Meet Edwin Raphael, the singer-songwriter making waves all the way from Montreal with his mesmerizing voice and his absorbing melodies. Join SKYN as we follow the first show of his first tour, here in Toronto.
Written by: Gloria Pancrazi
SKYN: Tell me about yourself. What do you do? Who are you?
EDWIN RAPHAEL: I’m Edwin Raphael. I moved to Montreal about four years ago. It was kind of a spontaneous thing. I had to go to college, and I decided on Canada randomly. I had no intention at the time to make music at all since I was going to business school. Music was always more of an after shower situation where I would jam. It was nothing too hectic. But I would play little shows, and I had a small band back in Dubai. Then I did school here for two years, and at some point, I just started to make music more seriously. And that led to my first album, “Ocean Walk,” and it went quite well. I feel like I answered way too many questions.
SKYN: Wow, those are two different areas. So was music always the number one priority during your college years?
ER: First two years, I wasn’t making music at all, right? I was writing though. Moving to Montreal was such a massive change. I think that inspired me a lot to write more music naturally. So I was writing a lot at that point. Then there’s that moment where you write something, and you realize it’s actually pretty good and I thought “Wait… who am I?”
SKYN: Ha, yeah. Was that the turning point where you decided to focus more on your music?
ER: Yeah. I would always write, but it wasn’t a big deal. Then I wrote one song at one point called “Sleep” when my grandma died. That was when I had just moved to Montreal, so I couldn’t go to the funeral. I wrote this song, and I realized its potential. That started the first wave of songs and style. Everything was based on that.
SKYN: Sorry to hear about that. So it was all a big change: moving away and losing a family member. It must have been hard. I can definitely feel that emotion in your songs and style. Is that why you are “melancholy indie” on Instagram? Can you tell me more about that?
ER: It’s a loose definition of my music: feeling nostalgic about something or feeling some weird sadness about something. It’s indie music, but it ends up being something you don’t hear very often. It’s a little off, but it works.
SKYN: Will your new album still play on that?
ER: Definitely. The new album will still have those elements of sadness but with a positive light.
SKYN: Positive melancholy, I like it. What is your style? It definitely stands out.
ER: I don’t think I could narrow it down to one specific style because it’s always evolving and progressing. At the start, it was very indie/acoustic, rustic and downtempo. I was going for that ocean feel. I always knew that it would just fit that one album and that I couldn’t do anything else with it. The second album is one more step to where I want to be regarding style, but it’s not there yet. I guess my style would be indie/alternative with a little bit of pop. It’s always evolving, you know? The next album will be released in 2019 (exclusive news, it’s the first time I’ve mentioned it) and it is going to be drastically different from the first two albums. It will still have some elements, but you can see a big change from the first album.
SKYN: Exclusive, eh? I’m excited to hear it. You said that “Cold Nights” isn’t there in the style you want. What style is that then?
ER: I’ll realize when I’m getting there. I’m just experimenting and trying to find that sound.
SKYN: You’re still finding yourself music wise. That’s a good place to be. You talk a lot about the ocean, in your songs and your style, is that because of Dubai?
ER: For that first album, we went with a nautical theme. The first song is called “Across the Atlantic,” then there is “Queen of Coast,” “Atwater,” “Harbours.” I love the ocean, and it was a big thing for me at the time.
SKYN: I’m guessing Atwater is about the place in Montreal. How has Montreal affected your music?
ER: Yeah, it is! Montreal’s a city filled with art and music. I met a lot of people that were into my kind of music, which was cool. I go about and see a lot of small shows and concerts. It’s great for that because you can get inspired by other artists. I don’t really understand when other people say they can’t be similar to other artists. I think you have to base yourself on something and then grow yourself. In terms of that, Montreal is a great city to discover new artists and improve yourself as a musician.
SKYN: For sure. There’s a lot of great Montreal legends, too. Who were your inspirations then and now?
ER: John Mayer was a significant influence on me starting to play the guitar. Ben Howard was very influential for the first album. Now it’s the 1975. Arctic Monkeys. Radiohead. I’d say the 1975 is a big inspiration right now.
SKYN: I can hear the Ben Howard influence. I can’t wait to see the 1975 vibe in your next album. You’re growing in the music scene, going on your first tour, getting more and more followers, how did you get there?
ER: You wake up one day, and you just realize someone relevant posted your song or Spotify decides to put you on a playlist, and then your views are going up. It's a little like: Spotify chose to bless you today. Then that opens up to a lot of people listening to your music. I started getting random messages from people telling me how this changed their day, changed their life, and sharing things I didn’t even think about when I was writing the song. Obviously, songs have a universal meaning to each person, which is the main thing you want when writing I find.
SKYN: It’s pretty cool how that happens. It must be exciting to go on your first tour now. How do you feel about it?
ER: I’m really excited about this mini-tour and about being done with school because I couldn’t do this otherwise. Toronto tonight, then we’re doing a show in Montreal in a couple of weeks, and then we’re going to London, which should be cool because that’s where our biggest fan base is. London’s the big one.
SKYN: Wow! And do you have a ritual before performing?
ER: We have a ritual where we drink a lot of red wine. Ha, I don’t know if that’s a ritual.
SKYN: Ha, that’s a pretty good ritual. Can you tell me about your latest release Cold Nights? What’s the inspiration behind it?
