Hayley Williams has fronted Paramore since her teens. With the band now a re-energised three-piece and Williams feeling more alive than ever, we had a chat about icons, Katy Perry, equality and, er, birdhouses.
Like her heroes Annie Lennox and Siouxsie Sioux, Hayley Williams is a poster girl with pipes and a point of view. The 24-year-old frontwoman of guitar-pop outfit Paramore since she was a tween, Hayley’s released four albums as part of the band, three with the original five-piece lineup, and, after a nasty public fallout in 2010, this year’s career-defining Paramore as a taut, reenergised three-piece. Although the Tennessee native returned home after the split, she couldn’t stay silent for long and channelled her feelings into Paramore’s diverse, radio-ready current material such as the glorious pop strut of ‘Still Into You’ and the frothy ‘Ain’t It Fun‘. In the record’s lead single Now, she proclaims “feels like I’m waking from the dead”, but, when we speak to her, she’s never seemed more alive.
The sound of this record was a surprise, to be honest. It’s a lot more pop that your previous ones. Did you intend to shock?
No. We definitely didn’t intend to shock people, ‘cause for us the shock happened three years ago when we realised that it wasn’t going to be a five-piece band any more. We sort of woke up one day as a different band, and that took a long time to get used to. The first time we listened back to the demo for ‘Ain’t It Fun’, it was like, ‘what is this?’ It didn’t sound like the way we thought, and although it didn’t wholly sound like “Paramore”, we loved it. Dude, we had three records of doing what’s comfortable, so it was just now or never.
Is it important to you to support other young female rock musicans? There are still so few.
Yeah, to me it’s totally important. For the last two years we’ve been bringing out more female-fronted bands and it’s been so inspiring for me. We brought out this band called Kitten on our first US run this year, and Chloe the singer is, like 18, and she’s ten thousand times cooler than me. She’s like a mix of Annie Lennox, Siouxsie Sioux and anyone you’ve ever loved in the punk rock community, just all wailing out of her body.
She sounds amazing. Who were your icons when you were growing up?
Brody Dalle, and I’m freaking out about your last issue with her on the cover right now! It’s amazing. She was always my computer backdrop when I was 14 and I literally wanted to be her. My mom and I were super close when I was a kid, her and I sort of ran off from her ex-husband. It wasn’t such a good time for us and I remember listening to The Distillers with her. One time I actually asked her, ‘Mom, can I shave my head into a mohawk?’
You have an undercut these days though right?
Yeah, I love my undercut, but actually I’m getting really bored with my hair. I haven’t dyed it in about two or three months and it looks so wretched right now.
I just saw this Katy Perry teaser video of her burning her blue wig. Maybe that’s your cue to embrace it.
I just watched it too, how sick was that? I was actually really proud of her. I know that a lot of popstars are women, and sometimes it doesn’t always get viewed as legitimate artistry, but I think she is a true artist. Actually, Taylor, who’s in the band, his family know her so she’s hung out with us a couple of times. She’s so fun and I think she’s a great artist, too. It’s nice to know that that’s out there in the pop world.
She’s a party girl though – can you keep up with her?
I don’t! (Laughs) I totally don’t keep up!
When you did ‘Airplanes‘ with B.o.B. it kind of put you in a different context from the band. Did that feel like a big change for you?
Um, yes and no. I mean, when I was I was really young, before I discovered punk rock and underground music I was really into pop music. I loved people like Aaliyah and Missy Elliot and TLC and I always wanted to be like that. I never expected to turn 12 or 13 and meet the guys, but when I started writing music it came out entirely different. You know, I can’t write an R&B song, but when I did ‘Airplanes’ it almost felt like a return to form. It was weird and exciting for me, and I loved being able to sing that and turn around the next day and play a show with Paramore.
If they had signed me as a pop star there’s no way that would have lasted.
Weren’t you originally signed to Atlantic when you were 14 as a pop artist?
No. There’s a lot of misconceptions about all of that. I was already in Paramore but they definitely wanted me and I said, “Listen, you can have me but you can have me with Paramore, because I like playing with my friends.” I didn’t even think about the business side of it but looking back on it I think I was actually a lot smarter than anyone thought. If they had signed me as a pop star there’s no way that would have lasted.
You could have hung out with your backing dancers.
Which kind of looks fun sometimes! I mean there’s that Madonna DVD…
In Bed With Madonna? You could have commanded a voguing army!
Ahh, I missed out, didn’t I? (Laughs)
I read that you collect birdhouses. How come?
I actually started to collect birdhouses because when I started dating my boyfriend Chad we were listening to They Might Be Giants and they have a song ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’. It’s such a good song! It’s so poetic too. Actually that’s the song that I’m talking about in the second verse of ‘Still Into You’, when it says “we sang along to the start of forever”. I talked about painting a birdhouse somewhere and after that people started bringing me birdhouses. They’re everywhere in my back yard and my house.
What’s your favourite?
My favourite one is a Converse shoe! It’s so sick. At the top, where your ankle would go in if it was an actual shoe, that’s the opening for the birds.
Sounds cool. My favourite song on the record is ‘Proof’, where the gender changes in the chorus. That fluidity is really refreshing to hear.
Aw, thanks. As a kid, I always grew up equating strength to manliness, and now I’m 24 I think I had it backward. There are qualities in my personality that are feminine and there are qualities that are masculine, and there’s strength in both.
You have a lot of gay fans, which makes sense in that context too.
Yeah for sure! I love knowing that for that song in particular, but sometimes in a song I’m talking about a guy that I like, but usually I like to know that, whatever your gender or sexual orientation, people can sing along. It’s their song.
I think that’s so important, especially as the gay marriage debate continues in the US.
I know. How is that even still going on right now? I don’t know why anything takes this long. Dude, it’s 2013, human beings are human beings, just treat everyone like that.
Have your views ever come up against the Christian part of your fan base at all?
I mean, everything seems cool on the surface, and then you start to dig deep and you realise there’s always people that have opinions. I posted a picture of a tattoo on my ankle online the other day and I had some guy telling me that I wasn’t taking care of my body as a Christian and I just said, “Man, you would love the crucifix tattoo above my knee then!” For me, we believe in what we believe in, it’s very personal to us, and we don’t go throwing that in people’s faces. It’s absolutely a part of our lives, but we’re not preachers, you know what I’m saying?
Yes. You achieved so much success with the original line up of Paramore, but does it feel bittersweet now after the breakup?
Yeah. We definitely could have thrown in the towel, we could have gotten frustrated and bummed out and sort of let that sort of rule us, but it’s definitely a lot sweeter, seeing all the amazing things that have happened this year.
Would you give your 18-year-old self any advice from the position you’re in now?
I was so scared all the time about what people thought, even the people closest to me. I was so co-dependent on other people and their beliefs of me. I think I would just pat myself on the back at 18 and just say, “You’re doing fine! You know who you are and that’s what matters. That’s who you have to keep being.”