As the son of musician Jody Raffoul, Billy Raffoul has been surrounded by music all his life. Now, at 22, the Canadian singer-songwriter is sharing his passion for rock with the world through the exciting single “Driver.” The song, released through Interscope Records in May, has a powerful sound reminiscent of Hozier and Rag’n’Bone Man. It has already been featured outlets like TIME, so there’s reason to believe that the rest of his album will be impressive as well.
Recently, we chatted with Raffoul about “Driver,” the album, and his love for music. Read on to learn about the hitchhiker that inspired the single, his memories of singing to cats as a child, and his first paid gig at an “empty restaurant.”
TYF: Let’s get started by talking about your new single. “Driver” has been getting a lot of attention lately. What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you since it was released?
Billy Raffoul: Honestly, it’s been amazing. And this is probably more sentimental than anything, but my grandfather called me to tell me how great it was. And he doesn’t listen to music at all, so I thought that was pretty cool.
TYF: “Driver” was inspired by the time you and your family picked up a hitchhiker. Can you tell me the story behind this?
Raffoul: Yeah, totally. We were on Kiwi Island, which is a 90-minute ferry ride off of the shore of the town that I grew up in, which is called Leamington, Ontario. So we were on the island. And there’s not much on the island. There’s a bar, a liquor store, a bunch of cottages owned by both Canadians and Americans. It’s right in the middle of Lake Erie. And my dad’s band was playing on the island that night, and after the bar… I hadn’t drank, I was the only one that hadn’t drank, so I was going to the car. And we saw this guy walking down the street who clearly didn’t live down that road. We knew. There were, like, two houses on this road for miles. So he obviously didn’t know where he was going. Once we got near, we could see that he could barely walk, so we picked him up. It wasn’t much of anything. It was more funny than anything ‘cause he was a pretty funny guy. And his phone was dead. We got it charged and back on. And we returned him to his friends. But yeah, I don’t know why the story stuck with me. The next weekend, when I was back in Los Angeles, for some reason, it was what I wanted to write about. (Laughs)
TYF: That’s a good story.
Raffoul: (Laughs) It’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t anything special. It was Kevin. Funny guy. (Laughs)
TYF: Since your father’s also a musician, I’m guessing that music has been a part of your life since your childhood. What were some of the earliest songs and albums you remember loving?
Raffoul: Anything The Beatles, first and foremost, because my father and my uncles are all huge Beatles fans. That was probably what me and my brother, growing up, listened to, not even by choice. And then once we discovered other music, we found ourselves coming back to it because, you know, it’s the best. (Laughs) But stuff in that vein, you know. British Invasion. The Who and Led Zeppelin as well. Paul Rodgers is someone I listened to a bunch growing up, and great soul singers like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett. Those are my earliest memories of music. Also whatever my father was playing. My dad’s got a rock and roll cover band—they do original stuff too—and I got to hear his interpretation of stuff when I was growing up. I remember, until I was ten years old, I thought certain rock and roll classics were his because I only heard him singing it, you know? I’d hear John Lennon singing my dad’s song one day. “Oh, that’s really cool, Dad!” (Laughs) Yeah, The Beatles and anything he was playing, definitely an influence.
TYF: Do you have a favorite Beatles song?
Raffoul: I don’t. I don’t even have a favorite Beatles album. (Laughs) It changes so frequently. And I think that’s why they’re so great. There’s so much there. I’ll find myself listening to one of the records for a month, and then the next… It’s so good.
TYF: You’ve said that you write your songs about things that you’ve experienced or things that people close to you are going through. Are there any specific experiences that you haven’t written about yet, but would like to write about in the future?
Raffoul: Yeah. I feel like the more time I spend away from home, and the further [into] this career and journey I get, I’m gonna wanna write about it. I was so used to playing in bars for four or five years back home, so I wanted to write about that, and I did. Now I’m looking forward to writing [about] a day on the road. Which I have been a bit. [I’ve had] three or four tours spread out over the last couple of years while I was writing and making the record, but I’m looking forward to way more of that, over a long period of time. I think that’s really something.
