Last night, I stood right under the stage at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle and watched Billy Raffoul slay seven songs throughout his thirty minutes opening act for the band Parachute. Billy was the entire reason that I was at the show in the first place. The marquee outside the venue may have read “Parachute” in big, all-caps letters. But to me, I was attending a Billy Raffoul concert.
Who is Billy Raffoul?
Billy Raffoul is an indie singer-songwriter-musician with a deep raspy voice, poetic lyrics, and strong musical arrangements. He gives you a lot of soul and a little of everything – anthemic rock songs, stripped down ballads, sweet pop-rock gems, and diverse collaborations with other artists such as electronic DJs Kygo and the late Avicii.
Billy is an emerging artist who is picking up speed. His website bio says he’s 22 years old, but I’m certain that’s out of date given that interviews from 2017 also put him at 22. Based on a birthdate I saw online, I think he’s about to turn 25 years old. (Not think because I can’t do basic math, but think because I don’t totally trust the internet).
Originally, from a small farming town in Ontario, Billy grew up in a creative family with a mother who is an artist, writer, and teacher, and a father (Jody Raffoul) who is a solo musical artist who has opened for everyone from Joe Cocker to Bon Jovi. Billy grew up listening to the Beatles and soul singers like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. In high school, watching his father headline a stadium show of 4,000 in his hometown lit a fire under Billy. While he’d always had his own love of music, he credits that night with making him realize that he wanted to be a live performer. He dove in headfirst after that, playing four to five live shows a week. His first gig was for a group of long haul truck drivers at a truck stop.
How can you listen to Billy’s music outside the live shows?
As of this blog publication, Billy has released 18 songs (two EPs, several singles, and several collaborations with other artists). On Thursday, June 7th, he will release another single “Easy Tiger,” which he’s been playing on this tour and teasing out on social media. It’s a soulful, contemplative ballad with possibly one of my favorite choruses so far. Even before hearing it in entirety last night, I’d catch myself singing the chorus just from having heard it on teasers online. Billy’s music keeps coming, so depending on when you read this, he may have released many more songs and/or a full-length album.
His music is available to listen to listen and purchase his music from major platforms, such as iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Napster. Or if you’re old school, you can get his CDs and vinyl off of Amazon.
Billy’s Official YouTube Channel includes music videos, live performances, and official audio tracks.
Most of his videos are live acoustic performances, such as this gorgeous presentation of one of his newest songs “Running Wild,” which he sings here sitting on a log in front of a campfire with his acoustic guitar:
Billy’s YouTube Channel also features one narrative-style music video where he portrays a daydreaming high school janitor in the sweet pop-rock gem “Forever.”
On the Road: Inside Look
Billy’s entire show last night at Seattle’s Neptune was a one-man performance. Prior to the show starting, a guy walked on stage and hit play on a recording of a song: The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.” That guy was Billy. His career is not at the level yet where he has a bunch of roadies or a big tour bus. If you follow him on Instagram, you’ll not only be gifted with lots of musical clips and behind the scenes inside looks, you’ll also find yourself laughing as he posts silly skits, outtakes from interviews, and traveling videos with his tour manager Alex Seguin as they hit the road in their VW Jetta (a.k.a. Jenny the Jetta) to drive themselves from show to show.
For example, after a professional, polished Instagram announcement on April 26th of the Running Wild EP release, Billy and Alex released a “less official” Instagram announcement the following day where they were sitting against Jenny the Jetta after having lost their keys to her. They gave a deadpan announcement about the EP and tour that went like this:
Billy: “Yesterday, we put out the Running Wild EP.”
Alex: “So did fucking Taylor Swift.”
Billy: “Yeah, Taylor Swift put out music too though, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Alex: “And End Game came out.”
Billy: “And Avengers End Game came out.”
Alex: “And you have a tour to promote, so how are you going to do that while trying to promote your EP?”
Billy: “That’s what we’re doing here. This whole video.”
Alex: “THIS is for THAT?! This is your way of doing that?! This isn’t going to work at all!”
These guys are good at promoting the music and the tours in a way that feels authentic. And they seem to be having genuine fun doing so.
