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Paramore (from L to R) Taylor York, Hayley Williams, and Zac Farro Credit - Zachary Gray
Paramore’s story is one of perseverance, and you can hear it in their music. Ever since they released their first album back in 2005, most of them still teenagers, their fans have grown up beside them, sticking with them through the ups and downs, the revolving doors of members joining, departing, and rejoining. When the group first formed, it was composed of brothers Josh and Zac Farro, who played guitar and drums, respectively, lead singer Hayley Williams, bassist Jeremy Davis, and guitarist Jason Bynum. But over the last 20 years, the band has evolved into its current and arguably best iteration: Williams, Zac Farro, and guitarist Taylor York.
When the band was introduced into the pop-punk landscape of the early 2000s, many of their peers were men; as a group with a woman at the forefront, they were outliers. Over the course of five albums, growing pains notwithstanding, they have outlasted and outshined most of their contemporaries in the genre, proving themselves worthy of their longstanding status as musical icons.
They’ve released five albums, all of which have maintained the Paramore ethos (with slight variations): introspective and sometimes sarcastic music that urges anyone going through a tough time to find that little glimmer of hope. That is, until their last album, 2017’s After Laughter. The record still showcased the band’s thoughtfulness, but that element was upstaged by the project’s mostly upbeat and funky sound. With the exception of their usual ballads, the album was largely a musical 180 that surprised, but mostly won over, their legions of fans. Since the end of the tour for After Laughter, each member took some time away from the group to release solo music, including Farro’s two records as HalfNoise and Williams’ two solo albums, the York-produced Petals for Armor and FLOWERS for VASES/Descansos. After a long but well-deserved five-year hiatus as a band, the three members have finally regrouped to release their sixth studio album, This is Why, out Feb. 10.
Shortly after, Paramore will embark on a new tour, hitting stadiums and arenas worldwide, including London’s O2 Arena and New York City’s Madison Square Garden, along with music festivals like Boston Calling and Bonnaroo in their home state of Tennessee. But before what is sure to be a hectic period, the band seemed at ease when they sat down with TIME for a deep dive into their discography.
Ahead of their new album, they talked about the lessons they learned from each record and how their previous work influenced This Is Why. There are cozy vibes emanating from the other side of the Zoom, Williams sitting on the floor in a knit sweater and glasses and accessorizing with a black Starface pimple patch. She and Farro cradle mugs, Farro with legs crossed in a leather armchair, his fuzzy, brown and white bucket atop his curly hair, while York sits opposite Williams on a second leather armchair. The three of them look relaxed and comfortable as they take a trip down memory lane.
All We Know Is Falling, 2005
In 2005, Paramore released their debut album, All We Know Is Falling, after being signed to the Warner Music Group label Fueled By Ramen. It received mostly positive reviews from the music blogosphere of the early 2000s Internet and gave the world hits like “Pressure” and “Emergency.” Above all, the band remembers this project for the speed with which it was made. “We wrote those songs over the course of probably a year,” Williams said, but the album was created within three weeks. Farro chimed in to say that one of the most beneficial parts of being so quick is “that it made us not second guess ourselves.” He added, “that’s something we still attribute to this day in helping us make quick decisions.”
All We Know Is Falling helped the band gain credibility and gave them the tools to build on for the release of their 2007 sophomore album, RIOT!, which catapulted them to a new level of fame. The second album brings with it the pressure to improve upon the success of the first, and RIOT! accomplished that and then some. The seminal pop-punk record made them worldwide superstars, thanks in large part to the song they remain best known for today, “Misery Business.” It’s a contentious song because of a line in which Williams sings about a woman being a “whore,” but it has remained a crowd-pleaser. In 2018, the band decided it would no longer perform the song as an act of good faith, but they revived it on their most recent comeback tour in 2022, their first in four years. Williams said during the moment of resurrection that she basically got the “OK” from TikTok to perform it again.
When the band made RIOT!, they relocated to New Jersey, where David Bendeth, the album’s producer, was living. They were still young—so young that they could not drive the van and be on the car insurance (Williams had just turned 18), so her dad had to drive for them (“He’s a saint and an icon,” Williams says). Bendeth, who is known for working with acts like Bring Me The Horizon, All Time Low, and Of Mice & Men, put Farro through something of a drumming boot camp. Despite already playing the drums for their earlier album, Farro says, “I got drum lessons again. It was humbling and a little embarrassing, but I’m glad I did it. Each record definitely pushed us in different ways, and that one was for sure the most growth I had.” York officially joined the band at this point, with the song “That’s What You Get” helping propel them from friends who wrote together informally to official bandmates.
