2020 has been a challenging year for most touring musicians, with the COVID-19 pandemic putting an indefinite pause on live music and pushing back countless album releases, but for Canadian singer/songwriter, Billy Raffoul, it just meant that he needed to take a step back and rework how he did things. Raffoul, who was forced to cancel his headlining tour in support of his recently released EP, A Few More Hours at YYZ, didn’t let this challenge stop him from releasing new music or connecting with his fans. Instead, it made him more productive than ever. While self-isolating at his girlfriend’s home in Leamington, Raffoul live-streamed a “social distance tour” from different rooms throughout the house where he eventually began writing and recording his debut full-length album, International Hotel, set to be released on August 28th.
International Hotel, which was recorded almost entirely live at home with just two microphones, finds Billy Raffoul returning to his roots for a stripped-down sound that lets his folk-rock influences shine brighter than ever. With the album out tomorrow (pre-save and pre-order here), we caught up with him to chat about the recording process, how COVID-19 affected the trajectory of his year, and his plans for the future. Read the full interview and listen to the latest single, “What Makes A Man” below.
Prelude Press: 2020 has been a strange and difficult year for just about everyone within the music industry, but you’ve had a particularly interesting go of it, with COVID-19 shutting down your headlining tour just a few weeks after it kicked off, and releasing an EP in the midst of everything going on. What has this whole experience been like for you?
Billy Raffoul: I’ve been much more fortunate than so many. Although the tour was cancelled in March, I was able to put on a virtual tour on Instagram to promote the release of my EP in April. A big silver lining for me has been this new record that I was able to make in isolation.
You ended up doing a bit of a “social distance tour” where you did different live stream performances throughout the house, and have done quite a few live streams since then as well! What has been the highlight of these performances? How do you go about making them fun and interesting for both yourself and your fans?
To be honest I was quite nervous before the first live stream. I had never done them before. Getting comfortable performing live online has been a highlight for me, engaging with the people watching, answering questions, and taking requests! It has been really cool to debut new songs that I’ve written to get honest reaction in real time.
Back in April (which I’m sure feels like ages ago already) you released your EP, A Few More Hours at YYZ. Now that you’ve had some time to sit on it and play the songs, what are some of your favorite things about the EP?
Although the YYZ EP is full of different sounds, productions, and even genres, it was written entirely on an acoustic guitar. That’s probably my favourite thing about it looking back because I’m able to still perform all these songs by myself with my guitar.. since that’s all I’ve really had since March.
You’re also gearing up to release another new album, International Hotel, this month! Was this already in the works prior to releasing A Few More Hours at YYZ or did this project come about while quarantining?
So this new album wasn’t even a thought until about 3 weeks into quarantine. In isolation, thats when I got the idea to make another record.
I understand that International Hotel was recorded in a very different setting than YYZ, as it was recorded at home with two microphones. Did this pose any challenges during the recording process or force you to think outside of the box at all?
Honestly it wasn’t challenging at all. (Aside from getting the microphone levels in the right spot.) The album is almost entirely live. If anything it forced me back to my primitive nature of just performing with an acoustic guitar. It’s where I’m most comfortable. Rather than having to think outside the box it kind of put me in one. Like “here are the elements to work with” (guitars, vocal, harmonica).. now make the record.
What was the most exciting or rewarding part of working on the new album?
The most rewarding feeling is definitely that this is my first proper full length album and it couldn’t feel more like one. It’s raw and honest.. maybe honest to a fault. I wrote the songs, played the songs live, and had a couple very close friends work on the minimal production and artwork presentation with me (Justin Zuccato, Travis Latam, Alex Seguin, and Randy Merrill). It’s entire concept and creation was done in my hometown of Leamington, ON. If I were able to go back. This would have been the first thing I ever released.
Did you have any major goals in mind when you first started working on the album? Anything that you wanted to accomplish that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
Definitely. I wanted to present a cohesive body of work that sounds like it was done in one place. A cohesiveness in the performance, writing, and arrangement. I think we got there.
Obviously, it’s a little hard to have definitive plans at the moment, but do you have anything else up your sleeve for 2020? Anything else that fans can keep an eye out for?
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for taking the time to listen and ask the questions!