Hayley Williams from Paramore doesn’t want to be a pop star. The 24-year-old singer, who helped form her band nine years ago, has seen her profile gradually rise, as can happen when you rack up five top 40 hits in addition to singing the hook to B.o.B’s quadruple-platinum “Airplanes.” But when Paramore’s future was in doubt following the 2010 departure of two members, Williams didn’t even consider taking the golden parachute of a solo career.
“I’ve never once thought about being a solo artist,” says Williams. “That’s not what I want. It’s never been what I want. When we were taking that time away – when we figured out what Paramore was, what we were gonna do, what we wanted – it was more like, ‘Do I even want to do music anymore?’ It wasn’t ‘Do I want to go do a solo project?’ Because I don’t really want to do a solo project. That sounds lonely. That sounds awful.”
Luckily for her, it hasn’t come to that. Despite taking as much time to follow up 2009’s “Brand New Eyes” as it took to release its entire catalogue up to that point, Paramore returned strong. The self-titled new album is its first number one record, and current single “Still Into You” is (at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of this writing) as high as the emo/punk group has ever charted. Paramore plays the DCU Center in Worcester on Friday.
Not that there weren’t dark days. When founding members Josh and Zac Farro left three years ago, the others may not have been surprised, but Williams says that the path forward still wasn’t clear: “Did it feel like we wanted to continue being Paramore, or did that not feel right?” It was a chance encounter with bandmate Taylor York at a concert that convinced her to continue.
“I can't remember what band I saw, maybe it was mewithout
You,” Williams says. “Taylor ended up being there. He was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna go get coffee after this?’ And I was just, ‘Oh, God, he’s gonna tell me that he’s splitting too, and now we’re really up a creek. Now we’ve lost the majority of the band.
“We sit down at Café Coco in Nashville [where Paramore is based], and we’re having coffee and I’m all nervous, speaking really fast. And he was like, ‘I’m not done with the band. I just don’t see any reason that I would ever want to stop.’ I remember I saved up all the mushy-gushy stuff until I got into the car by myself and I just started bawling all the way home.”
So Paramore soldiered on, a little leaner — down to three official members, with three others filling in on stage — but with renewed purpose. Producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Tegan and Sara, M83) says it took no time for the band to get back into the groove once recording began.
“They were beyond ready,” says Meldal-Johnsen. “They had already spent plenty of time demoing, writing, and strategizing. By the time we started the pre-production phase, they had their game faces on for sure.”
It’s telling that Paramore ended up naming the resulting album after itself, a move that often implies a statement of purpose. In addition to roaring songs like “Daydreaming,” there are plenty of tracks that could never be confused with Warped Tour anthems. “Last Hope” brings a U2 thrum, “(One Of Those) Crazy Girls” recalls Rilo Kiley and “Hate to See Your Heart Break” sounds like a lost Nicolette Larson song from the late 1970s.
“Without saying it out loud, I think we started to listen to each song and feel like each one was its own album, in a way,” Meldal-Johnsen says. “As if the larger album is a collection of micro-albums, because each one exists as its own wild journey. I wanted lots of exciting things to happen in each three-to-five-minute slice.”
Even as her band reclaims the momentum that was interrupted when the Farro brothers left, though, Williams continues to wink at the pop world, with its own three-to-five-minute slices. But even Williams’s extracurricular activities are ultimately done with Paramore in mind.
“Anything I’ve ever done outside the band has, to me, always been for the band. Like, if I’m doing this song [“Stay the Night,” at No. 51] with [dance producer] Zedd right now, 50 percent of it is definitely because I love the song,” she says. “But the other 50 percent is because I want people to know who Paramore is. I want people to see my name but then right next to it, it says ‘from Paramore.’”
Williams adds, “I use those opportunities to bring people back to a Paramore show and at some point enter our world and realize that there's more to it than the girl with red hair that sings.”
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.