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Interview

Hayley Williams talks with Stereogum about all her past collaborations

Paramore’s frontwomen on becoming a solo artist with Petals for Armor, Taylor Swift, being a video game avatar, and more.

We’ve Got A File On You is a Stereogum column where some artists are interviewed and share stories of the extracurricular activities they have done in their career: collaborations, concerts, etc.. For this edition, Julia Gray called Hayley Williams to talk about her past and possible future collaborations. 

Below you can read the interview, here you can find the original article. 

Petals For Armor (2020)

I’m sure there’s a lot of anticipation with the new album coming out during quarantine.

I’m glad I didn’t postpone it. I just need to get it out of my body. I need the release. I’ve been looking forward to it for a really long time.

And it’ll mean a lot to your fans, having it during this time.

I was talking to my friends about putting albums out during this time. It’s a constant fluctuation because you feel guilty because it almost signals that you’re doing well, or privilege of some sort and there’s guilt about that. But on the other hand don’t we all need art more than ever right now? I was talking to my friend Becca Mancari, a great folk artist from Nashville, and she was saying how a lot of her heroes were writing songs while we were at war in the ’60s and ’70s. I was like, now they’re known for making music and bringing people together during the darkest times. Don’t you think they felt a little silly too? They couldn’t have known that their music was gonna help. So I think it’s our job to keep on trying.

Are there any themes on the new album that you think will resonate with the current moment?

I hope, yeah. I struggle a lot with my mind, as every human does… I don’t think my problems are all that special so I’m hopeful people will relate and these songs will find them and help comfort them wherever they are. The story of the album goes from this dark rage-y place to something very hopeful. Obviously, we’re without a whole lot of hope right now but I think it does show through in unexpected moments. I’m always trying to grab onto those moments.

Covering Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” (2020) And Covering Cyndi Lauper With Kacey Musgraves (2019)

You recently covered Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.” Last year you and Kacey Musgraves did an incredible Cyndi Lauper cover. Could you talk about the artists that inspired the album and who you were listening to while creating this new body of work?

This album was a surprise for me and so were the influences that showed up. The things I can hear when I listen back to the songs are really encouraging to me. I hear a lot of the artists I look up to. I listened to Solange, Radiohead, and Björk of course, SZA… one band I’m really obsessed with is Mr Twin Sister. I was introduced to them by Joey [Howard], who I was writing with a lot, the bassist for Paramore. They’re from New York… they’re very Sade but kind of punk and good to dance to around the house.

I listened to a lot of Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Tribe Called Quest… Everything Everything, James Blake… I was all over the place. When I was really young I loved really good singers and R&B music. Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson. My mom loved Black Sabbath. Then I moved to Nashville and met the guys. I recently added a playlist to my Spotify artist page and it’s the first mix CD that Zac [Farro] ever made for me. It’s got Failure and …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.

B.o.B. – “Airplanes” (2010)

Let’s go back 10 years, to B.o.B’s mega-hit “Airplanes.” Can you talk about your experience, being involved with such a buzzy mainstream pop song?

It was a wild time. I got invited to sing on the track when it was a Lupe Fiasco song. I was a fan, I thought his records were cool and he had this vibe that felt a little bit Tribe Called Quest-y. I recorded the vocals at Jim Henson’s studio in LA. I was like 20 maybe or 19 when I first got that demo. We were playing in Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City and someone from Atlantic dropped it off. I played it for the guys and we were like, “Oh my god.”

Bear in mind Paramore were not doing well on a personal level at that time. We were not getting along, but all the guys were like, “That’s sick, you should do that.” I was like,”Whoa, OK!” I thought, yeah, this is a cool weird opportunity that I never thought I’d get. So I tracked the vocals and later the label came back and said, “Hey, we’re giving this song to a new artist of ours called B.o.B and Eminem’s gonna do a verse on it.” I was like, “Holy shit, what is my life?” I was down for the ride and I’m really happy I did it. It was so bizarre. Paramore put out Brand New Eyes that year so it was much more of a rock phase for the band. But sometimes you gotta just try something new.

You recently turned down a collab with Lil Uzi Vert. You said you don’t want to be “that famous.” How has your understanding of yourself as an artist and a collaborator changed over the years?

