Franklin, Tennessee, is not exactly the kind of place you find yourself visiting twice within the span of 14 months (unless you really love chili cook-offs), and yet, I did.
In September 2009, I flew down there to spend the day with [artist id="1968732"]Paramore[/artist], who were on the verge of releasing their Brand New Eyes album and were, as I put it, poised to become "the Kings and Queen of the South." That probably didn't happen, but boy, did I believe it at the time. The band — reinvigorated by the resolution of the internal conflicts that had plagued them (resolutions that make up the very core of the album) — seemed happy, laughing and joking with one another as we ate lunch at Puckett's Grocery, rode bikes up to the local Goodwill, and hung around frontwoman Hayley Williams' house. It really seemed like they were primed to take over the planet. Or at least healthy enough to try.
Last week, I went back to Franklin, once again to speak with Paramore. I stayed at the same hotel, drove my rental car down the same rolling country roads, even ate lunch at Puckett's (you get the feeling this is the kind of town where not much ever changes), but the circumstances surrounding my trip were completely different. The planet had not been conquered, and the healing promise of Brand New Eyes seemed a distant memory. It was days after the band had announced their split with founding members Josh and Zac Farro, and the remaining members reached out to me to discuss the entire incident, for the first and, I was told, last time.
And while we'll go in-depth on my interview with the band during MTV News' [url id="/shows/paramore_the_last_word/series.jhtml"]"Paramore: The Last Word"[/url] live stream (Friday at 4 p.m. ET on MTV.com), it's important to know the rather incredible backstory that went into making it happen — and just how different everything was when I arrived in town.
This was, after all, an interview that came together in three days, beginning with an e-mail from the label on December 27 (when New York still resembled Hoth), followed by an improbable, last-minute flight to Nashville on the 29th (while lines of stranded travelers hoped against hope to get anywhere) and culminating in a no-holds-barred, everything-on-the-table sit down in Williams' basement on the 30th. When I was told that the band wanted to address the issue before the end of 2010, it wasn't just hyperbole. They couldn't wait to turn the page, put all of this behind them and start fresh in the New Year.
And as I drove to that interview — playing Brand New Eyes in the rental car — I was struck immediately by just how much the album had changed for me. Originally, I had interpreted its kiss-off missives as being about nameless naysayers and faceless detractors, but now, knowing everything that had happened, it became clear to me that Eyes is almost entirely about the conflict between Williams and Josh Farro. Lines like, "It has to be so lonely/ To be the only one who's holy," and, "Where's your gavel, your jury/ What's my offense this time?" were blow-by-blow accounts of the struggle between the lead singer and the lead guitarist, who not only wrote the majority of the album, but also dated each other. This was real, palpable vitriol ... the stuff that, ultimately, led to the Farros leaving the band.
When I arrived at Williams' house, I was determined to ask her about those lyrics, and, to her credit, she didn't deny that any of them were about Farro. She didn't deny anything, really — the hurt feelings, the frustration, the confusion — and neither did bandmates Taylor York and Jeremy Davis. In fact, aside from how much their entire situation had deteriorated, Paramore's honesty was the thing that impressed me the most. They answered all of Farro's charges, and there wasn't a single topic that was off limits. Sure, there was a sadness in the room, a genuine sense of heartbreak, because you got the feeling that the three actually believed that Brand New Eyes had healed them, but they put on a brave face, not for themselves (as they told me repeatedly), but for their fans.
We spoke for nearly an hour, said our goodbyes, and I headed to the airport. On the plane back to New York, I kept thinking about how I had taken this same exact flight a year ago, and how different things had become. You don't have to be in a band to understand why this happened. The same dynamic applies to any group of friends, especially when one is singled out and given the lion's share of the attention. Feelings are hurt. Things are said. Most of the time, they can't be unsaid, and the story ends much like it has with Paramore. It's a shame, but it's also life.
Only, Paramore are adamant that the story doesn't end here. They are pressing on, planning big things (which you'll hear about in the live stream) and determined not to let their fans down. They recognize all the bad that has happened, but change is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, I found it ironic that they were talking about it in a place that seems practically change-proof, but perhaps that's the point: Franklin may stay forever the same, but Paramore will not. And maybe I'll be making another trip down to Tennessee this year, to marvel at just how different things have become. Once again.
MTV News will be unveiling our exclusive interview with Paramore on Friday at 4 p.m. ET with [url id="/shows/paramore_the_last_word/series.jhtml"]"Paramore: The Last Word,"[/url] a live stream on MTV.com that will feature in-depth analysis of the band's future, real-time discussion with their biggest fans and exclusive footage of the band, past and present.