Daphne Willis
Daphne Willis
Jason Lee Denton

Daphne Willis Talks 'Somebody's Someone' Inspiration, Overcoming Mental Illness

by Brandon Friederich
July 03, 2017, 10:03am EDT

Musicians generally fall into one of two categories: those who willingly reveal the meaning and inspiration behind any given piece (think Lady Gaga) and those who are decidedly silent on the topic (think Lou Reed).

An example of the former, Daphne Willis wasn’t afraid to speak candidly about her song “Somebody’s Someone,” which Billboard is premiering the acoustic version of today, July 3.

“I’ve suffered from depression and insomnia… and I self-medicated for a long time,” she told us while discussing the ballad’s lyrics. “It’s as much a song about reaching out to someone who’s in trouble as it is a song about you yourself not feeling alone and reaching out to others.”

Willis’ song shines an uplifting light on the debilitating darkness occupied by the homeless and mentally ill. And as a lesbian artist, she also sees that the stigma carried by these people isn’t much different than the those carried by members of the LGBTQ community. We are all part of the “human race,” as she says.  

Billboard caught up with Willis and received full disclosure on the personal experiences that inspired “Somebody’s Someone” and how being gay has shaped her music over a decade-long career.

The lyrics to “Somebody’s Someone” paint a picture of someone whose loved one is in a bad place but can’t seem to help themselves. Where did the inspiration for this song come from?

The inspiration for the song comes from my own personal experiences and my belief that mental health falls on a spectrum. I’ve been all over that spectrum through the course of my life — I’ve suffered from depression and insomnia and things like that. I know what that isolation feels like.

The song was written with a friend of mine. We’ve had similar experiences with ourselves and with our families. We wrote it as a reminder to ourselves and to others that we all matter, and we’re all somebody’s someone.

It’s as much a song about reaching out to someone who’s in trouble as it is a song about you yourself not feeling alone and reaching out to others.

The opening line is, “Bright light on the corner of a dark street, just a cardboard sign and a can in between some dirty bare feet.” Is the song meant to humanize that person instead of just taking them at face value?

Exactly. I see homeless people everywhere, and it’s a hard situation. I think a lot of people jump to conclusions and make assumptions about homeless people in general, and I kind of wanted to paint it in a broader stroke.

We talk about mental health when we talk about addiction. People jump to those same conclusions about someone who has a heroin addiction or somebody who has a meth addiction, and they lump them into the same category as someone who’s completely incompetent, ignorant or stupid, or something like that. I just wanted a song that humanizes those people too.

When you think of them as your brother or sister or someone in your family, all of a sudden you have this empathy and compassion. It’s really important that we all have empathy right now.

You mentioned that you’ve struggled with depression and insomnia. What about addiction?

Yeah! I’ve been off of alcohol for a year and a half, and I self-medicated for a very long time. It was a very dark time in my life, but through therapy and medication and reaching out to my family and my loved ones, I’ve been able to come around.

It’s not like while I was in that I was some sort of train wreck and was unable to function. I think that notion also goes with the idea of lumping people into some sort of category. For me, I feel I can be open in talking about these things, even talking here with you.

Before, there was that fear and that stigma where I would worry that you are going to judge me or think there’s something wrong with me. But that’s not the case — I think so many people struggle with that stigma and struggle with being open about their experiences. That seems to be where a lot of the problem stems from.

So yes, I’ve had experiences with all of these things, and that’s where the inspiration for the song came from.

Absolutely. To your point, if more people spoke openly about drug use, more people would probably realize that they self-medicate.

Exactly. So many people self-medicate, and they don’t even know that they’re doing it.

Because “Somebody’s Someone” is so personal, do you prefer to perform the song solo with acoustic guitar?

I do it with the band too, and for me, it’s powerful both ways. I don’t like a lot of production around the song. Even when I do it with the band, it’s very sparse with the players, or else it sounds cluttered. I really want the core message to come through, and I don’t want to dress it up with a lot of other sounds, melodies, et cetera.

There’s definitely power in performing it solo, but performing it with other people almost gives it a stronger voice because there’s more community involved in it. It becomes more of a collaborative message together. Everybody is in it, and you can feel that energy of everyone in the band feeling the song and in whatever way it applies to their own lives.

That energy is absolutely amazing for me. Being on stage with my peers and friends doing that together is pretty powerful.

Though Pride Month is over, Billboard is continuing to utilize its newest social media channel to highlight LGBTQ talent. As a lesbian artist, why do you think it’s important to celebrate Pride?

Celebrating any sort of minority group and recognizing trials and triumphs of anybody is always important, and the gay community is no different. It’s just one more way we bring the human race together.

Well said. Are there any ways that your sexual orientation has shaped your music throughout the years?

Certainly. I write mostly about positivity and self-empowerment. I’ve never personally viewed being gay as a major obstacle, but when I was younger I had my issues with it in terms of just being really comfortable with myself. That whole process has definitely influenced my writing.

Can you point to any albums or songs in particular that were influenced by your journey?

Stuff on the current record definitely has that tone of overcoming adversity. Most of it has to do with my battles with depression and self-medication, but a lot of those issues coincide with one another. They all form a similar experience.

There’s a song called “Freak Like Me” on the record that’s about learning and not being afraid of yourself.

What’s next?

I have loads of tour dates that we’ll be announcing over the next couple weeks. I love to travel, tour and play shows, so I’m very excited to announce dates and get into some new places. We’ll also releasing the full album, Freaks Like Me, either later this summer or in the fall.