I saw that people got really bummed at me for that and I thought, “Well, damn, if they knew all the other artists I’ve turned down they’d be super annoyed with me.” The problem is that when I tell people about turning these opportunities down, they take it as a diss rather than something that reflects more of where I’m at. I followed my gut with everything I did in Paramore. Paramore as a band has also turned down a lot of insane opportunities. But I think a no can be just as lucrative as a yes. I think that you have to know exactly who you are and if you’re ever questioning it, then you still have to follow the next gut feeling that you have and you have to stand by those decisions.

I firmly stand by the fact that I turned down that Uzi offer. He’s a sweetheart and there would have been nothing wrong with me doing a song with him. But at the end of the day, I don’t want to be the kind of artist that just gets tweeted about all the time. I want people to connect with my music. That’s not a diss on anybody. I just know how the game works when an album is just full of features. I just want to be doing my own thing and if ever something else feels right or if it just feels like the right thing at the moment, then I will follow that. But otherwise, I really have to follow my gut and that Uzi thing just — I wasn’t mentally well at the time. Paramore needed a long overdue break from being out there. I just can’t, I can’t say yes to everything.

Who’s the biggest artist you turned down, or the biggest opportunity that you knew wasn’t the right decision?

I can’t remember all of them. I know that Paramore got offered a lot of really big tours just with different bands from specific scenes of music that we just felt like we wanted to transcend. So we didn’t take those opportunities — again, not out of disrespect, but because we felt we knew ourselves and we didn’t align with where we thought that tour would have taken us. But I do remember being like, right when I turned 18… remember that magazine Blender?

Blender was a really big deal when I was a teenager. It was a very sexy magazine and you would always see some big pop or rock artist that you wouldn’t expect to get sexy. Like you would see them spread out on the cover wearing something really hot and showing a lot of skin and looking all sweaty and shit. I got asked like the minute I turned 18 to be on the cover and I’d never been on a cover that wasn’t like, Kerrang!, like an alternative magazine, before.

There was a part of me that — as a young girl growing into a woman — was like, “Well, I want to feel sexy. I want to grow up. I want people to know that I’m not just going to be this teenage kid anymore, head-banging on stage.” But I think one thing I’m grateful to have, which sometimes turns on me, is I think about the big picture maybe too much. And so when I got offered that, I just imagined being like Thom Yorke’s age or Björk’s age and looking back at this sexy cover of myself from the minute I turned 18 and just being like, “That didn’t do anything for the band, that didn’t do anything for our music.”

Later I ended up taking a Cosmo cover and I’m really bummed that I did it to be honest. I’m pretty sure they airbrushed my boobs a little bit. I think I look pretty, you know, and I remember getting offered it when Josh and Zac had just quit the band. I didn’t even know if the band was going to keep going. And I just thought, “Well fuck it. I’ll take this magazine cover because, you know, maybe this is just a sign I need to keep working or whatever.” And, and it was weird that they asked me — ’cause again, we were very much a rock band and they don’t have those types of people on the cover very often. They made me feel very comfortable. They weren’t rude, they were respectful. They never made me feel objectified. But I still felt objectified when I saw myself on the cover. I just felt like, “Well, nah, I won’t do that again.”

What are some memories from that era that shaped and influenced the kind of work you’re making now?

I was in a really unhealthy relationship and I think that that affected most of my decisions in my twenties to be honest. I write about that a lot on Petals For Armor because it really did take me an entire decade of my life to understand choices that I made. You know, like I wasn’t really fully formed as a human when I started to make these big life decisions for myself. And when you’re in the spotlight or when you have any amount of public success, those things get recorded into like some type of history book, you know, on the internet or whatnot. I really think I was just very confused about who I was and I was just experimenting. I was just trying shit out. Like, now I’m singing on this hip-hop or pop song, let’s see how it goes. I would say that later when I did the track with Zedd, I made a fully conscious decision to do that and I wrote on the song. So that experience, even though it was very different from Paramore, still felt like it was me.

Taylor Swift – “Bad Blood” Video (2015)

You were in Taylor Swift’s video for the “Bad Blood” remix. What was the vibe on set?

