Fear might be a prevailing emotion that powered Paramore’s sixth album ‘This Is Why’, but when NME speaks to the trio, you wouldn’t know it. Sat in front of a fireplace in their makeshift home in Los Angeles, they cut relaxed figures: drummer Zac Farro is slouching back in his seat, guitarist Taylor York is cross-legged with both his feet up in his chair, and frontwoman Hayley Williams is sat on the ground wearing glasses.
“For me, this is the scariest record we’ve ever made,” York tells NME. “We’ve always had this underdog mentality. But when we took a break more people discovered our band. Streams went up. I feel that pressure more than ever. There’s this energy of proving ourselves.”
In September fans got a first taste of this new era, its title track a spiralling juggernaut about the frustrations of living under the world’s scrutiny, as a nervous, jittery energy simmers throughout. ‘This Is Why’ landed at Number Two on NME’s Songs of The Year 2022 list, and currently sits at No. 1 on Alternative Rock radio. They’re rightfully considered in the upper-echelon of 21st century rock and pop music, the respect they command from their peers and newcomers growing in stature.
“We threw caution to the wind,” Farro says of the track. “It was all of us being together, trying a different verse, maybe stripping it down to drums and bass, [then] Hayley came in and Taylor added his parts. It became these cool building blocks and that was refreshing. With the other songs, we knew what we wanted, but with this one, we were following the song.” Though they started recording under the stress of the pandemic, the band were, as York puts it, “in a healthier place” than they’ve ever been.
“We were grounded and feeling confident in one aspect of our lives and we were in such a safe bubble,” Williams says. “Then we knew we were going to make something that wasn’t in that safe bubble and that was terrifying. The expectation is the main thing that would slow us down. There’s a lot more people waiting than there was the last time we did this.”
The last time they did this was in 2017, when the rock royalty shifted away from their signature sound into sleeker new wave with ‘After Laughter’. A global tour followed, but when they hit their last stop in September 2018, Paramore decided to take a break; when asked how they would describe their sabbatical, one word does it succinctly: “Necessary”.
“It was a necessary detour,” Williams adds. “It was necessary not to be so hung up on being Paramore: it’s all it’s ever been. We were in junior high when we met, and by the time we had gotten out of high school, everyone knew who we were and the way we related to each other naturally changed.”
2022 marked two decades since the band met in Franklin, Tennessee. Farro, Williams and York started playing music together as pre-teens, connecting over their shared Christian roots. Their first album, ‘All We Know Is Falling’ came out in 2005 after Williams inked a deal with Atlantic Records’ alternative mainstay Fueled By Ramen [Fall Out Boy, All Time Low].
At the time, the band comprised Williams, Farro, his brother Josh and bassist Jeremy Davis. During the next four albums, that line-up would constantly change. York officially joined in 2007, the year they released their now triple-platinum album ‘Riot!’, featuring ‘Misery Business’, a hit single the band have had a troubled relationship with (more on that later).
Following their third album ‘Brand New Eyes’ (2010) the Farro brothers left, with Josh pointing to a lack of shared values and unfair label treatment as the reason. The remaining members moved forward releasing their self-titled album in 2013, but two years later, Davis made an exit, later suing over writing credits. Williams described 2015 as “the worst year”. It was the same year their gutsy gospel choir-backed hit ‘Ain’t It Fun’ won the Grammy for Best Rock Song.
As the writing process began for ‘After Laughter’, the dissolution of Williams’ decade-long relationship with New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert was omnipresent even under the saccharine marimbas and buoyant arrangements. She penned an essay detailing that time, revealing the tumultuous emotions surrounding the lyrics, the joy she and York felt when Farro returned to the band and the underlying depression overshadowing it all.
They headed back on the road after that, with Williams telling NME in 2020: “There were a couple of times where I was bawling my eyes out before the show.” It was during that same album cycle that York got news that a family friend had died while he was on set of a video shoot for one of the singles and “just started bawling” on set. The feelings had caught up and they finally decided to stop running.
“Paramore is a huge part of our friendships, but it’s about what’s underneath,” Williams says. “It’s the fact that we bond over artistic and creative activity and the compulsion to make things. It was time to give it a rest, and if we needed to make something, to challenge ourselves to find new outlets for it.”
Williams’ new outlets involved releasing two solo albums, 2020’s ‘Petals For Armor’ (which York produced and Farro features on) and 2021’s ‘Flowers For Vases / descansos’. Farro, meanwhile, took space to focus on his photography as well as releasing two albums, ‘Natural Disguise’ and ‘Motif’, under his project Half Noise.
