With both Chicago and Texas in her bones — and music in her blood — Daphne Willis was destined to become a singer/songwriter. You can’t fight both nature and nurture, after all. Willis actually tried, though, but the call was too strong. And, so, she starting playing open mics and writing songs. Soon enough, she was spending the bulk of her time on the road. Her 2007 EP, Matter of Time, was quite right. It was only a matter of time before she landed a deal with Vanguard Records the following year. Skip forward six years and several releases, and her independently issued Live to Try album is, again, quite right.
After quite a few years on a small label, how does it feel to be a truly independent artist?
It feels liberating and terrifying at the same time! Aaaahhhh! Really, though, I do love being independent. It turns you into a bigger part of everything you do. Does that make sense? It puts so much more responsibility in my hands which, in turn, puts so much more control in them, as well. This largely has to do with having the ability to create my own team of people. The people you choose to represent you in the business arena of the music industry play a giant roll in how you as an artist are perceived. “Your message as an artist”… How do you want to convey it? It takes a lot of time, weeding, and upkeep, but it’s
well worth it when you find the right fit. I think I am off to a great start. I am really excited to be taking the reigns and feeling more ready than ever for this summer/fall of touring.
What’s the plan? How does a young, indie artist break through?
You will never be heard, if you don’t make a sound! I think that’s the name of the game here… and I love to play. I love playing shows; I love learning the ins and outs of social media (still learning about that derrrn Twitter); and I love writing. Having something to say that is actually relevant and positive is always the plan. I think that’s what drives me as a person. If you have a message, you just have to get it out there. But don’t say things just to say them. Make it count!
This year, I am focusing on being more present online with fans. I recently did a Pledge Music Campaign and it changed the way I viewed social media entirely. Instead of being something that I would run from because of the “fake” “electronic” aspects, I now see it is the quickest and easiest way to connect with more people. DUH. I know. Even as I write this it sounds pretty 1999, but it’s true. So the plan is to continue to come up with fun ways to connect online, while I’m out on the road connecting in person.
Your music is reminiscent of Jason Mraz’s. Who do you listen to and draw inspiration from?
I listen to ALL kinds of music. I’m currently rocking out to a lot of indie rock and pop. Big Data, Sia, Capital Cities, Young the Giant, and many, many more. I also listen to tons of classics like the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. And 2pac. Always 2Pac. I’m so gangsta.
You really are. And I can hear all of those influences in there. What has been — and continues to be — your process in terms of pushing yourself to learn and try new things, as both a songwriter and a vocalist?
Working with new people. I am constantly trying to surround myself with people that are WAY better than I am. Both in band mates, and in writing partners, this is something I strive to continue. I know this will continue to help me grow and develop. I am very lucky too, that they are willing and available.
Lastly, what’s up with the goggles? Inquiring minds want to know.
The goggles started as a gag purchase at a gas station on the way to Mo’s Summer camp about five years ago. I bought a pair, as sunglasses, and wore them on my head on stage. People in the crowd yelled out “PUT ON THE GOGGLES!!!” And so I did. As soon as I put them on, it was like putting on a super hero mask. I felt liberated!
After the show, I was talking to fans and everyone wanted to put the goggles on. As soon as anyone put them on, they would shift their hips, fling their arms in the air, or just burst into laughter. One of my friends that was there bought me a shiny, metallic pair a couple weeks later. I think it hit me then that, conceptually, the goggles represented a lot more than eye protection.
They are now a symbol of perception and perspective that I wear around my neck (or on my face) to remind myself that there are many lenses to look through and many lenses to be seen through. I may or may not have a large collection of goggles that include vintage World War l and ll fighter pilot goggles, along with some very random and very used goggles that fans have found and sent over the years.