Hayley Williams is no stranger to music festivals. She was only 14 when she started her band Paramore, and so she was performing at them before she even would have been allowed to attend on her own. But, Williams tells us, even though she knew she belonged onstage at big festivals, she didn't always feel safe as an audience member—particularly as a young woman, who didn't always do well in big crowds.
In recent years, Williams has opened up more and more about things like her mental health struggles, and it's a level of transparency that's been really appreciated by her massive fan base. This openness has also helped her deal with her problems in a constructive way—and led to her wanting to help other people like her deal with their problems too.
One way that Williams is doing this is by making sure that other festival-goers have a safe space to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed on festival grounds. So, this year, she's curated her own plaza at Bonnaroo; called the Sanctuary of Self-Love, it will both educate its attendees on mental health issues and allow them to escape the excitement of the festival grounds for a bit of relaxation. Panels, mini spa sessions, and yoga are just a few of the things that attendees will be able to try—plus, Williams' hair dye company Good Dye Young will be there to give makeovers.
Ahead of Bonnaroo, Williams and photographer and writer Lindsey Byrnes (also, a longtime close friend of Williams) hung out on the empty festival grounds and talked about Williams' journey. "I want people to know that, as an introvert, there is a space for you at festivals," Williams said. "Going to a show is one of the most healing things that I think a human being can do, because there's community, there's a release." She would definitely know.
Below, Williams and Byrnes talk more about the Sanctuary, Williams' approach to talking about mental health, and some of her most memorable hair color moments. —Bailey Calfee
Is there anything that really stood out to you about Bonnaroo as opposed to other festivals [and made you want to open the Sanctuary of Self-Love]?
Anyone who comes to Nashville or this area [knows], it's different than going to L.A. or going to Coachella. It is not the same vibe, and I'm not even sure, even being from here, if I can put my finger on it other than "Southern hospitality." There's a really cool, communal kindness, and it's great.
We've played countless festivals, and we've played the bottom of the barrel stages, and we've headlined. We've really grown up doing this. And I'm telling you, the moment the intro music started for our set at Bonnaroo, it felt different. There was a feeling emanating from people in the crowd, I couldn't even see the end of them.
That feeling was so positive, and those people were so there for each other, and for us, and for all the artists that were on those stages. I've never felt that before. I've just never felt the support that I felt. I can't explain it. It's not about saying, "That crowd was so much better than every other crowd." It's just an amazing, positive feeling. And I never wanted that set to end, I loved it so much. Even after we left for the night... I really felt connected to the heart of that festival, and it's nice to be involved from a different side. I get to help make that experience for other people.
What I've loved about working with Bonnaroo is that I'm understanding the spirit and the culture that the organization promotes and embodies. I would say that the plaza that we're building is for the introvert that's going to hang out at the festival for the weekend. It's like, this is where you can go take space for yourself, meditate in the morning, and recharge and reset and connect with either yourself or with other people in a way that maybe you haven't been able to at a festival before. So, that's another thing I love about Bonnaroo, is that they were interested in having a space for that.
How does [your hair color company] Good Dye Young tie into this?
We stand for empowering people with tools for their own self-revelation, creative identity, self-expression—and using beauty products as a means to tell their story rather than as a means to emulate other people's beauty. It's about celebrating your own beauty. I do feel a lot of new companies, especially companies started by women, are following this path of celebrating individuality and uniqueness and self-expression. But I'm really excited about what we're doing, because there aren't a ton of companies like us in the hair space.
So they were interested in that, and wanted to give a space for that at Bonnaroo, but then the conversation quickly escalated to, "Would you like to curate a space that involves GoodDyeYoung, but also pulls in other local organizations or other companies that do things that are in line with your values?" And I was like, Man, it would be so sick to center this around mental health, because that's obviously such a huge conversation in culture right now.
