Young Canadian Billy Raffoul
has a voice rooted in the past, capable of displaying a maturity well beyond his 22 years. Since the release of his debut single "Driver" last year, he's put that soulful voice to steady use, releasing two more singles in 2017, "Dark Four Door" and "Difficult". As well as spending time crafting his own rustic ballads last year, he broke out of his comfort zone a little bit, collaborating with Avicii
on his track "You Be Love".
It's been a busy 2017 for Raffoul, who splits his time between LA and Nashville as he continues to write songs and work toward the completion of his debut album, "we've been touring since May, pretty non-stop, so I've had to learn how to write on the road." Like many artists who are gearing up to release their first full-length project, Billy feels like he's been working on this album pretty much his entire life. We've had a steady stream of singles and it's clear that he's been putting in the hours, so… Is it nearly done?
"If you had asked me the same question three years ago, I would've said yes. Now I just never know… I know there are definitely more than enough songs for an album, we've recorded so many. I'm not sure on a release date, but it definitely shows that we're nearly there."
The fact that more than enough songs are ready to fill an LP and the album hasn't arrived yet is a promising sign for Raffoul's recording sensibilities, he's not willing to compromise and rush a debut that doesn't meet his standards. It's a matter of putting together the right songs, not just getting enough tracks together and calling it an album.
Billy's been on tour since May, and in his teenage years he earned his chops playing at bars around Canada and the US four or five nights a week. He sees touring and performing in a live setting as the lifeblood of a musician's career, something that was instilled in his musical identity at a young age.
"I guess the connection between you and audience, that's cool, I think it's that. There's no better feeling for me than getting to share music with people in a live setting. Obviously it's great that they can go home and look you up and see the records too. You know, ever since watching my Dad perform live when I was a kid... There's nothing quite like that."
Even at this early stage in his career, he's already played so many shows that the highlight reel must be pretty lengthy, but there is one standout day that stopped him in his tracks and made him take stock of how far he'd come.
"We got to do this thing last year in London, Hyde Park, at the British Summer Time festival and that was surreal because we were on the bill with some incredible, legendary acts. Pixies were on. Kings Of Leon were headlining. It was kind of something to stop and look around at. Right after I did the show though, I got to do an acoustic set for like forty or fifty people in a basement somewhere in London. You know, the contrast of those two moments together…"
Billy's Dad is Jody Raffoul, an accomplished musician in his own right, and his mother is a painter and writer. So, growing up in such a creative environment it would seem like it was never going to be anything other than an artistic career for Billy. He credits his parents for supporting him, but never insisting on anything - "All I know is that it was welcomed if I chose to do it. You can do whatever you want."
Just like the rest of us, his parents influenced his musical tastes throughout his childhood, with stalwarts like The Beatles, U2, and Neil Young featuring heavily in the Raffoul homestead in Leamington, Ontario. With age, his musical interests developed, and modernized to some extent.
"I mean, when I was fifteen years old, maybe younger, maybe eleven or twelve, I started listening to stuff outside of what my parents showed me. I'm a big fan of, and especially was when I started, Jack White. You know, Justin Vernon, big fan of everything he does. Those are a couple, I guess, over the last ten years."
Spending his childhood surrounded by music and pursuing a career writing songs and performing since his teens, is the idea of another life, away from writing and performing, something that Raffoul can even begin to imagine?
"I try not to give it too much thought. In the beginning, I purposefully tried to not give that any thought. I don't know, I tell myself that I would love to be doing something related to music, but I think that would just be too painful to be so close to it and not doing it. I love films, I always tell myself I'd be doing music for film or something like that."
Raffoul's been touring relentlessly, writing constantly, and focusing on his own music, but last year he featured on Avicii's track "You Be Love", a somewhat unexpected change of pace. This time away from his usual soulful, acoustically driven music seems to have given him a taste for switching up genres and gotten him thinking about the kind of collaborations he would want.
"I would love to step outside of what I'm doing. I got to do a couple of collaborations with two DJs last year, which was a lot of fun. Again, if I were to collaborate I'd probably want to do it with someone who does something different than what I do. Maybe someone in hip-hop. I'm a big fan of Kendrick Lamar. That'd be… That's a pipe dream."
What about his own songs, the writing process and the inspirations behind them? He's been working on songs in LA and Nashville, and writing on the road as he pours himself into touring, and he's spoken before of the real-life events planting the seed for "Driver", but how does he write now?
"It's starting to come from absolutely any and everywhere. The ones that I really like, and the ones that always stick around, end up being something I've experienced that's close to me. You know, just because they have a sentimental value to me. But that doesn't discredit the others that could come from anything, from watching a movie."
So, what do we want from 2018? Well, I guess we want an album and plenty of shows. What does Billy want for himself?
"I just hope to have more music out than I do now, and I hope to have played it to a lot more people than I have now. It'd be great to be doing what I'm doing steady. If anything, just kind of gain traction the old fashioned way of getting into rooms with more people. Trying to win people over every night."
Billy Raffoul actually played his first ever headlining set at Rough Trade here in New York, and he's back in the city tomorrow night, February 15th, at Irving Plaza, where he'll be supporting ZZ Ward
as part of an ongoing North American tour.