The spectre of death really focuses the mind. For Paramore fans, the idea that the band were on the verge of imploding, amid a heap of conjecture, was a real kick in the guts... I say "the fans", but I am one of them: a fan, totally hooked on their uplifting twist of emo's misery, skate-punk's pow-pow-pow and those giddying alt-pop melodies, oh yes those gorgeous pop hooks and choruses designed for shouting-a-long.
Since Green Day's 1994 break-through album Dookie , very few rock/pop/punk/alt acts have penned such a consistent string of undeniably great songs. To these ears, the song-writing is of a Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac standard, and if "emo" was a more critic-friendly genre, then the commentariat would have cooed and cookoo'd that Brand New Eyes was a truly special and significant record. Not that the band particularly needed the snobs and the cynics to sell millions of records and tickets...
Green Day cast a shadow over much of Paramore's work to date, and are an obvious influence, along with No Doubt, Death Cab, Deftones, Weezer, Sunny Day Real Estate, Blink-182, and less obviously The Cure and The Smiths (although a few days of following Hayley Williams on Tumblr will quickly reveal she's a massive Morrissey fan). With number one albums and world tours of arenas, they are one of the biggest bands in the world right now. And yet in spite of the fame (Hayley now has 3million followers on Twitter if such things help you to quantify the scale of their notoriety), they're a surprisingly human, humble, thankful, and delightfully upbeat bunch. The threesome seem re-energised after riding out the past few years. The threat of implosion has given them a new impetus and unleashed Paramore 2.0, that's unafraid to experiment and evolve (but not too much!).
With their self-titled fourth album set for release on April 8th, I had a quick listen to a few new songs, read a few early interviews that were available online, and was lucky enough to grab twenty minutes with three smiley Americans to interrogate them what they have in store for the fans/me. This is what was said:
Sean Adams (DIS): Please list the ingredients on the new record, because I was surprised to hear some glockenspiels in there, and I was reading an interesting interview with your producer Justin Meldel-Johnson, where he said there were guitars played through synths. What else went into the mix?
Taylor York: Everything. Whatever came to mind - we at least gave it a go if it was a valid idea. So I mean there’s all sorts of synths and guitars, a gospel choir, we did a string section, yeah we put guitars through weird synths and we’d tweak ‘em. I don’t think there was anything that groundbreaking but it was certainly new for us, it was groundbreaking for us, personally.
DIS: Whose equipment was lying around the studio? Were there any of Beck’s synths still lying around…
Hayley Williams: There was a lot of Beck’s stuff…
TY: He had stories about everything but acts like it’s so normal.
HW: Cos it is normal to him.
DIS: Which studio were you in?
HW: We were actually in a few different places because we did pre-production at like a rehearsal studio called Swinghouse. And we did drums at Sunset Sound, which is very famous, we were actually in Prince’s room that he built…he lived there for I heard like two years or something.
HW: We were just in his room, just chillin’. And then we went from Sunset Sound to JMJ’s place.
TY: Chez JMJ he calls it. We were calling it “Shaise” JMJ...
HW: So we were in a few different places but we were at Justin’s for the longest period of time and it was cool. It was a long haul making the record.
DIS: Were there any scribbled notes from Prince left on the wall to inspire you?
TY: No, just his personal bathroom that he built that we used every day. Just knowing that we shared a toilet with him…
Jeremy Davis: Most creative things come when you’re on the toilet. Lot of good ideas!
TY: We channelled Prince's energy!
DIS: LA is quite an odd city, a place with no heart as it has no city centre. Contextually, did that help you to go on a quest to find the heart of LA and perhaps your own journey to find a new core of the band?
HW: There is no heart! There is no heart in the record! It just sucked the life out of all of us! [laughs] Nah! I dunno. LA was actually really nice because we weren’t as distracted by the comfort of home. I think it was the right place and the right time for us to go there. I moved a few weeks before the guys got out there. I definitely went through a feverish couple of weeks where I was like ‘I hate it!’ But I really like it. I just don’t go to "trendy" places.
DIS: I think it was a Bukowski quote where he said people try to create a heart for LA because it doesn’t have one, artists sort of double up. I did notice that some of the lyrics on the record are a lot more tender than previously.
