Paramore: "This band isn't worth our health"Posted by Mike Schuck
We were each other's support system, according to Paramore. Image by Zachary Gray
The pop-punk pioneers, who were among the most important bands of their period, were almost destroyed by internal strife and misogyny in the music business. They have returned after four years of introspection and are prepared to react to a "crazy" period for the US
The three Paramore members may sense their advancing years. Their joints took a beating as they just filmed the music video for their comeback track, This Is Why. The 33-year-old frontwoman Hayley Williams claims, "I'm still sore, and it's not even a performance-heavy video." The band is about to start their first real day back at work in four years when they appear over Zoom from their historical Los Angeles rental one September morning. They begin rehearsing for their October tour as soon as we finish our conversation. Williams, whose peach hair is hidden by a cap that reads "All in a dream," calculates that there are still "twentysomething days" till they go. "I'm scared!" They're loosening up; drummer Zac Farro, 32, has been pounding out the band's heavier tunes. His strong moustache contrasts with his lovable timidity. Williams gestures to the corner and says, "We pulled out the mini trampoline."
Cardio is one thing, but leaving Paramore completely was the finest preparation for their sixth album, also titled This Is Why. Since they had formed as preteens in Tennessee 20 years before, band life had been all they had known. Their euphoric, angsty pop-punk sound is flourishing among artists like Willow Smith and Meet Me at the Altar, and a generation of disparate musicians from Soccer Mommy to Grimes and Lil Uzi Vert grew up idolizing Williams, a lightning bolt in a fiercely misogynist scene. They quickly became Grammy-winning emo superstars and one of the most influential bands of their generation.
However, after a notoriously turbulent life, Paramore took a break from performing in 2018 to learn how to function more like a family. Their first album to be created with the same personnel as their last one is titled This Is Why. There have been eight members of Paramore and a number of dramatic departures, including Farro and his brother Josh in 2010. Williams was the sole name on the record deal she signed as a teenager; nonetheless, she consistently pushed Atlantic to make Paramore a band, not a glorified solo project. As a result, the quitters often slandered Williams on their way out. The turmoil and possibility for the band to disintegrate were eagerly covered by the media. Taylor York, a 32-year-old shy guitarist with a corkscrew curl who joined the group in 2007, and Williams emphasized throughout the performance that the band was at its strongest ever.
For 2017's After Laughter, Zac Farro re-joined the group and replaced their howling guitars with sparkling punk-funk. Williams' unusually candid lyrics explored her melancholy after her divorce from guitarist for New Found Glory, Chad Gilbert. It was the first time in public that Paramore didn't act as if everything was happy ever after. Williams expresses her relief loudly, "It was a huge relief." More than ever, we served as each other's much-needed support system.
They are positioned in front of the hearth like a family picture, and their affection for one another is evident today. (Williams and York confirm relationship rumors but choose not to further.) The After Laughter era's candor proved to be freeing. I "just started bawling," York remembers, when one of his family friends passed away as the band was filming a music video for a particular track. "Until that time, I was unaware of this ability. Nothing, we realized, is worth putting our health at danger. They imposed strict restrictions on the record's tour. "Let's see what it's like to not hang our identities on Paramore all the time," Williams says they decided after that they needed to take their first ever true hiatus.
Paramore's original lineup in 2006; the new album is the first to be produced by the same people as the one before it. Images: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty
They had to mature quickly since they joined the band at a young age, according to York: "Then you realize it was at the expense of other parts of yourself." Williams produced two solo albums (her bandmates collaborated on the first) while they were apart, engaged in extensive treatment, and spoke up about the impact the band's history had on her in interviews. Farro, who acknowledges that his time apart from the band revived him, continued to make music with his side project HalfNoise and dabbled in acting and photography. York gave up alcohol. He adds, "I wanted to figure out why we do this and how it happened and explore some deeper parts of myself." "I'm a pretty withdrawn person, and my passion and line of work conflict with that. I was able to firmly respond, "Let's do it," when the decision was made to do [Paramore] once more. I had to let Hayley and Zac know I wanted to do this.
