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The Future of Paramore: Pop-Punk Heroes On Their Urgent New Album and Their ‘Surreal’ Next Chapter

todayJanuary 19, 2023

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It was a break, not a breakup. But the way the screaming, flailing fans — ranging from teens to those teetering on the brink of middle age — at New York’s sold-out Beacon Theatre are reacting to frontwoman Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York and drummer Zac Farro ripping through their spiky new single, “This Is Why,” you’d think Paramore had just risen from the dead.

“It’s funny — everyone always thinks we’ve broken up,” Williams says. It’s a week before the Nov. 13, 2022, Beacon show, and the members of the trailblazing pop-punk band are seated on shabby vintage chairs in an old house in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park on a sunny afternoon. “It’s always like, ‘Will they or won’t they come back?’ ”

“Love to keep ’em guessing,” Farro quips.

“It surprises us every time,” adds York.

“At this point, I don’t understand how we’re still doing it,” Williams continues. “Because it just feels like against all odds every single time — which, honestly, I feel like we’re the most annoying band in the world because it’s always like, ‘Oh, we overcame this, and now we’re making this album.’ ”


Williams, 34; Farro, 32; and York, 33, met as kids with musical ambitions and Christian roots in Franklin, Tenn. Over the next two decades, as Paramore, they released five albums and survived internal band drama, from lineup changes to lawsuits, any of which could have sounded the death knell. But the group’s sixth album, This Is Why — a tight, post-punk juggernaut that zeroes in on pandemic-fueled anxieties, scheduled for release Feb. 10 — marks the first time the lineup has been consistent between two albums, as well as the end of its contract with Atlantic Records, the only label the band has ever known.

“It feels surreal,” York says.

“We’ve been really lucky,” says Williams. “We always will have gripes — it’s an industry — but we know that we’ve been really lucky. It’s more just the fact that it’s time to f–king finish something. And it’s time to know that we’re not doing the same sh-t that we’ve been on since we were teenagers. It’s just going to feel so nice to start a new book. You know, like no more chapters of this one. Whole new book. And I’m excited.”

Paramore’s relationship with Atlantic started in 2004, when Williams met with executive Julie Greenwald, then a recent arrival from Island Def Jam, and signed to the label. Although originally pitched as a solo artist, Williams had a different idea for her future.

“I walked away from the conversation understanding how important a band was for her,” says Greenwald, now chairman/CEO of Atlantic Music Group. “It wasn’t initially presented that way by the A&R people, but once I sat down with her, oh yeah, it definitely became super clear what the path was.”

The first iteration of Paramore — Williams, brothers Zac and Josh Farro, and bassist Jeremy Davis — officially formed the same year, and Greenwald thought that seminal alternative label Fueled by Ramen (an Atlantic imprint then led by John Janick and home to groups like Fall Out Boy and The Academy Is…) would make a good fit for the budding rocker and her band. “This chick should not be marketed as a pop chick. This chick was definitely a rock chick,” Greenwald recalls thinking. “And the demos were extraordinary: She had an unbelievable voice, but she definitely had a point of view at a very young age, and it was super exciting.”

“It was never going to just be Hayley. It was always about the band,” confirms Mark Mercado, who has managed the group since 2004. Fueled by Ramen released Paramore’s pop-punk-driven debut, All We Know Is Falling, in 2005, and even at that nascent stage, the band was already seeing members come and go. (York was involved from day one, but he only became a full-time member in 2009.)

Paramore’s fame exploded with its sophomore effort, the hook- and hit-laden Riot!, now a triple-platinum album with a permanent home in the pop-rock canon of the 2000s. The 2007 release moved the young band up the male-dominated lineup of the traveling Vans Warped Tour, securing it a main-stage slot just two years after debuting on the festival’s female-fronted Shiragirl Stage. By 2008, the group was big enough that when the soundtrack for the anticipated film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight needed an original lead single, Paramore got the call and contributed “Decode,” which earned Williams, Josh and York a Grammy nomination in 2009.

