Hayley Williams: Behind the scene

The Paramore frontwoman may have had to grow up in public but that’s part of her appeal for the legions of fans forced to do exactly the same in the social media age

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“Go read your journal from when you were 17,” suggests Hayley Williams. What do you find? A scathing monologue directed at your parents? An emotional outpouring about a one-sided love affair? A cutting evaluation of the social failings of your best friend? Now imagine singing your ruminations along to catchy pop-punk hooks in videos to be viewed by millions. I’ll take your messages while you head to your shame cave.

Williams, lead singer of Paramore and the band’s only constant member, began belting out such emo hits when she formed the band with a group of friends from her hometown of Franklin, Tennessee, in 2004. The following year, when she was 17, Paramore put out their debut LP All We Know Is Falling (2005), quickly followed by breakthrough album Riot! (2007).

“It was a long time ago and I don’t want to be the same person I was at 17,” says Williams, who turned 29 last month, reflecting on songs that propelled her to chart success in the mid-noughties. “When you’re in school you’re this young kid who hasn’t even figured yourself out. You don’t understand so many things but you think that you do.

“It’s not a statement about youth being wasted on the young, or a statement about people who are younger not being as intelligent – that’s not the point. The point is that there’s just so many experiences that you have to go through to create a certain amount of empathy and compassion within yourself.”

Despite a tumultuous 2017 Paramore also put out an ambitious game-changing album in After Laughter

She’s musing on one song in particular. Riot’s lead single Misery Business remains popular at 2am in dingy rock clubs but the lyrics haven’t aged as well as their singer, who’s traded in her signature orange choppy locks for longer white blonde tresses but retained her youthful vibrancy. In the vein of Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi five years earlier, Misery Business is a classic revenge of the nerd narrative, aimed squarely at the mean girls and just missing the viral memo about #femalesolidarity. “Honestly,” says Williams. “I just don’t relate to the song at all.”

Despite a tumultuous 2017 that included settling a legal dispute with former bassist Jeremy Davis and Williams’s divorce from New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert, Paramore also put out an ambitious game-changing album in After Laughter.

Growing up in the public eye has always been one of the thornier aspects of fame and thankfully Williams has come out the other side of it more Taylor Swift than Britney. But in 2018 that’s no longer a problem exclusive to celebrity as millions of adults emerge from their chrysalises to find a slimy digital trail behind them. Those journal pages are now vlogs, Tumblr feeds and statuses shared beyond the safety of their poster-adorned bedroom walls.

Williams is at the centre of the generation that was born without the internet but was young enough to adopt it and now fully embrace it in adulthood. Their parents may be technophobes, their children digital natives.

“Our band benefited from the internet but, even as kids, before we used the internet to promote the band we just used it like anyone else – to find new music or to update our profile on Instant Messenger, maybe with some passive aggressive lyric or statement about how we felt,” says Williams. Paramore and other emo bands like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and All American Rejects took the solid pop-punk foundations laid by the likes of Blink-182 and Green Day and built a virtual home.

“We were a bunch of young kids discovering ourselves, where we belonged. A lot of us weren’t necessarily into hardcore punk music but we liked things that were different and weren’t on the radio or being sold or bought in mass quantities.

“It was cool because we had our own place to go [online and then at shows] and to have our band then become a part of that was a really cool feeling because I think we got to give other people our age that same sort of sense of belonging and escape from whatever other parts of their lives they were living. To me that’s what the scene was.”

With a lone female at the front of the stage and a band of blokes in the background, Paramore were unique on the male-dominated scene and have inspired a string of alt-rock bands with the same formation since. Pvris, Tonight Alive and Marmozets are just a few that nod to Paramore. Williams says she never felt out of her depth surrounded by men.

She agrees that frontwomen are expected to be attractive but says that is the expectation placed on women generally

“I feel very fortunate – a lot of the stories that you see coming out, I don’t have a horror story like that. A lot of it came from the press, not from the people I was surrounded by, so I don’t think that I had it harder. I just think that I had it different.”

She agrees that frontwomen are expected to be attractive but says that is the expectation placed on women generally.

“It wouldn’t matter if I was singing for Paramore or not – we have the magazine covers that we walk by everyday, we have all sorts of stuff thrown at us… I’m a girl who gets up every day and I love to put on eyeliner and dress myself in a way that I feel cool or whatever but I don’t know if it would be any different if I wasn’t in the band.

“The cool thing about people is the more that we get to know each other, relate to each other and actually look each other in the eye you really stop caring so much about all the bullshit and the fabrication of the way people put themselves together. It becomes more about what they’ve been through and you start to realise what beauty really is.”

The internet and the music scene have changed beyond recognition – Williams now has 5.34m Twitter followers and, still tender from growing pains, the band has settled as a trio with returning drummer Zac Farro and second generation guitarist Taylor York. The tens of thousands of fans who saw them in Manchester earlier this month for the only northern date on Paramore’s After Laughter arena tour heard them exploring synth-pop. Williams is both nostalgic and optimistic.

“Everything is so much different than it was 10, even five years ago. I’m sure anyone younger than me would hate me for saying this, but it seemed like we got to be a part of something that was really pure and still a good bit untouched. I think I’m happy that we lived that as teenagers and now we’re growing from that. We have all those experiences that we can build on.”

Photo: Lyndsey Byrnes

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