HW: Oh yeah, I would agree with that, but also aside from LA, lyrically for this record I was really focussing on things. I was not going to let myself be angry anymore. I just wanted to really enjoy the whole process and I felt like just having the time at home and to grow up and become like a 24 year old woman – I had just turned 24 but…you know what I’m saying. It did feel like I had a little room for tenderness, it was OK this time around. It wasn’t OK before, I was very much like a shell, a very hard shell.
DIS: In terms of the process, where do your songs start for this record? I guess it was a slightly different process to previous albums but was it one of the guys in your practice room during most of it and then bringing songs to each other?
TY: It’s different every time for sure, it’s just kind of…we were just trying to figure it out every day, sometimes…full songs used to be written musically and then sent to Hayley and she would do all her melody and lyrics over it and that was it. We tried to do that on this record and it just didn’t work. None of our old tricks worked on this record, which was a bummer at first but then I felt we had a real sense of awakening. It just felt like we felt alive again. It wasn’t like we were worried because things were different, but there was this kind of nervous energy, like ‘can we do it?’ pushing us. It was a really healthy thing. But yeah, sometimes we’d start with a guitar riff and there’s a lot of ideas that were written that didn’t make it anywhere close. It was different every song, honestly. There wasn’t really a formula so much.
DIS: How much of the writing happened in the studio and how much was ready to roll?
HW: Surprisingly a lot of it was written before we entered the tracking phase. That never happens for us, we’re always like…I think I was telling someone, when we went in with Rob Cavallo for Brand New Eyes we had four songs. That was it.
TY: The songs, at their core were written, but there was so much that happened in the studio. They all pretty much took a massive turn because we didn’t have five bodies to really work out, like these different guitar parts and this drum part…we can only do so much ahead of time. I think it was really cool because the canvas was wide open and I felt like we had more room to explore. It’s funny because a lot of times we would leave it that way. Rather than before I think before we would try to…not clutter it, that’s too negative…we would try to fill up all the space. I think on this record there were times that Justin says it’s OK that there’s only one guitar part here, like you don’t need to do these things you’ve always done.
DIS: Your songs have always had clarity to them where they’re fast but they still have the anthemic huge sounds, like how bands like U2 took the BPM down to allow things to spread around arenas and to make everything sound bigger. Your songs are actually so quick that there must be a point where you’ve got to just declutter a tiny bit of it.
TY: Yeah, totally!
DIS: Was there one pivotal track in particular that when you had nailed it, it started to feel for you or for Justin that you began to know where the record was headed?
JD: I think we got into a routine of recording and like this some of the things we would add in tones and stuff like that, and definitely not that each song was different, until we got to the end, towards the end we hadn’t even come up with a tracklisting or any of that stuff. And really, whenever we started to get there was when it really started to come together and feel like it was one record. But yeah we definitely got in a routine after two or three songs of tones and stuff like that and I think that’s pretty important for the record sounding the same throughout.
DIS: Did the record have any kind of manifesto as you entered into it? The record that Justin worked on before your one was M83, he said it was ‘epic, epic, epic’. That was his reductive way of explaining what the record sounded like. Did you have anything the same in mind, or your own benchmark or was Brand New Eyes just your benchmark to leap?
HW: For us it was just that we were constantly tearing down our own walls. I think we built up a certain formula and a certain routine as a band for so long, three records of it, and it was just time to do something different. Even had we not been through all the changes that we’ve been through recently, even if we were a five piece band, whatever the case, we needed a change. So it was just about always trying everything, never really saying no unless it was a really bad idea – and I had a few of those – it was just a very liberating experience and it was a very open floor all the time. That was different for us, maybe that’s pretty normal for a lot of bands. We had yet to experience that until the fourth album. There was never a blueprint or anything like that, it was just like let’s make great art and let’s not pretend to know everything.
DIS: What do you think you learned making this record or Is that an annoying question that you don’t know the answer to yet?
HW: I still don’t fully know. Every time I listen to it I remember something else that maybe I’m thankful for, really, that we had the chance to experience. I guess I learned that we are capable of a lot more than I had thought. We had a lot more in us than we were willing to explore, that we were willing to show people and it was just about being brave enough to admit it.
DIS: One thing you said in a recent interview with Absolute Punk, you said there were no dubstep jams on this record. Was that a conscious decision?
TY: They were all dubstep. They got changed. Dubstep’s cool, just not for us.
