New interview and photos: Paramore talks to The New York Times about ‘After Laughter’
Paramore talked to the New York Times about their new album and sound. You can read the whole interview below or here.
The interview also features brand new photos of the band taken by Eric Ryan Anderson. Go to our gallery to see them in high quality.
Paramore Bounces Back With Old Faces and a New Sound
NASHVILLE — Hayley Williams needed a break from “Paramore hair.”
For more than a decade, while she established herself as one of the most dynamic mainstream rock singers of her generation, Ms. Williams was recognizable for her dramatic razor-cut bangs and bobs in bursts of violent color, typically the loudest synthetic shades of red, orange and pink. “I had a haircut that could have murdered you,” she said of the look that helped make her an icon of the mall-punk Warped Tour set.
Yet as her band, Paramore, worked to transcend its restrictive genre dogmas across four increasingly ambitious albums, taking the angsty pop punk of the Myspace moment to the Grammys and the Billboard charts largely on the strength of Ms. Williams’s voice, the singer, now 28, began to feel beholden to a visual shtick.
Last year, staring down a deep depression amid more personnel changes in a band plagued by them — and questioning herself under the hefty burdens of adulthood — Ms. Williams opted for “a blank slate,” she said, her currently white-blond locks further minimized under a beanie.
“You can run on the fumes of being a teenager for as long as you want, but eventually life hits you really hard,” Ms. Williams, a mighty presence who barely cracks five feet, explained last month, speaking for the first time about the tumultuous period since Paramore last released an album, in 2013. “I didn’t even know if we were going to make another record,” she said. “There was a moment when I didn’t even want it to happen. Then it was like, I want it to happen, but I don’t know how we’re going to do it.”
Paramore, somehow, pulled it off again. On May 12, the band will release “After Laughter,” its fifth LP, introducing another lineup — each Paramore album has featured a different combination of members around Ms. Williams — and, more notably, a new sound. Instead of the meaty, distorted power chords and hyperactive riffs of its adolescence, Paramore has dipped into cleaner, more rhythmic and synth-kissed textures of the ’70s and ’80s, owing to recent obsessions with Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Cyndi Lauper and Blondie.
But while the group has long functioned in its own bizarre hybrid milieu — “too rock for pop and too pop for rock,” said the guitarist and Ms. Williams’s chief songwriting partner, Taylor York — Paramore returns to a Top 40 landscape even less hospitable to guitars than the one it left on an idiosyncratic high note. (“Ain’t It Fun,” which won a Grammy for best rock song, was also the band’s highest-charting crossover single.)
In pop, a throwback ’80s sound has since been tried with varying degrees of faithfulness and success by the likes of Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen and Jason Derulo, but has not, of late, been credibly executed by a band. Paramore, though, may be suited to this moment: Ms. Williams, cartoon hair or not, remains the focus, and her nimble melodies and sneakily huge pop hooks are as crisp and magnetic as ever, unbeholden to genre walls.
As a frontwoman, Ms. Williams’s shadow of influence has only grown during her break from music, with the most vibrant rock, especially in offshoots of punk, coming increasingly from female-led bands who aren’t afraid of a chorus.
Bethany Cosentino, the lead singer of Best Coast, called Ms. Williams an industry mentor, despite being her elder by two years. “She’s the most humble person I’ve ever known,” Ms. Cosentino said. “She’s a major superstar, but on any given day in Nashville you’ll see her in the back at a show. She’s still true to her punk roots.”
Ms. Williams demurred at suggestions that for a new generation of female musicians, she represents what Gwen Stefani of No Doubt and Shirley Manson of Garbage were for her, insisting that she is the one inspired by much younger acts like Cherry Glazerr, Tacocat and Bleached.
But she also recalled her determination when Paramore started in a male-dominated scene. “If we were booked on a bill with all dudes that were twice as old as us I wanted to be better than any of them,” Ms. Williams said. “I didn’t care if they had a penis or not. I had to be great at my job.”
Musically, her band “can do whatever we want and then when Hayley gets on it, that’s what makes it Paramore,” Mr. York, 27, said, adding that his recent guitar tones and phrasings had also been inspired by Afrobeat and other international sounds. “We’ve gotten to a point with our new music where we don’t really want to headbang anymore.”
In addition to a fresh direction, “After Laughter” is a partial reunion for the group, which, during recording, welcomed back the drummer and founding member Zac Farro. Formed in 2004 as a teenage garage band in Franklin, Tenn., Paramore fractured nearly seven years ago when Mr. Farro and his older brother, Josh, then the main songwriter, quit in a fit of acrimony, having dubbed the band “a manufactured product of a major label” that “became all about Hayley.” (Paramore’s 2011 damage-control interview with MTV is an excruciating document of an awkward period.)
