Released after a four-year recording hiatus, Paramore’s new album After Laugher was deemed by Rolling Stone, among others, to be one of the best records of 2017 – but it proved to be a polarising release for its devote pop punk and emo following. “To be honest, we can just never win,” says the band’s guitarist Taylor York. “As an artist, you wanna play new songs; things that you’re inspired by. You’re trying to kind of show people a new era; an era where we currently are.”

While Paramore have always appeared self-assured and proud of their pop punk roots, the band’s fresh mainstream confidence comes from their trying to move away from a certain immaturity – even though they know they’ll be criticised for it. “No matter what we do, we’re always letting people down, and they’re always gonna be like, ‘Why didn’t you play that?’ We’ve gotten better at kind of brushing that off a little bit, but we always care,” explains York. “We’ve spent so long trying to figure out, ‘Alright, how do we put all the songs in the set?’ We wanna make it special for our fans who have been supporting us for a long time, but they have also heard us play the songs so many times, so…”

The guitar tonality on tracks like ‘Hard Times’ manages to stay true to the band’s original sound without feeling jarring in the new pop context; a move that’s difficult to pull off without seeming naff or like you’re selling-out. Indeed, the band are more proud of After Laughter than almost anything they’ve released – even if Williams does admit recording the album came with its own emotional baggage. “It was kind of a heavy record to write, even though it was a lot of fun. We got to do different things than we used to do – things that we really enjoy.”

Throughout the record, what with her bold voice, and the lush instrumentation unfolding around her, Williams calls to mind a 1963 Lesley Gore singing about teen heartache on ‘It’s My Party.’ Tracks like ‘Rose-Coloured Boy’ burst with colour, life, and above all, rebellion – on that track, Williams shouts, “Just let me cry a little bit longer, I ain’t gonna smile if I don’t want to”.

Original drummer Zac Farro has spent the last five years making music under the HalfNoise moniker, but with After Laughter, the titan has returned to the fold. As far as he’s concerned, the time away from the group has allowed him to develop a clearer, more uncluttered headspace, and to bring something significantly more honest to the record. “I feel like as a songwriter, taking that time away from touring meant I learnt more about my passion for writing music,” explains Farro. He describes his return Paramore and becoming “friends with Hayley and Taylor in a musical way” as “effortless”.

The band have always tried to do their own thing. Although some members of the media have noted a certain sonic camaraderie between Paramore and their Fueled By Ramen labelmates – bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco – they’ve always felt a little like outsiders. “It kind of was weird for us, like growing up … like we’ve never played with Panic,” says Williams.

“I think it was really cool atmosphere, especially for bands who supported that sector of the scene that we were a part of … But in other ways we felt like we didn’t fit in to it completely, and we needed to forge our own paths as well, so we’ve taken steps throughout the last decade or so to try and enforce our individuality as a band [and] find our own voice in a sea of bands that were young and that were playing fun, kind of more punky music.

“Ultimately, I’d say we’re really lucky that we grew up playing and touring at the time that we did; like, to be where we are now and to only be in our late twenties and be able to look back at the memories that we have had is pretty incredible. And now that we’re older, we have an even clearer vision of where we wanna go. It’s like, we can take all those lessons we leant and be more confident in where we want to go.”

For many young emo devotees, Williams was one of the few female heroes to be found in an overcrowded, male-dominated scene. Thankfully, that’s starting to change, and Williams embraces the emergence of new calls for gender equality – although she’s in no rush to demonise or idolise. “I don’t believe any human being is worthy of being worshipped because we all have the exact same capacity to hurt each other, hurt ourselves, and just generally make an absolute mess of the lives we’re given,” Williams explains.

“And narrowing it down to the issue of masculinity and gender is tough. Of course, boys need to begin to see examples of vulnerability and show respect towards the opposite sex at a very young age. But it also shouldn’t solely have to do with gender and sexuality – it should have to do with humanness and co-existence.

“I’m tired of seeing people speaking from regret and not from a place of actual intelligence on the matter. There has to be some educational, compassionate conversation so that we can get ahead of these problems before they turn into real pain.”

This article was originally published on Don’t Bore Us’ sister site The Brag.