“Talking Heads are a great example,” Williams says of a similarly plotted creative family. “There’s Tom Tom Club [bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz’ side-project], there’s David Byrne’s solo work: you can see the source of their creativity with one thing, but where they go with it is another. Going on a mission to find new creative perspectives, no matter what you do, is important to a creative mind. When you force yourself to look from different vantage points, what you end up making is so much deeper and more complex. What we’re coming back with is a deeper feeling about why we do what we do.”
That depth and complexity runs rampant on ‘This Is Why’, where the trio swing from pop-rock to post-punk and beyond. The no-limits approach to sound also applies to the lyrical topics which range from fearlessly falling into love to facing your own karma, and even chiropractor appointments.
On ‘The News’, Williams’ soul-shattering vocals are brimming with angst as she sings about avoiding the onslaught of constant information: “turn off, turn off the news”. The dive into political territory may be new for listeners, but it’s a reflection of what they’ve spent the past few years grappling with.
“When we were younger, only certain types of people in pop culture were allowed to talk shit,” Williams says. “You were doing it in a subversive, very Rage Against The Machine way, or you were very diplomatic. I still don’t feel like we fit into either of those categories, even though a lot of my ideals align more on the extremes.”
During lockdown in Nashville, the band marched against racial injustices and worked with local community organisations. Recently, they announced that proceeds from their tour would go to abortion access charities, facing backlash online from pro-life factions.
“We’ve travelled a lot and we’ve met a lot of people who grew up completely differently than us,” Williams says. “We’ve had our experience individuating from our families or from our own religious upbringing. There are so many experiences that have gotten us to where we are now, where we can be honest and know that not everyone is going to be happy with it. That’s when you know you’re doing it right, because if you’re just preaching to the choir, where’s the movement in that?”
The band’s recent experiences may seep into the lyricism, but their earliest influences infiltrate the album’s sound: hints of Bloc Party and The Strokes shine through. According to Farro, the sonic similarities came by way of “wanting to incorporate more immediacy, guitars and music that we were inspired by when we were first starting the band.”
“On ‘This Is Why’, we wanted to incorporate more immediacy” – Zac Farro
That immediacy is palpable on ‘C’est Comme Ça’. They wrote the song in a small bedroom at Farro’s house because, according to York, “through all the years of being in these amazing studios, being in small bedrooms and writing still feels like home base”. He recalls “fumbling around securely on guitar” while “Zac made a drumbeat”, and he played along. When they took a break on the porch, Farro knew they were on to something because “Taylor wouldn’t stop listening to it. His mind was rolling at that point”.
“It’s a cool thing when you write something you weren’t expecting,” Farro says. “You’re not sure what it is yet, but you’re trying to wrap your head around it.” The lyrics detail the minutiae of truly growing up, while also desiring the disarray of youth. At the bridge, Williams howls: “I know that regression is rarely rewarded / I still need a certain degree of disorder.”
“I’m talking about how romantic and wild it can feel to be an unhinged, chaotic person,” she says. “I romanticise the worst times of my life. It was freeing with ‘After Laughter’ for people to be like, ‘Oh man, Hayley just went through a divorce, do not mess with her right now’. It was liberating. But then, you get used to having this narrative, whether it’s a victim narrative or an overcoming narrative.”
Williams has previously said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2018. “When I got diagnosed with PTSD and they put me on an antidepressant, it was like, ‘If I take this I cannot hold on to this old narrative any more. I have to be willing to move into a new season of my life that’s about more positive shit.’”
Paramore aren’t just returning with a new viewpoint and new fans but as bonafide role models. Before they headlined Las Vegas’s inaugural emo rock festival When We Were Young last year, Williams penned a letter directed at “young girls, queer kids, and anybody of any colour,” giving them credit for shifting the homogeneous emo scene together. She closed the letter: “We’ve come a long way – with much further to go.”
When NME asks where she hopes the scene goes next, Williams lets out an exasperated, “Oh, my God. I hope no young female experiences the shit that I experienced,” she says. “When we were teenagers, the way forward was to be tough all the time. Our entire scene was contributing to shitty treatment of women and anything that wasn’t masculine. We were out on Warped Tour, this little Fueled by Ramen band acting like a hardcore band on stage. It was like if I didn’t spit further, I felt like someone was going to throw me out.”
Now the band creates the space they wish existed, one where diversity is celebrated and bad behaviour isn’t tolerated – and those efforts aren’t going unnoticed. Edith Victoria’s cover of Paramore’s ‘All I Wanted’ was her successful audition for rising pop-punk band, Meet Me @ The Altar, while Steve Lacy says that “Paramore raised me”.
