Paramore’s last album cycle was a good one. After releasing a self-titled record — their fourth total — in 2013, single “Ain’t It Fun” topped the charts in a way no previous Paramore song had done prior. It broke the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and later won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Song. But soon after, things went south when bassist Jeremy Davis left the band in 2015.
Instead of saying goodbye to Paramore, though, frontwoman Hayley Williams and guitarist Taylor York rallied. Along with founding member Zac Farro, who rejoined the band after seven years away, they used everything they had been through as fodder for After Laughter, a fierce comeback album that includes ’80s-inspired tracks that still retain Paramore’s emo-pop sound like “Hard Times” and “Told You So.”
Here, Williams takes EW through the turmoil that led to their new music, what it’s like having Farro back, and why she’s ditched her neon hair dye (for now).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First things first: Can you explain the album title, After Laughter?
HAYLEY WILLIAMS: It means that look on a person’s face when they laugh really hard and then there’s this moment where they come back to reality — I like watching for it. Maybe I’m a little bit of a creep. [Laughs]
It’s been four years since Paramore released an album, and a lot has changed — this is the first record without cofounding bassist Jeremy Davis, who left in 2015. What’s it been like?
Anytime you grow up in a group of friends, you’re going to fight about things, and that’s really no different than our situation. We have to live some of that stuff out, and unfortunately, there’s no way to do that gracefully. It was embarrassing, you know? It still sucks. It’s life, though, and sometimes life is really painful.
The single “Hard Times” is an uptempo rocker. But there’s a dark undertone, with lyrical allusions to the band’s struggles. How did it come together?
I realized I didn’t have to match every feeling I have to the music. Maybe the fact that I can put some of my sadness to these sounds that make me want to dance and move a lot is a good thing. Maybe that’s going to help me get through it. And it was true for all of us. We needed a place to put the feelings that are hard to talk about. These songs helped us. I think they were a musical therapist, in a way. [Laughs]
At any point did you consider calling it quits?
There were many talks over coffee with [bandmate Taylor York]. We thought, “Maybe we should start something new.” But Taylor said to me, “If we start another band and people call it Paramore, you’re gonna be so mad. So you might as well just be Paramore.” I actually think I could have been happy if we kept creating together and never put out a record, but the fact that we created an album and people can hear it — I’m still pinching myself.
On a happier note, drummer Zac Farro, who left Paramore in 2010, recently rejoined.
It feels like I’ve gotten a part of myself back! I’ve got one of my best friends in the world back, and I can’t wait to be on stage in front of people and turn around and see him again.
You and the band were just teenagers when Paramore’s debut album came out in 2005. What’s it like to grow up in the spotlight?
It’s like that scene in Bridesmaids: “I think if you’re growing, then you’re changing.” [Laughs] I always think about that scene, but I also still feel so much like that 16-year-old who got in the van and took off with my dad at the wheel. We were babies.
You’ve changed your trademark orange hair to platinum blond. Why the switch?
The hair thing is so emotional for me. About a year ago, I called my colorist and was like, “I’m going through so much emotionally. I need a reset. I need you to bleach my hair.” This has been really important for me, as a 27- and 28-year-old, to show myself every morning when I get up that I’m not someone who is going to live in the past. When it’s time for Neon Hayley to come back to life, she will. But right now, this is me.