DIS: Damn that KoRn album! I had a theory last year, don’t know if you’ll agree with it, that the Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift singles were quite emo, kind of anthemic pop songs and they were coming on the radio when you were in the studio. Did that give you a…’hang on a minute, you’re treading on our ground’?
HW: Uh, no… cackles
DIS: But suddenly really really mainstream American radio opened up to bands that emo-pop and a lot more alternative music...
HW: Yeah we were talking about this on the plane. The last couple of years of music has been really really exciting. There’s been a lot of bands break through that sort of mainstream…they made it through, they passed whatever tests they needed to pass to break through, but still maintained their spirit. Bands like Fun. have done that, and obviously that Gotye song was huge, and it made an impact on a lot of people and people started taking notice of music that they weren’t familiar with before. And that was really exciting for us to watch. Obviously at the same time, we were getting ready to write, it was frightening. We wondered are we going to be able to fit in to this when we get back out there. I think maybe it did have hand in influencing or inspiring us a certain direction, but in the end I’m really happy with where music is right now and the fact that we’re coming back into it and I feel that everything’s really fresh and exciting.
DIS: Stop me if I’m wrong, but lyrically, each of your albums have an air of self-combustion or at least the hint of some sort of existential crisis. Seems you sometimes consider the futility of things, and that this could all end, but overcoming those demons makes your stronger and focuses your mind. Like that line “what the world don’t need is another band.” There is this situationist idea that I love about the importance of death. It’s basically a concept that merely thinking about death, can be really empowering and freeing. From a quick listen to the record, it seems like this feeling about The End rears its head again in a couple of lyrics. I guess what I’m asking is whether this idea that you stared death in the eye and that you could’ve stopped, but you carried on... was there a newfound freedom with that mind-state this time around?
HW: It’s certainly a choice I think that we have made to be who we are, be in a band, keep going. But sometimes it’s not really a choice, because it’s like this is our purpose in life, y’know? If we threw it away it would just be really sad. The last few records, especially Brand New Eyes, lyrically, it was a really tough time for us and it was important that we went through it – I say it all the time, we HAD to go through that to get to this record – the fourth album is what I believe…not that it’s all said and done at album number four, but I think that album number four is the reason that we started when we were 13 years old. I feel like it was all this big journey to get here. It’s this great feeling, I can’t even describe what it feels like to have made it to this point and, yeah, it has been really liberating to know that we constantly choose this life and the lifestyle we have right now and making music and sharing it with people and connecting with people. But like I said, at the same time it’s a gift and to throw it away would be absurd. I don’t know what else we would possibly do that could ever feel so rewarding and right and fulfilling. It’s just good.
DIS: On the new single ‘Now’ you sing about this not being the time nor the place to die. Do you have any preference where or when?
HW: Ha! I hope NSYNC will get back together before I die, that’s all I care about. What about you guys?
TY: I try not to really think that way...
DIS: I only heard a couple of tracks before this interview, but it feels like you’ve taken a slightly more dramatic and theatrical approach to the record. Did you feel you could be more playful this time round?
TY: There are a lot of different things stylistically that people point out about the record. Honestly, that’s the first time we’ve heard 'theatrical' or really thought about that. I don’t think that was a conscious effort to make something more theatrical, but I think again it’s the first time that we’ve opened ourselves up to new directions. I do think at the bottom of it all, there’s a lot more life in us right now. I think we are maybe more enthusiastic and we are having more fun, so maybe some of those things lend themselves to more dramatic and theatrical fun feeling record. This record really just happened and looking back it’s really cool, but I really don’t know how it happened or how it turned out the way it did. But, yeah, it wasn’t a conscious thing but it’s cool to hear. I love hearing everyone’s…
DIS: There was also the show at Reading, the way you were dressed, the way in which you were performing seemed to be more showmanship. I’ve seen you guys a few times and there’s always little jumps and tricks, but there seemed to be a little bit more theatre and pizazz. Do you plan to do anything new this year to take the live shows to a different place?
JD: Double back flip.
DIS: Inspired by the Olympics?
TY: Ha. We don’t know yet what the live show’s going to be like but everything else seems to be different and new so hopefully something just happens.
HW: Jeremy’s really good with production elements. For me, when we’re talking about it, I just go blank in the head.
TY: Me too.
HW: I’m really overwhelmed about what people are going to be seeing and I just think…
TY: You want lights?
