Hayley Williams finds the good and reconnects with the great- even in ‘hard times.’
2020 has certainly brought about a variety of changes for the entire world, least of which is the change over the last year felt by all musicians. In a day when nobody buys albums anymore, streaming barely pays, and artists struggle to make a living doing what they love; a vital part of how modern musicians make money and connect with fans has been taken away for the foreseeable future. The entire “road family” (ie: musicians, roadies, techs, managers, venues and staff) have all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with no way to get out to the world’s venues to perform in front of the usual audiences on tour. However, as artists often do when times get tough, they find ways to innovate as their creativity typically blossoms.
The same can certainly be said for Hayley Williams, frontwoman of Paramore who, after the success of the band’s most recent album “After Laughter” decided to take some time off from the band she built her musical career with and take a much-needed rest. 2019 and 2020 provided the time and place for Williams to write, record, and release her first solo effort: “Petals for Armor” (alongside a number of EPs). The real bombshell however came last week (just a few months after her first solo album), when she surprise-released a second full-length solo album, titled: “Flowers for Vases / Descansos.”
And on this 2nd spankin-new album (we still miss you, MTV), this isn’t just an artist “going solo” with some friends, or even fellow bandmates filling in. This is a for-real solo effort. When the liner notes say: “all songs written and performed by Hayley Williams,” it really does mean all the songs, all the instruments, everything. But we aren’t too surprised either. As if Paramore didn’t already showcase Williams’ musical prowess and songwriting skill, her true colors as an all-around musician really show on this latest release. During a recent podcast with Zane Lowe & Apple Music, Hayley revealed how she not only performed and wrote all of the music, but also how this time of quarantine and being at home helped her reconnect with some old instruments that formed the foundation for her musical passion:
"I'm really, really proud that I played everything on it. And I'm also really, really proud that this album is what I have to show for surviving a year that was tough for everyone... I mean, I feel like I got better at guitar, which was cool. I haven't had this much time to play guitar since I was a teenager before we started touring, and that was also just really therapeutic." - Hayley Williams
Anyone out there who plays (and loves) an instrument will know exactly what it feels like to take a break from said instrument. Sometimes the passion just fades, sometimes the inspiration just isn't there (be it from either physical or emotional strain), sometimes it’s pure and simple burnout, or just life getting in the way. Thankfully these breaks from an instrument never seem to last forever, as some event or emotion typically comes back over us at some point that urges us to start playing again. And if you’ve taken a break from playing, you’ll know all too well how therapeutic it feels to pick up that old friend, reconnect, and start experiencing the magic once again.
The interview goes on to discuss her philosophy on music-making and who she is both as an artist and as a person. Music performance as well as songwriting can be very revealing experiences, so it can be a fascinating insight to learn how a professional musician may have the same thoughts on playing that many of us have:
In addition to playing all of the instruments herself, Hayley also wanted the production of the album to feel ‘real.' It is quite fitting that such honest lyrical content should be married to such "in the moment" performances. She went on to discuss how she set out to capture the "realness" of a musical performance:
“I was easy enough on myself to understand that doing all of this is just fun for me... I don’t have to play it perfectly... I tried not to agonize over it and really let myself play. I think that’s real feeling. When you are a grown adult and can still remember how to play like a child and enjoy something for what it is.” -Hayley Williams
In a day and age where almost every musical release features highly-edited digital magic, and studio performances are postured to become as close to perfect as possible, the human element can often go missing, leading to many musical releases that all sound the same. Hayley’s choice to release an album of music with completely honest performances only further helps reinforce the intimate and inspiring look inside her emotions and soul. Solo musicianship and human feel? String Thing VERY approved!
"Flowers for Vases” crosses a variety of musical landscapes, but the album flows in an elegant fashion. Whether it’s a full cascading tidal wave like “Just A Lover”
...or the beautiful, ambient simplicity of “Inordinary“...
… it’s easy to hear Hayley’s melodic genius and songcraft expertise at work. There are no tricks here, just real music that speaks for itself. Lyrically, she even discusses how “life began in 7th grade” when Hayley and her mother made the call to run away from their old life, make a move to Nashville, and start a new life focused on music. It was that moment that started her path to the musician we all know and love today. She also touches upon this in the interview, saying that 7th grade was when she began playing drums along with her favorite albums. Which ones, you ask? You’ll need to click below to find out!
But besides getting back into playing guitar again, and producing the music in a more ‘stripped down’ fashion, there is also a rawness and immediacy to her songwriting as a whole. Paramore fans will certainly hear some melodic and vocal similarities, but will also be exposed to plenty of new sounds as well. The songs are detailed and revealing, and despite an overall folk/raw vibe, there are still plenty of layers of ambiance and atmosphere to create some wonderful sonic landscapes. There really is beauty in simplicity.
In her interview with Zane, she discusses how [typically] she is 'similar to most artists' where they have often have time to stew on thoughts and emotions and come to clarity before putting pen to paper. Yet in these solo efforts, she is more more immediate; spilling it all ‘in the moment’ in instantaneous creative works that began as “half-songs” and grew to be more fully-fledged in the recording studio (which was a room in her house where the podcast was recorded!). So, if you've found yourself "at home" reconnecting with music, and are looking for a great creative insight into a modern music professional, this brand-new podcast with Zane Lowe, courtesy of Apple Music is a MUST-listen!