TYF: Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Raffoul: Not specifically, no. I must have been thirteen or fourteen years old. My parents will say I was, like, five. We lived on a farm with cats and dogs, and I used to hold the cats against their will and sing to them. I’m sure there’s family videos of that going on. (Laughs) But yeah. Structured songs with a chorus, probably when I was fourteen years old, but I couldn’t tell you what it was. It was probably a variation of something else. (Laughs)
TYF: I read that your first paying gig was a show for long-haul drivers at a local truck stop. What was that experience like?
Raffoul: It’s kind of funny. I don’t remember who said truck stop, but it kinda wasn’t a truck stop. (Laughs) It was more of an empty restaurant. And it was very long, and I was severely underpaid. (Laughs) But, you know, you start somewhere. It was, like, six hours of music. Five 45-minute sets with breaks between, little breaks. It started to rain halfway through, and I took all of my stuff down and set it up inside. And I think by the time we got to the fourth or fifth set, I had a Beatles songbook in front of me and I was playing songs I had never played before. (Laughs) They’re, like, the worst band to do that for. I hope there’s no video footage of this show.
TYF: So you were playing all five sets?
Raffoul: Yeah. Like, 12 songs a set, probably… It was a lot of music, probably 50 or 60 songs.
TYF: You’ve talked about how you’re really eager to tour. What are the cities that you’d like to play the most?
Raffoul: That’s a great question. I can’t wait to get overseas and play. I’ve played way more than I thought I had, actually, but I can’t wait to revisit… like, the West Coast. I love playing there. Seattle was amazing, and obviously Los Angeles. And San Diego. Brooklyn was really cool, and Philadelphia. There are all these great music cities. Even in the middle of the country. I think I’d like to revisit everything here. I haven’t played as much as I want to.
TYF: You play the guitar. What are your favorite songs to play when you’re just jamming out?
Raffoul: Favorite songs to play. I haven’t played other people’s… I’ve been so fortunate in the fact that during the last two, three years, I’ve been able to work on original material. I haven’t had to learn… You know, you don’t learn covers because you have to, but I haven’t had to for performances. I mean, I constantly have the guitar in my hands. I’m always playing something. But right now, I’m just writing. I can’t even tell you what the last cover was I was learning. (Laughs)
TYF: So most of the time, you just play your original stuff?
Raffoul: Yeah, yeah. I’m writing. With “Driver” coming out, it’s been really inspiring to write some more, so I think I’ve written three or four songs this week. I’m constantly trying to figure things out.
TYF: You’re working on your debut album right now. What can you tell us about it so far?
Raffoul: It’s been a lot of fun. It’s continuously… There’s never a dull moment. I’ve been working on it with Mike Crossey, who’s producing all the songs. He produced the single. He’s amazing. We get back into the studio in July. We finish it up. A whole bunch are ready to go, but there’s a couple of songs… I can tell you that “Driver” is one end of the record, that being the more rock and heavy side of the album, and the other is very stripped down, just me and an acoustic guitar. It’s a good balance of those two things and everything in the middle. So yeah, that’s the one thing I’ll tell you—that “Driver”’s only one side of the record, and while there are moments like it, it’s definitely not the majority. It’s a good balance.
TYF: Finally, just for fun: In “Driver,” you say you’re “always the hitchhiker.” Have you ever hitchhiked in real life?
Raffoul: I have. I have a friend of mine in Leamington, Ontario, which is where I was born, who lives in Detroit. And it was, like, February, first snow on the ground, and we ran out of gas. We pushed as far as we could on the side of the highway. I think we got about a mile and a half, a kilometer and a half, to an Exxon gas station and we were just like, “Screw this, we cannot push this car anymore.” And so we kind of just put our hands in the air and tried to wave someone down. (Laughs) For a good hour. I think we failed miserably. We honestly… It was about four years ago. We ended up pushing it the whole way. (Laughs)
TYF: Okay, we’re going to wrap things up now. Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers before we go?
Raffoul: Just that I’m looking forward to sharing all the music with them, the different sides of the music and a lot of the writing I’ve been working on. And I’ll possibly see them on the road.