Daphne Willis show to raise funds and awareness for lawyers’ mental health and addiction issues

Daphne Willis

Daphne Willis Jason Denton


Lawyers and musicians wouldn’t seem to have much in common.

And yet both groups share struggles with addiction and mental health issues. An upcoming benefit concert will unites these seemingly disparate fields to raise funds for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), a local non-profit that provides free, confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students statewide who are struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

In her own music, Daphne Willis, a Nashville-based indie-folk-pop artist, focuses on mental health, personal growth, and self-empowerment. She’s also had her own struggles with addiction and mental health issues. So when administrative law judge Eric Lipman, a longtime fan, asked Willis to play the benefit concert, she was all in. “I was super blown away with what they’re doing,” she says of LCL. “I think they have an incredible message.”

We asked Willis about her involvement with this sober event that includes a social hour ahead of the concert on Friday.

City Pages: What is your personal history with alcoholism and/or addiction?

Daphne Willis: I started self-medicating when I was in high school. It’ll be two years in March that I’ve been in recovery. It’s been a long time coming and it’s been an incredible journey. I feel like it’s definitely changed the way I write music. It’s been pretty amazing.

CP: What were you self-medicating initially?

DW: I have clinical depression and also PTSD from childhood sexual trauma and an assault that also happened in college, when I was already self-medicating.

CP: What made you realize you needed help?

DW: I got tired of losing my voice. The physical downsides of self-medication are exhausting. And really seeing the people that care about me suffer and be worried about me. I felt like I was hurting people around me, so I decided to quit.

CP: What kind of treatment did you seek?

DW: I had had periods of sobriety over the course of my self-medication of a month here, a month there. I never was bad enough with the alcohol that I needed to actually go to a facility to detox. I just did therapy – lots and lots of therapy. I did a lot of reading. I did a lot of online outreach. I have always worked out and used exercise as a therapeutic remedy for anxiety. I continue to do that.

I also started trying some medications for anxiety and started working with a psychiatrist. I still haven’t found anything that has benefits that outweigh the side effects, but I have since found some homeopathic remedies. Also, with the time that has passed, I’ve just gotten a little bit more comfortable with all of the feelings and the emotions. The anxiety has subsided a lot just due to doing the work. It’s still there and there’s work ahead and it’s a constant thing. Personal growth is a journey that never ends. It’s an incredibly journey and it’s a great journey, so I’m looking forward to continuing that.

CP: What is it like being sober in the music industry? Does the industry make it hard to stay sober? Or does making your music help you stay sober?

DW: It can help and also it can really not help. Unfortunately, being an artist, in a lot of situations, there’s alcohol everywhere and it’s free. A lot of the times, you’re just offered free alcohol and/or drugs. That can be really difficult. If you’re going to shows or mixers or hangs, everybody’s drinking most of the time. Although now that I don’t drink, I’m now noticing that there are actually people there not drinking. So that can be the downside of the music industry.

But I also really feel like writing music and performing music is something that has definitely been such a therapeutic and cathartic process for me and has helped me through all of this stuff. Even as I was self-medicating, I was using music to express my feelings and my emotions. I’ll look back on songs that I wrote and there’s little subliminal messages in the writing that I can pick up now that I wasn’t even really aware of at the time. It’s been a double-edged sword.

CP: How has sobriety affected your songwriting process? Sometimes artists say the magic gets lost. Has that been your experience?

DW: No. So when you first go sober, for me anyways, there was a three-month period where I felt weird and off and anxious. Also, with trying medications, that can really throw you off. Initially, it can throw your creative balance off but only because you’re processing so much. After that initial period, the writing has been much better, and clearer, and more concise. I write for other people [through a worldwide publishing agreement with Sony/ATV Music] and I write for myself. I do a lot of film and TV writing, too – commercials and things like that. So it’s been easier for me to categorize my writing and having more of a pointed purpose. It’s been easier to separate myself from what I’m writing and have a clearer, bird’s eye view over the creative process.

CP: The event you’re doing in St. Paul is a sober one. Do you think it would be a good change to see more sober concerts? Or do you think putting sobriety as the focus would deter people from coming?

DW: It’s complicated. It will deter people from coming because there are people who have social anxieties and want a drink or they want a glass of wine and don’t necessarily have a problem controlling themselves. It’s an interesting line. I think it’s a good idea to have sober events for people who are trying to stay sober, but then again, I don’t know. I think it would be great to maybe do an early show that’s a sober show and you do another show the next night that’s an alcohol show. Maybe you do two shows in the same town in one weekend.

Daphne Willis: Benefit for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers
When: 6 p.m. Fri. Jan. 26
Where: Auditorium, Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Tickets: $10-$100; more info here