“Melancholy mixed with triumph”: Paramore on band art
Paramore’s Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis and Taylor York
Although Tennessee-based rock trio Paramore is nearing its 10th anniversary as a band, its front woman Hayley Williams is not yet old enough to rent a car. Which is demonstrated (in the very best way) on the band’s new, self-titled, album where song writing “retains a youthful spirit, but clearly shows [the band's] evolution,” according to Paramore’s bio. Here, Hayley talks to Creative Allies about album art, longevity and feeling fearless.
Creative Allies: Of your previous albums, which has your favorite cover art and who designed it?
Hayley Williams: My favorite album cover may always be the one we did for Riot! A lot of that has to do with the time and the energy of that moment in our lives. Everything was loud colors and bright, and we were really young and all the art and photos were crazy. We worked with a guy named Mark Obriski from Atlantic Records on that album cover and packaging. Honestly though, what we did for our self-titled album — putting ourselves on the cover — felt fearless, and anytime I see it anywhere it’s like the proudest I’ve ever felt of anything we’ve ever done.
With previous albums, how did you interact with the artist/designer? Did you contribute ideas or remain hands-off? Was there a revision process?
It wasn’t until Riot! that we really started getting into the way that our band was perceived and the image of it all. We actually wrote “Riot!” ourselves on a wall behind us at the promo shoot for the album, and we took that font and that style and that became the inspiration for our album cover. It was a fun experience and taught us that we really do have complete control over how we come across to the public.
All of the packaging and photography for brand new eyes was done by one of our good friends, photographer Ryan Russell. He did one photo for every song on the album, and then I worked one-on-one with him to lay out all of the lyrics in a way that we thought would look best.
For Paramore, we really couldn’t decide on what we wanted. It was actually sort of stressful because we felt like it just had to represent us perfectly. We did a promo shoot with Pamela Littky and just before we walked out, we took a few photos in front of a black sheet. I had sprayed temporary hair color all over myself and the guys and Pamela shot us like that, kind of serious but way more relaxed than the other photos. What do you know? Those pics ended up being exactly what we were looking for. I swear, I knew it when I saw the one that we ended up using for the cover. An artist named Doug Cunningham at Morning Breath spoke with us and then did the packaging based on some of our notes.
How important is it to you for the art that accompanies your music to represent the sound and the lyrics? Do you aim for a conversation between the two, or are you more interested in an aesthetically cool package?
For us, it’s important that whatever people see sort of establishes what they’ll get. Sure, we love to surprise people here and there but we want people to listen to the record and look at the cover art and be like… “yeahhhh.”
Cover art for Paramore’s self-titled album
Creative Allies’ Create Commemorative Art For Paramore’s Self-Titled New Albumcontest is an interesting project, since the album is self-titled it doesn’t offer any immediate design clues. Are there any themes or narratives in the songwriting that you especially hope to convey?
To me, this is the best album we could’ve done a project like this for. I would rather see what people come up with as representation of us than see them re-do the Riot! artwork or use imagery that we’ve used before. It’s exciting to have it all be wide-open to interpretation.
The contest is to “Design commemorative poster art inspired by one of the four sides from the self-titled, Paramore.” If you had to describe each of the four sides in a few words, what would they be?
The first side is like waking up after some sort of apocalypse. The second is defiant realism: The good, the bad and the ugly! The third side gets a bit looser. It’s total liberation. Honeymoon phase! The last side of the album feels a lot more grown up to me. You know when you go through the hardest year of your life and you look back and you think to yourself, “I was barely equipped for any of that”? That’s sort of how I feel when I listen to the last few songs. It feels like the end of every great adventure movie. Like, The Outsiders or The Goonies! A bit of melancholy mixed in with triumph.
Image from the band’s Facebook page.
At this point in your career, why self-title an album? Is this particular collection of songs a statement about either your evolution or your current sound?
We’ve never written an album like this before. It contains just about every single side of us, personally and artistically. I hear us so clearly in every song. To try and come up with a clever name just for the hell of it seemed disingenuous. We knew we wanted the album to just be us. When we finally had it under our belts, of course we were going to give it our name.
Paramore is coming up on its 10th anniversary — what does that milestone mean to you?
Hopefully it means we’re on the right path. For any band to stay afloat in the business these days is just crazy. And we feel like not only have we done that but we’ve done it our way, making the music that we want. Most of all, 10 years is just pure insanity because we have fans who have stuck with us for this long. They are just as much Paramore as we are.
Paramore t-shirt design
What’s your favorite band merch item that Paramore has sold, and why?
Aw man, that’s actually tough! I have a few, I think. One is this white t-shirt with a design I came up with! It just says “MORE” four times in a row down the front in different shades of blue and black. There’s no mention of Paramore on it or anything, but I swear that shirt sold like hotcakes back in 2006 or 2007. I want us to reprint it and keep one for myself. Other than that, there’s this new design we’re about to take on the road that’s inspired by the book Weetzie Bat, which I read while I was writing the lyrics for a couple of the songs on Paramore. It’s got lyrics from “(One Of Those) Crazy Girls” on the front and the design is so cool and fun.
What are your favorite t-shirt and poster designs from other bands?
I’m a huge fan of Radiohead’s merch. It seems well thought out and even though they are a sophisticated sort of band, their merch could be worn by anyone who’s into just about any genre of music. They have dark and twisted designs, simple designs, typography, incredible art… all of it. I like to see bands use a few different styles and not pigeon-hole themselves. To me, Radiohead does that well and without compromising who they are as artists.
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.”
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.”
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.”