Despite that success, the group couldn’t avoid near-constant lineup changes as its members grew up in the public eye, working out — or not working out — their differences while navigating stardom and young adulthood. “We didn’t have the perspective of [choosing to be here],” Farro says. “We were like, ‘Why are we playing Boston again?’ You’re 14. I literally would be onstage and be like, ‘I can’t wait to eat Taco Bell after this.’ ”

“Or you have to do schoolwork when you get offstage,” Williams says.

Farro and his older brother made a high-profile, acrimonious exit in 2010 (which Josh detailed in a now notorious blog post, citing the band’s label deal and a lack of shared values), but in 2016, Williams and York, the last members standing, asked Zac Farro to come back and play drums on Paramore’s fifth album, After Laughter. In the studio, the lineup clicked.

“It felt very new because I had been only used to being in this band with my brother when we were young,” Farro says. “There was this freedom that we felt to finally be just the three of us, and there was so much acceptance to just be real people.”

That sentiment carried over to After Laughter. As the band embraced a sleeker synth-pop style, Williams’ lyrics revealed her struggles with depression and anxiety amid the dissolution of her marriage to her longtime partner, Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory. About a year following After Laughter’s mid-2017 release, and as they finished a grueling world tour, the group chose honesty once again — and admitted to itself that it needed to take a break.

“They sat me down and said, ‘We’re going to take a break, but this time, we’re going to take a break because we want to,’ ” Mercado says. “It was a good moment for them.”

“I think at different points [in the After Laughter era] — for me, after my divorce, [and] Taylor had some things happen with family — there were moments of, ‘We really need to take a moment, a breather,’ ” Williams says. “But the craziest part about taking the break was, it’s like we really had agency over that choice. We really knew that we were doing it to preserve something.” Rather than being a warning sign of internal strife, “It was more like, ‘We just need to experience being adult people back at home [in Nashville] and have routines and a different type of normalcy that is not normal for us.’ ”

Paramore ended its After Laughter touring in Nashville in September 2018, then took time off — well, kind of. Farro put out a new album under his solo project, HalfNoise, while Williams released her first solo album, Petals for Armor, produced by York with Farro guesting on drums for two tracks, in May 2020. “Simmer,” the album’s first single, arrived in January 2020, and on March 5, Williams announced her first-ever solo tour. “She wasn’t excited about touring it, but we sold out shows, the whole thing,” Mercado says. “So when the pandemic hit, we were like, ‘Well, it looks like you won’t be touring it.’ ”

Instead, Paramore’s members spent spring 2020 like many people did: They hung out in small bubbles of family and friends, took long walks, Zoomed into therapy sessions, marched for racial justice and had heavy conversations about the state of the world.

“It was cool to know that everyone in the world was doing the exact same thing, which was nothing,” Farro says. “I have a huge fear of missing out, so I didn’t really have that because I was doing exactly what everybody else was doing. It felt kind of connected.”

“I have the opposite,” Williams says. “I just want to go home all the time.” Home was a “little, sweet, post-divorce house” that Farro calls The Batcave due to an unfortunate infestation of bats when Williams first moved in. Somewhere between having her mom over for tea and hanging out with her goldendoodle, Alf, Williams started thinking about new Paramore music.

Talks about ending Paramore’s break started in 2021. “I was talking about it on my back porch,” Farro remembers.

“You remember that conversation. I don’t even remember it,” York admits.

“Taylor and I got the inflatable pool,” Farro continues. “We always have tough conversations in a pool in my backyard.”

As Farro recalls, York broached the subject by mentioning that Williams was thinking about writing Paramore songs again. (In September, York and Williams confirmed they were dating, though they have not commented on the relationship since.) “You kind of were mediating between getting a pulse from everybody. And I was like, ‘I don’t even like you guys anymore,’ ” he jokes, making his bandmates laugh. “No, it was like, ‘Yeah, what does that look like?’ ”

Williams, Farro and York rented an East Nashville studio in June 2021, and though playing together again at first felt intimidating, making an album was “always the intention,” York says.

