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Interview: Hayley Williams on her album 'Petals For Armor'.

Interview: Hayley Williams on her album 'Petals For Armor'.

"I was in a depression, but I'm trying to come out of it now," Hayley Williams speaks in a recorded voice memo at the beginning of 'Dead Horse', the opening song of the second part of 'Petals For Armor', her debut solo album which she's been sharing pieces of for most of 2020.

Over the phone from her Nashville home where she's "trying to figure out a new normal" (and is self-isolating with her dog, Alf, whose distinctive bark also features in the aforementioned voice memo), Williams is equally as forthcoming about depression, describing it as a "daily lesson", and coming to important realisations that "some of the stuff that made me depressed or that ultimately led to me being sad for a while, kind of impacted me in a way that will always affect me."

Since sharing her debut solo opening statement in January with 'Simmer' (which sees her touch on internalised anger - "Rage is a quiet thing / you think you've tamed it / But it's just lying in wait"), Williams has been periodically sharing more of 'Petals For Armor', piece-by-piece, unfurling the full flower of this dauntless album. Each song, like a petal, reveals more of the inner-core of Williams' own journey in self-growth and a full spectrum of emotions, from hate, to fear, to love, to optimism, and positivity (as she sings in 'Watch Me While I Bloom', "How lucky I feel / To be in my body again").

In the third and final section, which completes the album, Williams explores vulnerability on 'Pure Love', singing, "If I want pure love / Must stop acting so tough," and closes the album with 'Crystal Clear', where she implores to herself with certainty, "I won't give in to the fear," (the latter also features a recording of her grandfather's original song 'Friends Or Lovers', which he wrote for his wife). The mantra ends the album on a hopeful note, with an understanding that healing is "about accepting that some of this has altered the way that I live... and once you accept responsibility for the things that you struggle with, you've got to keep that in check and understand that it's a marathon, not a sprint."

We spoke with Hayley Williams ahead of the release of 'Petals For Armor' to discuss self-growth, self-awareness of depression, being the bigger person, and more...

...sometimes the right thing to do is just to make sure that you're safe and to take care of yourself because I've learned over the last couple of years that keeping a boundary for yourself and understanding the space that you take up actually helps other people know how to take care of themselves as well.

COUP DE MAIN: I love Alf's barking feature at the beginning of 'Dead Horse'! Is he excited to feature on the album?
HAYLEY WILLIAMS: <laughs> Yeah, he's been waiting. He's been begging me for years. I finally let him on!

CDM: How is Alf today? Please give him a hug from us!
HAYLEY: I will give him a hug. He's been a little bit of a bad boy today - I made some lunch for myself and I left it to go make my tea without even thinking about it, I was FaceTiming Lindsey my friend, and I heard her kids laughing on FaceTime and I was like, 'Oh, they're probably just laughing at something that they're doing.' I heard them laughing louder and louder and I came back from getting my tea and Alf was on FaceTime with them eating my lunch. <laughs>

CDM: He knows how to steal the show, which is why he needed to finally be on an album.
HAYLEY: Yes, exactly. He's made his presence very well known, with or without me.

CDM: A lot of the album tackles your healing and dealing with some hard things that you’ve had to deal with over the past few years. What do you think are the hardest parts about healing, and tackling emotions?
HAYLEY: Some of it, for me, has been realising that you can't undo certain choices or experiences that you've had. The things that happen to us, I like to think that they happen for a reason, and we're able to learn from them and grow and maybe become stronger in one way or another. But, I think the flip side to that is the part that I wrestle with, that some of the stuff that made me depressed or that ultimately led to me being sad for a while, kind of impacted me in a way that will always affect me. For me, it's about accepting that some of this has altered the way that I live. Being able to now recognise and be aware of the feelings in my body that point me toward the fact that, 'Hey, this isn't healthy,' or my anxiety. All of it's trying to tell you something. But once you start paying attention to that, it's a whole other lesson to learn, and how to navigate that day in and day out. I don't mean to say it in a defeatist type of way; it's just the truth. And once you accept responsibility for the things that you struggle with, you've got to keep that in check and understand that it's a marathon, not a sprint.

CDM: You’ve spoken about how the album is you using your emotions and softness as a shield, which is a really powerful thing for women to hear in an album. Do you think it’s important that softness and vulnerability aren’t always associated with weakness?
HAYLEY: Yeah, I'm encouraged that it feels like when I talk about it and in the songs or in the interviews that I've done thus far, people seem to understand and it resonates with people. It doesn't feel like I'm having to work too hard to get people to level with me on the topic of vulnerability. I think that we've slowly as a culture started to understand the value in being really honest and open about our struggles. I'm having a good time, like, I feel relieved, being able to talk about the things that are really important to me and the lessons that I've learned that weren't always particularly positive, but now there's this great positive thing that can come out of it which are mainly just conversations about how we can all support each other. One person being really vulnerable, and being able to show their strength through vulnerability, only motivates and inspires other people to do the same. So I'm really enjoying watching it happen in real time in our culture.

