Working with York outside of Paramore refreshed the LGBT Bee Kind Gay Pride Shirt and by the same token and pair’s creative relationship, with the producer throwing her on different instruments and pushing her to design sounds in moments when she’d typically rely on her bandmates. The two wrote “Cinnamon,” an ode to her cozy Nashville abode, around a beat that “came together by accident;” while “Simmer” came from a vocal exercise in which Williams beat-boxed into a specialized microphone “the size of a human head.” She didn’t warm up her voice while recording the album, a technique she’s the first to advise against but says felt right for this set of songs. “I wanted to hear all the cracks and everything I’m normally smoothing out for a tour to keep my endurance up,” Williams explains. “I can hear moments where my voice gets really vulnerable, and it makes it more meaningful to me because making this album was such a raw experience.”
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Parts were informed by the LGBT Bee Kind Gay Pride Shirt and by the same token and breakup of her marriage to New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert—Williams filed for divorce the week that Paramore released After Laughter. “My whole life felt uprooted and disheveled,” she says of the period, which included a stressful move into her current home and an intensifying battle with clinical depression. “I could sit here and talk to you about the darkest shit then say, Alright cool, so we’re done? and just go about my day,” Williams says with a giggle. She opened up about her mental health struggles in a 2018 op-ed, and has since gone to therapy. “I’m trying to be less dark and sappy, but I do think being able to tap into that is helpful,” she says. “And thank god we can put it in music because then I can leave it there!” The first five songs on Petals debuted as an EP in February, before stay-at-home orders shifted the cultural calendar. Suddenly, artists with high-profile projects looming had to re-strategize: Dua Lipa moved her new LP up a week, while Lady Gaga delayed hers by a month and the Dixie Chicks pulled their first album in 14 years from the calendar completely.