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Hayley Williams

“My dog is the reason I’m alive”, Zane Lowe interviews Hayley Williams

Beats 1’s Zane Lowe meets Hayley Williams for an intimate and raw interview about Petals for Armor and why being vulnerable is a shield.

Whenever an artist announces a new album and is interviewed by Zane Lowe, we can say that the themes of the songs will be very deep and intimate. Zane Lowe is a BBC Beats 1 radio host who in the past interviewed Paramore on After Laughter, analyzing all the songs that make it up together with the band.

The interview starts with Hayley explaining that “it scares me that there is now a focus only on me. Whenever I rehearse without Taylor and Zac, I ask myself “Is it real?”. It’s strange to want to do something without the guys because it seems like a contradiction to what I’ve always said. I spent my life wondering if I was authentic and sincere, so now I am very upset by my contradictory choices.

It’s so terrifying to think that at a certain age you have to be more self-aware and harder on yourself, for good reasons, and not for the things I’m hard on myself, which is everything, but for important things and be able to be responsible for your own sh*t.

After we wrote ‘Forgiveness’, I went to Taylor’s house. I was really scared to show him what I wrote because the lyrics seemed very different from our usual songs. But at the same time I was excited because he said he looked like Paul Simon. When I finished recording the demo, I said to him “It looks like we are growing, we went from Ain’t It Fun to Forgiveness”.

Zane, analyzing Hayley’s words, asked her if what happened in her life was stopping the tour, stopping Paramore, stopping everything and wondering “Who am I really when I’m not in Paramore?“. Hayley replies that “this is why we took a break. On the Rose-Colored Boy music video set we had a discussion where we said we had to stop now that we could because nothing is ever enough.

The interview then diverted to Hayley’s childhood, with Zane asking her when and how she started using music as a way out. “The question you just asked me is a question I’m still looking for an answer. I had to face three divorces: my mom’s first divorce, my mom’s second divorce, my dad’s second divorce. All this before turning 11. My mom and dad were very good at me, they raised me as parents. At 11, however, you feel that your parents are starting to give you more attention because they are facing a divorce, and you feel almost guilty. But at the same time you also feel embarrassed, because you think “Why am I getting all this attention when I would simply prefer my parents to be together?”. It’s a kind of attention you don’t want.

I chose to be in a band because it’s like having a family. I really wanted one. Even now we are talking a lot about Paramore because a) it is part of most of my life and b) it is something that I cannot separate from.

Ever since I started doing interviews for After Laughter on my own, I have started to notice how many new and very young artists are starting to talk about their mental health. They make me realize that in 16 years of career we have been very lucky to have the same team all the time.” says Hayley. Zane stops her to specify that it is not luck, but it is the family that they built. He asks her how she would feel if family members left her two or three years ago. Hayley replies that it depends on the context, because if there are good reasons they have always shown support. In other cases, however, the feeling felt was abandonment. “Even though Petals for Armor is under my name, I make sure I always publish the song credits because the reality is that this is another project of my family, Paramore and the team. Zac sang in a song and Taylor produced the album. All the people who helped me are part of our family. They are people with whom I go to dinner together in my free time. I like to work like this, I feel more confident. I also feel more proud to come here and promote a project made with my friends.

Petals for Armor isn’t finished yet, Hayley said she still has a few songs to complete. She told Zane she still has to understand what it means for her to have created this project. According to the conductor, people’s response to this solo project was so positive thanks to the transparency that Hayley transmitted in communicating it. She knew she needed to break free, and asked for help. Hayley admits to Lowe that despite the fear of having to release personal things and have people in the world listening to them, it’s something she needs to do to survive.

How did it happen? You had to take some free time but clearly you don’t like taking some free time.” asks Zane. Hayley replied that from January 2019 she knew that with Paramore they would take a long break of at least a year. “Once Art + Friends finished, I took off my makeup and laid in bed thinking “Oh, this is the last time I will get my makeup off for quite some time, I can also get sick without losing half a million dollars. I can be with my dog ​​every day, I don’t have to ask people to take care of him.” I was so ready around that time for a break. In addition, all three of us wanted to understand what else we were good at. For example, I had the dye company, Zac wanted to create a record company, Taylor wanted to become a producer, with or without me. It really seemed like the right time to go home and be with friends. A month after I came back, everything I had put on standby before the release of After Laughter woke me up and I realized that it was still there.

The first week we promoted After Laughter I moved to my new home, I had just filed for divorce, I started seeing a therapist even though now I realize that I have lost money because I was never at home and I managed to build a constant relationship. Everything was moving so fast even though we were taking a break. […] All the things that I had paused crushed me about September 2018. I had a rather intensive therapy and it forced me to ask myself many questions, to ask many questions also to my mom to understand what had happened. I was very young and I was making too many mistakes in my personal life, I was self-sabotaging myself. I joke about it in some Paramore songs, but it’s not fun to live it. I was ready to grow from that point of view.

Was your mom waiting for you? Did she know you were going to ask her those questions?”asks Zane. “Everyone is either a good person or a bad person. I had to understand why I was choosing to bond with a specific type of people. All this made no sense. [My mom] Gave me a lot of answers. We hadn’t scheduled the conversation, we were in a bar having tea when I asked her “What happened when you were pregnant with me? What happened between you and dad? Who left who? Why don’t I know these things? Why is my first memory, at 4, of you two screaming and I have no idea what you are saying? I’m on therapy, but I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m making up my past. I’m continuing to make bad choices in relationships.” And with relationships I don’t mean only romantic relationships, but also relationships between friends. Intensive care began around October/November. It is so difficult to start, but it is difficult to start everything: an album, a career…

Don’t nobody tell me that God don’t have a sense of humor. Cause now that I want to live, well everybody around me is dying. Now that I finally want to live the ones I love are dying.

