Daphne Willis performs at Alaqua Animal Refuge’s Bone-anza event Dec. 11 and returns next January for the third 30A Songwriters Festival. (Publicity Photo)
Daphne Willis is no stranger to these parts, having headlined July’s Share the Shelter Music Fest at Gulf Place and performed numerous times at local venues like Seagrove Beach’s La Botana and the Naked Grape in Santa Rosa Beach. The Beachcomber spoke to Willis by phone from her stomping grounds in Nashville while she was between meetings and songwriting sessions.
This being the time of year that it is, we were wondering about your Christmas plans. I’m going to be in Nashville. A couple of my friends are leaving town and wanted me to watch their house. They live by my folks, so I’ll be with family.
What’s on your wish list this year? A heart rate monitor and running shoes.
Don’t you get enough exercise on stage? Apparently not (laughs).
You’re 24 years old, yet the songs and subject matter on your most recent album, Because I Can, suggest maturity beyond your years. I read a lot and like to look into how other people see things—other perspectives and perceptions. I’ve always been an avid reader. I like to read fiction, Brit lit, action thrillers, historical novels, city histories. I do audiobooks when I’m on the road. I’m on a comedy kick right now—I read Bossy Pants (by Tina Fey) and I’m doing David Sedaris right now. Before that, I was on a thriller kick with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Hunger Games trilogies.
With the current album, you started collaborating with other songwriters. How did that come about? Here in Nashville a lot of people do co-writes. I want to be challenged and do new things. Push myself. The only way to get better is to continue writing. Writing with other people is a great way to learn new things. I just got out of a writing session—we wrote a song called “People That Matter.” We’ll probably play that when we come down.
Your Web site (www.daphnewillis.com) says you pared down the lineup for Because I Can from 50 to 60 songs you’d written. A lot of those were just scraps and song titles. There were probably 30 demos we went through that might make the next record unless I write more.
You seem to dabble in R&B more than most Nashville singer-songwriters. I’m from Chicago, so there’s a lot more soul and blues. I listen to a lot of old school R&B—soul, Motown-y stuff. I think it’s the blend of Nashville and Chicago.
Your parents were both part of the Austin, Texas music scene in the 1980s. What influence did they have on your career choice? My dad worked at Sony/BMG and my mom was a vocal major and raised me singing. It almost made me not want to go into the industry, knowing how difficult it was. But I had the passion when I graduated from high school. I always planned on music being more of a hobby. When Vanguard got interested and wanted to sign me up, it nudged me toward making it a career choice. I was in my sophomore year of college, kind of on the fence, but my parents were very supportive.
According to All Music Guide, your father was working with Sony Music, helping to coordinate in-flight music for major airlines, and dropped some Daphne Willis songs into one of the American Airlines playlists. This led to your contract with Vanguard Records, yes? That’s not true. There’s a sublicensing company that does the playlists, and we shopped my EP around. But my dad was part of the process, helping me. I’m so lucky having him as a reference, just from a sheer knowledge standpoint. He’s the man. He’s been in the industry forever and can explain and talk me through anything.
You did the Share the Shelter benefit for Alaqua Animal Refuge in July, and you’re returning Dec. 11 for their “Boneanza” event. What’s your connection with Alaqua? I know Laurie Hood pretty well now. I’ve been to their location, the farm or whatever. I think Laurie is such an inspiration. The passion just drips off of her.
She loves those animals so much and has a big heart. Any time I see someone like that, I’m more than happy to spread the word and bring more people together. Animals are something I’m passionate about, and I’m more than happy to come down and do it.
What do you like about our area? I grew up in Chicago and live in Nashville now, which is not a big city but kind of urban-ish. It’s nice to come there (Florida) and make friends. It’s a music community, a community that supports all kinds of things. It’s a little more relaxed and easier for me to mellow out. And it’s obviously beautiful.
Who are some of the local musicians you’ve heard and liked? Kelsey Anna’s great. I know Kyle LaMonica, Dread Clampitt… those are the ones I’m most familiar with.
Are you looking forward to the 30A Songwriters Festival in January? Heck, yes! I know a lot of the people that are playing. I’m looking forward to Shawn (Mullins) and those guys. There’s a lot of people on the roster—Angel Snow is a friend of mine, and hopefully we’ll get housed together. She’s amazing. She had a couple tracks on Alison Krauss’ last record.
///DAPHNE’S GREATEST HITS (SO FAR)
“I Will Be Waiting” (from Because I Can, 2011)
“My Shoes” (from Matter of Time, 2007)
“Love and Hate” (from What to Say, 2010)
“Do What You Want” (from Because I Can). “That was the first tune I ever wrote with a drum track,” says Willis. “We were writing over at Angela Lauer’s. It’s such a fun, energetic song. This is so lighthearted and spirited, and the message behind it—being yourself and not caring what other people think—is great.”
“Circumstances” (from Because I Can)