I think we can all clearly see that I don’t fit in. [Laughs] It was really fucking cool. Like I had to do choreography for that fight scene, but then they brought in a stunt double for the things I couldn’t do. I definitely felt like I was in a world I didn’t belong in. I feel that way anytime Paramore’s ever done something that’s mega mainstream. Like when we’ve been on The Voice. First of all, we fully take advantage of those opportunities because it’s like, “Well, hell yeah, let’s play our song on television.” It’s insane.

And we want people to hear our music. But you know, we just don’t fit in that world. And I think there’s some sort of pride in that, that even when we go to a punk festival, we don’t fully fit into there either. We’ve always just tried to march to the beat of our own drum and then find our influences and inspirations along the way and weave those into what we’re doing.

But when I stepped onto that set for “Bad Blood,” I was like, “Holy shit, I’m in deep water.” I don’t know. And Taylor was so sweet to me. We started hanging out after the big Kanye thing happened. I don’t really know her that well anymore, but when we were both living in Nashville, she was living here most of the time — you know, it was just nice to know someone that did something similar to me. We don’t really musically have a ton in common, but we’re both in the same industry, which especially back then was a different world for women than it is even today. And I’m still not saying it’s perfect, but like I think that we were learning to find camaraderie with other female musicians.

You and Taylor performed “That’s What You Get” together way back then too.

Yeah she was doing that Speak Now tour. I think her first big arena tour and I was in town, Paramore were off the road. She was like, “Would you be down to come and sing?” I really wasn’t aware that she covered different people’s songs every night, which now has become such a big part of her tours, like she’ll bring out friends that have big songs or whatever.

But it blew my mind because I didn’t really think — I mean “Misery Business” had been a big song at the time, but I really did not imagine that that many kids would know “That’s What You Get.” And it was so fun to get to do that. She’s really a sweet person and this harsh music industry tried to chew her up and spit her out a thousand times. And I think she always rises to the top because she’s actually a great writer and a great artist. And I do think that she is just a good person, you know?

“The Only Exception” In Glee And Dancing With The Stars (2010-2014)

Were you surprised when “The Only Exception” blew up to like GleeDancing With The Stars primetime level?

I forgot it was on Glee. [Laughs] I mean, how weird is it that the song’s in the middle of Brand New Eyes? I don’t know how that song happened in the middle of all of that, but I mean, yeah, it was really like, man, that was a crazy, crazy moment for us when we were still really young. At the time, “Misery Business” had been our biggest song. So even though we had stayed kind of on the map, whatever map we were on, “The Only Exception” kind of brought us back to the front of people’s heads.

It was cool because even though that song is very, very pop, I do think that was the beginning of starting to see our fanbase grow and diversify a little bit. That was the last big single we had until Taylor and I wrote the self-titled record. “Only Exception,” and the kind of people that it introduced our band to, was this weird primer for these other songs that happened like “Ain’t It Fun” and “Still Into You.”

“Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” With Boygenius (2020)

You recently did a song with Boygenius. How did that come about? Had you been following them?

I’m such a huge fan of each of them as individual artists and also that record that they put out as Boygenius. I just thought it was one of the best of that year. I feel really lucky because of my position in the band and being on the road a lot from festivals, I just find that I get to meet so many people that I admire. And it’s always even more fun when those people are the same age as me or similar.

And also when they’re women, you know, there’s so much in common to talk about and so much gold to mine, just to try to get advice or to offer advice. It’s just really nice. I think that maybe because for such a long time women in the music industry felt like they were pitted against each other. I think that there’s still that conditioning and we’re still fighting each other to realize that we’re in it together and that we’re here for each other, so anytime you have that chance for that reminder, it’s just so nice. It’s so comforting and you feel like you’re part of a club to be able to sit with other women that you share passion with.

I share the same passions as Julien Baker, who writes about things that I don’t write about and she sings in a way that I don’t sing and her life experience is so different than mine. But we share the same passions when it comes to making music. And there’s a lot of commonality there that’s made her one of my friends. Having them on one of my songs was such an honor to me. I pinched myself because I’m like, man, what did I do to deserve that level of… they’re just so talented and they track their harmonies live together and just… they just did the thing. They just did the Boygenius thing and it was so fucking good.

