Paramore's Hayley Williams remembers the first time she saw Madison Square Garden.
"One day, we're going to be back here," she told her bandmates on their first trip to Manhattan. "I don't know when it's going to be, but our name is going to be up there."
Williams laughs at the prediction now, knowing firsthand how hard it is to achieve arena headliner status. "It kind of felt like lip service to my own self," she says, calling from her home in Franklin, Tenn. "But somewhere deep down I did believe that. I knew that it had to happen."
And soon it will. When Paramore takes the Madison Square Garden stage Wednesday, it will put an exclamation point on what has been a banner year for the trio. The ambitious "Paramore" became their first No. 1 album in April, while the catchy "Still Into You" recently became their first Top 10 hit on Top 40 radio.
"It definitely feels like sort of a rags-to-riches thing," Williams says. "We played some of the smallest, most incredible shows that I will never forget. But it's also incredible to play massive shows and see our songs do well. We have songs on Top 40 radio, which blows my mind. It doesn't feel like we took the short cut. It feels like we took the long road, and I'm so glad we did."
While it seems much smoother now, Paramore's road to success has had more than its share of twists and turns, including the acrimonious departure of two members in 2010 who questioned Williams' motives as an artist and a person. Paramore decided to continue on as a trio -- Williams, guitarist Taylor York and bassist Jeremy Davis -- but needed to take some time off to regroup.
"We'd been through a lot," Williams says, adding that the band struggled initially to put the controversy behind them.
"We were having writers' block," she says. "It was frustrating. We were putting way too much pressure on ourselves. This is the kind of record where it could become a disaster. We decided it could be miserable, or we could have a good time with it.... We've had to sort of pick each other up along the way when one of us was down. It felt so right to move forward and do something different. We needed to prove to ourselves that there was a reason we decided to stick around."
Coming of age on the Vans Warped Tour, Paramore has always had to balance their indie-rock roots and love of roaring guitars with a poppier sensibility. Instead of picking one side or the other, the band decided to embrace both on "Paramore."
"It's hard to try new things because some of it feels really foreign, but some of it feels like it was always there," Williams says. "You have to show people that. You have to show people that it really is genuine, even if it does sound different. You have to show that it's real to you, that you made that from your heart. I think people can sense that. People can smell a phony from a long way off."
Williams says the sweet, guitar-powered love song "Still Into You" was a turning point in the process for them. "'Still Into You' was one of the songs where we started to write it and I did feel, like, 'This is really different,'" Williams says. "But it was the most fun I ever had recording a song. I was thinking, 'Are we crazy?' And Taylor was, like, 'What are you talking about? You love it.'"
York pushed Williams to keep going, telling her, "If you like it, then it's cool."
"It's that simple," Williams says. "If we love it and it's real to us, then we should just do it and not hold ourselves back. That's what we did. It wasn't so much about gaining commercial success as much as it was about being a band again."
That said, Williams admits they were nervous about what their longtime fans would think of the new songs. "I was so afraid that our fans would hear it and go, 'What is this?'" Williams says. "Oh, it was the worst kind of torture.... Now that it's happened, I'm kind of wondering why we ever waited to really show all these different sides to us. It's been in us forever."
Not only did longtime fans embrace Paramore's more expansive sound, they won over enough new ones to require arena shows on their current tour. The success has even encouraged Williams to try out other styles, including "Stay the Night," her current hit collaboration with EDM whiz Zedd.
"The coolest part for me is knowing how many of our old-school fans from eight years ago are going to be there," Williams says. "It makes me feel like we all did this together.... It feels like this is the next step, that this is the right way to go."
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Wednesday, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan
INFO $35-$79.50; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Warped Tour wonders
Paramore made quite an impression at its Vans Warped Tour debut on the tiny Shira Girl stage in 2005 and has been growing ever since. Here's a look at some other acts from the Warped Tour Class of '05:
Fall Out Boy
IN 2005 The band's album "From Under the Cork Tree" was released shortly before the tour began, with the single "Sugar, We're Goin' Down" starting to cross over from alternative radio to pop stations.
CURRENT STATUS Returning from hiatus, the band saw its new album, "Save Rock and Roll," hit No. 1 this year. With a string of hits and a major arena tour, the band is as popular as ever.
BIGGEST HIT "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" (No. 2, 2007)
IN 2005 The group leaned more toward metal then and had just released "City of Evil," its major-label debut, before the Warped Tour began.
CURRENT STATUS The band's sound is free-ranging hard rock, which has won it a wide array of fans, landing the group its first No. 1 album last year with "Nightmare."
BIGGEST HIT "Nightmare" (No. 51, 2010)
Plain White T's
IN 2005 The group had released its third album, "All That We Needed" and was pushing "edgier" singles before putting out the super-sweet "Hey There, Delilah" right before starting Warped Tour.
CURRENT STATUS Working on a new album, featuring the new single, "The Giving Tree," as well as a current co-headlining a tour with Parachute that was set to stop at The Space at Westbury on Saturday.
BIGGEST HIT "Hey There, Delilah" (No. 1, 2007)