Hayley Williams is only 34, but she is already two decades into her career as the dynamic frontwoman for the pop-punk band Paramore. “I was just saying to the guys, we’re too young to be old, but too old to be young,” she said with a laugh last month, referring to her bandmates, the guitarist Taylor York and the drummer Zac Farro. “There’s people that think of us the way I think of artists that have been doing this way longer than us. Part of me feels 85, and the other part feels like I have no answers to life.”
Aside from the fiery hues of her signature hair, Williams is a very different person from the teenager who formed Paramore in 2004. She has survived a painful divorce, the acrimonious exits of several band members (including Farro, who quit in 2010 but returned in 2017), and delved into deeply personal material on two solo albums released in 2020 and 2021.
Likewise, Paramore’s sixth album, “This Is Why” (out Friday), bears little resemblance to the howling emo of its youth, reveling in the spiky new wave and funkier syncopations of its 2017 LP “After Laughter,” all topped by Williams’s lush, versatile voice. The group’s latest single, the hyper “C’est Comme Ça,” nods to its maturity: “I hate to admit getting better is boring/But the high cost of chaos?/Who can afford it?”
“We’re much better friends to each other,” Williams said. “I remember calling my manager two Christmases ago and being like, ‘I didn’t get you a gift other than to say that we finally figured out how to talk through our problems.’”
As she prepared for “This Is Why,” Paramore’s first album in six years, Williams credited her first solo album, “Petals for Armor,” with building confidence in her own musical prowess. It also empowered her to look outward as she grappled with the trauma of the pandemic and processed racial injustice near her Nashville home during lockdown. “Mostly, the lyrics are a disdain for resistance to progress,” she said. “We went through all this, and people are still absolute [expletive] to each other.”
From Farro’s rental studio in Nashville, where Williams’s goldendoodle, Alf, hunted for crumbs, the singer and songwriter shared what has inspired and comforted her as her band revved up once again. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
1. Mushrooms I feel like something happened when [the film] “Fantastic Fungi” came out. It opened up a lot of people’s minds to all the ways mushrooms can be used. [The chef and writer] Sophia Roe has this amazing Instagram account and a new show called “Counter Space,” and she uses mushrooms a lot for plant-based cooking. Mentally, too, the effects that they can have on someone — I’m not speaking from experience here, but I’m very excited to do a guided session and see how it affects my journey with depression and PTSD. And “The Last of Us” is blowing my mind; I love that mushrooms have become such a thing that now the zombies on a TV show have mushroom faces. Taylor and I were watching it the other night, and I was like, I’m the first person to turn. I take this coffee alternative called Everyday Dose, and it has all these cordyceps. I’m definitely a goner.
2. Starface Zit Stickers When I would break out in my early 20s, I was petrified for any show or photo shoot. We opened up for No Doubt, and I remember trying to ask Gwen Stefani, like, “Did you ever have acne?” She was like, “Oh, I think I struggled when we toured in the van.” I wasn’t a big makeup-wearer so I didn’t know what to do. I love that there’s this new generation of skin care that’s like: Celebrate it. Decorate your face. Connect the dots.
3. Jonah Hill’s “Stutz” We watched this documentary in the front lounge of our bus on this last run, which was our first tour in a very long time. I was having anxiety around not being home. It was so meaningful. I love that Jonah Hill is a very well-respected actor, a great filmmaker and he’s like: I’m going to take care of myself before I worry about being a product. That’s why we took four years off. We’ve never gotten to experience the world through any other filter than Paramore, and that’s privilege. People might say, “Yeah, well, you already had success.” But it’s very hard to walk away from opportunities. I’ve done some pretty intense therapy.
4. A24 Horror Films I grew up with my grandfather taking me to Blockbuster. We would rent “Pet Sematary” or whatever, and we would run around the woods behind his apartment and search for ghosts. What I love most is when the genre takes on social issues, like “The Babadook” or Jordan Peele movies. And Ari Aster’s films for A24 are some of my favorites: “Hereditary,” obviously, and “Midsommar.” A24 feels so artistic. I was even into “Lamb.”
5. Rozi Plain’s “Prize” Basically, this is the first record that I’ve had on repeat since SZA’s album came out last year. Taylor introduced me to her music. It’s got such warmth to it. I listened to all of Jessica Pratt’s records throughout the pandemic, which was so comforting, and Rozi Plain feels like that.
6. Pique Tea I love herbal tea. My favorite is rooibos. I attended a Moroccan tea ceremony right before the pandemic hit, and I wanted to learn more about what tea means in different cultures. So I ordered a few things from Tea Huntress here in Nashville. But Pique Tea is great. There’s all this science and ritualization that goes into it that I found really helpful.
7. DYEposit I’m a little horrified because it’s a product that my hair dye company, Good Dye Young, released last year, but I genuinely use this once a week. [The actress] Jane Asher was the poster on the walls of my mind as we were planning looks for this tour — a little bit strawberry blonde. I use copper DYEposit, and it keeps me from having to re-dye my hair all the time.
8. Alexis Smart Flower Remedies It’s kind of like Bach Rescue Remedy. You can go on her website and pick these tinctures based on where you’re at, not where you want to be. I purchased a few for social anxiety, as we’re getting ready to be around people again, and for any time I feel impostor syndrome. I wish I’d known about this for “Petals for Armor” because I would have been like, “Yo, can we make a blend?”
9. Pre-Owned Clothes Growing up, the guys and I shopped at thrift stores almost exclusively. In high school, everyone wanted to look like, I don’t know, Phantom Planet. I didn’t have money, and it was cool. Now it’s for the planet. I hate buying something without any thought and then getting rid of it two months later. I collect vintage T-shirts. I made a decision that when I buy for my personal closet, I will go to Depop or B.Real. It’s a way into sustainability for people that really love fashion.
10. “Play Time” Solange just composed this beautiful music for a ballet called “Play Time” that was choreographed by Gianna Reisen. I’m going to take my mom to New York in May before we get busy on the U.S. tour. My mom was a ballerina and was injured early on. Later, she worked for the National Dance Institute under Jacques d’Amboise. My 10,000 hours has obviously gone in a different direction, but ballet resonates so much with me.