Did you reach out to them?

Julien was actually one of the reasons that I felt like, “Yeah, why not make more music even though I’m off. Even though Paramore’s taking time off right now, why not?” We were talking about how the people who are artists that seem the happiest are the ones that just do whatever the hell they want.

You know even the Beatles have their own projects outside of the Beatles, which happens to be the biggest band of all time. Like you know if Paul McCartney can then go start another band and then also put out solo efforts until the end of time then I’m pretty sure that other people that are in bands and other artists that are doing one thing can always venture out and try other things. It doesn’t have to cannibalize, you know, the core. And for me, Paramore is my core and my whole heart, but we were taking time off and I was going through so much and she really inspired me to just let that take me where it needed to take me.

When I ran into her, probably six months later at our friend Becca Mancari’s show at the Ryman, I was like, “What are you doing? I haven’t seen you in so long. I really want you to come sing on the song that I wrote.” And it’s about women appreciating our uniquenesses and our differences and fighting any forms of comparison and all that. I was like, “I would love another friend to be on it.” And she was like, “Oh my God, Lucy’s here too.” And Lucy walks up like she appeared out of nowhere. And then she was like, “Yes, I want to do it,” and “Phoebe comes in tomorrow” and it was beautiful. It was really like kismet, you know, it was kind of really meant to be. I just am super honored.

Covering Jawbreaker’s “Accident Prone” (2017)

You and Julien both covered the same Jawbreaker song, “Accident Prone.” Both of your covers are so beautiful. Can you tell me about your connection to that era of emo music and how it’s influenced you?

I think that that era of emo and post-punk is actually what resonates with me the hardest. I don’t really subscribe to my own generation’s version of emo. I never really got it, even though I was very much a part of it. It’s like I was in the scene and I was playing the shows and all of that, but I was listening to bands that were much older or they weren’t together anymore. And that’s who was inspiring me and the rest of the guys — you know, like Sunny Day Real Estate weren’t even a band by the time we discovered them. Even bands like Fugazi who I think like, god, those records are so bold, to go from being a hardcore punk band and then to start something that was new and different and a little bit more emotional.

I like to think back to music that came after that like around the Sunny Day era… twinkly guitars and roomy drum sounds like American Football and even early Jimmy Eat World and Braid. That stuff really holds a special place in my heart even though I’m not making anything that sounds quite like that anymore. I think Paramore dabbled in that for a second. But you know, it came out of us in different ways.

American Football – “Uncomfortably Numb” (2019)

So was recording “Uncomfortably Numb” with American Football like a dream come true for you?

Holy shit. Yeah. I kind of told our manager when I got the direct message about it from one of the guys in the band. I had been really obsessing over them, the record that they put out in 2017. It was kind of coming out around the time I was recognizing that I needed to get out of my marriage. It felt like they wrote it about me, even though it sounds so self-centered… but I just felt like it mattered so much to me and it became a really close companion. I couldn’t help but talk about them all the time. And I guess when they were writing this new record they were like, “Well we know you’re a big fan, but we also have the song that we think you’d be great for.”

American Football just have such a great way. They write so beautifully. There are parts that feel proggy and there are parts that feel just like heart-wrenching and simple. I told my manager that I don’t know how many more features I’m gonna… you know, I’m not sure if I’m where I was before, where I’m gonna ever want to do a feature with a band from the scene ever again. Like we came from this world and I owe so much to it, but I feel like this is a great way that if I never did a feature with an emo band ever again, this is the one. That this is the end all be all for me of emo and they are quintessential to me, the quintessential emo indie band.

Warped Tour (anni 2000)

How did you feel when Warped Tour was canceled? You mentioned you never fully “got” the kind of scene that you were most closely associated with.

Well, first of all, I always felt like that wasn’t something that I should say in interviews or to fans because I don’t want people to think that I feel that I’m better than anyone else. I don’t want people to think Paramore walk around with our noses to the sky because we don’t. We have a lot of friends that make music that’s very different from us. And it’s more just, I think if anything, it was more the way that the press handled our band and the way that they sensationalized us — especially with me being a woman, being a part of this scene, you know, like grouping us with bands that I just didn’t think we sounded like.

