It’s been almost three years since Nashville-born pop-punk group Paramore let fans know two of the founding members of the outfit were leaving the band with a public message on the group’s website. The departing brothers Josh and Zac Farro (guitar and drums) responded to the sunny yet run-of-the-mill-publicity message by stating that Paramore was a “manufactured product of a major label” and that they were sick of “riding the coattails” of electric, infamously orange-haired frontwoman Hayley Williams. (Although the entire band had been releasing material on Atlantic Records’ indie offshoot Fueled By Ramen Records, Williams was, in fact, the only band member who was legally chained to the big cheeses at Atlantic.) Paramore, which had grown from its beginnings in 2004 as a small-town underdog in Nashville to one of the biggest pop-punk bands on the Warped Tour, seemed to be at a crossroads. Members leave bands all the time, but this move felt big and possibly tragic.
But all the change did was help Paramore become one of the biggest groups in modern pop. Paramore’s self-titled fourth studio album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, a huge feat for Williams and her remaining band members, Jeremy Davis (bass) and Taylor York (guitar). When the 24-year-old Williams is reached on her cellphone just before the kick-off of the band’s North American fall tour, she’s excited but realistic about the accomplishment.
“As we get older my main goals are changing,” she says, her voice singsonging. “Not so much has to do with commercial success—though that is still fun, I am so happy we got a number one—but I don’t think that is something that if it was not happening, I would lose my identity. It’s about that feeling you get when you play music—and if you lose that, then you are doing it for nothing.”
And you can’t help but believe her. Watching Williams perform is like watching a child joyously spin in a circle—at times, literally. She loves what she does so wholeheartedly that, for a cynic, it can almost be sickening. Nothing about Williams’s performance or demeanour is bratty. Besides her incredible vocal dexterity and physical energy, this is what makes her a lovable, refreshing icon in the pop-punk game. She’s just so…wholesome, but not in that gross faux-wholesome way stars like Taylor Swift are. Let’s call Williams the anti–Avril Lavigne. Everything Lavigne is doing wrong, Williams is doing right. The Mississippi-born singer does not have one drop of “too-cool-for-school” blood running through her body.
“The thing about Paramore is that we were never a popular local band,” Williams admits. “In Nashville there are these local bands that draw all the people out as though it’s this massive social event. We were never that. I always wanted to be that but we were never cool enough.”
Paramore will never be “cool”, but that’s part of its charm. Sure, Williams has been named sexiest female singer by more publications than you can count, and the band has been nominated for Grammys and won Teen Choice and People’s Choice Awards, but the group’s members are just a group of Southern kids who still thank God in their liner notes and dress a little nerdy. Paramore just happens to make really powerful, perfect pop songs and knows how to bring them to life on-stage. This is what matters when you are a pop-punk band. Listen to Paramore’s “Still Into You”, the number-one love song Williams wrote for her long-term boyfriend Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory, or “Ain’t It Fun” and try not to be completely infected by the way the music melds with Williams’s diary-style approach to lyrics.
“Our band had basically gone through the breakup,” Williams says of “Ain’t It Fun”. “Everyone in Nashville was talking about it. So, I took off for L.A. as if it was going to be some kind of paradise or saving grace. I got there and realized that my problems were following me. Okay, so I was having a bad six months? Get over it. That song is a sarcastic poke at myself. It totally kicked my ass.”
Williams has no old material that she doesn’t like doing live, but now that Paramore’s sets have extended to almost two hours and it’s often playing stadiums, she gets a fresh gust of excitement when rolling out new songs for audiences.
“[Songs] take a different shape and become an entirely different thing. It starts as just words in my journal and now the song is a part of all these other people’s lives and we share that,” she gushes. “With the new stuff, I’m still going through those moments and figuring out those emotions so it’s really exciting.”
Despite the lineup setback, Paramore is now stronger and more commercially successful than ever. Williams has become a full-fledged star whether she wants to admit it or not.
“I don’t see myself as a celebrity at all,” she says, but then she stops herself, realizing how predictable the statement is once it drops from her mouth. “I don’t mean that to belittle myself or project a sense of being falsely modest. It is one thing to be candid, open yourself up, and be truthful—we pride ourselves on the fact that we have told the whole story and don’t care if that is marketable or whatever. But I don’t give everybody everything.”