From this point, Paramore quickly built up a loyal following, in part thanks to embracing social media, Williams says, to connect with fans. Still, nothing could prepare them for the heights of popularity they would soon reach, thanks to some teenage vampires. “Decode” became an instant Paramore classic after it was released on the soundtrack for Twilight in 2008 and cemented them as pop-punk icons. “I cannot believe that happened to us. That still feels so surreal,” says Williams. Another movie soundtrack song that has gained a cult following on Twitter is “Monster” from 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. “We had to fight for [‘Monster’], and it kind of flies under the radar because it wasn’t as big of a cultural moment as Twilight was,” Williams says. “But that was the first song [York], and I wrote together when Josh and Zac originally left the band, and we were terrified.”
Brand New Eyes, 2009
In 2009, the band released Brand New Eyes, which got them another chart-topping hit, “The Only Exception.” They toured the album, and then, in 2010, the Farro brothers announced they would be leaving Paramore. The remaining members—Williams, York, and bassist Jeremy Davis—released “Monster,” which York says they had no intention of writing for Transformers. It was a time of turmoil for the band, with members leaving and joining, and the group cycling through 12 different drummers. Williams notes that York took over as drummer for a bit, and York says, “I think we were trying to prove, mostly to ourselves, but to everyone else, that we can do this.”
Another song from Brand New Eyes, “All I Wanted,” has found a new audience on TikTok since the album was released in 2009, with the hashtag #AllIWanted accumulating over 85 million views and propelling the #AllIWantedChallenge. In the challenge, which now has nearly 30 million views, singers try to emulate Williams’ cathartic climatic belt during the last chorus. Williams has only ever performed the song once, at the inaugural When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas last October, but her bandmates are trying to convince her to sing it more often. “The fact that she did it even once is a miracle,” York says. Farro chimed in, “She sang an octave higher than the note that she was worried to sing.” Williams adds jokingly, “I can’t remember because I honestly blacked out.”
Paramore’s self-titled album in 2013 is the first and only album they made without Farro in the band. The single, “Ain’t It Fun,” became the band’s highest-charting single and earned them a Grammy in the Best Rock Song category. They might have seemed like they were on top of the world at the time, but Williams remembers it differently. “That was honestly a sad time because it was the first album that we had written without Zack in the band,” she recalls. “Even though we had proven ourselves a little bit since then, we still had a lot of self-doubt about what our purpose was and if we were going to be able to sustain this thing that we cared so much about.”
But with that pain, Williams wrote the sanguine “Last Hope,” a song about focusing on that little bit of optimism to keep you going through a tough time. “I love that song because now it has this very triumphant feeling,” she says. “When I was writing the chorus vocals, I told [York] that I want that melody to sound like a horn part but with my voice, and for some reason that equates to like this triumphant kind of feeling in my head, and when we play live, I relive that feeling.”
After Laughter, 2017
With After Laughter, the last album they put out before their hiatus as a band, Paramore made a complete sonic pivot, and it was a welcome departure from their usual musings on life and love. On this album, they traded in their pop-punk aesthetics for retro neon colors and funky basslines and synths. “Hard Times,” “Fake Happy,” and “Grudges” all display the group venturing deeper into sonic experimentations but keeping the essence of who they are as a band.
The album was hailed by critics at Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and NME, with Sir Elton John saying that it was one of the most “underrated” of that year. This was a time of relentless touring and recording, and the group’s members were beginning to feel like it was time to slow down. On the music video set for “Rose-Colored Boy,” they had a meeting and decided, “We have to stop while we’re ahead because nothing is ever enough,” Williams told Zane Lowe during a recent Apple Music interview.
York says he does not think the band members went into making the album thinking they needed a break. “It’s always hard to detach yourself from whatever you’re passionate about,” York tells TIME. “I just don’t think we could really stay away from it for that long. I think the minute you start telling your team that you’re writing, it’s like the whole machine starts up again, quicker than you even meant for it to. We probably could have even used a longer break than we even had at the time, but it just kind of all started back up again, and we kind of got lost in that process,” York says.
This Is Why, 2023
Their latest album, This is Why, shows a band that understands what evolving and elevating their craft means. The album is replete with echoes of their past albums, and the resulting sound is eclectic. “I really think we just kept writing, and every song led us somewhere else,” York says. “We wanted to scratch this itch of playing rockier music, but I remember there was even a time where [Farro] and I were starting to write a new song, and he was like, ‘Hey man, can we maybe do something more chill?’”
Farro said that they gave each song its own special attention and “its own special lane.” He adds, “I think on the first couple of records, we were like, ‘We’re a rock band,’ and had two guitars, bass, drums, vocals and rarely stepping outside of that too much… and with that, you kind of have your guidelines in a good way.” This time, he says, “we were waiting to see what it told us.”
As they’re embracing their 20th year as a band, Paramore has become something like godparents to a younger generation of pop-punk artists. As Williams put it, “We used to talk about it when we were kids. We would be like, ‘Can you imagine that someday there’s going to be kids our age that might know our music? We just couldn’t fathom that world.”