A Look Into the Emotive Songs of Billy Raffoul and His New EP ‘1975’
Canadian singer-songwriter Billy Raffoul has the type of voice that instantly commands the attention of a room. It’s no surprise that he’s recently been capturing not just rooms, but the music industry at large. His stripped-down sonic style, personally emotional approach to songwriting, and universally relatable lyrics have rapidly, but well-deservedly, brought him into the spotlight.
The style of the music has invited ubiquitous comparisons to Jeff Buckley, and the distinctive raspiness of his timber often recalls the likes of Joe Cocker. Needless to say, such comparisons scarcely scratch the surface, and Raffoul channels the essence of such sounds and stylings into a decidedly contemporary style, taking on a sound of his own. He grew up in a musical family, and demonstrates the type of lifelong honing that comes with such an upbringing. His recent EP, “1975,” is a focused, emotive, and promising recording.
Rafoul spoke with Entertainment Voice to unpack some of the ideas behind the new songs, and share some insight into his style, approach, inclinations, and touring prospects.
Your voice usually sounds quite up close, and the listener can hear you gasp and breathe. What do you think of the power of audible vulnerability in music? Is it something that you specifically set out with in mind, or just the way it ends up coming out?
Oh, a lot of my favorite records are really in line with what you said about audible vulnerability. If that’s something I’m projecting, I appreciate that. I think that’s a good compliment. I don’t consciously go out thinking that. I think that when I’m really feeling something, I want people to know I’m feeling it — that kind of thing. But yeah, whatever, be natural, what comes out of my mouth, it’s often not correct, you know? (laughs)
Do any of those favorite records, which sound vulnerable like that, immediately come to mind?
One that comes to mind, when you say, “up close,” is that my mother would always plays Damien Rice’s first record. I was about five or six.
How about the “raspiness” for which your famous? It sounds more pronounced in most of your songs than in your speaking voice. How do you do it?
It’s something that, when I started singing, kind of came out. Growing up, my father had a pretty toned texture, and it was just a combination of listening to him and other people. I don’t think I ever heard something and wanted to sound like it. It’s just kind of how it came out.
What does the year “1975” mean to you? The title track is very poignant, but the significance of the year unclear to me. Will put the lyrics in context, and expand on the meaning of that song, and why you chose to title your album that.
Yeah, that’s one one of the most personal songs that I’ve written. I won’t say much more about it than that it’s not my story, but a family member of mine’s, someone close to me. Obviously, I wasn’t around in 1975. It just had a great impact on me growing up, the story of that year. Sorry to be so vague.
Your song “Acoustic” explores the effectiveness of understatement and intimate simplicity, with lyrics like, “We don’t have to scream out to prove it / We could keep it all acoustic.” Do you generally find that stripped-down music generally resonates with you more, and why?
Yeah, a good amount of it does, for sure. I’m not going to say that it’s the only thing that I love to enjoy listening to, and connect with, but — going back to your first question — there’s a great vulnerability in music, and knowing that something is just that person completely honest and live, and those are really some of the main things I fell in love with about writing and performing. Just at least trying to take an issue, no matter how big the crowd is, tell a story, and that’s it.
The song “Could You Be Mine” has the striking lines, “We’re all afraid to take a chance / We all have got the same questions.” What kind of “questions” did you have in mind?
I was just imagining two people who were dating, and taking that step in the relationship, and were afraid to say it aloud, to talk about one another.
“I’m Not a Saint,” is a very effective single with its sweeping, anthemic nature. How did this song come together?
Yeah, that song came from a demo that me and Julia Michaels made. I had just met Julia, and she’s an incredible artist and songwriter. She and I wrote that song with just guitar and kick drum and our two voices, thinking about a bunch of these things we could change about ourselves, but we don’t, hence the lyric. Mike Crossey, the guy I work with on producing my records — he’s phenomenal — he gave it that feeling that you’re talking about. He made it larger than it was. I’m very happy to have that song about.
Have you decided what the next single will be, and if so, why did you choose that song?
Right now, the single, last time I checked, is “Forever.” I actually didn’t (choose it.) It’s the happy song on the record.
You met your manager when you were recording some demos for Kid Rock. Tell us the story behind that and did those demos ever see the light of day? And how did they turn out?
I haven’t heard them since I heard them that day. I do not think they turned into anything. He’s a good friend of mine, the guy who was writing the songs. His name is Marvin. I could probably sing one of the hooks, It would take me a minute, but I remember it being very, kind of, hip-hop, almost — the rhythm of the vocal. And I was standing there with my father who was also singing the demos that day, and I think they let me sing this one because I was younger, and the rhythm of the vocal sounded younger (laughs.)
You’ve spoken before of how “The Beatles were like Jesus in (your) house.” Are you more of a moptops, Sgt. Pepper’s, or White Album type of person?
Well, if you’re going to call it “moptops,” I started, through my father’s influence, with “Please Please Me,” and went up. I am going to give you that terrible answer, I don’t have a favorite. I can give you my three favorites, maybe, from each era. I look at them so differently. I feel like they were so hungry early on. They just wanted it so bad, you could hear it in their voices, especially John’s voice on the first album. It’s just ridiculous. “Please Please Me” will forever be in my top three records of all time.
Can you think of a bit on the new album in which The Beatles especially audibly make their way into your music.
There’s a bunch of records that didn’t make the EP that I could speak on actual production tricks that we used. The Beatles were probably the first band I ever heard using live strings, and that’s something we brought into “1975.” We got to go into Capitol Records and cuts strings where they had cut records. That was pretty surreal. In addition to that, one thing I carry with me, for sure, is the shorter songs. There’s only one song on the EP under three minutes, but in the future, there’ll be plenty, probably, more. I think that was one of my favorite things growing up: how much information and how much melody they could give you in two minutes.
You’ve toured extensively, and have said you “want to build (your) career on the live show.” What are some places you played that really stood out from the rest, and why? Also, any places you’re especially looking forward to playing?
In the last year, we got to tour Europe, and that was just surreal, so many cities. Berin was one of my favorites. And in the states, I love playing the west coast. When we get up to Seattle and Portland, it’s always a great time. One place where I cannot wait to extensively tour is Canada, which is where I’m from.