Why Hayla is ready to be more than the ‘featured vocalist’ on your favourite DJ’s biggest songs

With her debut album on the way, we meet with the British vocalist to learn about her journey into becoming a producer and performer for herself.

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Hayla’s voice has been heard by millions. Her soaring, operatic vocals are essential to some of the biggest songs in modern dance music.

Over the past few weeks alone, the Liverpool-born, London-based artist has dominated the stage at world-famous festivals and venues. She sang Shiver with John Summit to close out the Sahara tent during the second weekend of Coachella. Then, across the following two weekends, she performed deadmau5 and Kaskade’s charting single Escape at the Hollywood Bowl and the Brooklyn Mirage as a part of deadmau5’s 25-year celebration, restro5pective.

In the years prior Hayla, real name Hayley Williams, performed these songs at other major venues such as BMO Stadium in Los Angeles, the electronic mega fest EDC Las Vegas, and Kx5’s set at the LA Coliseum. The latter was crowned “the largest single-day concert headlined by an electronic music artist in North America,” according to Pollstar.

But Hayla is so much more than a headline DJ’s accompanying singer. On top of the extreme power of her voice, she is a songwriter who co-writes all of her major vocal collaborations. She is also adding “producer” to her resume, as she continues to experiment with making music from scratch.

Now, with her debut (currently untitled) album dropping this year, she is standing firm in her identity as a solo artist.


“It’s my time to try something for me. I’ve found the confidence,” Hayla says in a strong and expressive Northern English accent. “It’s so nice to have complete creative control over something.”

I’m sitting with Hayla in the dimly lit and effortlessly chic lobby of the Moxy Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. We’re chatting in the days leading up to her debut performance at Coachella. She was in Southern California for a couple of weeks before the show, working in studio sessions all around town.

When Hayla works on a track, she’s in the room building the music from the ground up, whether she’s the featured vocalist or the primary artist.

“The nice thing about this album is I’ve been in the room exactly when we’ve been creating it from nothing,” Hayla explains. “It’s great to be in the room and have that electric feeling.”


One artist with whom Hayla has shared that spark is the UK dance DJ and producer, Will Clarke. Hayla and Clarke first connected when they wrote Escape, which was originally going to be Clarke’s song but, through the nature of the industry, ended up in the hands of Kx5. Since then, they’ve had multiple sessions and written 20 songs together.

“The thing I love about Hayla is every session is like a therapy session. I have a really good relationship with her. We can both open up and talk about life, which for me, in a studio session in music is super important,” Clarke says from his studio in London. “That means even if you come out of the session and the record’s not that great, you’ve had the best day. There’s no pressure — that’s important for when I want to write for people.”

“[Will is] so great at what he does. Working with him is great because we can bounce ideas. I feel very confident and comfortable with him. That creative energy and flow—It’s very easy to work with him,” Hayla says.

As Clarke describes, he and Hayla work rapidly during their sessions. He comes in with some foundations – “like four or five ideas, and I mean ideas like very bare-bone chord progressions.” She creates the vocal melody and they hit record. From there, they write lyrics and form up the song. The whole process can be as fast as 30 minutes.

Clarke calls it standard songwriting, but he acknowledges that Hayla brings something to the sessions that no one else can:

“Her voice is just fucking amazing,” Clarke says. “It’s dangerous because her voice is so good that you can rely on the voice too much. It can make everybody lazy in the room on making the actual best song because her voice is so good.”

Hayla records her voice completely dry with no reverb. Once they have the recording down, Clarke adds what he calls “fairy dust” on the back end. He does slight tweaks with a few plugins such as the Waves JJP Vocals and TAL Reverb 2. But for the most part, he lets her sound exist as he heard it in the room.

“I want to hear the rawness of vocalists singing. I want to hear the dips in their voice. I want to hear when they go out of tune. I want to hear all the imperfections of the human voice is beautiful for,” Clarke says. “She’s not demanding as a vocalist. She just gets in and gets it done.”

Hayla was getting it done as a singer years before she was working with Clarke, deadmau5, Kaskade, or John Summit. But she never led her own project either.

For a long time, she sang in different cover bands in bars around the UK. She was a backup singer. She sang at weddings. She also spent many years as a ghostwriter for other artists and taught vocal lessons (she still teaches a 65-year-old man as she has for the past four years).

All of these experiences allowed her to express her love of different genres, but she also struggled to find her own voice.

“It took me a long time to figure out who I am and what I really wanted to say —if there was anything that I could put down on paper that people would be interested to hear,” Hayla says.

Now after writing songs that hundreds of thousands of people sing back to her, she knows beyond a reasonable doubt that people are interested in what she has to say on her album.

The two singles she’s released so far — Embers and Fall Again — live within the same melodic four-on-the-floor realm as her big collaborations like Escape, Shiver, and Where You Are, the last of which is another co-write with John Summit (that former President Barack Obama listed as one his favourite songs of 2023).

But overall, the album reflects Hayla’s comprehensive love of music.

“It’s a little bit eclectic, this album. It fits into the mould of who I am. Being able to show different levels of what kind of music I’m personally into. Also my journey in emotions throughout different things in my life. It’s gonna hopefully make people feel a bit closer to me as an artist on my own rather than me as a featured artist.”

Another reason listeners will feel closer to her on this album is because she is sharing original productions. She made the bulk of the tracks on the album with other producers, but she produced one of the tracks entirely on her own.

She describes the song as “ethereal,” “keys-and-synth-based,” and “very vocal harmony-led.” In the song, she layered 15 vocal tracks, recording them in her bedroom with an NT1A RØDE mic into Logic Pro X.

“It’s not a song. It’s more of a feeling, I suppose. It’s a nice breather.” Currently, she says she can produce well enough to get an idea across, but she wants to improve her production skills; she is holding herself accountable through the album. “I wasn’t sure if I was actually confident enough to put it on there, but I’ve just decided that I’m going to do it.”

Hayla performing
Hayla performing

Hayla gives a lot of credit to her collaborators (whom she describes as “kindred spirits”) for helping her build her confidence. She thanks Summit and Kx5 for their support in welcoming her to the stage. But more than just her personal benefits, singing in these massive venues has allowed her to connect with an audience in a way she never had before.

“Being on those stages and being in front of that many people — you get addicted to that feeling,” Hayla says. “Something that I wrote and sang in a room far, far, far away from here is being played out and resonates with so many people. If I can share that emotion with people and that collective energy, it’s amazing.”

It might have taken years, but now Hayla is ready to share her most authentic emotions. She made her upcoming album with other people, but these songs represent who she is as an artist in her own right.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


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