Ain't It Fun: An Interview with Paramore's Hayley Williams

I’ll just come out and say it: I’m just a tiny bit obsessed with Paramore’s lead singer Hayley Williams – which, if you’ve ever so much as heard her voice, is totally understandable. I’ve wanted to pick her brain for years, to find out a bit more about what makes her tick and inspires her to write such intensely energetic, sometimes incredibly heartbreaking and always amazing songs along with her bandmates Taylor York and Jeremy Davis, but it seemed like a total pipe dream, especially during the group’s hiatus following the completion of the promotion of their Brand New Eyes album a few years back.

In any case, I finally got my chance last week, when Hayley and I threw on our cosiest sweatpants and had a nice long phone chat about music, her new collaboration with MAC and everything in between. What I found was a woman who is confident, down-to-earth and incredibly grateful for what she has achieved and the change it allows her to affect on her many fans. I can’t say enough wonderful things about her – she deserves every bit of goodness that comes her way.

The music on the new, self-titled record seems really joyful, especially in comparison to Brand New Eyes, which was absolutely gorgeous but still a really heavy album – was that a natural progression or a conscious departure?

“It’s totally a thing that just happened, but at the same time, I really wanted to focus on not just, I don’t know, harping on the same old thing. Brand New Eyes was a really hard record for me to write lyrically and I was not into repeating history. It was really just a fun album to make, so I’m psyched that you feel that. That’s how it felt recording it!”

‘Ain’t It Fun’ is probably my favorite so far and I really love the gospel choir addition – it’s unexpected but still seems to fit. How did that come about? Are you into gospel?

“I love gospel music so much. I grew up in Mississippi and was in and out of a lot of churches, so I don’t know, the closest thing I get to that now is a Tyler Perry movie. I just feel really connected to gospel and when Taylor and I were writing that song, I had spend about three weeks in LA before we made that record and I found myself feeling sorry for myself, which is so stupid. I was at this great crossroads in my life: Am I going to go home and live the same old life where I was miserable for so long or am I going to try something new and step out of my comfort zone? It was kind of a letter to myself to just stop crying. I wrote that part with Taylor and I said, ‘What are we going to do to take this to the next level?’ We kept layering our voices over and over to make fun of ourselves like we were some gospel choir and then six months later, we were actually in the studio with one. That’s the best example of how for this record, we flew by the seat of our pants. We did what we thought could work, and when we followed that inspiration, it always turned out okay, into something we love.”

Is there an overarching concept for the album or is it just a little bit of everything?

“I mean, it’s a good balance between not really knowing what the hell we were doing and at the same time, being the best version of Paramore we could really be. If there had to be a theme, it’s just that we wanted to grow up and it was the first time we were really in a place to have open minds to grow. It’s amazing how you can be your own enemy and for the past six years, especially throughout the process of Brand New Eyes, we were our own worst enemies and we got out of our own way for this album.”

You had a bit of a tough time when the Farro brothers left the band. I don’t want to talk about that, but rather, can you tell us how you held onto yourselves as a band through that and managed to rebuild and reinvent yourselves successfully?

“The first few months of going through that, especially when the press outlets got a hold of the story and the blog posts and stuff, it was a nightmare. I could not leave my house in Franklin without seeing a million people that I knew who thought they knew the story better than I did. It sucked – there was nothing fun about this part of our lives. We did, again, have to learn how to get out of our own way, and once we did that, there was no reason to hold a grudge or be pissed off. You can always think about something long enough to kind of harbor resentment. I guess that’s just become my journey – that process of letting go of things and being okay with where I’m at right now. It’s like being in a relationship and a dude breaks up with you and you get really pissed and resentful even when you’re happy and in a new relationship. There’s no point – you should just move on with your life. We just want to be who we are with no apologies.”

Do you have a process as a band of putting the songs together?

“It used to be really cut and dry. Taylor and Jeremy would finish the music top to bottom, then give it to me, I would listen to it and put the vocals on top of it. Now it’s much more a collaborative process. The first half of the album – well, the beginning stages of writing this we moved to LA and the process changed. They’d do riffs and then give them to me. We couldn’t come up with a formula for this album and that’s what made it so fun to make. Paramore made it into a science, the way we wrote an album. With Brand New Eyes, we went into the studio with only four songs finished but we knew we were going to do it because it was a very predictable process. It was nothing like that this time around, and it was exciting – and humbling, too. You’re constantly biting your nails and wondering what’s going to happen, but sometimes it comes out great.”

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