Last Night’s Show at Seattle’s Neptune
With only thirty minutes to play last night, Billy didn’t spend too much time talking between songs, but when he did, he was very entertaining. He didn’t provide insight into the personal meaning behind his songs, which I always feel ambivalent about anyway. While it’s incredibly interesting to learn where an artist was coming from when he or she wrote a song, it sometimes can have the effect of slightly diminishing your own personal relationship to that song. While of course Billy is the creator of the songs, upon listening to them, I also develop my own connection to the music and lyrics within the context of my own life. So I always feel of two minds when it comes to hearing a musician share a personal story behind a particular song.
Instead, Billy talked about the last time he played in Seattle, and he made some jokes about how as the opener he has to walk the line: One part of him wants to tell all the loud, talking people in the back of the bar to quiet down before he starts one of his stripped down ballads but as the opener, he also realizes that those talking people aren’t even there to see him. After saying that bit, Billy ducked his head behind his mane of curly hair and joked, “Sorry, sorry, sorry…”
I’m not even sure that the loud, talking people in the bar heard any of that, but it definitely had those of us clustered around the stage laughing and clapping.
Throughout the performance, Billy switched between acoustic and electric guitars, and sometime he played musical notes using his feet too. Between songs, he demonstrated the individual foot pedals to us, showing us how different pedals would give him different sounds. It was impressive to watch him be his own one-man band.
His set list was seven songs total, and he treated us to three unreleased songs:
I’m Not A Saint
Nobody Here (new, unreleased song)
Easy Tiger (new single releasing on June 7, 2019)
I See You
Tell Her I Love Her (new, unreleased song)
As the set progressed, I noticed more people in the bar gathering by the stage or standing by the rails on the second level. Those loud, talking people in the back of the bar who came to see Parachute, not this unknown opener, couldn’t help but notice the power behind this man’s music. Billy has a strong onstage presence and whether he’s belting out a rock song that gets you moving or he’s singing a soft, sad number, he brings his heart into the performance. And as a writer myself, I deeply appreciate his thoughtful lyrics. His set was amazing. My only complaint is that it went too fast.For those of you who are fans that are following his music and dying to get a preview of the unreleased songs, I’ve put together a short compilation from the show. While my iPhone X takes pretty awesome videos, it’s by no means a professional audio and video recording. So I’m just going to give you very brief clips of each of the seven songs he performed to whet your appetite. Based on Billy’s recent release patterns and my quick chat with him after the show, I’m sure he’ll be releasing them soon:
Meeting Billy and Alex
At this point, Billy Raffoul is a relative unknown. He’s making waves in the music industry, but his fan base is still pretty small (though loyal and growing). In the bathroom, I spoke with a woman who had flown from Colorado to see his opening act. And after the show, I got in line at the merchandising table to get a T-shirt and chat with him. I heard one couple telling Billy about the drive they made to get to the show. I also heard others telling him that they’d never heard his music before but now they were fans. And I watched those same people pluck down their ten dollar bills to buy the EP he was selling.
When I got up to the merchandising table, I recognized Alex from Billy’s Instagram videos. Not knowing his name or who he was exactly, I said, “You’re in the social media videos, right?” He confirmed that and we shook hands and introduced ourselves. I asked him what his official title was and he said, “Tour manager. And I mix songs.” Billy was just wrapping up with someone farther up the line and he overheard my exchange with Alex and added, “And then… and then… and then…” with hand gestures to indicate that Alex does a whole lot more than the two titles he’d just claimed. I asked Alex if he was the one who had gotten the sound levels ready prior to the show, and he said yes. And let me tell you: The sound levels were great, and I’ve been to too many live shows where they are not great. Too often, the music is too loud and the singer’s voice gets drowned out, or the softer acoustic numbers get overpowered by those drunk people in the back of the bar, or the loud rock songs make your ears want to bleed. The Neptune was originally a movie theatre so it’s not even ideally constructed for live music. But Billy’s set sounded fantastic (and the lighting effects looked great too), so props to his tour manager/mixer/a-bunch-of-other-things.
Since I already own all of Billy’s music, I bought one of his T-shirts and he signed the front of it. He was friendly and gracious, and when I told him that I’d come to the show to see his opening act specifically, he apologized that it was only thirty minutes.
