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Q&A: Paramore singer Hayley Williams

By Matt Pais

RedEye Sound Board

May 3, 2013

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The first time Tennessee pop-rockers Paramore headlined a tour, they started it at Beat Kitchen in 2006. Seven years later, the band will play the much larger Chicago Theatre on Thursday as part of its first U.S. tour since 2010. Paramore then and Paramore now, singer Hayley Williams says, are like night and day.

“I don’t want it to sound like I’m ever bashing the band that we were before, but I definitely feel like we are a new band now,” says Williams, 24. Paramore's two founding members, brothers Josh and Zac Farro, departed about a year and a half after the band's last album, “Brand New Eyes,” debuted at No. 2 in 2009.

“Now when the guys and I are hanging out, we’re just friends,” Williams says. “We really are friends and we know the difference between working together and having a friendship together, whereas before I think we let business really take over our friendship and we weren’t good friends to each other ... It feels healthy.”

The proof is in the pudding as Paramore's new, continually catchy self-titled album (which debuted at No. 1) often focuses on looking forward and moving on, compared with the previous record's disbelief that the band even existed anymore. By phone from L.A. before appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” Williams talked about how a ukulele can change an attitude, when she felt ready to put the past behind her and her male bandmates' willingness to accommodate her fondness for the Spice Girls.

Paramore, 8 p.m. May 9 at Chicago Theatre. $38.50-$49.50.

I know the interludes on which you sing with a ukulele were an important part of putting together the new album, helping you get through writers’ block and not feel like the songs were coming out so bitter or angry. Why did a ukulele make that happen? Because it puts anyone in a good mood?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I think it is really that simple. We needed those interludes to get through ... we had writer's block for the last two or three weeks, and it just was super depressing. There’s something about [a] ukulele which is just really happy, and it took the pressure off of us to write serious songs or write rock songs or whatever we thought we needed to do within the moment ... We were able to look at our lives in the moment with more a sense of humor and be sarcastic about the things we didn’t like and be psyched and laugh about the things that we did love.

What would an angry song sound like on the ukulele?
[Laughs] I don’t know, but I’m willing to try. [Laughs.] A lot of people seem to think that the interludes—we’ve done interviews so far about the record that people have taken the interludes as angry, vengeful songs. And we just never thought it like that. We were just having fun with it and trying to change things up and have a good time and get any kind of song out that we possibly could. In the future, if we feel like getting back to a heavy, angry Paramore song, maybe we’ll try a version on the ukulele.

On “Future” you sing, “I’m writing the future, we don’t talk about the past,” and on one interlude you sing, “I’m not angry anymore, well, sometimes I am.” How do you know when you’ve dealt with the past enough to feel like you’re able to move on?
Well, I know that there’s something really dangerous about denying yourself in dealing with the past and skimming over it. And we did try to do that; I won’t lie. At the beginning of the writing process we wrote a song called “Proof” that was one of the first demos we recorded at [guitarist Taylor York’s] house.

We were like, “It’s just a love song. It’s about long-distance commitment and choosing that over being scared.” So I thought, “Oh, well, if we’re going to keep writing songs like this, we won’t have to talk about anything that we’ve gone through as people or as a band over the last two years.”

I think that’s where a lot of the writer's block came [from], is I was denying myself the right to feel a lot of the pain and the struggle that I was feeling in the moment. I think it came out. Some of that past stuff really did come out in a lot of the songs. Not in the way that I thought. Not in the way that I am embarrassed about. The last album that we released was all about our band, and I was very angry and I was very bitter, and I feel like we dealt with our past on this album in a way that wasn’t bitter. And I don’t feel like we were too angry about it. I think we were just simply dealing with it. And then once we felt like we had enough of that, we moved on. And now we really are ready to keep moving forward.

Since on the previous record you wrote a lot about life inside the band, and this one is about moving forward, how much have you thought about, “Oh, no, what am I going to have to say on the next one?”
[Laughs.] I always think like that—even way before we get into writing the records. After we were done with “Riot!,” I was like, “Oh my gosh! We’ve seen our first taste of success; what am I going to say that anyone’s going to care about anymore?” I don’t want people to think that just because our band is in a good place or we’re playing sold-out shows or something good is happening to us that we’re still not human beings or going through life.

You say you’re surrounded by dudes all the time. What’s the effect of that, and how would it be different with more women?
At this point it’s very normal to me. It’s sort of like having brothers and growing up in a house full of boys. I’m used to it. But at the same time, I cherish my female relationships and friendships a lot more than I did before I got on the road. Because I realize [Laughs] how different the dynamic is when I’m surrounded by really positive women that are strong and inspiring to me. ... It’s always great to have those breaks and [time] with all my girls. It’s simple and it’s cliché, but women really understand each other and connect on a level that guys can’t understand.

And when you’re just surrounded by guys and you tell them you’ve become re-obsessed with the Spice Girls movie, they can’t really join in on that.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I guess. I’m kind of lucky ‘cause all the guys in my life are pretty cool about my weird obsessions. Whether it’s my boyfriend or the guys in the band [including bassist Jeremy Davis], we’re all just goofballs together and no one takes themselves too seriously.

So you all watch “Spice World” together?
We’re going to on the bus on this next tour! [Laughs]

Plus:
On the sold-out Beat Kitchen show in 2006: “It was the first time we ever sold out our own show. We were freaking out. It was just one of those nights I knew we were doing what we’re supposed to be doing for the rest of our lives. That was in the fall of 2006. It was a pretty amazing night. We always have a really memorable show there. We played there on Halloween in 2007, and we always talk about that show. Every time I’m in Chicago we go shopping, and we eat at the Chicago Diner.”
If she could ask Tom Cruise one question (Paramore was set to appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” after Tom Cruise that night): “Well, I already had the chance and I blew it because we [saw him] really briefly on ‘The Graham Norton Show’ in London. I was [planning on] asking him about ‘The Outsiders’ and things like that, and when we were standing face to face and I was literally looking him dead in the eye I just blanked. [Laughs.] It was over before it even started … I really want to talk to him about ‘The Outsiders’ because I feel like that might have been one of his first movies. It was in ’81, which is when it all started for him. I don’t know what I want to ask him about ‘The Outsiders,’ I just maybe think I want to tell him how much I love the movie and it’s so crazy to meet him.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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