Paramore Comes Back Rockin’ on New Album

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson


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Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis and Taylor York

In the three-and-a-half years since Paramore’s Brand New Eyes was released and sold more than a million copies worldwide, the Tennessee-based alt-pop/rock band has survived a difficult change in personnel with the departure of founding members Josh and Zac Farro, and the three remaining core musicians—singer Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York and bassist Jeremy Davis—have gone through some serious soul searching and musical exploration.

They’ve come out on the other side of their transitional period with a slammin’ new self-titled album, recorded in L.A. by engineer Carlos de la Garza and producer/musician Justin Meldal-Johnsen for the Fueled By Ramen label. Meldal-Johnsen—aka “JMJ”—is best known for his long stints with Beck and Nine Inch Nails, and as a session bassist (and keyboardist) for a wide range of acts, including the Dixie Chicks, Tori Amos, Garbage, Black-Eyed Peas, Jason Mraz, Macy Gray and Pink. But he’s also ventured into production, helming works by M83, Neon Trees, Tegan & Sara and others. JMJ worked on those last two with de La Garza—a producer/engineer who runs his own L.A. studio, called Music Friends.

Taylor York was the primary music writer on the new album—with Williams contributing lyrics and some melodic ideas—and York also worked up fairly elaborate demos for many songs in his home studio.

“Then I flew them out to L.A. to my studio [Dangerbird],” JMJ says, “and we spent a good amount of time dismantling their songs and getting into this sort of pre-production phase, which also turned into them doing some further writing on the spot, and me contributing to a little bit of writing, as well. After that we had another phase, and that was a full-on preproduction, which is when we brought in my Nine Inch Nails associate Ilan Rubin to play drums, and we spent about six days getting the songs to feel not only under their fingers in terms of the mechanics of what they were playing, but also to get a band feeling with Ilan incorporated. They gelled immediately, and six days later we had 17 songs ready to track.” (Rubin also played some piano on the album.)

The quartet laid down basics in Sunset Sound’s historic Studio 3—which is equipped with a custom API-DeMedio console. “We were mostly going for the drums,” de la Garza says, “but we had the guitar and bass playing along at the same time, and we tried to give it a live vibe by keeping as many of those bass and guitar takes as possible. Later, we went back to do the overdubs and tried to beat all the sounds we had, but there were a few that we kept that had a cool vibe that we were fine with. Hayley did scratch vocals on everything and she was amazing. I could have used any one of those takes to make the lead vocal on a track with minor editing.”

To capture Rubin’s drums, de la Garza used a Josephson e22S in combo with a Shure SM57 on top of the snare and a 57 under the snare; an AKG D 112 for some of the kick tracks, “but a lot of it is actually an AKG 441 and Subkick NS 10” for toms; Audio-Technica ATM25s on the top and 421s on the bottom; a Royer SF-24 stereo ribbon and a Sony C-24 as overheads; “and on the room we used some Cole 4038, [Neumann] U 67s, and on a couple of songs we used 251s for the far mics and a couple of Sony C-37s.”

Amps were well isolated from the drums and miked with a Sennheiser 421 and a 57 for York’s guitars and a 47 FET for Davis’ bass.

Once they had nailed solid drum tracks, the action shifted to JMJ’s well-equipped Dangerbird studio—located in a craftsman-style duplex—for guitar, bass and keyboard overdubs, plus all the vocals. The control room is in a former dining room, the machine room was a kitchen and the tracking room is two bedrooms combined into one space. The control boasts an API 1608 console and “synths wall-to-wall permanently patched for easy access,” JMJ says. “We spent a long time setting up the ideal situations for bass amps and guitar amps, a mic that was there to capture percussion and other bits, and a vocal station.” Williams’ lead vocals were cut using a Telefunken 251 into a Chandler mic pre, a Neve 1073 EQ, a Retro 176 compressor or an Inward Connections Vac Rac TSL-3 limiter.

There’s a lot of vocal, guitar and keyboard layering, and judicious use of strings (arranged by Roger Manning) and a choir—both recorded later at Sunset—that give the album a richness and depth, but JMJ and de la Garza were careful not to sacrifice energy and punch in the process. Ken Andrews (NIN, Beck, BRMC) mixed the album in his own studio.

“It was important to let the emotion shine throughout without it being pasteurized and edited into oblivion,” JMJ notes. While acknowledging a certain commercial sheen on a number of tracks, he says, “There are some moments on this record that are extraordinarily gritty. I wanted some raw nerves showing through.”

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