The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis
Making it look easy
Paramore returns as ferocious as anything
The members of Paramore can’t wait to return to the Bonnaroo festival this summer – especially since they found out they’ll be on stage right before the Foo Fighters.
“You have to play drums with them!” Frontwoman Hayley Williams tells Zac Farro, who founded the rock band with her nearly 20 years ago in Franklin, Tennessee.
But Farro, whose phone just buzzed, has a more pressing matter to respond to.
“I have to unlock my house for my mom.”
Behold the balance these three lifelong friends – Williams, Farro and guitarist Taylor York – have somehow struck in their surreal lives.
In a matter of days, they’ll hit the road in support of their sixth album, “This Is
Why.” The trek includes a sold-out release show at the Grand Ole Opry House, opening for Taylor Swift on the first night of her massive stadium tour, and their own headlining run of arenas across South America, the U.K. and U.S.
But on a mundane morning in Farro’s studio, they could pass for average Music City citizens, sipping local coffee and wondering aloud if the influx of rowdy tourists and glass skyscrapers will ever slow down.
Are we giving three successful musicians too much credit for acting like normal human beings? Well, consider what they’ve endured.
To do so, we’ll use a label this band would have detested in their early days. Along with Swift, Miley Cyrus and Brenda Lee, the members of Paramore, essentially, are among the biggest “child stars” to ever come out of Middle Tennessee.
Williams and Farro were 16 and 15 when their 2005 debut, “All We Know Is
Falling,” made them pop-punk/emo sensations. Incredibly, the band will be eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in just seven years – right around the time they’ll all reach 40.
And in their first decade, Paramore’s journey, at points, seemed as defined by public struggles as it did platinum sales. Nearly every new album came with a shakeup within the band’s ranks, and it typically wasn’t amicable.
Former guitarist Josh Farro once painted the band as “a manufactured product” upon leaving the group – Zac, his younger brother, joined him. Longtime bassist Jeremy Davis left next, then sued the band for royalties (the two parties eventually settled). Through those chapters, as well as a divorce, Williams dealt with double standards and narratives that male rock stars, historically, have never had to worry about.
Then in 2016, Paramore turned the page. Zac rejoined, forming today’s trio of Williams, Farro and York – right in time for the band to redefine themselves. 2017’s “After Laughter” did away with the growling power chords in favor of intricate guitar work, lighter grooves, and a new lyrical outlook for Williams.
“(It) was the beginning of feeling a lot more permission, not even from the world, but just within my own self to say things about my experience in a way that didn’t have to be mysterious or hidden,” she says.
“And ‘This Is Why’ is nice for me, because we experienced so much for the first time at home, as adult people, trying to reconnect just as friends. No band, no brand, or projection from the outside.”
In fact, it’s hard for the members to say when work on this new album began. One minute they were hanging out in their pandemic bubble, and the next, they were holed up at East Nashville studio Fatback Sound working on new songs. “That’s how it goes with us,” Farro says. “It’s all or nothing, which is kind of how we like it.”
Williams was fresh off releasing her first ever solo project – the sonically bold and deeply personal “Petals For Armor,” which York produced. Last year, the two confirmed they were now in a relationship.
Williams planned to tour behind “Petals,” but after initial delays due to the pandemic, she ultimately chose not to.
“The creative exercise is what I needed more than anything,” she says. “… To be honest, getting ready to go on your first tour without the band you grew up in? It was very anxiety-ridden for me.”
Returning to Paramore, on the other hand, felt like “putting on your favorite coat.”
Perhaps that comfort inspired the band to dig back into the aggression that defined their early years – something they’d avoided on the last album. “This Is Why’s” title track is as ferocious as anything from their headbanging days, but with new streaks of sophistication and subtlety.
“Everyone (was) trying to figure out, ‘How do we marry all the things that we’ve learned over the years with who we are now?’ ” Williams says.
And “This Is Why” – with its refrain of “This is why I don’t leave the house” – could only be a song from “now.” It’s a product of years of navigating culture wars, protests, elections and a global health crisis, and doing so mostly through a screen.
“If you have an opinion, maybe you should shove it,” Williams croons over a sinister bed of twisting guitars.
“Or maybe you could scream it/ Might be best to keep it to yourself.”
The title track was the last to be completed for the album – and “There were certain songs that came together really naturally,” adds York. “And then there was the half of the record that was a lot of experimentation, and kind of beating our heads against the wall.”
But by the time it gets to the stage, Paramore, as always, makes it look easy. The band warmed up with a string of gigs and festival dates last fall, and after their show at the Opry House, they’ll kick off the opening night of Super Bowl Music Fest. Those are big gigs – but their date with Swift in Glendale, California, is on another level. The two acts have been in each other’s orbit from the beginning. Both were nominees for Best New Artist at the Grammys in 2008 (That year’s winner? Amy Winehouse.)
Williams is one year older than Swift and remembers some 15 years ago when the future pop star’s mother asked for her phone number so the two could connect. “We are watching something that grandkids and great grandkids are going to talk about, and see the way we see a Carole King, or any songwriter that you deem as a legend. We’re watching it happen.”