It’s six hours before showtime in Austin — a midnight showcase at the South By Southwest music festival designed to reintroduce Paramore to the industry, the media, the fans, the universe. Williams, 24, wears her orange hair in a Dutch crown braid, looking more like a sprite than the punk who joined Paramore in Franklin, Tenn., a decade ago.
But flanked by York and Davis backstage on the couch, she still seems the tiniest bit squirmy about Paramore’s first steps back into the pop wilderness.
“Everything is falling into place the way it’s supposed to,” she says.
“You talk about that thing you’re going through, the things you’re feeling, the things that are heaviest on your heart.” The intoxicatingly mushy love songs on “Paramore” signal that life is good, but Williams hasn’t donated her poison pen collection to Goodwill. So if I have to, I’m gonna leave you behind.” On stages and behind microphones, Williams projects fearlessness and ambition ungoverned.
The album’s first three cuts address the band’s fissure head-on, culminating with “Grow Up,” perhaps the album’s most radio-ready kiss-off: “Some of us have to grow up sometimes . She might be the most ebullient rock-and-roll frontperson of her generation. We got a second chance to be Paramore.” She keeps her hands tucked in the sleeves of her polka-dot blouse, but her fists are clenched.
With guidance from producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, former bassist for Nine Inch Nails and Beck, the band has gone chasing after new textures and new tempos with no fear.
“I was constantly surprised by all the things we were getting away with,” Williams says of the band’s slog in the studio.
This was a group that could turn its inner dramas into singalongs with the piquancy of Fleetwood Mac and the efficiency of Black Flag.
But Paramore’s remaining members say they never considered shutting the whole thing down.
In 2010, it finally became too much for Josh and Zac Farro, two brothers who founded the band. And then they blogged about it, entering an ugly crossfire of keystrokes with Williams, guitarist Taylor York and bassist Jeremy Davis.
Watching the breach play out on a computer screen was both sad and strange.
Williams’s voice has never sounded more powerful or elastic than it does today.