In the late afternoon of May 7, The Knockturnal sat down with the latest rock singer-songwriter on the scene, Billy Raffoul.
The Ontario native has been working towards his budding music career since he was 15 years old, playing in bars in his hometown and working up to the same esteemed international venues The Beatles played at. His thoughtful and down to earth attitude is reflected in his songs with heartbreakingly moving lyrics and expressive guitar riffs. The now 24-year-old has the mature lyricism of musicians twice his age and the raw vocal skill to rock any audience to the core.
From the moment he took to the stage to open for indie band Parachute, the crowd was mesmerized. Just his lonesome silhouette belting out poetry while simultaneously playing guitar and working drum pedals. While the musician certainly displayed his emotional side, he also showed his humorous side. Cracking a few jokes, in the beginning, to break the ice with an endearing charm. He played a mix from his two EP’s including “Acoustic,” “Lovely,” and “You Be Love.” However, the song that took the cake was his newest song that will be released June 7, on his Birthday, “Easy Tiger,” a song that will make the most stoic person weep. The artist also promises the release of his first album this summer. We wait with bated breath to see what this talented star in the making will come out with next.
The Knockturnal: Congratulations on your EP release, what has it like for you to release this EP?
Billy Raffoul: It’s been great, yeah! To finally hear all five of those songs out in the world because I’ve had them for a long time.
The Knockturnal: You started your live music career when you were 16, playing in bars, what has been the greatest challenge of your career so far?
Billy Raffoul: It’s hard to call anything a challenge because I do this for a living you know, this is so crazy. I’m so lucky to do this every day so I try to make the most of it and all that. But just getting back to the same places over and over again and not keeping it too long in between when I’m on tour. That and maybe not getting music out fast enough. That’s probably the biggest challenge for me is that we’ve got so many songs, and for me, I want to get them out as soon as possible.
The Knockturnal: When you first started playing, was it difficult or did it take a long time for you to establish your particular style of sound or voice in your music?
Billy Raffoul: I still don’t know! Definitely not immediately. I was raised on a musical diet of classic rock and some iconic singer-songwriters, a lot of British bands, like The Beatles and stuff like that. All my friends were listening to Eminem and I got into Hip Hop too, but it was definitely different than everything else my buddies were listening to. So then, it was kind of hard to pinpoint what I wanted to sound like because I was influenced by so many different things my dad turned me and my brother on to. The first band that I fell in love with that wasn’t influenced by my dad was probably The White Stripes, The Black Keys, you know, that was the scene for me when I was 12 or 15. So it’s a mix of a whole bunch of shit.
The Knockturnal: This is your second EP what makes this one different from your previous one?
Billy Raffoul: We wanted to get more adventurous with the sounds on a couple of them, but they were recorded at the same time, all but one song. That’s what I mean about holding onto stuff and wanting to get it out quicker. The first EP came out this time last year and then this one just came out now. Meanwhile, all the songs, bar one, have been done. So, other than a couple of sonic landscapes, on this EP we took more chances, I guess.
The Knockturnal: Music is kind of a family business for you, did you always want to go into music?
Billy Raffoul: When I was 10, I thought I was going to be an NHL goalie! My dad would also tell everyone that I was going to be the Prime Minister of something, I don’t know. I think he thinks I’m smarter than I am. But I was 14 or 15 when I realized, and again being around it your whole life, it’s like a family business. If my dad was a lawyer or a farmer, I would have eventually fallen into that because I have seen him do it for so long. But because it was music, I was like, ‘Yeah, eventually I’ll get into it. I don’t know when.” I didn’t start taking steps towards it until I was like 14 or 15.
The Knockturnal: What was the most challenging song on this EP that you faced the most challenges to write or to complete?
Billy Raffoul: The title track was probably the toughest but for different reasons. I mean it was very therapeutic for me, I guess. My childhood best friend had an aneurysm 4 or 5 years ago and he was pronounced dead, this whole thing, but the surgeon was able to save his life, it was crazy. He had to learn how to walk again and all that. It was a really traumatic experience for him and his family and the circle of friends and everything. So, he inspired that track, and it took a while to finish that one. It went through stages of having parts switched in and out of it and wanting to tell the story but wanting to be respectful at the same time.
The Knockturnal: I read that your first single on the EP “Lovely” has an interesting creation story that involves a 1 a.m. trip to the recording studio.
Billy Raffoul: Yeah, I’m telling this story more and more, but it’s true! It was January 10th, if I remember correctly, the year of 2016. But I’m a big Minnesota Vikings fan, the football team from Minneapolis, and they were playing in the playoffs in Seattle and Blair Walsh missed a field goal to win the game. They lost because they were down two. Not to get too far into sports. I just felt this great pain. I was so upset! I was in a hotel room and I had pushed my flight a whole day to just watch the game. Anyway, I wanted to write a song about it, and it wasn’t really romantic to sing about Football, so I turned it into about seeing someone at a bar and you lock eyes with them, but you don’t go and say hello. It’s a wonder what could have been kind of thing.
