It's been a rocky couple years for Paramore: original members Josh Farro (guitar) and Zac Farro (drums) left in December 2010 with a bitter note online, claiming the band was the "manufactured product of a major label." Singer Hayley Williams pressed on, heading to L.A. with a lean lineup of guitarist Taylor York and bassist Jeremy Davis, with producer Justin Meldal-Johnson (Beck, Garbage), for their fourth LP, Paramore (out April 9th), their first songs since 2009's Brand New Eyes.
In this new Q&A, Williams and guitarist Taylor York tell Rolling Stone the band almost ended entirely. "There were definitely days I would wake up and think it would be so easy to put up some sort of letter saying we've had a good run," Williams says. "And then there were days that you would wake up and you would have a song in your head and know that there is purpose."
Musically, where did you want to go after Brand New Eyes?
Hayley Williams: That whole time for our band was such a dark season. It was emotionally exhausting, and by the time we got around to the point where we were going to start writing, we just really wanted to enjoy the process of making an album, really just enjoy the reality that we're in a band and our dreams have come true. You know, we should be happy about all this. So I think that's what was most important to us, and we didn't really know how that would manifest itself through the music, but it just happened.
Did you think at any point that Paramore was going to end?
HW: There were days for me. I always wanted to be a part of Paramore, but I just didn't know – "Is this a reality? Am I kidding myself?" It was just tiring, I guess. We were all friends, we grew up together, and that was the most disappointing . . . That sucked more than any of the band-professional career stuff. I mean, of course that sucked, but when everything sort of started falling to pieces between Brand New Eyes and making this album, there were definitely days I would wake up and think it would be so easy to put up some sort of letter saying it's just too hard, we've had a good run, and go, like, get a job serving coffee or doing something normal. Maybe that would be less stressful.
And then there were days that you would wake up and you would have a song in your head and know that there is purpose and there's freedom in being a musician and an artist, and you're really thankful. Just like in everybody's life, there are ups and downs and there were doubtful moments, but there was something in the back of our minds that never let us give up.
Did it surprise you in the way that the two guys you grew up with, started the band with, just walked away?
Taylor York: I think it did in a sense. [They] knew that the end of that season was coming, but I think the way it happened was a surprise. I don't think that that kind of separation or that kind of breaking off is ever an easy thing or ever comes without messiness of some form, but I don't think we knew it was going to get that crazy and that dramati. So that was a surprise. But it kind of just was what it was. I think for a long time that really affected us, and it felt like we could not get away from it, and it was what everyone wanted to talk about. As time went on, we were able to just kind of separate from that and leave it in the past and be like, "You know, that really sucked." But I think there's a future waiting for us. Let's walk towards that instead of staying in this sort of high school drama.
HW: I don't think Taylor could have said it any better. The fact that two guys left the band and then we decided not give up, but then a year later we wrote what to me is our best album yet? Everything happens for a reason so, as cliché as it sounds, I can't afford to look at it any differently.
How do you think everything the band went through came out in the new songs?
HW: I know how it came out musically, because I was there watching Taylor come up with all of these riffs and all these things that you'd never been able to hear him express fully, because as much as Taylor played leads onstage, you couldn't really hear his personality, because there were a lot of guitars on stage. So for me it was really fun to write this record with him, because I think before this record the last time we sat down in a room alone and wrote a song together was when we were 12 and 13 years old. All of a sudden I saw this mad scientist come out of him, and he just became really an incredible producer as well. He was doing all of our demos and all of our tracks for that, and it was great. And that inspired me so much to write the way that I wrote this time around. For the first time, I'm not angry on every song, I'm not spitting lyrics. I'm singing lyrics, and it's nice. It just feels good. And sure ,there's still songs where I dig into matters of, you know, matters of, I don't know, pain, and matters of the heart and more introspective stuff, but I was able to look at that in a new way. I don't really feel like I'm standing there screaming at a wall anymore. It felt so healthy to write it.
Was the huge success of "Airplanes" [B.o.B.'s 2010 pop hit featuring Williams] a surprise for you?
HW: Yeah, that was a total surprise. When I heard the song I loved it. I felt like "Wow, this could really be something," and all the guys were like "Wow, you have to do that, that's rad." It just worked out. I love B.o.B., and that sort of partnership seemed to work perfectly, and the song was fun to sing. It couldn't have been a better first little soiree to that whole scene. I felt really loved and accepted. It was cool.
Do you see yourself doing more of that stuff in the future, as a solo artist?
HW: Um, I don't know. It depends on what comes along. Especially with this album, I think we all started to see how versatile we are as a band, and maybe in areas we just weren't willing to open ourselves up to. We sort of – we let ourselves try these things. It depends on what comes along. I'm definitely open to anything that really inspires me, so it just depends on a few things. I definitely don't feel like it would cause a rift or anything with our band. I think we all support each other in those little adventures.
I heard a lot more pop influences on this record.
TY: Yeah, we've talked about it a bunch recently, but it was funny going into this record, I think, realizing where we came from and why fans in the past have connected with us – I think we were so focused on that, so I would just try to write these kind of Paramore songs, just like I would use the Paramore formula and try to write, like, these heavy guitar riffs . . . I was really focused on writing like that, and I'd concept these songs and bring them to Hayley and she'd be like, "Eh, it's cool, but I just don't feel it," and it would be something random that I had kind of just written that I wrote for myself, so I told her "You'd never like this in a billion years," and that was what she'd connect to. I don't think we knew that we were going to write super poppy songs or dance-y songs, but it just kind of happened. It was really scary, but it was really cool.
How long did it take to adjust to the new lineup?
HW: Well, one thing that was really good for us, we went on a mini tour. We went to South America. We did some stuff overseas and a few shows on Warped Tour. We kind of just threw ourselves into it. There wasn't a whole lot of time to sit around and sulk or be too scientific about too much. The three of us just fell into our roles and made it work. Not to say that there weren't the little awkward hang-ups now and then, because we had to get used to this new version of who we were as a band. Personally, it caused a little bit of an identity crisis for all three of us. It was just like, "Let's just go. Let's just move forward."
I know Josh Freese has been touring with you. Have you guys settled on a drummer yet?
TY: After all the member changes and all the drama, we just want to make sure that at least the three of us can hold it together. For now, we're kind of going day by day and just trying to figure it out. We have friends who are going to play with us, but we don't have a solid lineup for a drummer. My brother plays guitar with us, and my friend John plays guitar and keys, so I think they're going to be hopefully more of a permanent fixture, but we're still trying to figure out the whole drummer thing.
When are you guys thinking of doing a full tour?
HW: Honestly, we're still trying to figure that out. Our record comes out in April. I would assume we're going to start touring in early spring.
Do you think you guys finally settled on a lineup that will be around for a while?
HW: Wel,l John and Justin have been playing with us for a few years now. I mean, you don't see them in the photos or whatnot, and who knows if that'll be something that we do in the future, but our fans know them, they're a part of our touring family. Literally for Taylor – it's his brother onstage with him. So they're definitely a permanent thing for us. As far as a drummer goes, I don't think that we have found the perfect fit yet, but when we do that'll be something that we have to figure out. For us, touring is already such a family lifestyle anyways – everyone that tours with us, our crew, most of them have been with us for years and years now. We like it to feel like that. We like that our fans know Riley, our guitar tech. We like that because we like those people to understand how much we appreciate them and how much we value them. So I don't know about the drummer, but everything else in Paramore camp, as far as the touring goes, is pretty permanent.
Do you have any relationship with Josh and Zac now? Do you talk to them?
TY: Time is a beautiful thing, and we're letting that do its thing.