The interview continued talking about Leave It Alone, Hayley’s second single released on her album Petals for Armor. “It really sucks that you do have to dig through the dirtiest shit to find like the diamonds or something, you know? Like you’ve got to burn all of it off. My family went through something insane in the middle of… I’m working. I’m doing all this work on childhood stuff and traumas, and I’m terrified of losing people obviously. And my Nana, who was my mom’s mother, had this terrible fall. And it was right after, it was the day after… Her and I share a birthday. She’s 50 years older than me, so she’s 81 now. The day after her 80th, my 30th, she fell like all the way down my mom’s stairs and [suffered] head trauma. Like the kind of thing that we had said goodbye to her. Right? And in a weird twisted… The weirdest thing is that she got better, but it prolonged the grief because she’s not really here with us. She doesn’t really remember everything. Thankfully she knows who I am, she knows who my mom is, but she really doesn’t. It was so tough and felt like there was a lot of death at the time. People that we knew, a lot of disease, like family friends and stuff. And I just thought, like, what is the point of loving people? Like why? Even in the best case scenario is I fall in love, we have a life together and then we lose one or the other. It’s terrifying. The more you love, the more you stand to lose, but it’s like the more I let it… I mean, I struggle with it all the time. I’m not afraid of dying, it doesn’t bother me, but thinking about losing people I love destroys me.

I had suicidal thoughts. My dog is the reason I’m alive, because he would’ve been waiting on me to get home, no matter what. You know how little sweet little puppies sit and they wait, I couldn’t think about it. Whoa, never cried in an interview before. I just couldn’t. And I’m glad, you know? Because life is still hard. It didn’t become a breeze overnight or anything and it’s been years and it’s still not a breeze, but it’s so rich and now that I’m taking account of all these feelings and I’m feeling all of them, there’s this beautiful rainbow versus just the deep end.

I had to prepare to ask questions to my mom. My therapist, therefore, asked me to see me in an interval of time that I returned to the memory of me who was 4 or 5 years old. He asked me to hold me in my arms. And I thought “This is an innocent child who does not deserve to live in this disgusting world”. From there I realized the power we have to protect ourselves. At that time, I also watched all these films and series of moms protecting their children on Netflix, like “The Handmaid’s Tale”. That’s where the phrase “Nothing cuts like a mother” from “Simmer” comes from. I think it’s an innate feeling within us, you don’t necessarily have to be a mom or even a woman. The feeling of wanting to take care is innate in all of us. It is very complicated to learn to take care of ourselves. I’ll never be perfect at it, but I’m learning. At least I’m trying.

The day we did the interview for After Laughter with you, I had recently moved into my new house. I had zero furniture and a mattress. I got ready, I tried to look cool, I put on Taylor’s hat. You asked us such empathetic questions that I felt really safe talking to you, for the first time outside of a family member. A better outlet for artists should be created, because this is real life. Many kids don’t even have time to do it because it’s an endless cycle of tours, content, music, tours, more content, music. It is a cycle that the more time passes, the faster it becomes. The artists end up tripping over themselves. I’m so thankful that Paramore formed in 2003, before My Space even became popular. I wouldn’t survive if I was Billie Eilish today. She is on a rocket that is going much higher than I can ever hope for Paramore. If it were me, however, I would go crazy. I am so happy that there is someone like her who has a fantastic family and fans.

Petals for Armor was born from the idea that being vulnerable is a shield. This is how you create a comfortable space for yourself. I have shown parts of me that nobody has ever seen. I am terrified, but at the same time I have never felt so protected as I feel now, because I don’t feel that there is something to hide. I’m sure there are things I don’t want to post on my Twitter account for five million people to see, but what’s the problem with making mistakes? Why are we afraid of being ‘canceled’ or why are we afraid of looking stupid?

I am very proud of the lyrics of the songs, because it is the thing that matters most of the songs. I really believe in expressing myself through them. I am very proud of how they sound when I sing them, but at the same time it seems like a great responsibility.

Zac is helping me with music videos. I sent him a lyrics of a song, I told him that I imagine many colors, and he sent me some very cool visual representations. I am even more excited now. I’m scared of this particular song, but it’s worth it. It was also worth publishing a music video like Simmer’s. There are many important meanings to me, for example the part with the red clay, which many think is chocolate. When I was in therapy, I had many visions of flowers growing in me, but at the same time I thought about what it meant for me to grow in an industry dominated by men. I am a woman. How can I own that without shame? How can I just be proud about my feminine side, all of my feminine sides? Because I got masculine sides too. Everyone’s got both sides of it. I feel like I’ve been so comfortable with this other side of myself that is so not feminine, that what does it feel like to step into femininity? The visions I was having were very earthly. I kept thinking about what it meant for me to be female, and for me it is to get my hands in the ground and take red clay and cover yourself entirely. I don’t know exactly why. Heck, we get babies out of our bodies, like it’s part of a sci-fi movie. Being feminine is partly disgusting. But the best part of releasing this video was the response from people, because now they are helping me to bring out this project. This is the gift of being an artist who can do such things.