During her Coachella headline slot last April, Billie Eilish brought Williams on stage to sing Paramore’s ‘Misery Business’, determined to reclaim a song that had been shelved from their set list when Williams deemed it “anti-feminist”. Williams says that she made peace with the track after realising it no longer defines her or the internalised misogyny she “metabolised as a young girl”.
The band takes pride in influencing a new generation, but is it daunting to release new music while so many up-and-comers are emulating their sound?
“If we made a record like our old sound we would’ve been nervous to put it out, but it’s such a niche sound,” York says. “It’s easier to hang your hat on doing what feels authentic and taking that risk. We can pass the torch and it’s cool to see younger artists doing that. It’s cool because they get to do it… and we don’t have to do it any more.”
One of those younger artists is recent NME cover star PinkPantheress. “[Williams] is so seasoned at this point she’s already a legend,” she gushed. “In a few years I think people will really recognise her as that.” In a full-circle moment last year, Williams invited PinkPantheress on stage to perform the bridge of ‘Misery Business’ at Austin City Limits music festival.
“We hadn’t met in real life, and I wanted to find her and invite her to do that, but the day got away from us,” Williams says. “We were walking to the stage and I saw her, so I looked at our manager and said, ‘Go ask her if she’ll go on stage with us’. She was probably like, ‘What the fuck is happening?’ but I was super stoked for her. If I were her, I would’ve shit myself.”
The importance of inspiring younger acts isn’t lost on Williams. “That to me, especially at 34, is the only reason I want to do anything,” she says. “I still have that sense of competitiveness from where we first started. But if that was the only thing in the tank, I wouldn’t care to do this any more. Especially as a woman, I want people to see shit we’re doing and feel seen or welcome or the permission to do the same thing. It’s a huge fucking gift that that’s the purpose I could serve.”
“People look back at [pop-punk’s heyday] with these rose-tinted glasses. They talk about the good and forget the rest” – Hayley Williams
Despite a growing number of fans mainlining nostalgia with their music, Paramore still have a contentious relationship with pop-punk’s heyday. “It’s revisionist history on a less heavy topic,” Williams says. “People look back with these rose-tinted glasses. They talk about the good and forget the rest. It was an alternative scene for a reason – it was weird. Those kids were bullied, that’s why so many guys in those bands wrote shitty songs about ex-girlfriends. I just get angry about the injustice of a bunch of people who were bullied, essentially creating a world where other people didn’t feel welcome.”
Coming to terms with time is a hot topic on their new record. In ‘Crave’, one of the few moments the band audibly resurrect the Paramore of the past, Williams sings about wanting to relive their early moments. “When the guys showed me ‘Crave’ I was pumped because we haven’t had anything that sonically felt like that in a really long time,” Williams says. “We don’t like to give too much credit to nostalgia, we like to move forward. But with the music, you couldn’t escape that feeling. I was just thinking about why I always miss the moment that I’m in because I’m too worried about when it’s going to be over.”
The ticking clock rears its head again on ‘Running Out Of Time’, as Farro and York slowly build up rhythm before the beat escalates at the chorus and Williams questions if she’s a “selfish prick” or just bad at time management. “Future thinking makes me anxious and past thinking makes me sad,” Williams says. “I don’t know why, because we’ve had such a beautiful journey together, all three of us even the bad times. So much came out of it that was good.”
That path to “good” may have been lined with multiple breakups, makeups and breakdowns, but it took a lot of things going wrong for them to get it right. Two fraught decades and a much-needed break later, the band’s resolution to push their creative limits is evident in their most imaginative and cohesive album to date.
In March, the band will embark on a global arena tour for ‘This Is Why’, the last album in their contract with Atlantic Records. They’re bringing Bloc Party along for the ride in the UK, Ireland and North America where Foals, The Linda Lindas, and Genesis Owusu are also set to open. There’s an optimistic uncertainty over what they may experience in the next two decades, but they’re certain about who they’ll experience it with. “I just hope that we’re making music together,” Williams says. “I can’t see myself caring about us being the biggest and baddest. It’s more about the quality of what we make and our connection to each other. I honestly would be happy if we all just lived on a commune together.”
Farro is also sold on the commune idea. “I think beyond all this, my hope would be to see the three of us and our families together still being friends,” he says. “That’s the biggest achievement. I like playing shows and making records: those are amazing milestones. But our friendship is the most remarkable one.”
Paramore’s new album ‘This is Why’ is out now