Why Paramore's Hayley Williams Once Thought 'The Band Was Going To Be Over'

In Their Prime
Jessica Xie


Two years ago, as Paramore embarked on the second Parahoy! Cruise, frontwoman Hayley Williams thought the group might be sailing off into the sunset for real. “Before we got on the boat I had already thought the band was probably going to be over,” she says, gazing into the Caribbean from atop the Norwegian Jade as it sails to the Bahamas on a four-day round trip from Miami.

Bassist Jeremy Davis quit three months prior to the 2016 cruise, and the public had just learned of litigation he had filed against Williams. “Another member down,” she recalls thinking. (Brothers Josh and Zac Farro left in 2010.) “I was like, ‘Maybe it’s meant to be that the last show is on a boat with everybody that cares most about the band.” But in 2017, Williams re-formed the group as a trio, with guitarist Taylor York and Zac Farro back on drums, and delivered the tropically tinged album After Laughter. “We’re in a better place,” says York. Holding back tears before most of the 2,700 fans onboard at a public Q&A that day, Farro says, “I didn't come back to a band -- I got my family back.”

The Q&A is one of many events for attendees in between sets from Local Natives, Judah & The Lion and, of course, two headlining shows from Paramore.

Between the public Q&A and judging karaoke and the bellyflop contest, the ways in which you engage with your fans on these cruises are so unique. Why is this intimacy with your fans important? 
Hayley Williams: We’re really fortunate to have been on two different sides of what the internet has done for bands. There’s times it just feels absolutely too much. But it was a tool for us early on and it felt very pure... Not only was that vital to the vibe of the shows and the touring aspect of everything, but it helped us grow. Doing [Parahoy!] all these years later, we’ve found a lot of people out in the crowd are the same people from the early years. It’s this tangible, multicultural thing -- people are coming from all over the world -- and yet we’re part of a real community. I’m really proud of that -- in 2018, it’s hard to imagine the internet did something so pure. 
Zac Farro: For these people, was like Facebook -- they’d make usernames, talk and meet each other. It was a world within the internet that wasn't a social media platform, like Instagram or MySpace. This is, actually -- the people are here. One guy proposed to his girlfriend!
HW: Oh, the first night?
ZF: Yeah, the first night.
How is your mindset different from the last Parahoy!?
Taylor York:
We’re in so much of a better place right now, compared to two or four years ago. Obviously, we’re the same band, but it doesn't even really feel comparable in some ways. Our band always hits these things where we don’t know if we can get through them. And somehow, we do.

What was weighing you down the most last time?
HW: What hasn't weighed us down? Honestly, we’ve gone through stuff. It was like, another member down… And wondering if we were ever going to write another record that we liked. There were a lot of questions about why we do this. Before we got on the boat, I had already thought the band was probably going to be over. I was like, “Maybe it’s meant to be that the last show is on a boat with everybody that cares the most about the band.” Sort of like having the right kind of funeral, a really loving exit. Then we got here and played the shows. The energy that’s here today… [The fans] are still are because they need it, maybe sometimes more than we do. When we left, it was like, “Okay, there’s purpose in it.” That’s the biggest difference -- I’m not wondering what our purpose is. 

Why is it so important to have Zac back in Paramore?
HW: I read this thing once about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis -- when one of them died, their whole group of friends changed completely because with one of them gone, the part of each person that that person brought out of them died too. When Zac left the band, I lost a part of Taylor; I lost a part of me. We got through it, found joy and hope to write music, because life goes on. But [Zac] said it all the time when he came back: “This doesn't just happen; you don’t always get second chances like this." It wasn't, “I need to be back in this band.” It was really what he said at the Q&A: “I came back to my family.” 

At one of the acoustic sets, you were saying how right after the last Parahoy!, you came home and got through some songs that wound up on After Laughter. Could that happen again? Are you thinking about new Paramore music?
HW: You never know, right? The way I work is by writing to what [York] writes. If he has an idea and sends me music, I typically give it a shot. Especially if it really hits me and I’m inspired right away, it’s very exciting. I don’t think we’re planning on it because, to be honest, I’m still being selfish about After Laughter… I love it so much, and you only get to tour an album once. I know I’ll love anything we do next more. That’s just what has been the case with us. That’s also something to be really thankful for. But yeah. we’re not planning it. It just would be cool, I guess -- any time inspiration comes. 
TY: The last cruise was in the middle of a writing process. We had already finished a chapter and we’re still in the middle of this one. So unless it just happens randomly, it’s like you have to live life before we’re ready to really dive into that. [We’re] trying to enjoy the artwork we’ve already done until we’re really inspired again but, maybe we will. 

What about the next cruise? 
HW: The only thing I’ve thought about is the next time we do a Q&A session, I want a fan to sit onstage and have to answer questions. I want to learn stuff about other people that are here. I feel like they must have the craziest stories and we just sit up there on our asses talking about ourselves for an hour. 

What do you think is really going to stick with you from this cruise?
I’m personally in a much better place. Even the security guards were like, “Man, Hayley looks happy this cruise.” [Laughs.] I was like, “Shit, I thought I was doing a really good job pretending to be happy last time!”

A version of this article originally appeared in the April 21 issue of Billboard.