I asked, “What was the name of the song you did after I See You?” He wasn’t sure, so I reminded him of some of the lyrics and he said, “Oh yeah! Tell Her I Love Her.” Since Billy hadn’t been able to instantly recall it, I asked him if he plays different set lists at different shows based on what he feels like that night, and he said that he does like to mix it up. So the set list I got to hear last night might be different than the set list you would hear on a different stop of the Parachute tour.
Billy went on to say that “Tell Her I Love Her” would be released… “soon,” looking over at Alex at that point. They both kind of hemmed and hawed as to when that would actually be and then laughed and circled back to “soon.” Because that’s the reality of being an indie artist with a small team. You create your music when you can, you release it when you can, you perform it when you can, and you connect with your fans when you can. You work tirelessly, and you get most of your sleep in Jenny the Jetta while taking turns driving from state to state.
The Future for Billy Raffoul
I don’t think Billy is going to be traveling cross country in Jenny the Jetta forever. I see him performing in huge venues. I see him playing on late night talk shows. I see him winning Grammys. Being the show opener will not be the pinnacle of Billy Raffoul’s musical achievements.
That said, I am in no way diminishing what Billy has accomplished thus far as a musician. The most important point of art – in my opinion – is to connect with others and help them feel or heal or think. And Billy has already done that. If he were to decide that he was done with touring and recording and that he wanted to work outside of the entertainment industry, he would have already accomplished great things because plenty of people – including myself – will love his songs forever. No pun intended. Or maybe I kind of did intend it… one of his songs is named “Forever.”
But I have a feeling Billy isn’t stopping anytime soon. When an artist has this amount of talent coupled with a tireless work ethic and also presents himself with graciousness and humor to his fans, that artist is going places. I feel it in my bones.
The last time I had this feeling about an artist, it was Brandi Carlile, and I was just old enough to get into the bars to watch her weekly shows at a tiny neighborhood bar on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill. She was a revelation even back then, and you can read about those memories and her career in one of my previous blog entries. This year, Brandi won her first Grammy and she gave one of the most memorable performances on stage at the televised show. Sitting in my living room watching her perform “The Joke,” I was moved to tears remembering her playing those little shows for thirty or forty of us. At that time over a decade ago, I had thought to myself, “Brandi is so amazing and her music and her voice are so unique and powerful that it’s only a matter of time before the whole world knows.” I have that feeling again… about Billy.
So I say this to you now: If you have the opportunity to watch one of Billy’s shows, go see him now. This is your chance to experience his live music up close and personal and to feel inspired by watching his career grow. I’m confident that Billy will not always be the opener, and he will not always play venues as small as the Neptune.
And that is exactly what happened with Brandi Carlile. After she released her first full-length album through a label, she started touring the US. She’d come back to Seattle frequently, and I’d attend her shows. First it was tiny venues like the Century Ballroom on Capitol Hill, then slightly larger but still intimate venues like The Showbox where I could still crowd my way close to the stage. Then it was sold-out shows at the Paramount Theatre and Benaroya Hall with capacities of around 2,500. Six years ago, I found myself sitting at the very back of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo for a sold out show where I could barely see Brandi because I hadn’t been able to camp out early in the day with blankets and chairs. A few days ago, Brandi played at the outdoor concert venue The Gorge in Eastern Washington to over 27,000 people. I didn’t attend that show. In some ways, I’ve already had the privilege of seeing some of Brandi’s best shows all those years ago when she played for a small crowd while her mom sold homemade CDs from a corner booth. I’m thrilled for her and all of her well-earned success. And it resonates with me on a deeper level because I, too, am a creator of art and entertainment, and sometimes it’s an exhausting struggle. It can be a difficult balance between wanting to focus on the creative elements but needing to finance your work and promote it to the masses. Thus, to see someone deserving persevere is inspiring.
So get yourself to a Billy Raffoul concert and feel inspired. He’s touring with Parachute through the end of the month. Prior to that, he was on tour with Julia Michaels. He keeps busy, so if he’s not coming to your area this month, follow him on social media so you will find out what is in store for him after the Parachute tour.
Because this is just the beginning for Billy Raffoul. Someday he’ll have an “overnight success” in the general public’s eyes, but most overnight successes are truly ten or fifteen or more years of hard work.
Right now, Billy is the “just” opener. Right now, it’s “only” a thirty minute set. But trust me when I tell you that right now, it’s totally worth it to get yourself to his show.
Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.