HW:…I just want to be there.
JD: Bring some smoke!
HW: But he’s really good. The stuff we had at Reading and Leeds, a lot of that was Jeremy talking to this guy Ray who put the lighting show together, so my money’s on Jeremy.
DIS: The record’s looking to the future on a couple of lines. With the live shows, there must be a joy for you having no cables with your guitars, allowing people to perform in a way that wasn’t possible a few years ago. In terms of new inventions, is there anything you see going forwards in music that excites you or you hope one day exists?
HW: That’s another thing that he [nudges Jeremy] would be good at…
JD: You put me in a whole other train of thinking. Never thought about all the possibilities of instruments! Wireless drums!
DIS: There’s another interview with Justin that I read where he said that he treated the record like an 80s record but also in 2016. This kind of idea I guess of looking from the eyes of past to see what the promised future’s like. Is that something that you guys felt with this new record or was that just in his head?
HW: Honestly, we keep joking that we had no idea… Talking to Justin is so [crazy]…you learn something new every time. His vocabulary is on a level I’ve never even heard of. So he’s always coming up with amazing ways of explaining everything.
He mentioned something like that to us. When I listen to some of the songs and the feeling that I got writing some of these songs and the lyrics, sometimes it felt like I was in a John Hughes movie, sometimes it did feel a little Back To The Futureish, there’d be like sounds that the guys were coming up with that just felt other-worldly and really exciting, but we were always I think digging deep into our influences and our biggest influences. We were just really open to inspirations, all kinds of inspirations, we didn’t have that luxury or the time or the energy to dive into all that on past records, so I totally get what he’s saying and it is like that, it feels pretty cool at least in my opinion.
DIS: There hasn’t really been a new invention in instruments, in rock music especially since that time as well. These people made quite futuristic sounding music with things that were soldered together...
HW: We watched quite a few videos of bands in the 80s such as Trent Reznor’s old band before Nine Inch Nails [The Innocent / Exotic Birds] and we were just mind blown by the sounds and the haircuts.
DIS: Which is your favourite self-titled album by someone else?
HW: My gosh, are you kidding me?
JD: I’m putting my money on these guys to take care of this.
HW: [after 30 seconds of silence punctuated by Hayley's rock-yowls for help] I just want to look through my iTunes.
DIS: You must have had a moment where you felt you could call your record Paramore because…
HW: Honestly, as far as the self-titled thing goes, the last few albums naming them was excruciating and also a lot of pressure and this one just felt like, we know, this is what it is. But I mean there are a lot of really great self-titled albums and I think I’ve always been secretly jealous of self-titled albums because it’s like, it’s a statement. This is who we are. It’s like putting your band’s bumper sticker on your car. Which I did, and I would do again if people would just stop following me around. I’m gonna be thinking of this for hours.
DIS: You can email me your answer.
HW: Yeah we really will I promise you because it’s so frustrating.
DIS: There’s another thing I wanted to ask about inspirations. There’s a few things that I didn’t expect to hear, one of which is a tiny bit of Michael Jackson.
HW: Yes! In Ain’t It Fun maybe?
DIS: Are there any other shadows that you’re hoping people notice or don’t notice in the records that inspired you?
TY: It’s just been so exciting to hear everyone’s interpretations. People said that when we were recording, but we weren’t like ‘let’s do Michael Jackson’. It just, like, happened. Maybe that doesn’t sound right, but we weren’t intentional with any of these things.
DIS: It seems you were ever so slightly freer, it felt like you had to be confined to what’s expected of a rock band.
TY: Exactly! I think we really had a lot of comfort knowing that our fans obviously connected to our past three albums, that’s how we built our fanbase. When we play shows live we still have all of those records to play all those songs and they can headbang and freak out and so I think we just wanted to explore things and hopefully our fans are growing with us and want to hear something a bit different. Not that we’re trying to abandon where we’ve come from at all.
DIS: People don’t want more of the same. People don’t want more of the same. People don’t want more of the same...
TY: Well, some people do.
JD: Some bands will come out with a new record and that’s all they’ll play live and we don’t ever want to do that. We definitely like playing everything.
HW: What’s my favourite self-titled album? I’m going to be thinking of this for days.
Paramore is released on April 8th 2013 in the UK, in the US on April 9th. The first single from the album 'Now' is out now.