After a bitter breakup with two long-term members, the remaining trio blazes back with newfound purposeBy Emily Zemler
The three members of Paramore--singer Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York and bassist Jeremy Davis-are gathered around a long table in a conference room on the fifth floor of Los Angeles' Orlando Hotel. The small, windowless space is in exact contrast to the band's raucous late-night performance at South by Southwest (SXSW) a few days before, where the trio debuted "Still in You," the buoyant second single off its new self-titled album, out April 9 on Fueled by Ramen/Atlantic. Still, despite the fact that the band members are anxious to get out of small, windowless rooms, they're doing everything they can to entertain themselves-something the Franklin, Tenn., group has learned to do since the release of its last disc, 2009's "Brand New Eyes."
Davis has scrawled "This is a meeting so be quiet" across a giant pad of white paper on the wall--a sentiment that seems ironic as the boisterous artists have honest, in-depth answers to every question. Williams, her brilliantly orange hair mostly hidden beneath a knit cap, later adds a nearly perfect rendition of the titular character from Nickelodeon's "Hey Arnold!" "Next time we can have our interview in a basement," she jokes, adding that this is the first time in Paramore's nearly 10-year career that the band hasn't been on tour before the release of a new album.
This is the first time for a lot of things, namely because since the release of "Brand New Eyes," which bowed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, Paramore has gone from a quintet to a trio in dramatic fashion. In December 2010, Paramore posted a lengthy news update on its website explaining that guitarist Josh Farro and drummer Zac Farro had exited the group. "For the last year it hasn't seemed as if they wanted to be around anymore," the band wrote. "We want Josh and Zac to do something that makes them happy and if that isn't here with us, then we support them finding happiness elsewhere."
The story didn't end there. The Farro brothers fired back, offering an "exit statement" brimming with accusations--some true and some not--and igniting a vicious back-and-forth that left fans anxious about the band's next move. Many of the shots were directed at Williams, who eventually confirmed to MTV in a televised special that she is the singular member of the band signed to Fueled by Ramen. At the time, it was hard to say whether this tumultuous turn would destroy Paramore or bolster it. But after the dust settled and the accusations ceased to interest fans, Williams, York and Davis began penning the 17 tracks that appear on "Paramore," forced to revise the songwriting process the band previously employed.
"Logistically we couldn't do things the way we'd always done them," York says. "We didn't intend to but we had kind of developed a formula. We realized it in hindsight. That made us rethink how we did things. Whenever we would try to adhere to our formula, our old routines just didn't work...So it was good timing for it, because even had that void been filled I don't think we could have done the same thing. That's not where our heads and our hearts are at."
The idea on "Paramore" was to venture into new territory, perhaps with less focus on the pop-punk scene that had birthed the group. Hence, the album includes funk-tinged numbers ("Ain't It Fun") and more raucous punk tunes ("Ankle Biters").
"From day one we kept saying, 'If there's ever a time to risk, it's now,'" Williams says, unintentionally invoking the title of the album's flagship single, "Now." "At the least, we have an excuse--maybe people will understand. We needed to do it. We've been playing music together for a really long time now--we're going on 10 years--and if we don't try something new after this long, then what are we even doing? Do we really love music all that much or are we just playing it safe?"
Even before the drama with the Farro brothers, Paramore wasn't an easy band to be part of. The members went to group therapy while making "Brand New Eyes," something they've been frank about in the past. Williams now sheepishly admits that the band had only three songs written when it went into the studio with producer Rob Cavallo to make that disc. ("Literally the last album we made I got in my car and was driving to the studio saying, 'God, please drop this album in our laps,'" she recalls.) But that doesn't mean that "Paramore," titled to blatantly suggest a new self-definition, is about all that drama.
"If I could clarify anything or say something before the rumor mill gets started," says Williams, her small frame draped across two office chairs, "this is not an album about the breaking up of Paramore, and it's not about two members leaving or us hating those two people or anything like that. It's just not. We already wrote that record--"Brand New Eyes" was a very angry and sort of bitter album. Bittersweet, but bitter nevertheless."
Instead, "Paramore" is an intensely varied album with 17 tracks, some of which, like first single "Now," still retain the band's signature swelling pop-rock sound. The choice of producer aided this step outside the box for the band, which worked with Cavallo on its last disc as well as 2011's "Monster," a single penned for the "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" soundtrack. After a slew of producer meetings in early 2012, Paramore settled on Justin Meldal-Johnsen, known for his work with acts like Beck, Tori Amos and the Mars Volta, and spent five months with him in a Los Angeles studio between June and October. Meldal-Johnsen, who enlisted Nine Inch Nails drummer Ilan Rubin for the album, focused on one track at a time rather than the band's usual simultaneous batches of songs.
"I discovered early into the process that there were aspects of their standard and assumed roles in the creative process that each of them wanted to stretch and let breathe a bit," Meldal-Johnsen says. "As if the division of labor they were all used to was just simply a set of arbitrary barriers which they wanted and needed to feel a larger sense of freedom about."
This freedom created an eclectic album. Fueled by Ramen initially encouraged the band to trim tracks from the album, but in the end everyone agreed that the record needed all 17. The diversity made selecting a debut single difficult, but after debate, "Now" was unveiled Jan. 22, not only because the group felt it was an apt bridge between albums and but also because the label wanted to initiate Paramore at alternative radio.
"We wanted to go back to the base of modern rock," Fueled by Ramen GM Mike Easterlin says. "We felt like the song was a great entry point for it. Even though we've had a lot of success at pop, going back to that core modern rock fan is really important. Not only for this band continuing to have success at that format but from a touring standpoint, because it's proven to be key to the touring."
"Still Into You," the album's second--and far more pop--single, debuted during the band's SXSW performance. A lyric video went up by 2 a.m. after the Warner Sound live stream concluded, garnering more than 1.7 million views in its first two weeks. Easterlin estimates that "Still Into You," which will have a music video to support it sometime in mid-April, will go to alternative and top 40 stations following the album's release, bolstered by the band's U.S. spring headlining run, which begins April 25 in Houston. Paramore will then visit Europe, South America and South Africa this summer, and plans call for another U.S. run in the fall and a visit to Australia early next year. And for a change, the band members are happy to hit the road this time out.
"There were some moments where internally it was really difficult," Paramore manager Mark Mercado said at SXSW, referring to the tour and promotional duties for the previous album. "It's good to be past it all. You can see it. Look at the photos. Look at the stories. They're just happy. It gives us the chance to make sure that there's a lot of great things going on, so it's easy to make sure you're managing those things as opposed to managing the internal issues that are popping up."
Back in the conference room, Davis, who has twice referred to the band as the "new Paramore," has collected the hotel-branded pens at the table and built them into a sculpture. Williams has interrupted the interview to make York taste her iced coffee from Magnolia Bakery across the street (he isn't a fan). Fun, as it turns out, can be a real game-changer, especially when trapped in a constricting space talking about an album they've barely had a chance to play live.
"After being in this band for as long as we have been and making the three records prior to this one and going through times where it just wasn't fun to be in Paramore--it was cool and we got to do some great things but it wasn't fun--we owed it to ourselves to make a record that we could have fun writing and recording and playing live," Williams says. "This is the most fun that I've had being the singer of Paramore since I was 14 years old."