The three had the opportunity to speak openly with one another in their backyards in their hometown of Nashville about "living in the south during a global pandemic, during racial injustice, and a social movement that was bigger than it's ever been in America," according to Williams. We thought that being at home through all of the craziness was quite crucial. They were able to give their lives a sense of community by speaking up, marching, and cooperating with neighborhood groups.
The new album makes extensive use of the trio's talks during that time period to reflect on the places they come from in the past. They spoke about their upbringing in the Bible Belt. Williams relocated to Tennessee from Mississippi after her mother left her second husband. Through a homeschooling program, she met Farro, who knew York. Early on, Paramore was upfront about being a Christian band, but today, according to Williams, everyone is going through various phases of questioning their connection to religion. When you unpack something that has been proclaimed to be the ultimate, you discover that it is really entangled with other weird garbage over here. Zac and Taylor are the most understanding and kind about it, while she sighs and says, "I feel like my teeth are blades and I'm spouting fire, trying to fling it all over the edge of a cliff. You shouldn't generalize, Taylor always tells me, so it's wonderful to be challenged. The majority of the album discusses what it means that humans aren't simply that. I can be pretty dualistic when it comes to good people and terrible people.
These discussions are also being had with family members. Williams exposed Josh Farro in October 2020 after he posted homophobic remarks online. "There's a reason why @paramore only has 3 members remaining. Surprise, haters, it's not your fault, she tweeted, denouncing his comments.
Zac Farro admits that his relationship with his elder brother hasn't always been easy. "When you're young, you assume that you'll do everything with your friends, and we did that for a while. And so we didn't. The relationship has undoubtedly been strained, but I truly believe that things have improved lately. Since they made that decision, you can't truly be furious at that individual. You have to decide whether or not to be loving. Even though I don't want to appear condescending, some people's worldviews are not really acceptable online. My heart goes out to him. Sometimes you have to learn it the hard way.
York contributes. "People believe they are acting morally, but this is another issue I'm not even sure where to place. Many individuals are attempting to do the incorrect thing while having strong convictions; they aren't speaking out.
Williams returns to her propensity for generalization while giggling at her annoyance. "I don't want to put forth the effort to consider them as complex figures. Like Donald Trump, I don't want to consider his father, his father's father, and generational BS at all. I don't want to be able to show such folks any grace. However, I believe that it will take all of our lives to become uncomfortable enough to make a difference.
"This experiment, the internet, has been going wrong since day one. It exploits our blatant disregard for nuance
Paramore … ‘It’s only now that we’ve felt lighter about the band’ Photograph: Zachary Gray
During Covid, she says, “tourism was at an all-time high. There’s multiple streets called Robert E Lee, so many Civil War tributes to Confederate soldiers.”
“Not one mask in sight,” says Farro.
“I got a call from a friend who was trying to buy groceries and this guy was towering over her,” says Williams. “She said: please stand six feet back and he cursed her out.”
This Is Why is driven by the animosity and paranoia that have pervaded US society since Trump's election. Williams adds, "I feel like we're in Lord of the Flies when I look at the news and the internet." The internet has been a failed social experiment from the beginning, I thought while I was composing the lyrics. It highlights and takes advantage of the public's apparent contempt for subtlety. Their second single, which hasn't been released yet, emphasizes the value of avoiding compassion fatigue (I only get to hear two new songs from the album). Williams admits that "some days I feel so over it, almost to the point of apathy," but that's the struggle—you have to battle it.
The band returned to the studio because of the trust established during their garden conversations. They were nonetheless concerned about maintaining their goodwill. "You eventually learn some coping skills and communication methods after 15 to 20 years of fighting like a bunch of brats in front of the world," adds Williams.