I also felt like, well, I don’t know, is it just because we play the Warped Tour? Because I remember a time — there’s posters of Warped Tour where like hip-hop bands are on it, punk bands and hardcore bands and emo bands. I just felt like it was a place that was a cultural mesh. And it was, it was for people who felt outcast or couldn’t find their favorite band. They couldn’t just go see their favorite band at any club on any given day. It was special.

But looking back, there were a lot of bad habits. I saw and learned a lot and I think I internalized a lot of just… I guess the overall feeling of being in that world and being a little bit isolated in my own body. I’m proud that we did it. We worked our asses off, we ate out of peanut butter jars. We didn’t have very much and we made a lot out of very little — especially in those first two years on the Warped Tour — and we grew from it.

But when it ended, I felt like it was time. When I read that, I was like, “You know what? Good.” Because it had already strayed very far from what it started out as. And there was a lot of controversy that would come out every year from that tour, especially amongst men and women and sexual allegations. I just felt like: You know what, I’m glad we haven’t been a part of that world in a while. I’m glad that we just moved into something else and I’m glad that it meant what it meant to us when it did. Does that make sense?

No, totally. It does. It was such an era that I can’t imagine being recreated right now.

I think that sometimes we have to let some things stay special how they were and not take the one or two precious things about it and then ruin those things to recreate it. I think it happened and now we can find other things.

“Teenagers” On The Jennifer’s Body Soundtrack (2009)

I recently revisited the Jennifer’s Body soundtrack. It’s all Fueled By Ramen artists, it’s like a time capsule. Your song on that soundtrack, “Teenagers,” is so good and I can’t find it on Spotify.

[Laughs] Oh, well I think you have to buy the whole soundtrack to get it.

Well I guess I have to do that!

I love that song. That song was supposed to be in the credits [of the movie], but our band was in such a bad way at the time that I felt a little bit stiff-armed and I felt like, “Ah, it’s not worth it.” Josh and I had been songwriting partners for a few years at that point or more. And I wrote that by myself and I cursed in it and he had very different opinions of how Paramore should be. That was just me asserting my own. Honestly, we were all going crazy, to be fair. We were all at our wit’s end and I got offered the end credit, which I thought was so exciting because I love those kinds of campy movies. And they used a Hole song instead.

Anyway, I went and played it for the people, for the producers at SXSW. I just sat in a hotel room lobby and played them that song. They’re like, “Yep, we want to use it.” But then I called him like a week later and was like, “Hey, you know, shit’s not great in Paramore world. Just take the song. But like don’t make a big deal out of it.” Paramore was my family and I was — that was always my first priority.

Guitar Hero: World Tour (2008)

You were a playable character in Guitar Hero. Was it weird to see yourself as like a video game avatar?

Yeah, that was so cool. That was one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever gotten to do that has very little to do with music, but I would have never gotten to do it if I didn’t get into music. They invited me out in Burbank and I went to the EA studio and put on the motion capture suit and they had me essentially perform “Misery Business” just the same way that I do on tour. And then they had me do other moves for players, like when they win or when they lose. Oh man, it was so cool. I really thought it was something I would like to do again, but it’s just that opportunity. I don’t really think that that kind of thing comes around all that often. That’s super special.

Are you a gamer?

I mean, I’m really not. My mom loves video games and she’s been asking me to play with her during quarantine, but I have to get a new console. I’m debating whether I want to get a PlayStation again or whether I want to get a Switch so I can fall into this Animal Crossing K-hole with everyone else.

Kiss Off Beauty Web Series (2015)

In 2015, you had a beauty web series called Kiss Off. How did that project come about? Has makeup always been a passion of yours?

I keep forgetting about all this stuff and I’m like, how do you know that? [Laughs] We started that because Brian [O’Connor] and I knew we were going to be launching our hair care and hair dye company, which at the time was only like five semi-permanent colors. I said to Brian, “You and I do looks all the time for stage. We create hair styles that people emulate. We should just do something to put your face out there with me.”

