Q&A with Hayley Williams of Paramore
Photo by Ryan Russell
Hayley Williams, the frontwoman for Paramore, which opens for No Doubt on Wednesday, May 27, at Fiddler's Green, is already a star, but few thinks her career trajectory has peaked. Based on the platinum sales of Riot!, the group's last album, and a successful tie-in with Twilight, the vampire-romance novel turned hit film, she seems bound for bigger things. But she hardly comes across as a diva in training during the following interview, conducted in association with this week's Westword profile.
Williams talks about being a rock veteran despite being too young to legally order a whiskey sour; her disinterest in the trappings of fame; the manner in which she and her bandmates avoided hooking up with exploitative managers, agents, et. al.; her one-degree-of-separation connection to Miley Cyrus; the pros and cons of being mimicked by an army of teen and tween fans; the changes in her voice since Paramore first inched into mainstream view; and the reasons why she desperately wanted to be part of the first Twilight flick but is wary of becoming associated with any of its followups.
Westword (Michael Roberts): You're only twenty, but you guys have been playing together for seven years now, which makes you sort of a music-industry veteran. Does that seem strange to you?
Hayley Williams: Yeah, I guess. I've never had anyone say that before (laughs). I feel like I've been doing this for a lot longer than I actually have, which is kind of a weird feeling. I met the guys when I was thirteen, and it's crazy to think that I'm in the same band now that I was when I was that young. So I don't know. I guess I feel really lucky, because we're still friends, we're still making music we love, and things kind of keep going up and getting more interesting for us.
WW: What were your biggest misconceptions of what a rock-star life would be like when you first started out?
HW:: Well, one of the things I've always been fascinated with is the idea of bands really roughing it to get where they want to be. And so I didn't really have any thoughts that I'd have a butler or anything crazy like that (laughs). I still drive my same car. It's actually my mom's car that I bought out from under her. I didn't get anything fancy. I don't really care about all that stuff. I'd be happy living in my apartment the rest of my life if that's what I needed to do.
WW: So you didn't have dreams of living in a mansion and having someone cut your steak for you?
HW:: No (laughs). I really don't like big houses. I've had a roommate for a long time, and I kind of get scared when I'm alone in big places. It's not very fun. I still enjoy all the same things that I've enjoyed all my life. I don't really need anything too fancy.
WW: A lot of younger performers often get exploited by managers and agents and people like that. Have you been fortunate enough to avoid a lot of those pitfalls?
HW:: We definitely had people try and screw us over, but it's nothing that really affected us in the long run. When we started out, we worked with some random people, but luckily, being in Nashville, everyone in their mom works in the music business, and all you have to do is go outside and yell and you've got a manager. We did have some people around town who were interested in working with our band and did try to work with our band that wouldn't have been good for us if we'd gotten to this point with them. But now we have an awesome team. Everyone who's with us has been there since basically our first record came out, and it's awesome. It's definitely a hometown, family vibe, which is pretty cool.
WW: Who gets the credit for cutting out the people who wouldn't have been good for you? Your folks? Or somebody else's folks?
HW:: Sort of all of us together. I think that it's sort of easy to see through bad intentions, or when people don't have the right ideas. When they don't get your band and they're not setting out for the things you're setting out for, you can feel it. There's a tension that's kind of always there. I think that between my parents and everyone in the band's parents and us as a band, we just knew when it felt right. And it should be fun to work with people. This is a band. Just because it's got this weird, crazy, huge industry behind it doesn't mean it can't be fun to work with people. And if you're working with people you like, there shouldn't be a problem.
WW: I've read that you knew Miley Cyrus early on, and her level of fame is off the charts at this point. Are you glad that even though you're famous, you're not that famous yet?
HW:: Actually, I didn't really know Miley before. I knew her sister beforehand, and I've met Miley a few times being around Franklin. But yeah, I'm thankful... I'm thankful for the position me and my guys are in. Obviously, what Miley's doing is huge and it's great for her, but that's a completely different world than Paramore is in. And I really like the way our band has been brought up and the way we've built our fan base. First of all, a lot of bands don't even get to sell gold. The fact that our last record went platinum, we're still freaking out about. It doesn't feel real. But the bands that do sell platinum, you'll maybe see them at a show, and there won't be that many people there. You'll think, "How are these people selling millions of records and not selling that many tickets?" So it's really cool that our band got to experience having a platinum record but also having a fan base that's been building since day one. We're really proud of that.
WW: I've seen you guys play live twice, and each time, there's been an army of girls who look exactly like you. Is that ever a little freaky? To look out in the audience and see 3,000 yous looking back?
HW:: (Laughs.) It's weird. I have a younger sister who's around thirteen, and she's always looked up to me, which is super-cool. Like, "Oh, man. She thinks I'm rad!" (Laughs.) We have an awesome relationship. So what you're talking about is kind of the same thing, except you have no idea who these people are and there's millions of them. It's definitely a strange feeling. It goes from being kind of cool at first to a little freaky (laughs). Part of it is flattering, and part of it is like, I wish coloring my hair wasn't that big of a deal. Because I'd still be doing it if I was living at home.
