Paramore cover story (Oct. 2009)
[Photo by Tim Harmon]

Warped Tour icons Paramore were featured on our October 2009 cover (#255). The band gave AltPress an exclusive look at their breakout success and their infamous surprise performance at the beloved festival. They also took us into the songwriting and recording process behind Brand New Eyes, their third studio album. Additionally, the members gave their thoughts on maintaining creative relationships, the magnitude of fans and so much more.

Story: Leslie Simon
Photos: Tim Harmon

A pint-sized, blond-haired blur whizzes past the doorway of Paramore’s dressing room backstage at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis and is followed five seconds later by a frazzled 20-something nanny, panting while wearing a Harajuku Lovers T-shirt and designer jeans. “Kingston… Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiingston… Get! Over! Here!” Giggles and high-pitched squeals ensue but Hayley Williams doesn’t bat a blue-painted eye. In fact, she doesn’t even look up. She’s too focused on the task at hand and her concentration can’t be broken—not even by the shrieks of an illegally cute toddler who happens to be the spawn of Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale.

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“You want these, Hayley? Or you want me to take these home for you?” Granny Williams asks in a deep Southern drawl while unfolding a tiny pair of lemon-yellow jeans. Next to her sits Granddat Williams, both of whom just drove five hours from Franklin, Tennessee, to see their granddaughter perform with No Doubt and drop off Hayley’s 13-year-old sister Erica—who’s currently sitting cross-legged on the floor, looking bored and picking at the bottom of her hand-painted Converse—for a weekend-long summer vacation with her big sis on the road.

“No, I want those,” insists Hayley, who is cautiously eyeing the various piles of clothing set out in front of her. “I wore those for almost all of Warped Tour in 2007. Actually, I don’t think I washed them, like, once.” Granny grimaces—like the pants just morphed into a dirty diaper—rolls them up and places them back on the floor. Hayley immediately grabs a pair of stonewashed black jeans and holds them up. “I got these at Topshop in London,” she says, swooning slightly. “Feel them… They’re so soft; they’re more like leggings than jeans. I wear these a lot onstage because I can move really easily in ’em.”

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As the Williams clan fills bag after bag with excess T-shirts, tank tops, hoodies and pants, it seems as though Hayley is quietly cataloging memories as she stuffs pieces of clothing into each duffle. Each item tells a story—and in the two-and-a-half years since the release of the band’s breakthrough album Riot!, there are plenty of tales to tell. Thanks to the colossal success of “Misery Business,” “That’s What You Get” and “Crushcrushcrush,” it was only a matter of time before Paramore broke through the glass ceiling of the Warped Tour scene and became a band beloved by the masses. Come 2007, the group—singer Williams, guitarists Josh Farro and Taylor York, bassist Jeremy Davis and drummer Zac Farro—were becoming more and more in-demand. They were asked to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards (albeit via satellite from the Whiskey A Go Go) and even managed to garner a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist (though they lost to Amy Winehouse).

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However, it wasn’t until Paramore recorded the lovelorn anthem “Decode” with super-producer Rob Cavallo—who ended up working with the band on their latest album brand new eyes—and released the song on the obnoxiously popular Twilight soundtrack that the band reached their greatest heights of popularity to date. Who wouldn’t want to sink their teeth into that kind of success, right? Judging from the press photos—many of which featured the band huddled close together, smiling, hugging and laughing—Paramore seemed like the portrait of pop-rock perfection. After all, they were admittedly born for this. But were they prepared for everything that went along with it?

It would seem that Paramore have just done the impossible—they’ve managed to crash Warped Tour. A mere 12 hours earlier, the band successfully rocked the faces of more than 15,000 raging No Doubt fans (mostly tweenage Gwen Stefani look-a-likes and PTA moms drunk on overpriced frozen strawberry margaritas) in the Gateway City, but they were planning the mother of all tour scams. Sure, Twitter feeds and message boards were buzzing with the possibility that the group might make a surprise appearance at the Cleveland Warped date, thanks to a few nosey merch slingers who spilled about discovering suspicious swag (including a one-time-only powder-blue tee boasting “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: 7/9/09”) on one of the trucks.

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“I’ve been forced into this world,” Josh Farro says flatly in Indianapolis the day after Paramore’s surprise Warped appearance. When asked about the tribulations of leading a now-public life, he admits, “It’s been a process because I used to be the total shy, quiet guy who didn’t open up to anyone and didn’t allow myself to be vulnerable. I was so antisocial; I could only handle a couple people at a time. I don’t like when people invade my personal space and my personal life. That’s kind of twisted to me—as if it’s their business and they have some sort of ownership over us. Like their opinion matters, which it doesn’t. All we care about is whether they like our music.”

It was after the “Decode” explosion that the members of Paramore felt the itch to create new music, so they decided to re-team with Cavallo to record the follow-up to Riot!. “I thought after Riot! things would be so easy. Like, I would just write in my spare time and then we’d have our next record,” Williams admits in a low whisper. Curled up in the back lounge of the bus with a paper cup of hot tea, she’s on semi-voice rest until the band’s performance later that night.

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“But it was hard. [Yes,] Riot! was stressful, but it came easier because Josh and I were hanging out all the time. He would come over to my house all the time so we would play songs together until they were finished. We would write everything first and didn’t really show the guys until we got into the studio. Then we would just jam for hours. It was just a different process. But with this [album], I felt lonely.”

