FemFocused: Trauma Queen Valerie Williams

Welcome Valerie Williams, an independent singer, songwriter and musician who writes, records, and produces music out of her home, inspired by female singer/songwriters like Michelle Branch, Joy Williams, and Sara Bareilles and indie/Americana bands such as The Head and the Heart and Wild Rivers.

She recently released her new EP titled Trauma Queen, which features songs she wrote after experiencing a devastating fire that destroyed her home, many of her belongings, and took the life of one of her cats. About six weeks later, she was in a car with a friend and, in order to avoid a head-on collision with another driver who wasn’t paying attention, swerved into a tree. Thankfully, Valerie and her friend walked away unscathed.

“I’ve always struggled with my mental health, but after that experience I thought I lost my voice until one night the melody for a chorus came (literally) screaming out of me.”

says Valerie

The songs on Trauma Queen tell the story of trauma and recovery, alongside soaring harmonies, from the visceral emotions of watching your life fall apart in front of your eyes to the pain of healing and starting over. Hers is a story of survival, strength, and finding one’s voice. You can find Valerie on Facebook, Instagram and Spotify, and keep on reading for her very vulnerable and honest interview.

Welcome to Positive Publicity! To begin, how have you been doing during the pandemic? Have you found inspiration in unexpected ways?

I feel pretty fortunate, because I’ve been doing really well. I’m VERY introverted, so the fact that I’m single and live by myself ends up being very positive for me. I’ve really enjoyed and embraced having this abundance of time to be creative, so even though I haven’t actually written much music during this time, I’ve found myself feeling inspired and excited by learning to play songs I love and trying to put my own unique twist on them. For instance, I randomly ordered a melodica from Amazon and have had a lot of fun inserting melodica solos into random songs that I’m covering.

Your story is one of trauma, recovery and healing. I can’t imagine what that process must feel like. How has music been a positive outlet for you?

Music has always been a method of catharsis and healing for me. I’ve spent my whole life feeling like an outsider, and I’ve always written about it, but it wasn’t until I combined my love of writing with my love of music that things just clicked. And after losing so much of myself after the fire, music literally gave me back my voice. Writing music gave words to what I was feeling when I didn’t feel like I could actually say it. It helped me in a more concise way to understand what I was going through and what was important to me.

I started going to therapy not long after I started writing the songs that became Trauma Queen, and even when I wasn’t sure what I was feeling, I had these songs as a reference. I talked about them with my therapist and sent them to her, which I think definitely helped to give her a better grasp of my experience and even who I am.

“I’ve always found my strength in pretending to have strength.”

When people listen to Trauma Queen, what do you hope for them to feel?

Trauma Queen is such a personal album for me, and I hope it can be that for others as well. It deals with depression, loss, trauma (obviously), and also the pain of moving on, so I hope that people who are suffering from depression can listen to my songs and think, “Wow, this is how I feel,” and know they’re not alone, even when they feel like they are. I hope they feel like they have permission to be open, honest, and vulnerable about what they’re going through. Songs are so much better when they feel like they were written for whoever’s listening, so even though this album comes from my very specific experience, the lyrics are still pretty universal. There’s this theme of feeling trapped inside yourself and your own darkness and wanting nothing more than to be set free. 

When I play “Some Days I Don’t Feel Like Fighting” live, I like to introduce it by saying that after all the stuff I went through, especially since at the time I was also single and living alone and away from my family, that I didn’t have a choice but to pick myself up off the ground and just keep doing everything I did before. I had an incredible community around me that helped me in so many ways, but I had to keep going to work every day and I had to file my insurance claim, find a new place to live, buy clothes and furniture and all that fun stuff, and clean out my old apartment. In so many ways, that helped me, but it also hurt me because for the first month or so I was keeping myself busy and had so many people around me that in many ways I pushed a lot of what I was feeling down and it didn’t hit me until I had moved and was really alone again. (Especially because at some point I felt like a sad sack and felt like people were sick of hearing about it, and was basically told exactly that by a couple of acquaintances at one point.) I’ve always found my strength in pretending to have strength. So sometimes it’s brave to push through and do all of the things that you don’t think you can, and sometimes it’s just as brave to admit that you can’t.

I know that in our society we’re having a larger conversation about mental health, which is so important. I want Trauma Queen to be part of that conversation, both for the people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems, but also for the ones who aren’t and therefore don’t understand how many faces mental illness has, that just because you don’t look and act a certain way doesn’t mean you’re not suffering.

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