Daphne Willis is a relative newcomer to the alt-folk scene but she’s already receiving some major accolades. Raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Willis writes with a soulful maturity far beyond her 23 years on earth but does it with fearless optimism.
Her first release, What To Say, is a must-have for fans of Jack Johnson, Sara Bareilles, Jason Mraz and people who enjoy toe-tapping and smiling. It just so happens that I met Daphne a few years ago through a friend of mine who was obsessed with her music. She was (and still is) a short, queer hippie chick with some urban flare and a big smile. I didn’t know it at the time, but have now seen the light — she’s about to take the music scene by storm.
AfterEllen.com: Tell me a little bit about your background with playing guitar and singing. It was only three years ago that you played your first gig.
Daphne Willis: Well I started playing guitar my Junior year of high school, so about six years ago? It might have been my sophomore year. Not a lot of time at all and I’ve been singing my whole life, ever since I was a little shorty. I was doing musicals and choir. And I started writing poetry and getting really into literature in sixth grade and then when I started getting into playing guitar and accompanying myself I started structuring songs.
AE: How do you gain confidence as a poet or songwriter? I can remember writing poetry back in the day and looking back at it a few days later thinking it was really stupid.
DW: I guess it’s kind of practice. The first year of me performing was probably pretty rough. For me, it was rough and I’m sure for the audience it was rough too. It was a lot of trial and error. At first I was pretty nervous — I would go up and perform and just want to get off the stage, but it was still a cool feeling to put yourself out there. Once you get past the initial stage and feed off the audience and read the audience’s energy you can see if they’re connecting or if they’re totally disengaged.
Any reaction is good. Whether it’s negative or positive it’s a good thing. I’d rather get a negative reaction than no reaction at all because it means they’re paying attention. You’re saying something that’s actually hitting somewhere.
AE: Your album has gotten great reviews so far and I personally enjoy it. What do you think about the comparisons you’ve gotten to Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson and Ricky Lee Jones?
DW: It’s incredible! I’m extremely flattered by them. Jason Mraz is an incredible vocalist and lyricist as well as Jack Johnson and Ricky Lee Jones and I listen to all of them driving down the road. Any one of those CDs can be found in my car. So to be even considered on the same kind of playing field is really flattering.
AE: Is it ever annoying as a musician to be compared to other musicians?
DW: I don’t find it annoying, and as a music listener as well I find it helpful. When you’re describing music, everybody wants a comparison to see if they might like it. It’s almost like colors. The color blue, if you like the color blue, you might like the color aqua blue. You kind of need a place to start to describe something, so I don’t find it obnoxious, I find it helpful for other people. I know that some people feel like if they’re compared to others it’s like they don’t have their own sound, but I don’t feel that way. I know I have my own sound.
AE: Well I can see if they get compared to an artist they don’t like how they may not be too happy.
DW: Ah yes, well I didn’t really think about that. I’m cool with everyone I’ve been compared to so far!