Over the past few years, a lot has been written about them, but not much has been said. Now they finally have a chance to talk about where they came from, the tribulations that almost destroyed them and their own goals. In other words, if you think you have PARAMORE figured out, you better think again. STORY: Jonah Bayer PHOTOS: Roberto Chamorro.
Rice-A-Roni may historically be “the San Francisco Treat,” but judging by the locale outside the city’s historic Warfield Theater, the delicacy of choice seems to be crack cocaine. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to bother the line of fresh-faced kids sitting on the sidewalk contently surfing on their Sidekicks, a stark contradiction to the sea of homeless people shuffling past them muttering incoherently. The crowd gathered to see Paramore perform seem oblivious (maybe more accurately, unperturbed) by the not-so-clandestine drug transactions happening all around them, or the fact that despite Paramore’s otherwise wholesome image, tonight’s venue is directly adjacent to a strip club.
Even though it’s high noon and broad daylight outside, a concierge at the Hotel Metropolis suggests taking a cab to the venue for safety reasons, despite the fact that the Starting Line’s tour bus is in plain view from the hotel’s entrance. Apparently, it’s a popular San Francisco pastime for touring bands to watch drug dealers pull crack rocks out of their mouths to sell to the strung-out masses. Backstage in the Warfield’s catering area, a mustached member of the theater crew will inappropriately inform the members of Paramore-Hayley Williams, Josh and Zac Farro, Jeremy Davis and Taylor York-that the sidewalk outside is the only place in the world where you can get “crack and AIDS at the same time.” The comment makes the band laugh uncomfortably.
Despite the bad vibes in front of the Warfield, anticipation for the show remains high. “Hayley Williams is one of my biggest heroes,” explains 15-year-old Emily, who, like many of the girls in the audience tonight, is sporting the same multi-color eye makeup Paramore’s 19-year-old frontwoman is rocking in their desert-themed video for “Crushcrushcrush.” Em’s been unapologetically sitting in line since 6 this morning-a full 12 hours before the doors open-causing one to speculate that if her parents knew what she was up to right now, she would legitimately be grounded until she was Williams’ age. “[Hayley’s] stunning and she’s got great style and she’s not like every other girl who’s kind of slutty,” Emily continues, perking up when asked what qualities she specifically admires in the frontwoman. “She’s definitely someone to look up to.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the crowds, both male and female, at nearly every show on the band’s headlining tour. However, along with this type of influence comes an amount of stress and scrutiny usually reserved for child actors, the combination of which nearly tore the band apart last summer. Adolescence may never be a cakewalk, but doing it under a media microscope makes it even more difficult. In other words, “Pressure” isn’t just the name of one of Paramore’s songs-for these kids, it’s a way of life.
To truly understand the chain of events that have unfolded over the past year, one needs to go back to a classroom in Franklin, Tennessee, where Paramore were born in 2002. “I started going to private school, and one day this little fat kid comes up to me and he’s like, ‘What’s up? I’m in a band with my brother!’ and that was the whole turning point,” Williams recounts from the front lounge of the band’s tour bus the next morning in Ventura, California, her voice taking on a cartoonish inflection when she imitates her first conversation with the then pre-pubescent drummer Zac Farro. At the time, Williams had recently moved from to Franklin from Meridian, Mississippi, with her recently divorced mother, and after a failed attempt at public school, she found herself at a private school alongside the Farro brothers.
At this point, Zac and his older brother Josh were practicing together after school, while Williams was in a traveling funk cover act called The Factory with bassist Jeremy Davis. Paramore didn’t come together until Williams started separately jamming with the brothers, as well, and discovered they needed a bassist of their own to complete their lineup. “I didn’t know the Farros yet; they met me at a Starbucks,” Davis recounts with a laugh about his first interaction with the brothers. “Zac just came up and ran in my car. I remember thinking, ‘This is not going to work because this kid is way too young,’ but that first day of practice was amazing. I knew we were onto something.” From there, the band enlisted Williams’ next door neighbor, Jason Bynum, on guitar and started writing the songs that would eventually become their 2005 Fueled By Ramen debut, All We Know Is Falling.
