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.”
Do you have a favorite track on the new album?
“I’m excited to play ‘Ain’t It Fun’ live because there are a lot of fun parts to that. I guess we do this on every album, but there’s a lot of parts we wrote with our fans in mind. Even ‘Fast In My Car’, which is the opening track, I’m excited because there are a few nods to past songs and things we’ve done, and I’m excited for the fans to get it.”
I’ve seen you live and the energy at your concerts and the camaraderie between your fans is indescribable and not really like anything I’ve experienced at other live shows. How did all of that come about?
“We grew up watching a lot of heavier bands, like hardcore bands play, and we did a lot of festivals like the Warped tour, which I think had so much to do with that feeling fans get at our shows. It’s my favorite thing about being in this band – we have something so special when we tour and play for our fans, and I don’t know – I don’t always feel that when I go to see every other band I might go to see, so I feel really lucky and really blessed that that’s there. I think we picked it up from seeing some of our favorite bands play, like mewithoutYou, Underoath… we saw how they interacted with their fans and their energy levels. That’s what we wanted to mimic – it wasn’t about selling this many tickets and doing this many numbers, it was about connecting to people.”
There aren’t a lot of female fronted rock bands out there, even now, who have experienced your level of success. Have you ever struggled with being a girl in a rock band or is it something that’s never really been an issue?
“When I was younger and we started the band, I didn’t really see the issue and I never understood why people made such a big deal out of it. I thought, ‘Are people poking fun of me by always pointing out that I’m a girl? I couldn’t figure out the deal, but now that I’m older, I realize just how rare it is for girls to get past the garage for a rock or punk band or whatever style they’re doing, even pop music. It’s crazy to think that we’re in 2013 and people still make a funny face when they see a female on stage, whether it’s with other girls or a group or guys. I definitely now, more than ever, embrace the fact that I’m a woman on stage. Yes we’ll play metal festivals and radio shows, but we’re going to fit in either way.
I like the challenge, anyway, I love being an underdog and proving people wrong. Maybe we’ve paved the way for female bands and maybe we haven’t, but that’s okay. I still feel very empowered. We do have young female fans and I hope they listen to our music and feel a sense of, I can do this. I can do whatever I wants so long as I don’t listen to all the voices that want to tear me down. I think it’s about staying true to the path you want to take. It’s always been about music for me, and I feel so lucky that we were able to break down all the walls that stood in our way.”
Do you think that lack of inhibition – that ability to ignore some of the misogyny – actually worked in your favor at such a young age?
“Maybe! I mean, I think that ignorance can be bliss and being that young on tour and not having done a lot of, like – the first thing we did was Warped tour and as a kid, that’s like being thrown to the wolves. Then as a girl, you don’t know why they’re staring – because they’re being pervy or they like the band. There is so much women have to think about that I think as a dude, I wouldn’t have to. Now that I’m 24, I look into all those feelings and I think about all of it. As a 16-year-old, it was like, let me get in the van, put a little powder on my face and go do a show. It was like playing basketball after school, but I much prefer the awareness I have now. I’m hoping that whatever I do, if I do anything in this life, is that I impact anyone, especially young girls, in some way. I have two younger sisters so it’s mostly all I think about. I hope people and young women feel empowered by whatever Paramore is doing at any given moment.”
You’re doing an amazing job of that.
“Thank you! That’s really encouraging.”
Can you talk about your new MAC makeup collection?
“I got a call from our manager that they were interested, which was so out of left field for me. I never anticipated that happening, so I was really psyched. Around the time we put out Riot! is when I started getting into what was I going to wear and worrying about what I looked like. I got into putting designs around my eyes and was looking at women like Siouxsie Sioux and Debbie Harry who had their style and I wanted my own. Even though I ended up pretty much ripping off Cyndi Lauper’s hair, I found my own way with make-up. I’m not a great make-up artist, but I’m glad MAC trusted me with this. They didn’t want me to put together pretty colors, they told me to do what I wanted, which was awesome.
Not everyone can pull off orange lipstick!
“It’s a pretty nice orange, though! I know a lot of people think they couldn’t pull it off, but I really love it on deep, dark skin. My skin is like a white piece of paper, but I make it work.”
Right, one last thing. You’re always talking on Twitter about watching TV and making awesome food. Is that the way you like to spend your downtime?
“Literally right now, I’m sitting in my favorite chair and there’s a fire and a TV and that’s all I need. I have sweatpants on and I’m really comfortable. This is like, the perfect day for me. I spend a lot more time now in Los Angeles because my boyfriend lives here and I have some friends out here, so when I am here, it’s funny – I think a lot of people at home think I’m living a Hollywood fantasy but I have no idea what that means. I just stay inside on the couch and I make food or popcorn, and that’s my life. It’s so nice.”
I totally agree and I hope you get to do more of it before things kick off with the new album and tour. Thank you so much for doing this – I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while and can’t wait to see you again in April!
“No, thank you! As I said, I’m a huge HelloGiggles fan and I love the site, so it’s so good to talk to you.”