Paramore's Hayley Williams on new album, moving to Los Angeles, and Blondie

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Image Credit: C Flanigan/FilmMagic

In December 2010, Paramore members Josh and Zac Farro abruptly left the group, leaving a lot of questions hanging in the air. Would they continue on? Would charismatic singer Hayley Williams embark on a solo career? Would the band’s sound change completely?

Today, those questions are finally answered. The just-released Paramore, the band’s fourth album, pushes the now-trio’s vision forward. Though the band—Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and bassist Jeremy Davis—hasn’t entirely left its snotty pop-punk roots behind, they’ve fully embraced elements of New Wave, garage rock, and bubbly electro-pop.

The key to Paramore‘s coherence is Williams, whose voice has picked up more colors and whose lyrics are at their most direct and expansive on the new album. EW caught up with Williams via phone a few weeks back, where she talked about her bouts of writers’ block, the weirdness involved in choosing a producer, and the importance of the Warped Tour. And be sure to check out their just-released video for “Still Into You” at the bottom.

Entertainment Weekly: What was the first song that came together for Paramore?
Hayley Williams: “Proof” was the first song that we came up with. It was one of the first sets of lyrics I came up with, and I had this melody idea for it and I took it to Taylor, and like the next day we had the song. So that one came really easily, but then we had two and a half months of the worst writers’ block you could possibly imagine. That’s when we wrote the interludes. We needed something to laugh about and soften the blow that we couldn’t write any songs that we loved. And it was weird, because as soon as those interludes were done, the songs started happening. We realized we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously.

What was driving that writers’ block? What were you thinking while in the midst of it?
I was in this crazy depression about it. I moved out of my house into my mom’s apartment because I didn’t want to be by myself. But at the same time, we had not taken any time off since I was 16. We weren’t used to waking up in our own beds every day and doing nothing, or maybe doing the same thing every day. It was pretty wild, to be honest. It was the wildest time of my life, and it was also the most boring time of my life. I needed to sit back and just waste away for a minute in order to get to know myself. That in the end is what helped make the record so exciting. I wasn’t writing about life on tour or what it’s like to be in a famous band. I hate it when people write about that stuff, because that’s not relatable. People aren’t on tour, they’re not flying around every day playing shows. People are just living their lives, and that’s the idea that I had to fall back on. Who am I in the most normal ordinary setting, and do I still like myself? Do I accept myself? Those were the things I would think on every day. I think I became a lot stronger, and I think the guys did too.

A lot of the songs on this album have to do with growing up. What do you think most pushed you into adulthood? Was it Josh and Zac leaving, or was it more personal?
Everything, really. One of the big things for me was moving out to L.A. before we wrote the record. I felt like I really needed to get away from Nashville for a minute and just figure out who I am away from this place that I grew up. I just needed to spend some time on my own. I know a lot of people think L.A. and they see a picture in their head, but those people obviously don’t know me, because I sit on a couch every day. That’s my idea of a good time—just being in a sweat suit. I just needed to get out of my comfort zone. So I spent a while at home, I stayed at my mom’s and kind of did nothing. And then I spent a little while out here before we started recording, still sort of doing nothing and writing a lot and just being by myself. Just being on my own forced me to have a new perspective on things. Not only am I surrounded by dudes all the time on tour, but I’m surrounded by people all the time. It was nice to live in a different way and figure out what my natural response to living a normal life is. Something as simple as learning to cook a meal for myself every night, those were the things that pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a new headspace.

On previous albums, you’ve worked with Green Day producer Rob Cavallo, but Paramore is produced by Justin Mendel-Johnson. How did you go about selecting him as a collaborator?
We’ve never really been through that process before. After working with Rob, it was sort of like, where do you go from Rob Cavallo? He’s one of the biggest and one of the best. We felt a little bit like fish out of water, because we hadn’t made a record in so long. Justin was one of the last people we added to our list, and we loved him because he did the last M83 record, and that record was so special to us. It’s so brilliant–it’s emotional and fun at the same time. Those are two characteristics we wanted to bring to our new album, though not necessarily by way of electronic music. When we met with him, I remember talking on the way there and saying, “You know JMJ is going to be way too cool for our band. He has worked with Beck, with M83, with all these crazy cool people, and he’s going to be too cool. We met with him, and he was one of the first people we ended up doing a meeting with, and we couldn’t stop thinking about him throughout this whole process. Everything always came back to JMJ. And it’s crazy, because Justin hasn’t produced a ton of records, especially compared to a lot of other people who we might have worked with. He had this cool underdog factor to him, and we really loved that. Everything about working with JMJ felt exciting and fresh, and he seemed to believe more in what we could do in the future than the things we had already done in our past.

