Unlike many who found themselves running towards music because they grew up around it, Donnie Napier walked away from it for a while. “My dad and my brother are both musicians. I saw first hand growing up how hard the music business can be, and it didn’t seem practical in a lot of ways for me to take that path even though deep down I always really wanted to do it,” said the now singer-songwriter. Once realizing having a “normal job” wasn’t really going to fit into his reality, he couldn’t help but fight what was apparently inherited.
That is where our back and forth starts, and as the rest unfolds we learn more about dealing with everything from Cerebral Palsy to not only a tornado that left Nashville in a rough spot but the pandemic that is still looming.
Kendra: From the looks of Spotify, you dropped your debut single back in 2018. A wonderful song I feel captures a piece of where I’m from perfectly, “West Coast Girl.” Why that year, that song? What changed in your life that made you want to press record instead of just singing as somewhat of a hobby?
Donnie Napier: I went to college and graduated in 2015. After that, I really did a lot of soul searching. I had graduated with a degree in Sports Management because I thought I wanted to work in the sports industry. I had a real passion for sports and still do, but I truly feel like God was calling me to really give the music thing a shot. He blessed me with the ability to do these things musically, so who am I to waste those gifts ya know? I’ve just always wanted to make a positive impact on as many people as possible through my music. That’s always been my ultimate dream even when I tried to deny it.
“West Coast Girl” itself came together really quickly from a writing standpoint. I’ve always romanticized the West Coast to an extent. My dad grew up in Southern California, so I’ve visited a lot, and it’s just one of my favorite places in the world. I’d had the “West Coast Girl” title for a while, and one day it just all kind of spilled out. I wrote the whole song in like five minutes. Then I got hooked up with my producer, Justin Wantz, and we hit it off instantly.
This was so cool for me because that was my first experience working with a producer in a studio and that whole deal. Before that, I was just producing little acoustic demos on my own and posting them on Soundcloud. Justin really believed in me from the beginning as an artist and that belief he’s had in me has been invaluable for me as I continue to grow.
Kendra: Since then you’ve dropped more singles and even an EP. It’s only been a couple of years, but have you noticed any growth in particular areas that you may have struggled with when you started?
Donnie Napier: I feel like from a songwriting perspective I’m starting to find my own voice. I’m getting more comfortable with being vulnerable which is what it’s all about really. I also think I’ve started getting more comfortable taking chances from a production standpoint and just seeing if certain sounds might work together that I hadn’t originally anticipated. That’s kind of the magic of being in the studio I think. When you’re open to trying different things the song can take on a whole new life that is totally unexpected. So I guess as a whole I’m just trying to constantly push myself more musically in every aspect.
Kendra: Your latest, “Next Man Up” has this rock meets pop vibe where it’d be just as comfortable on mainstream radio as it would being played at an intimate venue that houses indies. When you write, where do you imagine your music being played most?
Donnie Napier: You know this question used to torture me when I first started making music because I listen to so many different types of music, and I’m influenced by so many different things that I don’t want to necessarily be pigeon-holed by a specific genre. The best thing that could’ve happened for me was when mainstream artists started blurring genre lines. I mean Billie Eilish just released a Jazz song to Pop radio, and it’s an absolute smash!
I feel like with all the streaming platforms around these days most people aren’t just listening to one type of music and one type of music only. Everybody’s playlists usually have a wide variety of different types of music on there from Rock to Pop to Hip Hop to Country, etc. If I had to pick a genre to place myself in though, I’d probably say Pop just because I feel like it offers the most versatility. As long as a song has a catchy hook it can usually fit somewhere in the pop umbrella.
At the end of the day though, I’m grateful for anybody that wants to play my music or resonates with it in some way. Regardless of what genre people think my music fits in I just want the songs to connect with people. If the songs mean something to people then I feel like all the genre-related stuff will take care of itself.”
Kendra: People in industries across the board are hurting right now, but there has to be an extra layer of hurt being based out of Nashville. I have only been once but it definitely lived up to being a city built on music. 10 am and the bars were filled with performers! How do you feel Nashville will bounce back once things are clear?
