By: Victoria Moorwood//
Billy Raffoul, Canadian-born son of musician Jody Raffoul and Interscope Record’s latest hot new artist, is plunging into the Nashville music scene with his single “Driver” and upcoming debut album. He will also be opening for Kings of Leon, Pixies, and Nathaniel Ratliff at British Summer Time in London’s Hyde Park July 6. “Driver” is based on Raffoul’s encounter with an intoxicated hitchhiker on Pelee Island. Here, he delves into the story, reminisces on how a random gig lead to him being discovered and confesses why live performances are his favorite.
Your song “Driver” has an awesome story behind it, could you tell me a little more about it?
It’s quite a simple story. It was a weekend on Pelee Island, which is off of Leamington, Ontario—it’s a Canadian island—and my father plays there every year. My dad’s name is Jody Raffoul and he plays there every year with his rock band in July and I surprised him and showed up last July for the weekend with my girlfriend and my girlfriend’s family who have a cottage on the island. After the show we were going back to the cottage, I was actually the only one who hadn’t drank so I was driving my girlfriend’s father’s pickup truck with already way too many people on it, there was like 12 people in this thing, but again, small island, and there’s liquor control in Ontario so there’s likes one liquor store and probably a little police station and three bars—one of which my dad’s playing at, so it wasn’t a big deal. We see this guy walking down the road towards my girlfriend’s cottage and we know for a fact that there’s no other house down there except for hers, so we know this this guy doesn’t know where he’s going. It’s 3 in the morning, it’s kinda getting cold out, when you wake up there’s gonna be dew on the grass, and he’s like barely walking. We’re kind of wondering where this dude’s gonna end up in the morning, hopefully, like, alive you know? Maybe he falls in a ditch, he’s wearing a t-shirt, we didn’t know, so we pulled over and we’re like, ‘Hey man, you want a ride?’ And we asked his name—‘Kevin f***ing Cool’—that is to this day all I know him as [laughing]. Phone was dead, it wasn’t an iPhone so it was hard to find a charger but we found one, and went to the last contact and called and said, ‘Hey man, we found your buddy, where do we drop him?’ He spent a couple hours with us and we found out he was from America, I don’t even remember where, and we met with his buddy at a winery on the island. Three hours later his buddy came like, ‘Thanks so much man, we would’ve lost him.’ It was a weird thing ‘cause he didn’t know where he was staying, like when he came to he didn’t know what the place was—or they were at a place that was a friend of theirs, so they didn’t even have a host to show them the island. They were just looking for a good time, and that’s the story. The next weekend I was working with Simon Wilcox and Nolan Lambroza in Los Angeles and that was the only thing on my mind, ‘cause it was a funny weekend.
You’ve said in other interviews that you like “lived-in” lyrics and try to create songs that come from the heart. Can you expand on this?
Yeah, you know just literally talking about the cold and the weather, [“Driver” is] very descriptive of that night. I just like to write when a lyric comes to me, which is why it’s hard sometimes when I schedule a write or I sit down and say I’m gonna write something down today. I always bring something in. Sometimes it’s almost a complete song, or just a line, or an idea, or a guitar riff. It’s something that’s inspired me for a long time. Either I’ve experienced something or it’s someone close to me has experienced something. Anything at all, it doesn’t even have to be heavy, like a hitchhiker that’s hammered, you know? And it makes me think of a lyric or something, or a melody or, a concept and I take that and I live with it for a minute. This record, entirely, every song is a story. Some of them are big stories, some of them are small simple stories, some of them are just lines, like a lyric, like, ‘I wish I was the driver,’ or a couple others that just came up in conversation while I was talking to someone and it came about naturally. It was never like, ‘Hey we should say thing ‘cause it would sound cool.’ And that’s really all I mean when I say that. Just feel, like, a little genuine.
What was it like being discovered by going to go sing Kid Rock demos and then a couple days later you’re on your way to Nashville?
It was a rush of adrenaline. It was just a normal Saturday morning, it wasn’t supposed to be anything. It was my dad’s gig singing for Kid Rock demos and I just tagged along. I’d been writing songs and singing at bars every night, I think at this time I’d done two or three years of singing every night at bars, and he just brought me along to see a friend of his that I hadn’t seen since I was 8 years old. I got to sing a verse on the song they had written just to hear my voce on the track, and they stopped it and he said, ‘Hey man, I wanna hear something of yours, just forget about this for a minute.’ He took an iPhone clip and I went down the next day— it wasn’t supposed to be anything. The whole crazy thing about all of this is maybe if my dad had asked me to go to the studio and maybe I had said no, to hang out with friends or practice, I could’ve easily said no. But again, it was all a moment.
You’re opening for Kings of Leon in London, are you excited about that?
I couldn’t be more excited. They’re one of my favorite bands. Great guys, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them.
And you’re working on your debut album right now, correct?
What can fans expect from that?
My life up until this point really. As far as musically, you can expect a few moments like “Driver.” The most honest moment on the record is a live song, which I believe will be released in some capacity before the whole album comes out, just so people can get the variety of it. In that sense, it is a very much rock-and-roll record, in the sense where there’s moments like “Driver” and live moments as well. Those are the two ends of the spectrum and everything in between is either one side or the other. I’ve been fortunate to have a bunch of people who I wrote the songs with, who are good friends of mine, come in and sing on the record as well. It feels very real to have the people who you write the song with feel it, probably, as much as you do.
And that live song is kind of representative—because I know live performances are your favorite.
So what about them makes them your favorite? Is it the fact that you watched your dad perform?
Absolutely, that’s gotta be it. Because I’ve been listening to music my whole life—I mean, The Beatles every day as long as I can remember—and it wasn’t until I saw my dad playing at my high school football field, it wasn’t until that gig. He had 4,000 people on the lawn and just watching the passion come off the stage and the response from the audience, just everyone singing along and stuff like that. It wasn’t until that that I was like, ‘Wow, I could do this every night for the rest of my life.’ So it is very important to me on this record and we’ve tried to do that as many times as we could, wherever we could put a live performance we did. The fact that we don’t have a live band in the studio, it kind of wasn’t a realistic thing to do every song live and then produce around it but whenever we could keep the guitar in my hands and sing at the same time we did. But yeah, that song is gonna sound like a live song and that’s very important to me.
If you could collaborate with any artist or band who would it be?
Aw geez, this is like the hardest question I’ve ever heard in my life. I’ve been spoiled by this record label, they’ll be like, ‘What do you want to eat?’ And you know that problem of just too many choices. I mean can I tell you what I want to eat today, instead? [Laughing] I can’t even pick, I’d have to justify every choice and then I’d change my mind.
That’s ok! You have a lot of influences and favorites. Wanna sign off with a message to your fans?
Yeah, I’m overwhelmed by the response this far, with “Driver,” and I can’t wait to show everyone the rest of the music and the different sides to the music, and most importantly the live shows. I cant wait to get on the road and bring it to them.