Nashville-based singer-songwriter Daphne Willis is playing in Durango this Friday evening with local girl-group The Cannondolls (she was here last for The Cannondolls’ EP release party in August at the Rochester Hotel). Raised in the Chicago suburbs, the out-and-proud pop musician has a soulful voice and a merry disposition. She released her first independent EP “Matter of Time” in 2007 and has since put out several more EPs and two records. She has performed at pride festivals in support of the LGBT community, co-written with John Oates (of Hall and Oates) and Meghan Trainor and recently released a Beatles tribute album. We spoke to Willis about her thoughts on musicians who get involved with politics and why she’s passionate about mental health.
You live in Nashville now. People assume it’s just a country music town. Why is it a great place to make pop songs? When I was in Chicago, my label had me coming down to Nashville all the time for co-writes, which is something you really only do in cities like LA, Nashville, New York. Nashville is more historically a country-genred city. But when I was coming down here, they were pairing me with a lot of writers who swung both ways, and there was this trend of people wanting to do pop music. And it didn’t really matter that I was doing pop – it was almost a good thing, how I was doing something different, that people were more attracted to. There’s a huge pop music scene here, and indie rock … it’s a very eclectic array of genres.
You co-wrote a song with Meghan Trainor, who is pretty huge on the pop scene now (“All About That Bass”). What was that experience like? It was great. Like a typical writing session. This was before she exploded, and we wrote the song pretty quickly. She’s extremely talented, but you just never know … literally three months later, boom, she was everywhere. It was so cool to see how fast her career took off. She actually got discovered at the Durango Expo!
You recently finished “Come Together,” an acoustic EP that re-imagines five tracks by The Beatles. Why did you decide to pay tribute to them? It came out in August. I’m a huge, huge Beatles fan. I grew up with them, and I think their songs are timeless. I was playing a song in New York, and my Sony people – I write at Sony now – were there. I play a version of “Eleanor Rigby,” and they were like, ‘Dude we have the Beatles catalog. You should totally do some Beatles songs for film and TV.’ They get requests all the time for commercials, film and stuff, for Beatles covers. I’ve been working on it as a side project for the last year. It ended up being very different from my other stuff, directionally, from a production standpoint.
There have been a lot of musicians like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry promoting Hillary Clinton, and then some musicians who stay quiet about politics, like Taylor Swift, who get a lot of criticism for that. Do you think it’s important for musicians and artists to speak out about topical issues? It depends on what your message is as an artist. Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are maybe not outwardly feminist, but they are feminist in their woman-power kind of vibe. So it makes sense for them to do that. Taylor Swift is not, that’s not her message. It also depends on what your fans want from you; if Lady Gaga and Katy had been quiet about it, I think they may have gotten more flak than if they spoke up. A lot of the issues in this election were opinion-based, so a lot of people were looking to try and figure out what is socially acceptable, where the norm is, what’s OK or what’s not, what’s misogyny and bullying and what’s not. The definition has been so lost over the last few decades. I hope people make their own decisions, but pop culture plays a huge part in how people feel and think about things. The masses idolize people like that, whether they want to admit it or not.
You wrote a song called “The Struggle is Real,” which advocates for mental health awareness. What’s your personal relation to that and why is it an important issue? Mental illness runs in my family. I think everybody I’ve ever spoken to has been touched by it in some way, shape or form. I’ve suffered from anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia for almost my whole life. I’ve been on medications and in therapy, all that stuff. And the more I talk to people about it and open myself up to it, the more I find out everybody struggles with it. Music has always been my outlet for that, as have writing and the studio. Now, the mental health movement is finally starting to take off, but a lot of people are still really hesitant to say that they suffer from depression. Even the word ‘depression,’ people are scared of it. We all go to the gym, we try to eat healthy, take care of our bodies … but our brains are the most important part of our bodies.
Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldDGO Staff Writer