Starting the process was especially challenging for Farro, who had co-written a handful of Paramore tracks but had never been a primary songwriter. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. You guys have a whole system now; you did a whole record.’ And then Taylor, especially with the writing, was like, ‘Dude, come and help. I’d love some help.’ ”

The band wrote the album’s closing track, “Thick Skull,” a marked sonic departure from After Laughter, on day one. “It had these shades of a few different eras of us being music fans, loving heavy, drone-y, almost shoegaze-y moments,” says Williams, also citing York’s clashing guitar patterns, Farro’s thunderous bursts of drumming and even her own rare piano playing on the song. “I was like, ‘Man, this sounds like a band I would love.’ ”

The album’s first song — the frenetic, title-track lead single, released in September — came last, but it provided the band with the project’s thesis. “The ‘this’ of it all is, I think, alluding to everything that gets talked about on the album,” says Williams of This Is Why’s topics, which range from men who are not held accountable for their actions (“Big Man Little Dignity”) to the endless parade of bad news during the pandemic (“The News”). The outside noise, as well as the privacy the band’s members rediscovered during the break, made it hard to fathom a return to the spotlight. As Williams shouts on the title track, “This is why I don’t leave the house!”

“It’s at odds with what we love to do,” she says. “And I think all those thoughts swirling in my head is what the ‘this’ is about.”

Williams also turned the lens inward on the post-punk “C’est Comme Ça,” where she speaks in a disaffected voice, “In a single year, I’ve aged 100/My social life, a chiropractic appointment,” then confesses, “Getting better is boring.”

“It’s so difficult once you’re on the path — like, you’re doing therapy, or maybe you’ve started taking medication, or maybe you’ve lost some toxic relationships and you’re trying to have better boundaries,” she says. “But if you’re — I have PTSD — addicted to survival, at a certain point, when things are healthy, it’s really devastatingly boring. And it makes you feel like, ‘I’m never going to have healthy relationships because some part of me is seeking out a shadow or always looking for the thing that’s going to go wrong.’ There’s not ever peace.”

Paramore has delved into relationships, social dynamics and mental health in its lyrics before, but the new album adds a decidedly political bent. “Everything is political, and it’s either politicized to a degree that maybe isn’t fair or it just inherently is political,” Williams observes. “Even if I tried to not say one word about anything political [on the album], I think it was just in the DNA. It was in every conversation.”

Despite the promising recording sessions, anxiety still crept in. “I was like, ‘What do people want from us? What are they going to expect?’ ” says Williams. In the years since the trio’s break began, pop-punk had made a startling mainstream comeback, with artists old and new participating in the resurgence. My Chemical Romance announced a reunion show in 2019 and a full tour in 2020, which was delayed until 2022 due to the pandemic. By then, even the genre forefathers in Blink-182 had announced a return to the road in its best-known lineup, and Paramore’s streaming numbers continued to climb, as they had since 2020.

The plays continued to rise in 2021, especially around the time when TikTok users started creating mashups of Olivia Rodrigo’s Billboard Hot 100-topping “good 4 u” – a conspicuous throwback to Paramore’s mid-aughts brand of pop-punk – and the group’s own brash 2007 hit “Misery Business,” released when Rodrigo was 4 years old. (The songs’ undeniable similarities earned Paramore a late writing credit on Rodrigo’s hit.)

Paramore has been a perennial staple on the rock and alternative charts, but the band has never achieved the pop standard of domination, only cracking the top 10 of the Hot 100 once, with the Grammy-winning “Ain’t It Fun” peaking at No. 10 in 2014. “Misery Business” topped out at No. 26 in 2008, making it the group’s fourth-highest showing on the chart out of 11 total appearances to date.