Mr. Farro’s homecoming developed gradually after a personal rekindling with Mr. York, his childhood best friend, that became a necessity because the pair kept running into each other socially.
“Every teenage year that I lived was in this band, on tour,” said Mr. Farro, 26, a lovable goof whose mellow presence balances that of his more high-strung bandmates. “I needed a reset button.”
Carlos de la Garza, who worked as an audio engineer on “After Laughter” and its self-titled predecessor, called Mr. York and Mr. Farro, who spent his time away traveling New Zealand and making his own music, “true kindred spirits.”
What resulted from that refreshed partnership were many jubilant, even danceable, instrumental tracks that Ms. Williams then flipped on their head. “There was a little bit of a dark side creeping in to Hayley’s psyche,” Mr. de la Garza said. “Something was eating at her, and she was able to use a lot of that as fuel for lyrics.”
Despite the joyful, collaborative energy that stemmed from the reconciliation with Mr. Farro, Ms. Williams agreed that “there was a dark cloud” over the writing and recording process, stemming from relationship issues both personal and professional.
In the last two years, “A lot of life happened,” said Ms. Williams, who married a fellow musician, Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory, last February. Just before that, Paramore announced that it had parted with its longtime bassist, Jeremy Davis, who in a lawsuit invoked claims that have long dogged the band, and especially Ms. Williams.
While Mr. Davis contends in court papers that he was a creative partner, entitled to additional profits from songwriting royalties, merchandise and live shows, pre-emptive filings on behalf of Ms. Williams noted that she is the only member officially signed to Atlantic Records, leaving the rest of Paramore to be paid as at-will employees. (Lawyers for the singer noted that “because she wanted to foster a feeling of camaraderie within the band, at her direction, the band members’ salaries included a portion of Williams’ earnings.”)
Derek Crownover, a lawyer for Mr. Davis, said in a statement: “Jeremy Davis did not leave the band,” adding that the bassist “did not initiate the lawsuit either.” While the case is ongoing, Mr. Crownover expressed hope for an amicable settlement soon.
“Again?” Ms. Williams asked herself as she pondered the group’s fate. “I prayed until my knees bled, pretty much,” she said, acknowledging that Paramore has at times felt more like a soap opera than a band.
“We were down another member — same old story almost from Day 1,” she continued. “It made me question everything — am I doing something wrong? You read things that people say about you and eventually you just think, ‘Oh, I must be some kind of diva bitch.’ I know that’s not me, but it caused a lot of self-doubt.”
Ms. Williams, never one for love songs, channeled her disquiet into an album preoccupied with betrayal, disappointment and regret. “Hard Times,” the opening song and first single, begins with lines like,
All that I want
is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s all right
for me to come out.
Elsewhere, she sings, “I can’t think of getting old/it only makes me want to die,” while other album highlights are titled “Forgiveness” (sample lyric: “I just can’t do it yet”), “Fake Happy” and “Grudges.”
“I couldn’t imagine putting something on an album that says ‘life’s great, everything’s cool, party with me,’” Ms. Williams said. And it’s true that despite long-running accusations of major-label meddling in Paramore’s career, the band has written its own often-bitter songs across three straight platinum albums without fiddling from the pop machine.
Though its members said their record label has previously tried to pair them with hitmakers of the moment, “We’ve somehow earned our freedom,” said Mr. York, Paramore’s softest spoken member. “I can’t imagine getting up there and playing a Max Martin song,” he said. “At that point we might as well just stop.”
Now, as Paramore moves from re-establishing its foundation in private to the public glare of an obsessive, impatient fan base, its members are openly anxious about how it will be portrayed and received. One recent night, the trio attended a hockey game for its hometown Nashville Predators, something they hadn’t done as a group since childhood. Exceedingly gracious to all who recognized them, there remained a nervous but endearing energy among the band, not unlike recently reconciled exes around skeptical old friends.
Yet in quiet moments, as Mr. York, Mr. Farro and Ms. Williams picked food out of each other’s teeth and retreated to the safety of inside jokes, they couldn’t help but seem downright content. “This is what you go through hard times for, so you can have these moments where you’re proud of yourself, proud of your choices and your friends,” Ms. Williams said.
“I have a public diary of my life,” she added, “and I feel useful because of it.”
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