Donnie Napier: Yeah Nashville has been hit extra hard for sure. One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that we were also hit by a really bad tornado just a few days before COVID really ramped up and the Stay at Home orders were put into place. A good portion of the community was in pretty bad shape even before COVID really took hold. So it has been a pretty insane year on a lot of levels for us.
I’ve lived here the majority of my life though, and the one thing that you can count on with Nashville is that we will band together and come back stronger than ever once we are finally in the clear from this virus. This community is so special and not just in Nashville. All throughout the Middle Tennessee area, complete strangers are always willing to lift each other up during tough times like these. I’m so proud to be from here, and I have no doubts that we’ll bounce back in a really positive way.
Kendra: Speaking of live music, as someone with cerebral palsy, how important do you feel it is for venues to be more compliant to ADA regulations because I’ve been to some venues where I’m like, this cannot be safe for me, let alone someone dealing with physical issues.
Donnie Napier: Oh I think it’s incredibly important for all businesses and venues to be more ADA compliant. It’s about being accessible to everyone and these places need to foster a welcoming environment for all people especially those people with physical disabilities. I feel very fortunate with the type of Cerebral Palsy that I have that I’m still able to walk, go up and downstairs, and do most of the things that are required to get into buildings and get around when I need to. However, there’s a huge population of people with physical disabilities that are not physically able to do some of these things, and they’re not being taken care of by businesses and venues across the country when it comes to inclusion.
One of the saddest things to me is that so many people with physical disabilities just don’t even bother trying to go to certain concerts anymore, because they feel like it’s going to be too hard for them to get into the venue or have a good place to watch the show. It’s just a tough situation anytime you feel like you’re not welcome in a place because of your disability, or that just you being there and having special needs is somehow a hassle or an inconvenience for the staff. I don’t think any of these businesses or venues are purposely keeping people with disabilities out or anything like that. Most of them are just unaware. These business and venue owners need to understand that a nonchalant attitude when it comes to ADA compliance directly conveys to people with disabilities that they’re not welcome, and that’s not okay.
So, I guess my hope is just that more business and venue owners just educate themselves on how to have the most inclusive facilities possible for everyone.
Kendra: Over the years mental illness has been the hot topic and because of that, many musicians have come forward more often than not to speak up about it – which is great, but why do you feel we’ve stalled on artists with physical disorders making it in the grand scheme of things?
Donnie Napier: Yeah the number of artists that have come out and openly talked about mental health recently has been amazing! I really commend all the artists that have done that. I think that when it comes to physical disabilities because they are usually so out there in the open and easy to see, that opens up more people to have preconceived notions about what a person with a physical disability can and can’t do. Society puts so many limits on people with disabilities when in reality there are so many people with disabilities that are incredibly talented. It’s just that a lot of times unfortunately those talents are never recognized because the majority of society is caught up on the things that they can’t do rather than the things that they could potentially thrive at.
Kendra: With all that’s going on, how do you feel 2020 has shaped your creativity and drive moving forward?
Donnie Napier: I will say I think the beginning of the whole quarantine process was really hard on me creatively. I was kind of trying to force myself to write because of all this extra free time and seeing everybody on social media doing all these cool new things. It was a lot to take in at once, but as I got into a little bit of a routine, I feel like my creativity really started kicking into gear. My drive right now is really high! I’m excited about some new stuff that I’m working on, and I just love being able to connect with people through music. If anything, I feel like I’ve gotten more inspired this year than usual because so many artists have been releasing such cool stuff this year.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Donnie Napier: Yeah! I’m currently working on some new songs, and I’m hoping to drop some of those in the fall. I’ll actually give you two songs that have been getting me through tough times lately! The first one is a new song called “When I Meet My Maker” by Tenille Townes off of her debut record. It’s just a beautiful song and something about it just puts me at ease. Anytime that I’m stressed or overwhelmed I can throw it on and everything just melts away.
I’ve become a big fan of Tenille over the last few months! The other song is ol’ faithful an oldie but a goodie…”Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi. That song has been at the top of my workout playlist for years now! Hahaha, it never fails to put me in a good mood or just get me pumped up about life. It’s just such a timeless tune!