Williams wrote “Misery Business” when she was a teenager, and before playing the vengeful track at Paramore’s last show in 2018, she announced that it would be “the last time for a really long time” that the band would perform it. (Its lyrical content, pitting woman against woman over a man’s affection, has not aged well.) But with renewed interest in the song (and its influential blend of emo and pop-punk) from younger listeners, Williams reinstated it in 2022, performing an acoustic version alongside Billie Eilish at Coachella. “Misery Business” also made it onto the band’s fall setlists, though Williams introduced it at the Beacon with a disclaimer: “This song is about misogyny.”

The song’s resurrection, as well as pop-punk’s, came as a surprise to the group. “There’s all this sh-t happening on TikTok with our songs and young artists that are kind of reclaiming [emo and pop-punk culture], and there’s this resurgence of emo or whatever — which is also like, that’s another weird conversation because we never really felt like we fit anywhere,” Williams says. “But then this thing was happening, and we were part of the swell.”

“All of a sudden, they wanted to call us [part of] the scene now,” Farro says.

“Yeah,” says Williams, “all of a sudden, they wanted to claim us.”

For the band’s first shows in four years, its agent, UTA’s Ken Fermaglich, booked a combination of intimate venues and festivals, allowing the band to “get the cobwebs off and kind of get them back to being on the road,” Fermaglich says. Knowing that the album would not be out until February and that the group would later announce an arena tour, the team “had to be mindful of the fact that we didn’t want to do too much and play too big of places too early.”

One of Paramore’s biggest fall gigs was headlining When We Were Young, the Las Vegas festival held over two weekends in October that treated emo and pop-punk fans to a lineup of Warped Tour royalty including My Chemical Romance, Jimmy Eat World and The Used. The event’s immediate sellout prompted promoters to add two more identical days and served as another sign of pop-punk’s new, growing audience — and the continued passion of its existing one. But Paramore’s members had mixed feelings about returning to that scene.

“Everyone’s just trying to remember better days, and I’m sitting there like, ‘They weren’t that much better,’ ” Williams says. She articulated those thoughts during Paramore’s When We Were Young set, telling the crowd that the scene had not always been a safe place “if you were different, if you were a young woman, if you were a person of color, if you were queer, and that’s really f–ked up if you think about it because this was supposed to be the safe place, wasn’t it?”

“We don’t want to be a nostalgia band,” Williams says today, reflecting on that speech. “But I think what I felt was a mixture of vindication and also a lot of anger. I was really surprised that I had so much anger well up in me because I was like, ‘Wait a minute. They’re treating us like a prize now,’ but like, Fat Mike [of NOFX] used to tell people that I gave good rim jobs onstage when I was 19 years old. I do not think that that’s punk. I don’t think that’s the essence of punk. And I feel strongly that without young women, people of color and also the queer community, I just think we would still be where we were then.

“It felt like justification to be able to have the mic and to be one of the last bands that played,” she continues. “We hung out with My Chem a few minutes before we went on [on] the last weekend, and I think they feel very similarly about how they were received. And what it comes down to is that the fans are the ones with the power because otherwise, us and My Chem wouldn’t have been headlining that thing. And I think that’s beautiful.”

“It’s kind of like people see us like [The] Princess Diaries,” Farro explains. “They didn’t see the beauty, but we threw off the glasses.”

In the middle of the Beacon Theatre show, Williams realizes that she has danced her way so far downstage that she now feels distant from the rest of Paramore. Suddenly sheepish, she drags her mic stand backward, telling the audience that she must return to the “safe space” closer to her bandmates.

Though Williams is clearly still its frontwoman, Paramore very much remains a group project. The high comfort level among its current lineup is evident whether one has spent an hour or years with the band — Farro’s humor, York’s quiet focus and Williams’ leadership skills maintain a balance that puts all three at ease, whether they’re discussing the tumultuous past or the wide-open future.

That’s true onstage and in the studio as well. The mid-2000s pop-punk heyday may not be a time Paramore relishes revisiting, but the band takes pride in its back catalog, playing songs from all five of its previously released albums on its fall tour, much to fans’ delight. Still, Williams, York and Farro are ready to keep moving ahead, as they have consistently done on their records for nearly two decades, surrounded by people they trust.

