound like? What does this do?” The mandate, I guess, if there had to be one, was try everything at least once.
I’ve seen some chatter that “Still Into You,” which is kind of a sweet, happy love song, will be the next single. Is that true?
That is true. “Still Into You” is definitely a love song. It’s definitely happy. But to me anyway — and obviously I wrote it so maybe I’m biased, but — it’s not a sappy love song. We wrote “The Only Exception” a while ago, and that song is definitely like a slow love ballad, and this is totally not that song. I’m excited for that! We’ve never done that before, and honestly I don’t have a whole lot of experience writing love songs, or anyways lyrics that are like this. So I’m just ready. Wherever this song goes, whatever it does, I’m just excited for our fans to hear it.
So why do you hug the scary beret-wearing guy at the end of the “Now” video?
Our band’s been through a lot, we’ve been through ups and downs, and the video portrays those struggles that we’ve had. And the best way to battle it is not by repeating offenses. It’s sort of like — did you see Looper? Looper was so brilliant, and it took me forever to finally see it, but the way that movie ends and the message behind that is so selfless. If anything, that’s the message that we’re trying to get across, is that you can’t keep doing the same things if you want a different result. And I feel like at the end of the day love always wins.
“Now” seems to be the only song you’ve been playing live so far. You’ve got a March 13 showcase headlining gig at South By Southwest coming right up. What can people expect when you play this stuff in concert?
We have one day of rehearsal before we play our show. The show’s not until midnight, which, for me, that’s like 10 hours past my bedtime. I’m actually just really looking forward to hanging out with our fans and it feeling like a party. And there are so many bands that we love opening up the show — Kitten is playing, and Twenty One Pilots, who we’re labelmates with, and Tegan and Sara, who are some of our good friends. I think really it’s just going to be a big party. We’re definitely going to be play “Now.” We might have another surprise up our sleeves.
It looks like you and Chad [Gilbert, Williams' boyfriend and lead guitarist for New Found Glory] are going on separate tours after SXSW. Is that hard?
That’s our life. We always, always tour. But honestly it’s great. We both love what we do and we both support each other and love that we’re doing the thing that we enjoy.
The very first song on the album, “Fast in My Car,” has you singing about “the three of us” and “second chances.” How much of this record is autobiographical about Paramore’s lineup changes?
The entire album is autobiographical, but it’s not all about the lineup changes or losing two band members. I didn’t want to write another record about being in a band. Not everyone in the world is in a band, so people can’t all relate to that. I really just wanted to write about the things that I felt. And while I think there are shades of those things in the songs — I can’t really stray away from the things that I’ve been through, so obviously it shows up — none of the songs are actually about Zac and Josh leaving the band.
“Fast in My Car” is actually more about people who can’t let go of our past, and the people who can’t see outside of the big, fat shadow of Paramore’s soap opera. It’s about just wanting to be left alone enough to grow and move forward and just enjoy where we are.
There are a couple of other songs — “Ankle Biters” and “Be Alone” — that seem to address people who can’t think for themselves.
“Ankle Biters” just came from, that’s what people call babies. But to me there was this thread throughout the album of wanting to be able to grow up and move forward. And when you do that in your life, there’s always people that are going to try to hold you back. Or they’re going to try to tell you, “You don’t need to do this, because this is the right way to go.” Or you don’t need to grow up, because this or that. And it’s about those people, and it’s about not listening to that but listening to your heart, and what do you want out of life? Who do you want to to be? Versus all this outside influence that I think we get so caught up in, especially in the age of the Internet and all the different opinions that we hear so loudly every day.
Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump wrote a really long blog post recently along those same lines. We feel more comfortable loudly and maybe ignorantly saying the things that we hate than the things we love. There’s crippling insecurity.
I saw a paragraph or two, and I completely agree with him. In some sense you need those things, especially someone like me. I tend to enjoy proving people wrong. Sometimes it’s good fuel to the fire. But why do we spend so much time focusing on negative things? And why does the Internet and social networking apps like Instagram or Twitter make it so easy for people to hate? I just don’t really get it.
I feel like growing up, even when I was much younger and even when I probably had every excuse to be pissed off about the dumbest things, I was never as negative as some of the people I see replying to me or commenting at me on Twitter or Instagram. And at the end of the day, I have to, like I said before, learn to stop the cycle and just ignore it. And focus on the positive things I hear. Because in the end, there actually are more positive things out there than negative.
You’ve mentioned before that Taylor’s been listening to a lot of Alt-J and you’ve been listening to a lot of ’80s goth and synth-pop. Is there anything else that you were listening to while you were working on this record that might’ve seeped into it?
Most recently I heard him listening to that Miguel record, which is amazing. I kind of became addicted to Blondie all over again when we started writing this record, but then throughout the recording process, toward the end, I’ve become re-addicted to Siouxsie and the Banshees. I love those sounds, and that feeling that I get when I listen to those old records. They’ve got so much heart and soul in them that the way that they’re recorded, you can’t really deny it.
You’re a big Morrissey fan, right? Were you in L.A. for that Staples Center show?
I have to say that at the end of the day I’m a far bigger Smiths fan than I am a Morrissey fan. But I did miss that and I had some friends who went. I saw some pictures on Instagram and it seemed like it was rad. But of course it was.
Are you a vegetarian? He almost got Staples Center to go completely meat-free.
No, I’m not a vegetarian. I do eat that way. I actually eat vegan quite a lot. I feel better when I eat that way, and I think there’s been a lot of proof that’s come up over the last however many years, that you can’t deny, I don’t think, that meat or dairy aren’t all that good for us. However, everybody’s different. That’s how I feel when putting it in my body. I eat meat now and then but it definitely doesn’t make me feel good.
Have you listened to the songs that Zac put out last year as HalfNoise?
I did not hear those, but I know Taylor did.
Justin obviously used to play with Nine Inch Nails. Did you hear the “Head Like a Hole”-“Call Me Maybe” mashup that came out the other day?
Whoa, really? I’m going to Google that as soon as we get off the phone.