In every corner of being alive right now, you find this conversation around mental health and what we're doing to better ourselves—or what we're not doing. For me, for the last two years, I was in huge denial about my depression. I knew I was sad, I knew that I had been through some shit, but I was like, I'm handling it, I'm handling it. And, honestly, right around the time that Bonnaroo came to me about this, I was not doing well. The first meeting we were having—I didn't know until recently that I do this—I was picking the skin around my fingernails incessantly until they bled. And I kept them, because I'm a hoarder, I guess...
You kept your fingernails?
No, no! I kept the papers from the first Bonnaroo meeting because I'm sentimental and I tend to have things like that—from Paramore's career, and from things that I've done that I feel are special. On these Bonnaroo papers, the first renderings, and these ideas, there's just blood all over the page. I was just going through it, man. I was still coming to terms with my depression, I was coming to terms with the trauma and the stuff that I had not dealt with from before, and suddenly my band's last record After Laughter started to make a whole lot more sense.
That only made me more passionate about this job that they're asking me to do, which is to help give people a space to find what works for them, in their journey towards being a healthier human—mentally, emotionally, spiritually. For some people, that's going to be kinesthetic group activities, where they can create art and make things and see that they've made something. That's been a huge, important thing for me to have, to be able to see that I made something. For other people, that might be meditation, very quiet and more internal, things where they can sit with themselves, or maybe guided meditation, where it's still really quiet, it's still really internal. I need a little bit of both, and I kinda need tough love, too.
Let's talk about your relationship with Brian [O'Connor, Good Dye Young's creative director], and about the first time that you—or he, because I don't know the origin—put colored hair-dye in your hair. Because, let's just be real, you made colored hair-dye a thing. It was a thing in the punk days with Kool-Aid and shit, but you kind of brought it into the mainstream.
I was your typical scene kid in the early-2000s. I used boxed dye that I got from the pharmacy. We were suburban kids, and we were bored, so one day, the guys and I took money that we'd made, probably from working at Zac and Josh's dad's pizza restaurant and we bought a bunch of boxes of black dye and that was our afternoon.
"Hey band, we're all dyeing our hair black."
Yeah, it was very popular to match as a band and also headbang in sync with each other. Honestly, I'm not sure what the difference is between boy bands and early-2000s scene bands, early-2000s emo bands.
Emo... scene band... Warp Tour bands.
We're not even going to get into the emo conversation, because it means something different to me than it does to people younger than me and to people older than me. It's a generational thing. But hair… I was always excited about changing my look and altering my appearance based on the things that I could control. How could I alter my appearance in ways that expressed something that I was feeling or what I was interested in?
Was it a blue-black?
It was a blue-black, yes. And it was very hard to get out of my hair. That's why my hair looks basically brown on the first album art, the first album packaging, because I tried to dye it auburn-y on top. It didn't work.
I was 16. So, at this point, I'm dyeing my own hair, and then at the end of this album cycle, we decided to put out one last music video around our first headlining tour. And I wanted matchstick hair. I wanted to look like I had auburn roots, kind of reddish hair, and then yellow tips. I didn't know…
You wanted to look like a flame.
Yeah, I wanted to look like a flame. And maybe that subconsciously came from journalists saying, "The flame-haired lead singer... spunky Punky Brewster." I would get those kinds of write-ups about our band. That's how people would describe me because I had auburn hair.
So you were like, Let's lean into this.
Yeah. I think, subconsciously, I thought it was kind of cool even though it had also annoyed me that people only focused on my hair. I was like, Focus on the band, the music. It was very... I wanted it to be cool. I wanted to be cool. But I also had fun expressing myself. I didn't know how to do this hair, so I found a really cool-sounding salon that was local in Franklin[, Tennessee] and it seemed like a lot of young, cool people worked there. This is where I met Brian.
He was 19, and I had just turned 17, or I was about to turn 17... That was the first time that we met and worked together on my hair. Even though, at the time, I wasn't sure I'd ever see him again, when you see the "Emergency" video, that's basically what he and the owner of Pink Mullet did. Isn't that crazy?