WW: Does that make you at all self-conscious in your everyday life? Do you feel you have to think through everything you do really carefully, because you know a lot of those girls may go out and do exactly the same thing?
HW:: Our band is definitely conscious of the influence we potentially have on people, especially younger people. But someone in the band had a really good explanation of that. I think it was Taylor who said that we've really learned to find a balance between acknowledging the influence we have but also living the way we want to live and being ourselves without apologies. There's things that I'm sure any of us might do in our lives that people might see and not get, or not understand why and think it's wrong. But I'm twenty, and I'm growing up and learning just like some other twenty-yea old, or like some sixteen-year old, or some thirty-year old. Growing up is a process, and it's hard to have people watch you go through it. We have to understand that people are watching. But at the same time, I'm not going to stop myself from being what I am just to make other people happy.
WW: When you listen to the songs you recorded early on, what are the biggest differences? How have they evolved?
HW:: Well, I was shopping the other day. We had a day off in L.A. and I went to the Paul Frank Store, and they put on our song "Here We Go Again" from our first record. And first of all, it's kind of embarrassing to be talking to people who work there and all of a sudden, there's my voice (laughs). But I really noticed how different my voice sounds, the tone of my voice. "Here We Go Again," we actually recorded it before we recorded [the 2005 album] All We Know Is Falling. Probably a year prior. So I was fifteen, I think. And it's crazy, because back then, I was like, "I think my voice sounds really good!" (Laughs.) And now, I listen to it and I'm like, oh my gosh, I sound like Zac Hanson. I sound like a little kid!
But I wouldn't change a thing. Because I listen to what we have now, and I'm so proud of it. I feel like I've really worked hard to make my voice better, because that's my instrument, and I think I've done it. At least as good as I can. So that's a huge difference. And there's a huge difference tonally as far as the guitars go, because we know a little bit more about gear. Maybe it's just that we have more gear. But overall, I feel like we sound a little more grown-up on every record, and that's cool, because that's what you want. You want to make progress. And I feel like we've done it.
WW: I mentioned earlier that I'd seen you guys play twice. The first time was in 2007 at the Warped Tour and the second time was in 2008 at this radio-station festival called The Big Gig. And for me, the difference in your performance in particular was huge. Do you feel like you're growing in confidence and able to put things across live with every year that goes by?
HW:: Well, it's been a while since we've been onstage, and we're about to go on tour in about a week, and I'm pretty nervous. It's kind of like riding a bike. Obviously, I'm not going to forget how to do it. But after performing for months on top of months on top of months, and then on top of years, I get more confident. I still get nervous about going onstage. I'm like, "Look at all these people. What are they going to care about?" But it's interesting about Warped Tour 2007, because when I look back on that, I feel like that's one of the most confident performances we've done. It was a short set and we kind of had our vibe for the summer. Everyone had it figured out. I loved that year. I really want to get a Warped Tour tattoo, because I love it so much. But I know that after Warped Tour, we did our first headliner for Riot, and I remember putting in so many more hours and so much more thought to the show, and to intros and outros and interludes and things like that. I feel like we keep getting better at that, and that makes me more confident. I'm really proud of it.
WW: You guys have been swept up in Twilight-mania lately. But my daughter mentioned last night that "Decode" is actually only in the movie for about thirty seconds. Did that bother you at all that there isn't more of the song in the movie?
HW:: "I Caught Myself" is in it for, like, thirty seconds, and "Decode" is the third song in the credits. It's so far back that I don't think anyone at the movie even heard it (laughs). Which is totally fine, because any press and promotions done with Twilight and the soundtrack had "Decode" all over it. Obviously, we did a video for it and everything. I don't think we really understood we were going to get all that from the movie when they told us, "Oh yeah, you have the third end-title track." We were like, "Okay, well, at least we got it in there somewhere." And then all of a sudden, we're making a music video for the song with clips from the movie in the video, and we're doing all this stuff, and we went out to California and did the premier. It became this big thing all of a sudden and it's been really fun. I knew the books were big, but I had no idea the movie would blow up and the soundtrack would blow up with it. It's kind of cool.
WW: Have you read all four of the Twilight books?
HW:: I've read all four of them except for, like, the last chapter and a half of the last one. I've been saying I was going to finish it for I don't know how long now, but I can't make myself do it (laughs).
WW: Is that because you don't want it to end, or because you weren't liking the way it was going?
HW:: No, actually that's my favorite, because I liked how much more action there was, and how wild it was. To me, it was much more of a vampire story, whereas I thought the others were love stories and more in the real world. I really enjoyed the other dimension of it. I don't know why I can't finish it. I think it's because I read the other ones so fast together, and when I took a break, it was like, okay, that's it. But it's okay. I know all the books, and as the movies come out, I'll maybe get a chance to refresh my memory.
WW: Are you involved in the soundtracks for future films? Are there any plans for that?
HW:: No, there are definitely no plans. I feel like Twilight, as much as we fought for it, was kind of a fluke for us. It did blow up and do what it did and we weren't expecting that at all. But I don't want to be known as the Twilight house band, so I think it'd be better if we leave it. Because it was such a great thing, maybe it'd be better to leave it there. Obviously, if we change our minds and everyone's cool with it, fine. But we don't have any plans to do any more of those soundtracks.
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