In other words, contrary to what messageboard mongers on sites like Absolutepunk.net, as well as haters who storm the band’s own Livejournal community may theorize, Paramore weren’t constructed by a Svengali, they aren’t primped by a stylist every morning, and most importantly, they weren’t built around Williams-an accusation that’s so prevalent, it’s prompted them to sell a shirt that reads PARAMORE IS A BAND, a slightly more direct statement than No Doubt’s video for “Don’t Speak” a decade prior.
“Think about it: [Why] would a label put us together if I was 11 years old and weighed, like, 400 pounds? They wouldn’t be like, ‘Let’s get that guy!”” says Zac from the band’s tour bus later that evening. That said, despite the band’s unhealthy eating habits (today’s rider additions include Cocoa Pebbles and Mountain Dew with the phrase “nectar of the gods” crudely scribbled next to it), the younger Farro has shed most of his baby fat as of late. Oh, and it also doesn’t hurt that like the rest of the band, he’s clad exclusively in G-Star and Diesel clothing that caters to those with a size 32 waist or smaller.
“We’re actually all into fashion,” Josh explains when asked about the band’s seemingly rapid transformation over the past year from wearing T-shirts and jeans to dressing like full-fledged rockstars. “Before our first headlining tour we were like, ‘Let’s make it look like we’re professional here, because kids are paying $10 or $15 per ticket to see us play,” he continues, the top portion of his asymmetrical haircut falling just above his left eye. “We just wanted to step it up, and since then we’re just trying to find out who we are image-wise, you know?”
These days, punk purists seem to have moved on, and although they’re currently in an uproar over the fact that the band are covering Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Faces In Disguise” live (Paramore namedrop the band in nearly every interview), the members have learned to take this type of criticism in stride. “The first time [users on] Absolutepunk.net wrote, ‘Hayley is a solo artist and all their songs are written for them,’ we got so mad,” Josh explains. (To be fair, there are far more posts concerning users wanting to “nail” Williams, a sentiment that no doubt equally irritates her ultra-protective bandmates.) “Hayley’s dad was on tour with us [when we were reading the site], and he was like [adopts exaggerated Southern accent], ‘Y’all just need to cut it out and relax. People are gonna say shit.’ He was telling us just to get over it, and he was right.”
While on the subject of Williams’ father, it should be noted that from driving the band’s van to home-schooling and visiting them out on the road, Hayley’s parents have arguably helped Paramore more than anyone to get to the point they’re at today. However, that doesn’t mean their divorce 12 years ago doesn’t still haunt Paramore’s frontwoman.
“I remember actually walking out the door with my mom that night and standing in between my parents and screaming, ‘Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” she recalls, adding that songs like “Emergency” from the band’s first album were inspired by her parents’ disintegrating relationship. “I still go through phases where I get kind of depressed about it and I’m like, ‘Man, what if it really worked out?’ But I think I’ve come to the realization that it’s better for my parents to just be friends and sometimes love doesn’t work out for a greater reason,” she continues, adding that if it weren’t for her parents’ split, she wouldn’t be blessed with her two younger half-sisters.
Today, Williams’ domestic life seems fine-and when her strikingly youthful-looking mother flies out to visit with her during the band’s few hours of post-show downtime the next evening in Anaheim, they’re both visibly beaming. “I think a lot of the reason [my parents] weren’t getting along [after their divorce] was my stepdad was just kind of controlling. Very controlling,” Williams explains, although it is a little difficult to take her seriously while she’s wearing a cardboard Hello Kitty crown a fan gave her earlier in the day. “But when music started to get real for us, my parents sat down and were like, ‘We’re going to make this work to help Hayley and make the band’s life easier.’ They were in front seats of the van for the first year, and if they were fighting, that would have been hell.”
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