Paramore: Three’s Company
Pop-punkers Paramore may have made a name for themselves soundtracking your teenage years, but for the first time in a long time they feel comfortable in their own skin.
Metallica. Blink-182. Linkin Park. American pop-punk outfit Paramore now find themselves amongst some of music’s biggest and heaviest acts having headlined this year’s Soundwave Festival in Sydney – even if they only found out about it an hour before it happened.
“I feel like… gosh, it really messes with you when it’s like, ‘Okay, you guys are gonna play. Okay, you might not play. Okay, you’re playing last!’,” admits Taylor York, the band’s guitarist and youngest member. “I think everyone tried to keep us out of the loop enough to not mess with our heads too much. We definitely had no idea until an hour before we played that we were actually playing.”
“Because that was when our gear got there,” Jeremy Davis, the band’s bassist, chimes in. “It didn’t get there til 8.30pm, which is crazy.”
The band took to the stage at 9.45pm. After two gear trucks in the festival fleet of 60 went walkabout, Soundwave promoter and general social media fiend AJ Maddah was left with a choice between Paramore and Garbage over who would go on after Metallica and headline the festival – and Paramore came up trumps.
“It was just… not a good day,” vocalist Hayley Williams confesses. “It was pretty stressful. And then,” she beams, “the show happened and I think we played really well and the crowd was rad.”
“Our whole posse really came together to make it happen, which was cool,” Davis explains. “We weren’t even able to have any of our lights, we had to use all of Blink’s original light set up, so our lighting guy was trying to build stuff from just visually seeing it. Everybody stepped up.”
“It was a special night,” adds York.
The trio, which now consists of the pint-sized Williams, Davis and York, are currently riding high as they kick back in a hotel room overlooking Sydney Harbour. The band are in the midst of the annual Soundwave Festival and with all five dates sold out – not to mention a sold out Sydney sideshow to boot – there’s plenty to be excited about. In the immaculate room, there’s an array of fresh fruits, Danishes and other assorted cakes on a nearby table, though they’re neglected while the band consider their upcoming self-titled album – the first without founding members Josh and Zac Farro. Despite the inherent excitement, when talk turns to the new record the band seems somewhat nervous.
“I’m really anxious,” Williams smiles coyly.
“We’re just ready. We’ve never sat on music for this long. We’re so proud of it and so stoked, but we’re just left to our own thoughts because it hasn’t been judged yet,” York tells us.
“We just want people to hear it already. We’ve been saying that for months now,” says Williams, dragging out her vowels.
“You know, it felt like we didn’t shoot down each other for any ideas. Simply put, it was less cooks in the kitchen.” – Taylor York
Considering the surprise leak of British metalcore mainstays Bring Me The Horizon’s latest record Sempiternal (which wasn’t due to reach the ears of fans for another two months), the band could consider themselves quite lucky, no?
“I have mixed feelings on that issue,” counters Williams. “I think we are pretty confident that it won’t [leak] for a while, anyway. Every record leaks, even if it’s only a couple of hours before because you just can’t control it. We’ve never had a major leak before, knock on wood,” she says fumbling for a piece of nearby wood before settling for the arm of the couch. “We’ll see. It’s a lot to think about. We really want people to hear it, but it’s kind of nice when we get to present it to people the way we want to, you know?”
Having formed the band back when they were still deep in their formative years – Williams was 16, Davis 19 and York 15 – and released their debut album only a year later, a lot has changed for the band. 2013 will see them not only release their upcoming fourth album, but also blowing out nine candles on the Paramore birthday cake. Milestones aside, the internal workings of the Paramore machine have required several adjustments, some more painful than others. A year after 2009’s Brand New Eyes saw the light of day, it was announced that Josh and Zac Farro – then guitarist and drummer respectively – were leaving the band. The remaining members released a rather heartfelt statement wishing the brothers well, tending to view the development as a positive for those left in Paramore. As is the beauty of the internet though, Josh Farro similarly took to his blog only to voice claims the band was “a manufactured product of a major label” and that Davis and York were simply “riding on the coattails of [Williams’] dream”. While they’re far from explicit about it, traces of the rocky path the band took during that time are apparent, even if only in the newfound sense of freedom they experienced while in the studio recording Paramore.
“It’s always a mixed bag when you’re creating,” York explains. “There are times where it’s relaxed, there are times where it’s tense, but I think the thing that really differed this time from previous times is that there was much more creative freedom. You know, it felt like we didn’t shoot down each other for any ideas. Simply put, it was less cooks in the kitchen. It felt like if any of us had an idea, it was like, ‘Yeah, let’s try it’. Hayley did that one time. We had this vision for a song and we were in the middle of tracking and she was like, ‘In my head, I don’t like this. I want to do this,’ and it completely changed the song and we were like, ‘Cool!’ and that’s now one of our favourite songs on the record. We’ve never felt that kind of freedom to just explore or to even just voice our opinions. I think we were just as willing for our opinions to get shot down as we were to be able to get them out there and brainstorm.”
Being a self-titled release, the trio has something to prove, even if it isn’t to the usual suspects of ex-bandmates and skeptical fans.