What are those producers meetings like? Do you just talk about your favorite records? Do you play them demos?
It’s a little bit like speed dating. It can be an awkward process, but the good thing is we’re all into music at the end of the day. If nothing else, we all have that in common. That was another thing about JMJ: Right off the bat, he and I bonded over New Wave music and goth and that kind of vibe, and he saw the potential in our band to pull inspiration from that stuff. I felt like we never had room for that before.

There are a lot of great New Wave sounds on this album. “Daydreaming” is particularly Blondie-esque. How did that song come together?
It came together after six months of listening to Blondie’s Greatest Hits on repeat. This was during another case of writers’ block, more of a milder case this time. Right before I went to L.A., I was staying at my grandparents’ house, and I woke up one morning and literally sang the first line of the chorus out loud to myself. It was almost like I was dreaming it, and I didn’t want to forget it. So I recorded it on my phone and showed Taylor later that day. It was one of those songs where he didn’t fully hear it at first, so I had to do a little convincing. Honestly, I’m so proud of that one, almost more than anything else that we’ve done. It was the first song we recorded for the record, and all three of us were driving around L.A. just listening to it and looking at palm trees. It was a real “We’re not in Kansas anymore” type of thing. I felt so proud of us. It did sound like we grew up. And lyrically, it was my “A Whole New World” [from Aladdin]. Every girl relates to that song. I really just wanted something new so bad and I wanted to feel a different way. I spent a lot of time in my head just envisioning what could be.

What about “Ain’t It Fun”? That refrain at the end—”Don’t go crying to your mama/Because you’re on your own in the real world”—sounds pretty angry. Who was that directed at?
That song is to myself, actually. It’s very sarcastic, if anything. I needed a kick in the butt a little bit. I think that was the first song we finished after being out in L.A. for a few weeks. Taylor and I were in a hotel room, and he had this loop playing thatsounded like some sort of weird love child of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Paula Abdul. He didn’t even write it for Paramore, he was just playing with a sound on his keyboard. And I was like, “Dude, we have to try to write to this.” By the end of the night, we were faking gospel choir vocals and yelling and screaming into this demo track. I really want to release that one day so our fans can hear it. But it’s definitely to myself. I thought I was being a whiny baby about being away from my family. I needed to hear those words. No one else was saying that to me, so I had to say it to myself.

You spent quite a bit of your early career on the Warped Tour. What sort of impact did that have on you?
Warped Tour is so dear to my heart. I feel like every band should have to do a stint on the Warped Tour. It recharges us every time we go out. It definitely has changed—I feel the most nostalgic for 2006 and 2007, because there were so many bands that we looked up to and grew up listening to that we ended up playing with. I think it’s important for bands to rough it. Whether you’re in a van or a bus, it’s still tough. You still have to stand in a two hour catering line with flies everywhere in the heat, and you still have to lug your gear. I remember we were playing somewhere that was some sort of ski situation. It was super hilly. We had to lug all of our gear down one hill and up another one on skateboards, because we had no other dollies or anything like that. It was just gravel, and it was so hard just to get to the stage. But those are the things that made us appreciate where we are now, with a great crew that helps us every day. I can appreciate that stuff because I’ve done that stuff. I just feel like bands always need to work harder than the hardest working band. You need to constantly be one-upping yourself and surprising yourself at how hard that you’ll work and devote yourself to your craft.

Read More on EW.com:
Single Review: Paramore, “Now” 
Taylor Swift teams with Hayley Williams in Nashville for ‘That’s What You Get’: Watch it here!
Paramore debuts new song ‘Renegade’ at New York City concert: Watch it here

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