Hayley Williams' career so far has been steeped with acclaim and accolades but behind the scenes it hasn't always been easy.

The Paramore lead singer has faced challenges in the public eye — including fellow band members quitting the group she formed in 2004 amid legal battles and rumours of in-fighting — but behind the scenes things have also been tough; struggles with mental health and divorce from husband Chad Gilbert after just over a year of marriage.

Now, with her first solo record, Petals for Armor, Williams is laying it all out on the table.

"To really have faith in myself was a big important part of this process ... I got to let my hands get dirtier because I wasn't letting myself be comfortable," she tells TimeOut.

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The album introduces fans to a deeply raw and personal side of herself. It's a side that was already scattered through several Paramore songs (think Hard Times and Fake Happy) but this body of solo work feels uniquely hers. She says although daunting at first, it was something she needed to make.

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"There are definitely days when I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to remember it. I just want to have put it out there and then, like, let it go, like I discarded it or something," she says.

She worked with fellow Paramore member Taylor York on the album, written in 2019 while the band was on hiatus. She and York share a decades-long friendship.

"There was this level of comfort there that was very helpful, then there was also this whole new terrain that we were exploring, which was uncomfortable," she says. "I think you need that discomfort, to push yourself to better places. That's not just music, that's life in general."

Hayley Williams, with Paramore in the band's early days. Photo / Supplied
Hayley Williams, with Paramore in the band's early days. Photo / Supplied

Williams says she had to learn to let go of self-doubt in making the album and get used to going it alone. Her new self-confidence led her to explore new creativity — as well as writing and singing, she also jumps on the drums for the start of one of the album's tracks, Cinnamon.

Getting out of her comfort zone musically was one thing, but she has also had to confront another fear head-on: the pressure of being put in the celebrity spotlight as a solo artist, like the frontwomen-gone-solo before her. She cites No Doubt's Gwen Stefani as an example, who has become a tabloid favourite thanks to high-profile relationships with Bush's Gavin Rossdale and country music star Blake Shelton.

"I didn't want my situation to be like that," she says.

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She recalls a conversation she had recently with fellow-Tennesee musician Julien Baker, who features on the song Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, members of the group boygenius.

"We were just talking about how all the musicians that are the happiest are the ones who just do whatever the hell they want," she says.

So, Williams is doing whatever the hell she wants. The 15 tracks on her debut record blend genres, themes and stunning instrumentation for a record that affirms her talent and creative vision.

Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams has released her first solo album, Petals for Armor. Photo / Supplied
Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams has released her first solo album, Petals for Armor. Photo / Supplied

But despite this new confidence and attitude, it wasn't always easy to get out what she wanted to say. When she was recording the song Simmer, she was overcome with emotion.

"I bawled my eyes out and had to leave the studio ... and just go let it all out. My voice was shaking when I sang the words."

Eventually, Williams worked past what she needed to and found a sense of clarity amid her dark times.

"It's not that the writing got easier, it's just that the subject matter got more hopeful," she explains.

"It was surprising because I couldn't believe I was feeling some of those things or that I was open to feeling some of those things. I'm proud of that."


THE LOWDOWN
WHO: Hayley Williams
WHAT: Petals for Armor
WHEN: Out now