In the heat of the midday sun, amplified by the sweet-and-sticky humidity of central Maryland, Paramore headbanged above a dehydrated crowd at the D.C. date of the Vans Warped Tour.
It was their third year on the traveling circus, arguably their first without making obvious allusions to Christianity in their onstage banter. They dressed in coordinating ketchupand mustard-colored skinny jeans on a makeshift main stage in the middle of the lawn at Merriweather Post Pavilion, long before Animal Collective’s experimental indie rock-pop would become synonymous with the place. It was 2007, two years after Paramore made their Warped debut on the first official Shiragirl side stage for female-fronted acts—separate, and certainly not equal, despite the best of intentions of its creator, NYC riot grrrl Shira Yevin. Someone threw a tallboy can of water at the stage, a tiny weapon and tinny product that later would be retooled, given irreverent marketing, and sold to the millennial masses as “Liquid Death.” It certainly tastes like it. Paramore’s set was sandwiched between “scene” bands lost to time (Amber Pacific, Scary Kids Scaring Kids) and those few who’d sustained careers, easing themselves into familiar paths to veterancy (Circa Survive, Killswitch Engage). There are only so many ways to innovate a palm-muted power chord; at least, that’s the dominating criticism fans of this music have adopted as true.
Even then, Paramore were pros, amplified by their fearless frontperson and her raised-in-the-church vocal range that could fill a canyon. Hayley Williams was undeniable. Though, like many 15-year-olds who wore their internalized misogyny like a point of pride, a relic of a particular ’00s adolescence, I had done my best to deny them, to deny her. This band was bigger than an industry that mocked the action of crying and called the women it didn’t allow on stage “rock chicks.” (If you don’t recoil at the phrase, it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy.) If only they could survive it.
Before me, on Zoom, are Paramore, made up of three members from that early lineup: drummer Zac Farro (’04-’10, ’17-present), guitarist and principal songwriter Taylor York (involved from the beginning but became a full-time member in ’09), and singer Hayley Williams (she briefly departed in 2015). They’re seated by a fireplace in Los Angeles; Williams is on the ground in front of an armchair, in a familiar position you’d take after a large family dinner before the board games come out. They’re all clutching coffees; their style has dramatically evolved from the era of asymmetrical bangs and Myspace scene queens. Their energy is closer to that of a midsize indie group than one of the biggest rock bands on the planet— unruled by ego, relaxed.