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Interview:
Billy Raffoul's debut album, 5 Things to Know
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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This wasn't necessarily the way Billy Raffoul expected to make his first album.



The singer-songwriter from Leamington, Ont. -- who spent considerable time in the Detroit area with his father and fellow musician Jody Raffoul -- releases "International Hotel" on Friday, Aug. 28, after three previous EPs. The 13-song set was produced by circumstance; Quarantined with his girlfriend in Leamington, Raffoul, who now calls Nashville home, set up a couple of microphones and recorded the spare, intimate album with just guitar, harmonica and voice.



Raffoul, 26, has been premiering a new song from the album with live performances every Wednesday on Instagram, and he'll certainly be looking for more opportunities to play the material until he can step onto a stage once more...



Raffoul, who was in the midst of touring when coronavirus pandemic shutdowns began in March, says "International Hotel" was inspired more than planned. "I was finishing up another project, something else. I was sitting around and said, 'I'm gonna try an acoustic song.' I did one, sent it to my buddy Justin Zuccato in the country, who ended up producing the record with me. He said, 'This is great. We can mix this,' and I said, 'Y'know what? I'm gonna do a bunch of them.' I didn't think it was going to be an album at first, but before I knew it I had 20 songs and we picked 13 of them and this is it."



Raffoul is also "so glad" that his first album wound up being as stripped-down as "International Hotel" turned out. "It's funny; When I first moved to Nashville six years ago we talked about how maybe I should just put out an acoustic record first, just me and a guitar, with a bunch of songs and stories that are close to me. We didn't end up doing it, and I regretted that for awhile. Now, because of everything that's going on, that's what we wound up doing."



The track "Sundown on County Line" was inspired by "Detroit," Kathryn Bigelow's gritty 2017 film about the 1967 uprising. "That was one of the first songs I wrote for the album. I watched it a couple years ago, and for whatever reason I watched it again in February in Nashville -- which is crazy, especially given everything going on right now. This was right before we went on tour. I wound up doing some research and reading about it. I heard about it growing up, but when you see it in visual media, when people tell those stories through film, it really lives an impact on you."



"International Hotel" includes a rendition of Jody Raffoul's "Right Behind You" as Billy's tribute to his father's influence on his life and career. "The whole set-up of the album, the road map for this record, was very inspired by 'Simple Life,' my dad's record from '99. I definitely wanted to pick one honoring that, and I thought 'Right Behind You' would be a cool one. It was one I've done before and even recorded; I've released live versions of a couple of my dad's songs, just on YouTube and whatnot, and I knew I wanted to do a studio recording of one of his songs eventually. This is the farthest you can get from a studio recording, of course -- literally just me and guitar through a microphone."



Raffoul says he wouldn't mind doing another album in the manner of "International Hotel," but he's not sure what his very next project will be. "I know I want to make more records like this in the future. It's given me a little bit of confidence and a sense I can do something. Whatever the outcome winds up being, I know I'm happy with it. I'm able to record anywhere, bedroom or studio, so it's been fulfilling for me. For the next one I still want to maintain that organic approach and make sure everything is played live, but definitely adding a band. This process has really been a reset, back to me and a guitar, so maybe on the next one and I add the bass and drums and go from there."



Billy Raffoul's debut album, "International Hotel," comes out Friday, Aug. 28 on Interscope Records.

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