The Knockturnal: You wrote and sang “Bad for You” with Julia Michaels, what was that creative process like?
Billy Raffoul: She’s incredible! She’s like from another planet in a good way though, like a great planet. We have gotten to write quite a few songs together. A bunch of them haven’t come out yet. We had a song together on the first EP called “I’m Not a Saint,” so with that one we had a lot of similarities in the tempo and the pace of the lyrics and all that. We were in LA one night and we wrote that in like an hour and she sang harmonies on it too so, it was a great experience. We work great together.
The Knockturnal: “Mental Health (Can’t Do This By Yourself)” talks about struggles with mental health, what was the process in writing this song because it is so interesting in that it is a very psychological song but with such an upbeat song?
Billy Raffoul: Well, I was gifted a ukulele by a friend who lives in Kingsville, Ontario, which is the town next to the town I grew up in, and he’s like, ‘Hey I made this Ukulele, just take it on the road and play it.’ And I got to Nashville and I was sitting in my bathtub, I write all my songs in my bathtub because it’s very forgiving and it sounds good. So, yeah, I was playing the ukulele and I wanted to write about mental health. When I brought it to Dave Pittenger, my friend who produced the track, he was like, ‘This is such a heavy topic, it cannot be serious. It can’t be dark and also sound dark.’ He started to reflect the breakbeat drums and all that, and there is something that almost sounds like a kazoo in the pre-chorus. That is actually me humming with a synthesizer at the same time. But it ended up being one of the most fun songs we’ve ever recorded that came from such a heavy meaning. Mental health is a big thing in my family, as I’m sure it is in many families. Specifically, my mother, she’s had some crazy things happen over the years and we are very open about it and we love to talk about it. We think it’s therapeutic, especially my brother and me. So, I wrote it literally just for us, and if no one else heard it then that was going to be good enough for me.
The Knockturnal: “Coffee” speaks to the addictive nature love can have, is this song based on a particular experience in your life?
Billy Raffoul: Yeah totally! It’s not chronologically correct in its order or it wouldn’t rhyme if I did it the right way time wise. But it started off as a super cheesy idea. I’m a big coffee drinker so you know, in the morning right away, I need a coffee otherwise the day will be shit. I wanted to parallel that with love or a girl. There is a specific line about me being hammered in Quebec one night and that is a true story. My girlfriend and her family were there, and I jumped up on stage with a cover band doing Walk the Moon ‘Shut Up and Dance.’ It was a New Years Eve thing. And I hate doing that! I never jump up and do karaoke, I’m so embarrassed!
The Knockturnal: You have played with some great bands like Kaleo, NEEDTOBREATHE, and Kings of Leon, and now Parachute to name a few, what have been some of your favorite memories playing for those bands?
Billy Raffoul: We are making memories every night! We had a great last three nights. Kings of Leon gig we got to do at Hyde Park in England which is just insane. Kaleo took us to 17 or 18 venues across Europe and some of them The Beatles have played at. It just kind of blew us away. That was a new feeling. NEEDTOBREATHE, they are my favorite live rock band to see. They have this insane fan base that everyone just loves them and shows up early, so when I was opening, everyone was there. That was some of the biggest crowds I’ve ever played for was opening for NEEDTOBREATHE. So many good things and good stories
The Knockturnal: What are your favorite parts about being a musician?
Billy Raffoul: Just literally getting to do this every night you know. Definitely, the reason why I got into it was for the live aspect and getting to play music in front of people. I hated learning songs and I hated learning cover songs, which is probably why I got into writing. Probably why I hate karaoke too, I’m the worst! When I started playing, I did like 30 original songs, and I’d show up at gigs that I had gotten by word of mouth, and someone would come up and be like, ‘Do you know, like, any songs?’ They obviously didn’t know the songs I was singing. But the best thing for me is going to a new town every day and new room and trying to share stories and have a connection with people is the best.
The Knockturnal: What about your least favorite?
Billy Raffoul: Oh geez! Last night there was traffic for a few hours and when we got into the city it was like midnight and we had just played a show in Connecticut and we had to get up at 9 a.m. I ended up going to bed at around 5 a.m. last night, but I still love that part of it! We are not quite in a tour bus yet, so that is our end goal so we can stop driving ourselves, but I’m sure we’ll miss it once we do. So, it’s not really bad. Traffic is traffic.
The Knockturnal: What are your plans for the future or what are you looking forward to?
Billy Raffoul: Well immediately, this year anyway, I’m putting out a new song that I’m very happy about. It’s coming out on my Birthday actually, June 7, called “Easy Tiger.” It’s another super-duper sad song, but it’s a brand new one! Like I said earlier, it’s something that I’m still in love with now, so I will actually get to play something that I’m happy with at the moment and have kind of pine for two years. That’s going to be in June, and we are touring for the rest of the year
The Knockturnal: When is your first album going to come out?
Billy Raffoul: Also this year! Now mind you, I have been saying that for three years, but I promise this year.