Once in a while, songwriters are unnerved by their own revelations.
Last year, Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams asked her bandmate Taylor York to listen to a chorus she could not shake. The hook featured a repeated line that "was so simple and poppy that it scared me," the 24-year-old singer says, so she asked York for a second opinion. His response was simple: Did she like the song?
"I was like, 'I love this song so much that I can't even believe it's Paramore,'" Williams recalled from a tour bus a few weeks ago.
With her band's support ("Just keep going," York told her), Williams recorded "Still Into You" with her original lyrics intact, and the song would later become one of Paramore's most successful singles, reaching No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. Williams says finishing the song gave her the confidence to push the band's fourth album, April's "Paramore," in many first-time directions — such as ukulele interludes and gospel choirs.
"It inspired me for the entirety of the writing process after that," she said. "It just made everything so simple. If I like it, I'm going to write it."
To this point, Williams' instincts have served Paramore well, despite hiccups along the way. The band, which headlines Patriot Center on Saturday, and its catchy brand of power-pop-punk have grown significantly with each release. Its debut, 2005's "All We Know Is Falling," came and went quietly, but the 2007 follow-up, "Riot!," boosted the group's exposure thanks to strong singles ("Misery Business," "That's What You Get") and Williams' natural charisma.
Then came the drama. "Brand New Eyes," from 2009, brought more hit singles, critical acclaim and, to the surprise of many, tensions in the band. The latter boiled over in late 2010 when founding members Josh and Zac Farro announced their departure — and their unhappiness with Williams. On a blog post that sent fans into a tizzy, Josh wrote that the singer "treated the group as her solo project."
Although Paramore announced it would continue without the brothers, the future appeared murky, and the group retreated from the spotlight to recalibrate. More than three years after "Brand New Eyes," Paramore released its fourth album in April. Williams says leaving the spotlight allowed her and the band (which is now Williams, guitarist York and bassist Jeremy Davis) to grow stronger as a unit and as individuals.
"I learned how to cook. I redecorated my house. I spent time being a normal 23-, 24-year-old woman, and that was huge," Williams said. "Waking up every morning, to have that freedom and this feeling like, 'Today, I want to write a song' rather than 'I have to write a song' — I think we all needed that space. We've been fully recharged."
She calls the break between records "such a good thing for our band in the long run," and it's hard to argue with recent evidence. "Paramore" was the band's first album to debut No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and critics ranging from The New York Times to Spin found plenty to praise. While she believes critics have "never helped or hindered our career," Williams says she appreciates the kind words.
"Having some critical acclaim for the record, I guess if anything, it's been the cherry on top," she said. "It's been a bonus that feels really cool."
She's more excited about a milestone coming next week. For the first time, Paramore will headline New York's Madison Square Garden, a venue the members long dreamed of but were never sure they would ever play.
"We had this list of places we always wanted to play [in New York]," Williams said. "We got to play CBGB, the Bowery [Ballroom] and all of these incredible places, and Madison Square Garden was always at the top of the list of things to work up to. It felt really far-fetched."
Booking the Garden motivated Paramore to craft a show that felt proper for an arena tour, Williams said.
"That pressure and that excitement has inspired the entire show," she said. "We really tried to make a show that was big enough to fit in that room and fill up that place."
After the tour ends early next month, the band will take a short break before it heads to Australia for a handful of dates. Then, in March, comes Parahoy!, a four-day cruise from Miami to Great Stirrup Cay, a private island in the Bahamas. Throughout the trip, Paramore — which will be joined by other acts such as Tegan and Sara and New Found Glory — will not only perform, but also lead games and events on board with fans.
Williams says a non-traditional event such as the Parahoy! cruise allows the band to stay connected with fans on a closer level.
"Even though it's going to be a good crowd of people, I think it's going to feel really intimate," she said. "After having the year that we've had, I think it's important for us to do something that feels like that."
If you go
Paramore performs Saturday at Patriot Center, 4400 University Drive in Fairfax, Va. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Metric and Hellogoodbye will also perform. Tickets are $29.50-$49.50. Call 703-993-3000 or go to patriotcenter.monumentalnetwork.com.