That was the beginning of the beginning.
We sort of left for tour and it felt like I didn't come home the same person after that, because once that album happened, not only was the band very, very popular during that time, but I was 18 years old. My style—whatever you want to call my fashion, which was not good—and that hair, the way that I did my makeup... I didn't have a makeup artist on the road. I just kind of rubbed shit all over my eyes and people either related to it or they wanted to try that or they thought it was really weird. It was a very polarizing image where our band was Hot Topic poster children.
And it's crazy to think about, because, after that, Paramore as a band quickly became aware what a caricature we were becoming of the scene, and I think we quickly rejected it. Almost as quickly as we became that, we rejected it. And I think that's the ultimate reason that we're still here. We never let that swallow us. Even while I continued to dye my hair and wear stupid clothes, we kind of just started trying other things. And for me, as a girl growing into a young woman, it was more about, Okay, I'm going to find new ways to express myself all the time, because I think that's what you're doing as a young woman anyway. And that manifested itself as my image in Paramore.
It was really interesting to me to gain that insight. I don't know that the public sees that side of you where you're actually insecure. We just look at you, Hayley, and we're like, Oh my god, she's so beautiful.Look, she's on stage, and her hair's so crazy, and blah, blah, blah. And inside, you're thinking, I don't want to walk out on stage because I'm having a hard time. I don't want to be picked apart.
Yeah, it's a Catch-22 because, on one hand, if not for shows, I wouldn't be alive, because it's such a physical expression of energy. There's an energy exchange [that has] helped me through anger issues. It's helped me when I was really sad, and I just needed to dance it off. It helps me physically move my body and sweat, which is so great for your mind. I didn't realize what a tool touring has been for my mental health because at the same time that it was helping me, it was also picking me apart. And that's just the nature of growing up in any sort of limelight at all.
But I think that's been interesting about Good Dye Young and doing the Bonnaroo thing, is that it's really hard to start a band. It's really hard to start a company. It's really hard to enter into a festival and start something new in an already-established world. But I think that because of that, you can remind yourself to be really, really present and know that it's going to rip you apart and it's also going to show you things about yourself you didn't know that you had in you. I, from the time I joined Paramore, from the time I met Brian, through the time, you can go on and on and on... I have been learning about what I'm okay with, learning about what I enjoy, what makes it all worth it for me, and it is very hard to imagine a million zillion people know what I looked like on some of my worst days and they know how I felt on some of my worst days. They know the good, bad, and ugly about me, but to build anything takes a lot of sacrifice, and it takes putting your pride aside and being wrong a lot. And I'm just like, "Ugh." It feels really nice to be 30 now. I don't know what clicked when I turned 30, but there's just a less... I put pressure on myself to be good at what I do, but I'm not so concerned with everyone approving of it all the time.
It feels like the past few years for you have been a time where you can be vulnerable about the fact that you make mistakes—even with the company. Like you just talked about, part of being human and growing up is being vulnerable. How has that felt?
I think that Paramore primed me, for better or worse, it prepared me to let people down all the time. I think Paramore prepped me pretty well to make mistakes in front of people, [and helped me learn that] you've gotta put your pride aside.
The thing about companies is that they're made of human beings. For instance, Brian and I have made a lot of mistakes in terms of formulation that we've had to correct. We've had to be transparent about those things. Some things you fix and they happen. I'm starting to understand how many mistakes happen in the beauty industry all of the time. We're constantly improving and trying to correct and make sure that we're doing the right thing.
In a general way, we have made formula mistakes, we have made personnel mistakes, we have made deal mistakes. All of it is totally okay, because, number one, we're still here, so we're still learning. As long as we're still learning, we're still able to improve.
I foresee Good Dye Young being around for a really long time. That means that if there is a glitch in the system now, in the grand scheme of things, it'll be a blip. It'll be something that we learn from and can be like, Remember this? Well, look at us now. That's the big picture shit that you think about. When I'm 75, I'm going to be like, Nice one.