It all started about two years ago at Domino’s Pizza on Avenue of the Cities in East Moline.
Hayden Williams, a former employee in the kitchen there, began manipulating his voice during work to make deep sounds and electronic — somewhat robotic — noises, a special talent and art form known as beatboxing.
“I would be washing dishes and beatboxing the White Stripes,” the 22-year-old United Township grad recalled. “I actually had to ask my ex how long we haven’t been dating because I pretty much started right before we broke up.”
With a couple years of consistent practice under his belt, Williams, who now lives in Waterloo, Iowa, and delivers pizza for a Domino’s there, said he feels much more confident with his speech in conversation.
“Talking is super easy now,” added Williams, who practices up to three hours every day and can replicate a wide range of instruments. “I’m still working on a lot of the noises I use, but I definitely didn’t sound the same three months ago as I do now — it’s the best feeling.”
Every so often, Williams returns home for Tuesday’s open mic night at Cool Beanz Coffeehouse in Rock Island, where he catches up with old friends, sips a complimentary beer and spits out a few beats on stage.
In the last three weeks, he’s actually performed twice at the cafe, where solo acoustic guitarists typically dominate the night.
The artist’s introductions remain simple, yet comedic:
“I make noises with my mouth and you guys have to listen to it,” he said late last month.
Annette Zapolis, who owns Cool Beanz at 1325 30th St., Rock Island, said Williams’ head-turning acts definitely diversify her weekly event.
"There's always at least a few minutes when everyone stops and watches because it's unique," she said.
Although Williams has performed less than 10 times on stage, he’s already captured some unlikely fans.
Bill Schaumburg, a longtime musician from Coal Valley, caught the twenty-something's bit on Tuesday, and left feeling intrigued by his "vocabulary of noises.”
“As a harmonica player, I’m jealous of the noises he can make," the 69-year-old said. “To me, it’s music in its own way.”
Eventually, Williams, whose emcee name is Beatnik, hopes to enter beatboxing competitions and host street performances.
"People don't know what I can do, but now that I've started, I just can't stop," said Williams, who refers to his mouth as a stereo system.
For now, though, Zapolis enjoys having him at her shows.
"It's nice to give artists a platform where they can try new things and work out kinks in front of an audience," she said. "And it’s good to open doors in people’s minds to new forms of music."