Bringin' It Backwards: Interview with Billy Raffoul
We had the pleasure of catching up with Billy Raffoul over Zoom video!
Singer/songwriter Billy Raffoul released his debut full-length album International Hotel on Interscope Records. International Hotel was recorded with two microphones in Raffoul’s girlfriend’s room in his hometown of Leamington, Ontario. The simplicity of that approach is perfectly suited to the rugged intimacy of Raffoul’s songwriting, and to the Americana-leaning sensibilities, he brought to the making of International Hotel. International Hotel is available now at all digital retailers.
Raffoul shared the first track from International Hotel, the sparsely arranged “What Makes a Man.” A profoundly moving protest song that speaks out against systemic racism “What Makes a Man” was the final song written and recorded for International Hotel marks the first time Raffoul ever recorded a song with harmonica. The song’s homespun austerity also extends to its video, shot in warm black-and-white and quietly centered on Raffoul’s impassioned performance.
Mainly co-produced by Raffoul and his longtime collaborator Justin Zuccato, International Hotel takes its title from a bar in Leamington — the very spot his musician father frequents after finishing up his own gigs. After opening on the title track (a loving tribute to Raffoul’s father and his lifelong devotion to rock-and-roll), the album offers up a dozen more songs rooted in his sharply observed storytelling. With those songs encompassing everything from treasured family history to clear-eyed social commentary to a heartrending ballad of a comic-book hero on “The Ballad of James Howlett,” International Hotel closes out with “Massey Hall”: an homage to the venue of Raffoul’s dreams, a Toronto theater where Neil Young recorded Live at Massey Hall 1971.
Growing up in the small farming town of Leamington, Ontario, Raffoul first discovered his gift for songwriting at age ten, thanks in no small part to the influence of his father — a musician who’s opened for everyone from Joe Cocker to Bon Jovi. After landing his first paying gig (playing to long-haul drivers at a local truck stop), Raffoul began performing at nearby bars and clubs at age 16, often driving into Detroit for shows. He eventually connected with a manager and moved down to Nashville. Soon after scoring a deal with Interscope Records, Raffoul released the critically acclaimed song “Driver,” which he then followed with his debut EP 1975 (a 2018 release featuring the fan-favorite “Acoustic”). Arriving in spring 2019, his sophomore EP Running Wild found him joining forces with leading producers like Greg Kurstin, as well as collaborating with such boundary-breaking artists as singer/songwriter Julia Michaels. In April 2020, Raffoul returned with his third EP, A Few More Hours at YYZ. Over the past few years, he’s opened for heavyweights like Kings of Leon, X Ambassadors, and NEEDTOBREATHE, captivating crowds with his understated yet intensely passionate stage presence. After postponing the West Coast run of his A Few More Hours At…2020 North American Tour, Raffoul found himself back in Leamington and immediately took to Instagram Live for intimate performances from his father’s home. Since the launch of the Still Social Distancing Tour 2020, he’s joined forces with special guest artists like Alec Chambers, Zac Barnett, Caitlyn Smyth, Wrabel, John Paul White, and more.
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