During the songwriting process, Williams became somewhat of a hermit. She’d spend most of her time sitting in bed—a queen-sized mattress on the floor—surrounded by her guitar, laptop and a spiral of notebook paper. The off-white walls of her bedroom were bare, except for an oval, Victorian-era gilt mirror and a framed New Found Glory poster hanging above an upright piano, the most recent addition to her abode courtesy of her grandfather. A collection of striped sweatshirts clad a freestanding dress form while other now-signature pieces littered the floor in front of her oversized wood dresser.

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For the first time in a long time, Williams was alone, something that she wasn’t used to, especially when she was supposed to be writing songs. She needed a sounding board, but with the relationship between her and Josh somewhat strained and awkward at best, she turned to the people she trusted more than anyone: the fans. “I would stay up until the sun came out, and I would get on our fan-club chat room and talk to those kids,” Williams remembers with a hint of a smile. “I really don’t have a whole lot of friends back home, so I would just talk to fans all night. I would share lyrics and little things I would write with them. Most of it came from complete boredom, depression and feeling like I needed people to bounce [ideas] off of because I didn’t really have that.”

Reconnecting with the ardent fans who encouraged her the most seemed to kick-start a wave of creativity that didn’t stop flowing until Williams felt like she had finally purged herself of all the feelings she’d kept bottled up for who knows how long. “I do remember the few times I did see my family while we were writing, my mom would ask how things were going, and I would tell her I was bummed and there were certain things I wanted to say but I didn’t know if I could, ”remembers Williams. “I felt judged and, for that, no parent wants to see their kid feel like a loser so I’m sure that bummed ’em out. My mom just said, ‘What you feel can’t be wrong.’” Mom’s advice soon became her mantra and the lyrics seemed to pour out from there.

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“Everyone’s trying to grow up and people are going through things at different times,” explains Davis, the band’s elder voice of reason. After all, there were still unresolved issues leftover from the now-infamous European tour that nearly tore the band apart a year earlier. In February 2008, Paramore were overseas, playing with friends New Found Glory, Kids In Glass Houses and Conditions, when they suddenly hit the brakes, canceled the remaining dates and booked tickets home.

In a joint statement released by the band on Paramore.net, “There are a lot of internal issues that have been going on in this band for quite a while now… We really feel that taking this time is going to give us a chance to get away and work out our personal issues at home and on our own terms. We just aren’t willing to risk the life of our band over one tour. Maybe one day we will tell the whole story but for now, just know that all five of us are going to work so hard to get it right.”

Thankfully for Williams, she was able to channel her frustration into the lyrics for brand new eyes—specifically on “Playing God,” “Ignorance” and “Feeling Sorry”—practically forcing a necessary dialogue between her and the band.

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“I think most of the songs, in some way, are applicable to all of our lives,” insists York, whose happy-go-lucky nature and even-keeled temperament often place him in the role of peacemaker of the group. “Yeah, [the songs are] from her perspective, but I think all four of us guys can say we’ve been in situations where we’ve felt the same things. If anything, those lyrics are very healing for our band, and we got a lot out on the table. Even though [the lyrics] used to make us upset, there’s some sort of redeeming nature of listening to them afterward. She’s saying negative things, but they end up being really cathartic.”

After all, without the band working through a pop-rock rager life “Ignorance” (which boasts the venomous verse, “Don’t wanna hear your sad songs/I don’t wanna feel your pain/When you swear it’s all my fault/’Cause you know we’re not the same/We’re the friends who stuck together/We wrote our names in blood/But I guess you can’t accept that the change is good”) they wouldn’t have a posi-core anthem like “Looking Up,” where Williams spits: “Could’ve given up so easily/I was a few cheap shots away from the end of me/Taking for granted most everything/That I would’ve died for just yesterday…God knows the world doesn’t need another band/But what a waste it would’ve been/I can’t believe we almost hung it up/We’re just getting started.”

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Paramore fans everywhere can breathe a collective sigh of relief that their beloved band aren’t going anywhere any time soon—especially with the release of brand new eyes looming on the horizon. Without a flashy Riot! backdrop and finally free from long-kept secrets, Williams and the elder Farro are understandably nervous about how Paramore will be received by both the lovers and the haters. “I think some of the press sees how much fun Paramore have, how much success they have, how close they are and how much they love each other, so they try and twist that to make them look bad,” explains longtime friend and music photographer Ryan Russell. “It’s like the press just can’t accept that once in a while a band are as genuine as they appear to be.”

“The chemistry has always been there and always will be. It was a little awkward at first, but we got past it quickly,” insists Josh. “If it were any different, then we wouldn’t have the record we have now. If anything, I think it’s better now.”

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Adds Williams, “Josh and I have always been close. My whole musical life I’ve spent with these guys and with Josh, and we’ve always had a great relationship. Just because one part of it didn’t work out doesn’t mean that we can’t have a great creative relationship, an amazing friendship and go on being better off than we ever were. It’s one of those things that happen in life that’s really big and it feels like it’s never-ending, but we’re in a good place and we knowwe did the right thing. There’s not really much that can stand between the way Josh and I write songs together. There are always going to be tough times; that was just one of them and we got through it.”

“No one knows for sure, but I really think where we are as a band is a result of everything that we’ve gone through—the mistakes, the triumphs,” admits Williams. “Everything we’ve gone through has taught us a lot and we have a great record because of it that we’re so proud of and we feel so deeply about. If anything, I think fans can be stoked with us, because we’re onto a new chapter or a new, entire book of our band’s life.”