With his latest release, “Cecelia”, emerging singer-songwriter Donnie Napier touches on rising above anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Released on February 25th, “Cecelia” is an uplifting pop tune reminding the listener of their positive impact on the world.
Napier is no stranger to overcoming struggle. Born with Cerebral Palsy, Napier has been a persevering force, not letting anyone or anything stop him from pursuing his talents, and breaking barriers in music. He is now an advocate for those who also have disabilities, and is living proof that a disability does not define anyone’s life or career.
Based in Nashville, Napier comes from a musically-gifted family, leading him to easily acquire a love for music at an early age, and guiding him towards a path in the industry.
Listed as a “Songwriter to Watch” by the Nashville Songwriters Association International in 2022, Napier is making a name for himself in music, and the future looks bright for this burgeoning young songwriter.
Napier talked to us about his perseverance, his new single, and much more.
So I see you come from a musical family. When did you start writing your own music, and who or what most influenced your musical direction?
Yeah I grew up in a musical family. My dad and my brother are great musicians, so there was always instruments and music around the house. It has just always been a huge part of my life naturally. I started writing my own music around probably 12 years old. That’s when I first really picked up a guitar and started messing around. I always had the intention of learning guitar for the purpose of writing songs. I’ve just always had this obsession with songwriting. I love it more than anything.
Not to sound cliché but so much different stuff influenced my musical direction. I was lucky enough to grow up and get exposed to all kinds of incredible music. Between my mom, my dad, and my brother, I heard pretty much everything from Zeppelin to Rage Against The Machine. I love a lot of Brit Pop/Brit Rock stuff now. There’s always been so much great music coming from Europe and it just keeps rolling out. I’m into a lot of current pop now too. There’s a lot of really cool stuff going on in that genre right now from Lewis Capaldi to Dua Lipa to Alec Benjamin. I think Alec is one of the best songwriters in the genre right now. He has a lot of really cool stuff.
So what most influenced my musical direction is always evolving. Plus living in Nashville it’s hard not to be influenced by all the incredible songwriters and artists that live here.
And did you grow up in Nashville then? And can you talk about how you’ve forged your way into the local scene?
Yeah I grew up in Nashville. I guess I’m considered one of those “unicorns” that lived here before the big boom happened. I still love it here so much though. There’s inspiration around every corner, and there’s just so much talent. It’s a special place and special community. As far as how I’ve forged my way into the local scene, I’ve just been working really hard trying to write the best songs that I can, and thankfully little by little, people are starting to take notice. It all starts with the songs, and I really believe in keeping your head down and working hard. That’s been my philosophy up to this point, and I think that’s what has gotten me this far. I just want to be the best artist and songwriter I can be, and hopefully the music I’m putting out there resonates with people on a deep level.
So you’ve just released your new single, “Cecelia.” I see that it’s about anxiety and our perception of ourselves. Is there actually a Cecelia it was written about, and can you tell us a bit more of the backstory and inspiration?
Yeah for sure. “Cecelia” came around really organically. There was actually a girl that I met named Cecelia, but the song itself isn’t actually about her. I heard her name, and just really liked it and thought it’d be a cool title. So I was messing around in my home studio one night and the lyrics just kinda poured out about this girl that everybody loves that lights up every room she’s in, but she’s filled with this anxiety that blinds her from seeing the incredible impact that she has on all the people in her life.
I thought it was a really important message, because I feel like we all struggle at times with our perception of ourselves versus how others actually see us. Especially in this social media age where we’re all constantly comparing ourselves to others. Mentally we can be our own worst enemies at times, so I thought it was important to tell a story about someone that was struggling with anxiety, depression, and their perception of themselves from the standpoint of the people that care about them the most.
Can fans expect to see it on an upcoming EP or LP?
Hopefully it’ll be on an EP at some point soon. I’m planning on releasing more songs in the next few months as singles, and then hopefully put it all together as one cohesive project.
What messages or feelings do you typically try to convey in your music?
I usually write from a very nostalgic place, so a lot of my music has that feel to it. I’m not afraid to write sad songs either. I just try to convey as much honesty as possible, and I hope that people feel my music when they hear it and know it’s coming from an organic place.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey with Cerebral Palsy and how you’ve dealt with obstacles as it pertains to your career in music?
It’s important for me to be an advocate for other individuals with disabilities, not just Cerebral Palsy. There aren’t that many people with physical disabilities in the entertainment world, so I feel kind of obligated to use any platform I have to spotlight the fact that people with disabilities are so incredible and deserve to be celebrated and taken seriously in whatever profession they choose for themselves.
It’s an honor for me to be able to represent that community and hopefully use my voice in a positive way for them. I think one of the biggest obstacles I’ve faced trying to build a career for myself in music with a disability has been people just not seeing past my Cerebral Palsy. Yes I have Cerebral Palsy, yes I have physical challenges that a lot of people don’t have, but my Cerebral Palsy isn’t all that I am. It’s a piece of me for sure, and it’s always going to be part of my identity, but I feel like I’m so much more than just my disability.
I want my music and songwriting to be loved and respected because people actually dig it and not just because, “Oh he’s so brave and inspiring for doing music with a disability.” Or whatever. While all of that is cool and I appreciate people saying that stuff, I want my music to speak for itself and be able to stand alone to where people just say, “He’s not just talented for a guy with Cerebral Palsy, he’s talented period.”
Where do you usually draw inspiration from when it comes to songwriting?
I draw inspiration from past experiences a lot. Songwriting is so therapeutic for me, that a lot of times the things that I need to just write down and get off my chest from day to day life end up turning into lyrics in my songs.
What does a dream gig look like for you?
I would really love to play some outdoor festivals. It’d be so cool to get to play in Europe, Australia, or South America. Every video I have ever seen from an international show is just so cool. Those crowds just always seem next level. Their love for music and energy is amazing. It’d be an absolute dream to be able to play overseas at some point and actually have folks singing my songs back to me.
I’ve actually had a reoccurring dream several times in my life where I’m playing outdoors somewhere in Australia I believe it is, and the crowd is absolutely electric and singing every word to my songs. That seems like it would just be such a euphoric moment, and since I’ve had the dream several times, that probably is literally a dream gig for me, haha.
What else might fans expect from Donnie Napier in 2022?
Definitely more music! Working on a bunch of stuff and hopefully it’ll be out sooner rather than later! In the meantime, you can follow me on IG or on Twitter to keep up with all my stuff! Thank you guys so much for having me! I really appreciate it.
Photo by Lauren Napier