Writing Influences: Hayley Williams

I found my voice in writing when I found Paramore.

For most of my college career as a creative writing undergrad, I emulated the works of Kurt Vonnegut and George Saunders. Their sarcasm and dark humor intrigued me. For as long as I can remember, I have always been cynical –– something of a smart-ass. Yet, despite gravitating to their work, I didn’t possessed the courage to be bold with my words –– to “go there.” It just worked for men to maintain this blundering, albeit, intelligent presence in fiction.

As a woman, I felt I was supposed to perpetuate feminine expressions in writing –– flowery, romantic, delicate, and without substance –– or the complete opposite: desolate and depressing. And I didn’t like those extremes. I didn’t like feeling my writing had to sustain a gendered norm to get published, or be considered literary. I didn’t want to be neither feminine nor masculine, exclusively. I wanted my writing to be both –– to be graceless and graceful, to be crude and romantic simultaneously.

I had been listening to Paramore long before declaring my major. In the early 2000s, front-woman Hayley Williams seemed “Pressure[d]” (I apologize for the pun) to embrace her femininity. And while I felt some of it some of it was contrived (because the music industry is nearly identical to publishing: predominately male dominated, and gendered) I still thought of her as a badass. I still admired how she dominated the stage, a band of boys behind her, and more importantly, how her voice differentiated itself in style and tone. Her voice wasn’t gendered. It fit right in with the emo-style of Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday. . . Williams’ singing was what I wanted my writing to embody: a bold, genderless, and versatile form of self-expression.

While my friends visibly cringed at Paramore’s single, “Decode,” due to Williams’ discovery of controlled vibrato, I celebrated a vocal monument that ultimately led me to experimenting with my own voice –– literally!

Singing and writing have always been my number one passions, and Williams helped shaped my own unique tone.

I began taking voice lessons after teaching myself how to use my voice’s natural vibrato. Prior to lessons, I considered myself a decent singer. But if you listen to this cover of “Hello, Cold World”, the boldness that I was seeking, was not quite developed.

But I pushed myself to feel the words deep within my gut. I tasted them, and swished them around in my mouth. For me, that’s really want signing is about: it’s not the notes –– it’s the words. Once I knew their impact on my life, personally, it was that much easier to convey exactly what I meant and how I felt. That boldness? Came naturally. But I wouldn’t have known that without opening my mouth.

Soon after, knowing I could fill a room with my voice –– a confidence ensued and filtered into my writing. Just like that I had discovered the power of words, and I could sing them and write them without feeling I had to sound like other women, or men. My singing coach laughed every time I used my “big voice,” because it was nearly impossible to delicately express myself afterward. She couldn’t break me of the habit, and I didn’t want her to. Being big was part of me, now.

I cannot be delicate with my words, anymore. Because when I am hurt, or when I am facing “Hard Times,” they shouldn’t be pretty. Words are beautiful with every layer of texture, unfiltered. They don’t need to conform, or be “better” than Vonnegut or Hayley Williams. The voice just need to be sincere. The words just need to be –– you. And I couldn’t have learned that about myself if I hadn’t covered so many Paramore songs. I owe this discovery of the physical and figurative voice to Hayley Williams forever.

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