When Hayley Williams began writing lyrics for the songs that appear on Paramore’s self-titled new album, she found herself feeling more optimistic than ever before about the future of the band she has fronted since she was 15. “I had this kind of Tony-in-West-Side-Story-moment when he sings about how something is coming. He doesn’t know what it is, but it’s going to be great,” she says with a laugh. “A lot of the new songs came out of that. They’re about needing to find whatever’s next.”
Lead-off single “Now” — with lyrics like “if there’s a future, we want it now” — sets the urgent tone of Paramore, the Nashville, Tennessee-bred band’s fourth album. Given the choice of packing it in or reinventing themselves as a trio, Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and bassist Jeremy Davis chose the latter and made a positive, uplifting album that reflects who they are in the present. “I’m really proud of the fact that this is not an angry Paramore album,” Williams says. Adds Davis: “It’s a lot happier and brighter album than people might expect given what’s happened. We’ve wanted to write songs like this for so long, but weren’t there emotionally. Now we are.”
The band members holed up to write over the past year and a half and emerged with a collection of songs that retains Paramore’s youthful spirit, but clearly shows their evolution. It’s the most musically adventurous set they’ve released to date. Which isn’t to say the album won’t thrill longtime fans. Still present is a ferocious, churning energy (a hallmark of Paramore’s sound) on “Now,” “Fast In My Car,” “Proof,” “Anklebiters,” and “Be Alone.” But the album should also earn Paramore new listeners, thanks to the trio’s willingness to explore uncharted sonic territory, like the funky, high-stepping “Ain’t It Fun” (featuring soulful vocals from Williams, slap-bass from Davis, and the soaring sound of a gospel choir), the doo wop-inflected “(One of Those) Crazy Girls,” and the lilting, string-filled “Hate To See Your Heart Break.” “People obviously give Hayley credit for being an amazing singer, but I don’t think they really understand how versatile she is and how much her voice can do,” York says. “You really hear different sides of her on this album.”
For her part, Williams says that York stepping into a songwriter role was key to the album’s musical diversity. “I don’t think anyone knew Taylor had it in him,” she says. “Not that we had any reason to doubt that he did, but he just never had the opportunity before. While we were writing, I would walk into the room and hear something he’d be working on and be like, ‘What is that? That sounds insane.’ He’d say, ‘Oh, it’s just something I was doing for me,’ and I’d say ‘No, we’re going to use that.’” Says York: “Hayley and I really challenged each other during the songwriting process. It was a really cool experience to write with her and go on a new journey together. Once we found our own dynamic, it led to something different than our classic Paramore sound.”
All three band members agree that the album‘s producer, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, encouraged them to follow through on the chancier ideas that came up in the studio and not cut them off at the pass because they didn’t sound like traditional Paramore. Meldal-Johnsen (known as JMJ) is a former musical director for Beck and Gnarls Barkley, who also played bass with Beck and Nine Inch Nails, and produced M83’s Grammy-nominated Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming — one of Paramore’s favorite recent albums. “JMJ really found the heart in our new songs,” York says. “He didn’t want to change them, he just wanted to bring more life into them. He knows how to support other people’s music and I really respect that about him.” Adds Davis: “He really helped us be as creative possible and paint the exact picture we wanted.”
The album was mixed by former Failure frontman Ken Andrews. “Having JMJ work on the project meant that we got to bring in some of his friends who are heroes of ours, like Ken,” Williams says. “As a 13-year-old girl listening to Fantastic Planet, I never expected that the guy singing on that record was eventually going to mix not only our album, but our fourth album. He even sang a little background part on ‘Be Alone.’ I smile like an idiot every time I hear it.”
That camaraderie is something that Paramore has striven for ever since they formed in Nashville in 2004 when they were teenagers. Since releasing their gold-certified debut All We Know Is Falling in 2005, the 3x-Grammy-nominated band has shot to international stardom thanks to a strong connection with its fans that has translated into a string of platinum and gold singles, including “Misery Business,” “Crushcrushcrush,” and “That’s What You Get” from 2007’s platinum-certified Riot!, “Decode” from 2008’s Twilight soundtrack, “The Only Exception” from 2009’s platinum Brand New Eyes, and “Monster” from 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon soundtrack. It’s also led to a series of sold-out arena tours, including headlining the 2010 Honda Civic Tour and multiple visits to Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.
More than anything, Williams, Davis, and York are ready to get back on the road. “Our connection with our fans is the most important thing to us,” Davis says. “I’m really excited to get back into the swing of it and feel that energy coming from the audience.” They also can’t wait to hear how the fans react to the new songs. “We really mean it when we say this album feels like the record our band was always supposed to make,” York says. Which is why they’ve chosen to self-title it. Says Williams: “We felt that the best way to give it a name was just to call it what it is. This album is us.”