The faces of the shoppers in the lift are a picture. They recognise the tiny girl with the neon orange-and-yellow hair who has just got in at level three of the mall in West Hollywood but, this being LA, they have to be cool. They can’t let on that it’s Hayley Williams! Of Paramore! The rock band from Franklin, Tennessee who have, since their inception in 2004, sold 4m albums! Finally, one of them, a surfer dude – all baggy shorts and goatee – can no longer contain himself and he starts furiously composing a text, one that you can just imagine is about to be sent from his phone to Facebook’s entire Californian emo contingent.
Williams hardly notices the blur of fingers across keypad – she’s used to excited reactions. Only sometimes do they frighten her. Such as the ones four weeks earlier at the Reading festival, where Paramore supported Blink-182 on the Sunday night. There, from the side of the stage, I got a band’s-eye view of the furore as the four Paramore boys went through their paces and Williams stalked the stage, a small yet commanding presence. I saw the lengths their fans would go to touch their heroes – there was a constant procession of kids being stretchered out by security, as though it was their duty to brave the crush.
“There’s an intense, crazy amount of energy being exchanged,” she says as we depart the lift and head towards her favourite health-food restaurant – she shares her time between Franklin and Los Angeles, where her boyfriend Chad Gilbert, of the pop-punk band New Found Glory, lives. What happens when it gets too much? “It’s kind of empowering to stop everything and go: ‘This show is totally insane right now, but I have to stop it because you guys are hurting each other. It’s a little bit too nuts.’”
This heightened sense of jeopardy is part of the thrill for Paramore’s followers. Williams – who has just come from the chiropractor because, as she explains, “I head-bang so much I’ve kinda messed up my back and neck” – appreciates that the band offer a lifeline. “We get notes like: ‘Two weeks ago I tried to kill myself, then I heard your song and it made me feel like I don’t have to give up yet.’” Once, a girl sent two bracelets to their fanclub, one of which she had been using to cover the scars where she cut herself – until she discovered Paramore’s perfect storm of serrated riffs and pain-wracked lyrics. That’s quite a responsibility, isn’t it? “It is,” she agrees, “but it also makes you feel like, if music is that powerful, why would you ever want to do anything else?”
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