“It’s nice to give it our name. I imagine it’s like when dudes name their kids after them,” Williams suggests, much to the amusement of York and Davis.
“I’m trying to figure out how to say it without putting down anything we’ve done before,” says Davis carefully, choosing his words. “We’re just so happy about the way everything turned out and I think not only ‘cos of the place we’re in in our friendship, and the fact that it feels like we don’t have drama finally – for the first time in a long time – but also the fact that we actually got to complete the painting before we sent it off, you know what I’m saying? We spent a lot of time making the album, a lot of time on every aspect, so I just feel like we don’t have anything else that we wanted to add.”
Davis isn’t kidding either. With the band’s musical output growing in length with every release, Paramore clocks in at a little over an hour and nearly double the length of their debut All We Know Is Falling (2005). Was it all a part of the grand artistic statement though?
“We didn’t have a lot of plans for this record,” says York, downplaying the process. “At the end of it, we just kind of looked back and it was there. We had more songs finished than we’ve ever had going into a record and coming out of it. Of course, these days attention spans seem to be so short that everyone’s just pushing for records to be shorter and shorter and shorter, and I think when we really thought about what we could live without on this record, there just wasn’t a lot. There wasn’t a lot that we could live without because we wanted to make a piece of art for the music lovers that want to sit down and hear how we intended for it to be, we wanted to really make that experience intentional. I think in order to really paint the picture we wanted to paint, it took 17 tracks.”
The dauntingly large number may intimidate some listeners, but they can rest easy as Paramore have gone above and beyond to create something that reflects the very excitement they’re feeling: there are short but sweet interludes featuring nothing more than Williams’ delicate vocals and a ukulele; “Last Hope” is slow and emotive, while gospel and funk creep in on “Ain’t It Fun” just to keep things interesting. Most striking is the fact that many of the 17 tracks bear all the markers of hit singles.
“I’m really into health self-expression; that’s why I dye my hair, that’s why I wear stupid clothes, that’s why I don’t care that my bands look like Spock from Star Trek.” – Hayley Williams
“The good thing is that I think we do have really good singles,” Williams enthuses, “but I think we have an even better record. Either way, I’m not gonna be disappointed – no matter what – because I just want people to hear anything off the record. I think as long as people hear some of the songs, that’s cool, but I feel like the real reward is in the full story and the full body of what it is. We’ve never really written a record where I was like, ‘Well, I don’t like this song’ or ‘I don’t like that’, I’ve bought records like that and I’m sure other people might feel that way about Paramore albums in the past, or maybe they’ll feel that way about this one, I don’t know, but I really feel confident that they’re just great songs. I’m so proud. I felt like we really tried to write great songs.”
Despite the band’s prominent musical status (hey, they’re the accidental headliners of Soundwave you know) they’ve always been ones to give back to their fans. At their sold out show at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney recently – along with every stop on the Soundwave tour – the band continued what’s become something of a timeless ritual: plucking a fan out from the crowd to come on stage and sing “Misery Business” with them, the standout track from 2007’s Riot!.
“It’s the most important thing,” says Davis quickly without hesitating.
“That’s the point. That’s why we do it,” agrees York. “I mean, it’s part of why we do it. If you have any sort of gift, it’s your responsibility to use it and hopefully to use it for the greater good. The reason we’re doing so well is because of our fans and because they’re connecting with us. That moment every night when we’re playing “Misery Business” and a fan gets on stage… It’s such a cool moment for us to see someone just come alive and have a new experience. It’s really special.”
“I love it!” chimes Williams.
Attention soon turns to the frontwoman herself. Curled up on a couch that almost dwarfs her, Williams is decked out in a cropped white singlet, leopard-print tights and high-waisted denim shorts. And she looks as relaxed as she’s dressed. Having happily let her right-hand men speak up throughout the interview, we quizzed Williams on her place as a woman in the rock scene and whether or not she views herself as a role model not only for other female singers, but for her Paramore’s female fans in general.
“It’s a scary position to take…” she says after a while, still pondering the question. “Because I know me, and I know I’m not a perfect person. I don’t think humans are supposed to carry that burden, I just don’t think it’s really something we’re capable of handling. There’s a side of me that really slags it off, and there’s a side of me also – I have two little sisters – and it’s like, I would take a bullet to protect them and I want them to grow up feeling good about who they are and feeling healthy and I think if I am to be a role model, if that’s something that people see me as, the most important thing that I wanna pass on is how important it is to express yourself and be genuine about it and not say you’re sorry for it. I’m really into healthy self-expression; that’s why I dye my hair, that’s why I wear stupid clothes, that’s why I don’t care that my bangs look like Spock from Star Trek.”
Davis bursts out laughing. “I literally just spilled water on myself!” he manages between breaths.
“To me, I just feel like girls, we have a tough time just being who we are sometimes and we’re really hard on ourselves and we’re hard on each other. If anything, maybe girls can feel like, through our music or our shows or even on a Paramore forum that they have a positive place to go and to be exactly who they wanna be.”
And right now, it’s safe to say Paramore are completely comfortable just being exactly who they wanna be.