"We met at the craziest age and we should not have made it through all the things we’ve been through together
Having said that, York continues, "I'm not of the mindset that you have to suffer to produce excellent work, but I don't see how you can develop anything that is genuinely honest in a group setting without conflict. We're growing more and more adept at handling it. Following The initial plan was to perform with only guitar, bass, and drums after Laughter's push into straighter pop. Then synthesizers began to intrude, and they began to reflect on the early 2000s indie movement, including dance-punk and electroclash. It seemed quite urgent, Williams says. Important and a touch arrogant. Bloc Party, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Rapture, and Glassjaw are examples of personalities that were indie rock idols bigger than life. Also filtering through were fresh British acts like Wet Leg and Sorry. Farro pushed them in the studio whenever they felt like they were going too far: "Give 'em the goods."
They were aware that they would be re-entering a music world that was heavily influenced by them. Williams declares, "I'd rather work harder than ever to try and find ourselves despite the noise."
They felt less obligated to the band's history as they came to terms with who they were as individuals outside of Paramore. Williams mentions their 2007 smash tune Misery Business, which she penned at the age of 17. Williams claims that the song's retaliatory lyrics against a love rival represent the sexism she internalized from their encounter. Paramore announced that they will cease performing it live in 2018. That didn't stop its TikTok resurrection, as Olivia Rodrigo's song Good 4 U bears a glaring resemblance to it, earning Paramore a tardy authorship credit.
Williams explains that she doesn't feel defined by the song any more, "only now that we've felt lighter about the band." She chooses to recall the time they used to sing it live and invite a fan onstage to join them for three minutes of "living their best life." That, in my opinion, best describes our band, not these dramas or the question, "Is Hayley the ideal feminist?" That was a long time's worth of hard lifting.
When Billie Eilish, a 20-year-old pop singer, performed Misery Business as the Coachella main act earlier this year, Williams joined her. After failing to convince Eilish to keep quiet, she realized that "it shouldn't be about me. Humans develop and learn. In regards to the sexism I ingested as a young girl, I had previously called myself out and put a lot of effort into it.
According to Williams, the first song they composed for the new album explores "how you can't control someone's perception of you." How it feels to acknowledge that there have been times in your life when you have been the villain or have said something that you didn't truly mean - Misery Business - and it has come to define you for certain people. What else is there to do than keep evolving and pushing yourself? The lighter feeling that resulted from it has been awesome.
They need to go out for rehearsals now. A day later, Paramore assembles at their rehearsal room with Williams' goldendoodle Alf. They are all dressed in black. According to York, the first day back may often be discouraging, but yesterday was like "flipping on the switches in the cockpit." Williams's throat became less constricted from the worry that had been there all week. She recalls thinking, "Oh yeah, this is what I do," as soon as they warmed up. "We've put in our over 10,000 hours."
Even for them, Paramore's position as relative veterans comes as a surprise. Williams claims, "We should not have survived all the things we've been through together because we met at the craziest age." The final record they are required to provide under the contract that Williams signed when he was a teen is This Is Why. They had been talking about their early years ever since March, when they first met, she claims. "We have to get our act together and create a document right away."
The three come across as adorably shocked that anybody is still interested. If it weren't so obviously earned, given how well regarded they are, it may seem fake-humble. There is more to the enthusiasm around their return than merely their enormous current impact (add PinkPantheress, Demi Lovato and Yungblud to their successors). There is a feeling of generational vindication, as if a band that overcame sexism in the music industry and an unforgiving media had triumphed on their own terms. The only return they're interested in receiving is creative freedom; Farro has been referring to this as their "season of not resisting." Their inclusive, inquisitive, and compassionate principles have changed the rules of the business.
As Alf leaps back up to his owner, I propose that it's a reclamation similar to those felt by Fiona Apple or Britney Spears, singers who were mocked by the media as young ladies before later being welcomed for precisely who they were by younger, more progressive followers. Williams responds timidly, "I never placed us on the same playing field. "But that makes sense. And it's amazing to have been around long enough to have that opportunity. She laughably shakes her head. People will get tired of hearing us repeat this throughout this album cycle, but we still can't believe we're here.
On February 10, This Is Why will be launched.
Thanks to Laura Snapes at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.
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