He does these really great punky looks and is not afraid to try things that are conceptual and not necessarily about being beautiful. It’s more about the attitude or the concept that he’s putting out there. And I thought that was also a really good thing to promote and just to show people that like… sometimes you have to just embrace that beauty has nothing to do with the contours of your face. It has to do with what character you want to be in this day or how you really feel and how you reflect that in your look, how you express your emotions through your style or your clothing, your hair. Kiss Off was such a cool way to start that.

What are some of your favorite beauty looks from music history, or the music world recently?

Easily Missy Elliott. “Supa Dupa Fly.” Very good. That was a moment that I’ll never forget. I was probably eight years old. I don’t remember exactly. I just remember I had a very young brain and I was sneak watching MTV because I wasn’t allowed to at the time. And she popped on my TV and I was like, “I want to go and live on whatever planet she lives on, wherever she is is where I belong. I don’t belong in Mississippi.” At the time we also had like shit like Aaliyah and TLC, beautiful women that were wearing things that challenged the norm. I mean they were obviously sexy, but they wore a lot of oversized clothing.

That’s one thing that I absolutely fan out about with Billie Eilish. She literally reminds me of being a kid, seeing Mary J Blige, she looks like she lived it and it’s crazy because obviously she’s so much younger. She wasn’t even around for that era but it seems to be authentic to her. Also she kind of made neon cool again after it had sort of died down a little bit. She kind of brought it back with her roots and now we’re seeing it grow out and she keeps refreshing it and it just makes me so happy.

Covering The Muppets’ “Rainbow Connection” With Weezer (2011)

You recorded a cover of “Rainbow Connection” with Weezer. What was your relationship like with Weezer and the Muppets?

The guys and I listened to their records quite a bit, like in the car back and forth from school and stuff. You know, Zac’s first mix CD he made for me, he put Weezer’s cover of the Pixies song “Velouria” on it. That’s probably my favorite, even though it’s not actually a Weezer song. I just think it just gives me good memories and sounds so cool.

I couldn’t really believe when Rivers asked me to do that with him. Weezer was such a bigger band than Paramore and it just felt like — I dunno, it was really cool that year. During the Brand New Eyes era we had a lot of cool, really big rock and punk artists reach out and show their support to us, like Green Day and Joan Jett. I remember that feeling the first time that Mark, our manager, called and was like, “Hey, Rivers wants to know if you want to come sing ‘Say It Ain’t So’ with them onstage.” It was almost like he was auditioning me or something and then the next call was like, “Hey Weezer’s doing this cover of ‘Rainbow Connection,’” which is one of the greatest songs of all time. And I got really pumped. I recorded it right away. I love it. I forget that I did it.

Are you a Muppets fan?

Yeah, I’m a Jim Henson fan, so I was geeking out about it. And that movie, the soundtrack sort of accompanied or came out alongside it. I thought it was really a brilliant revival of the Muppets brand.

Parahoy! (2014-2018)

Can you tell me about the Parahoy rock cruises you started doing a few years ago?

Oh, it was the best. I think the Parahoy cruises are one of our favorite things about having been a band this long. We get to have that experience that we share with the longtime fans, the people who supported our band since we were playing to like 300 people. We still see those faces at the front. Being in the middle of a sea of all these other people that we’ve more recently gotten to know or met at shows, it’s just really life-affirming. I don’t know how else to put it. I know it’s like dramatic, but when we’re on those cruises, it’s kind of like, “Oh shit. What we did because we liked music when we were 13 butterfly effected all the way to this boat.”

It’s crazy. We’ve done three. I was going through major life crises during the first two, and with the third one, I was in a real good way and it was the one I felt the most present on and I just can’t wait for us to do it again. Well, you know, obviously when it’s safe, when people feel comfortable. We all love it so much. It’s also a party for like the other bands on board, ’cause we bring out our friends that are in bands that we’ve gotten to know through the years and everyone just literally vacations together and then plays shows.

Oh wow. Well when things get back to normal, that’ll be a beautiful way to celebrate.

Yeah. You need to get yourself an assignment and come.

Honestly, I will. Well it was so great talking to you. Is there anything else you want to say about the album?

I’m just honored to still be here and that I get to put out another record.