CDM: "I was in a depression, I’m trying to come out of it now," is what you state in the voice memo at the beginning of 'Dead Horse'. Depression is difficult when you can be so aware of being in it, but it can be so hard to get out of. Are there any steps that you take that are genuinely helpful? Or is it a process your mind has to go through every time?
HAYLEY: Wow, that's a good question. I think it's both. I mean, for instance, today has been a hard day for me. Yesterday was a little bit funny, but the day before that, I was great. Right now, we're all sort of collectively dealing with the same shadows, like the same sort of monster, which is this global virus that impacted everyone. I've done interviews with five different countries in the last day or so and every single person that I'm talking to is battling the same kind of anxieties, which I think is interesting because for a long time, people who struggled with anxiety and depression felt really isolated. And my process day to day looks very different than maybe what I would have assumed it would have been if someone had said to me last year, like, 'Hey, you're gaining a lot of insights and tools from therapy, next year you're going to be quarantined to your home. What will you do?' And I would probably have been really positive about it. And then, like, 'Oh man, well, I'll just create a routine. And I'll do the same thing every day that helps my mind stay on track, and I'll eat really well, and I'll go for walks or whatever I need to do in the house that keeps me moving.' The reality of what it feels like day to day is entirely different. So, my depression, when it's hitting me, like you said, that's the thing people don't realise, like, you can be very aware of it. And I am very aware when it sort of comes on. And I even am aware of the things that generally help me. But getting to those steps can feel like it's miles and miles away, versus just being across a room. So one thing that I know helps, is waking up and putting on music, whether I'm going to work out or whether I'm going to make breakfast, or let Alf out to use the bathroom, music kind of helps create a momentum outside of myself; something to sort of keep up with and I know that that helps me. Also doing things like exercising or calling a friend, those things are generally helpful, but today's been a weird day, man. Today I've had a little bit more trouble just getting on top of those things that help me.
CDM: It's interesting to think of it more as like a daily journey that you're always on. I feel like sometimes depression is kind of seen as, like, you're in a place of depression, and then maybe you're not in that place anymore. But sometimes you're in between. And sometimes it's just always there.
HAYLEY: Ugh! Yes. Yeah, it's a daily lesson.

CDM: "Sometimes it's good to be the bigger person / But I'm so small it can't compare," you sing in 'Dead Horse’, which is a really thoughtful line. Do you think that being the bigger person is always the right approach to take? Sometimes it’s not healthy in situations, and I think the phrase can sometimes be hard on shaming people for processing their emotions.
HAYLEY: For a long time in my life, I thought that in many different situations, I was doing the right thing. 'This is the right thing, or this is the kind thing,' when sometimes the right thing is fuzzier than that. It's not a black or white kind of answer. It's some grey thing in between. And then sometimes the right thing to do is just to make sure that you're safe and to take care of yourself because I've learned over the last couple of years that keeping a boundary for yourself and understanding the space that you take up actually helps other people know how to take care of themselves as well. It's not unlike the idea that... you're meant to put your [own] oxygen mask on first, and I've always thought that's so dumb and sounds so cruel, but there's some wisdom in it. And for me, in this particular song, I think that I just became my own worst enemy for a long time because I was trying to always do right by other people and I was always trying to take the high road when internally I was really struggling and I was really, really at odds with myself. I think the right thing to do would have just been to be myself and be really honest with myself, and the line's supposed to be a little bit funny because I'm just a very small person. <laughs> Physically, I'm so little! I have to poke fun at myself sometimes for the mistakes that I've made and for the misjudgments that I've made because I'm just a human. Sometimes I have to pump myself up. And other times I have to look in the mirror and be like, 'Bitch, you're 5'3, 100 pounds, and you are a person that is running on fumes; you need to take care of yourself.' Other times I have to pump myself up and really speak to the parts of me that just need to be really proud of where I've come from, and proud of where I've gotten to, up to this point. The song's got a lot of colourful imagery, and a lot of me part poking fun, and part getting the lead out and trying to be honest about things for the first time in a long time.

CDM: In 'Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris' you say, "And I will not compare / Other beauty to mine / And I will not become / A thorn in my own side," which are two really powerful sentiments. It reminded me of this phrase I love, "Her success is not your failure," and the importance of remembering how unhealthy it is that society constantly pits women against each other. Was there any particular catalyst in your life that precipitated your "personal journey through femininity" and the realisation that self-growth is not a competition?
HAYLEY: Oh, yes. Man. I did feel pitted against women for quite some time. I was the only female in a band with all my male friends, and while there are beautiful people that were and still are close to me, I really, really could have used some feminine energy. At that age, like, desperately. Instead, I was often pitted against any other female that was in the same music scene, or we were compared to each other for no other reason other than the fact that we were female. And it didn't matter if our bands sounded anything alike. That was one way in which I felt at odds with people. And then also, in my personal life, my relationship that I was in was not healthy, and without speaking too much to it. I just didn't trust very many people. I didn't trust myself anymore in the relationship and I didn't trust friends around my relationship. I just felt like, 'Man, there's no women in my life that I can talk to about the things that I'm feeling and struggling with.' I got a divorce around the time that 'After Laughter' was coming out, and I reconnected with all my friends. Taylor [York] and Zac [Farro], I was hanging out with a lot more, and it felt like it did when we were in school; hanging out at each other's homes eating dinner. Other friends' wives would come out and I got introduced to the people who are now some of my closest friends. I was about 28, and I don't think I ever would have thought I'd be the person who would make some of my best friends in my late 20s. I think I thought that was just something that happened to other people, but I met my friend Elise, who had also been through a divorce, and we shared some similar parts of our story. And I think that was a really big moment for me, just learning to trust someone relatively new to my life. That's a woman who is so strong and admirable. That was really big for me.

Hayley Williams' album 'Petals For Armor' is out now - click here to purchase, and watch the 'Over Yet' workout video below...

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