“When you listen to Riot!, and even getting into Brand New Eyes, you get a flavor,” Williams says. “And it’s really what we became known for, right? But when we write things that simply feel like that, we’re so bored. And it’s not challenging enough. And we don’t feel like we’ve grown.” This Is Why is the latest reflection of that quest for growth, both sonically and emotionally, as the band that has always seemed in flux finally appears settled.

“What I see is that the three of them together are really the best that they’ve ever been,” Mercado says. “They truly make joint decisions. They truly hear each other out.”

Brendan Yates, frontman of Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile, witnessed the band’s chemistry firsthand when he directed the “This Is Why” music video. “It’s very cool to see a band that you love and respect so much really be extremely down to earth, and also very in touch with themselves and in touch with what they’re making and care about that,” he says.

A fan of the band since he was a teenager — 2009’s Brand New Eyes and 2013’s “Ain’t It Fun” (“That’s one of the best songs of all time”) are his favorite Paramore album and song, respectively — Yates commends the group’s ability to evolve. “They truly progress and mature and develop throughout every album,” he says. “They just do a great job of making the music reflect their growth as people. A great band is when you can very confidently make the music reflect the time that they’re in. I’m excited to see this new album do that for them in this era of Paramore.”

Fans new and old will get to experience Paramore’s fresh vision this year at the band’s dates in Europe and North and South America. On top of headlining arenas in 29 U.S. cities, it will top festival bills (Atlantic City’s inaugural Adjacent Festival, Alabama’s Hangout Fest) and open Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour at its March kickoff show in Arizona.

“When we were 19, [Swift] told me — she was a country singer at that point — that she wanted to be like Carole King,” Williams recalls. “And I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s a crazy thing to say,’ you know? Because we were kids. And I’ll be damned, this woman, she’s crossing genres and bleeding over into other aspects of pop culture, and she’s helping to shape it at the very least.” Opening for her now “is really huge. It’s a big deal that we even got thought of, you know? So I’m stoked. We can’t wait.”

“Having Paramore join me on tour is such an honor,” Swift says. “We came up alongside each other as Nashville teenagers writing our own music, so it feels insanely special to kick off the tour together nearly two decades later. I just remember being constantly floored and inspired by their writing, originality and artistic integrity. Hayley is such a riveting performer because she’s so multifaceted — bold and playful and ferocious and completely in command. It’s a dream come true to join forces like this.”

As excited as they are to get back on the road starting in February and release new music, “it feels scary,” Williams says. “You know that you’re doing the thing that you feel is right because you’re just kind of following your passion or your instinct, but you also never know what’s going to hit and land the right way. We’re lucky that we’ve never relied on being a specific type of success, whether that be chart success or radio success. Because at the end of the day, there’s a connection and a relationship with the people that have grown up supporting and loving the band with us. So we trust that.”

“They’re the biggest they’ve ever been, and now they’re a free agent, for what it’s worth, after this record,” Mercado says. “I told them the other day, ‘I think you guys are just a force. I can’t stop it. People can’t stop it. Bandmates can’t stop it. You’re just a force, and you’ve got a message and a fan base that just believes in what you’re doing. And that’s all you need.’ And it’s cool to see that 18 years later.”

And anyone wondering what this newfound free agency means can rest assured: Though the band isn’t fielding other label offers right now, Paramore plans to keep making music.

“Free agents,” Farro says. “That’s our next record name.”

“Zac has been saying since we were in the studio,” Williams adds, “ ‘This is the season of us not resisting.’ ”

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Paramore: Photos From the Billboard Cover Shoot

It was a break, not a breakup. But the way the screaming, flailing fans — ranging from teens to those teetering on the brink of middle age — at New York’s sold-out Beacon Theatre are reacting to frontwoman Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York and drummer Zac Farro ripping through their spiky new single, “This Is Why,” you’d think Paramore had just risen from the dead. “It’s funny — everyone always […]

todayJanuary 19, 2023

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