ER: “Cold Nights” was heavily based on a relationship falling apart. It had some dark elements, but it also has a positive spin at the end. You can see how I was transitioning. My next album is about coming out of that shell, and it is a lot more positive than Cold Nights. It had a whole black and white aesthetic to it whereas the new album should be a lot more colorful.
SKYN: Your songs are very based on what you’re going through in your life. Did writing about those difficult periods help you?
ER: Yeah, of course. Music itself is very therapeutic. Writing the songs definitely allows for more clarity, and you get to work out your emotions to an extent.
SKYN: I can vouch for that. So what would you say is the favorite song you’ve written so far?
ER: Ouh, that’s a tough question. It’s like having a lot of kids and trying to pick your favorite. But I would say one of my favorites is one I am working on right now. I guess that’s because it’s my freshest baby that just popped out, you know? It’s called “Tangerine Skies,” and I will be playing it tonight.
SKYN: I can spot the colorful album theme. How long does it take you to write a song?
ER: Ouh, it could be anything between two hours and two months. I like the ones that flow out of me better. The flow works. The songs that take two months are never as good as the two-hour ones. I always find they don’t work and I keep going at it. Even when it finally works, I still think it’s not perfect.
SKYN: Right! Would you say that’s the most challenging part of writing?
ER: I would say it’s when you go through a mind-block. You can have a shitty one; like last year I had a mind-block for five months. I couldn’t write anything. I lost it. But then, at the end of the five months, I wrote one of my favorite songs in two hours. I remember thinking “Wow. It’s back. I’m back.” That was Green Eyes.
SKYN: You just have to push through it sometimes. Overall, what’s your favorite part of being a musician and starting to grow in the music scene?
ER: A lot of people don’t reach out and tell you things even if something has affected them, you know? Then there are those certain people that do reach out although they have no hope of getting a reply. They tell me how something I wrote meant to them or how it made them feel. There’s something personal about that. When they reach out, and they say “I hope you see this.” I always see it, I’m not at that stage where I’m ignoring it, and I won’t ever be at that stage because I value that interaction so much. That, for me, is a huge incentive. You have that power to alter a lot of people’s views towards things. We could even use that politically.
SKYN: That’s really touching. They’re affecting you as you’ve affected them. So what is next for Edwin Raphael?
ER: We’ll see, right now we’re taking it step by step. We’re trying to do a lot of shows. We’re probably going to go to the States, do shows in New York, L.A. Then we might go to Europe at some point. All this is still in the works. I want to travel; be a nomad for a bit. It all depends on where I’m going in terms of the music. I’d like to go volunteer in the Amazon, but I haven’t had the time to do that. I’m kind of been getting into animal conservation.
SKYN: Wow, that’s really cool. Do you want to bring wildlife conservation in your music?
ER: The next album will have some elements of conservation. It’s getting to that point where I can talk about the things I care about. I wrote a song about elephants actually for the new album. It’s called Elephant Crossing. Music is my main outlet, so I can’t go fully into animal conservation as of right now. Once I’m more established, I want to help out and do something about it for sure.
SKYN: That’s a worthy goal. Thanks so much for sharing all this with us and best of luck with all these big dreams.
Later that day, I walked the snowy Queen Street West of Toronto to the mythical Horseshoe Tavern, where Edwin Raphael, bass player Fox Graham, and the new addition to their band, drummer James Matthew Patulli, were opening for their first tour.
They opened with the EP “Colder,” a very fitting song for the white and cold winter night, and the melancholy hit right off the bat. Even when Edwin stopped singing, the guitar, bass, and drums became one and spoke just as loud as the lyrics.
He followed up with more songs from his latest album “Cold Nights,” his first album “Ocean Walk,” and teased us with his un-released songs “Green Eyes,” “Location,” and “Tangerine Skies.”
With his bewitching voice and guitar strum, he manages to make you feel everything. The end and beginning of something, falling in and out love, the emptiness and fullness of life, being lost and finding yourself again.
“His sound is the kind of music where you want to cry, but you also want to kiss the person next to you because you realize they mean something to you,” said Alicia Hurmuses.
You feel sad but inspired. You feel like you should dance the night away but also just stand still and hold the person next to you to explore all these feelings before the moment vanishes.
“It's bittersweet,” continued Alicia.
The contrasts of heavy and light, of feeling broken and getting better, resonated throughout the array of songs, particularly with “Nothing Is Sacred.” The heavy lyrics compared with upbeat and colorful instrumentals made me want to dance to the beauty of heartache.
“Green Eyes” was an introduction to the new style the band is working on for their next album. Then and there, the guitar became an extension of Edwin’s body. They were one.
There was a beautiful bond between the band that extended from simply playing harmoniously. Edwin presented “Sleep” from “Ocean Walk,” a song he wrote back when he lost his grandmother. This time, he let the song accompany Fox Graham’s grief.
“This song is going to get emotional. I want to dedicate this to Fox Graham, who recently lost someone,” said Edwin.
It was impossible not to get chills.
“Someday” stood out the most (for me) because of its untraditional stance. James brought a chair, and the two shared a laugh. Edwin then turned to the audience and said that we would need to sit down for this solo and that we would see why.
He then rested his guitar flat on his thighs, strumming with one hand and tapping the strings with the other. When he started to sing, his voice alone accompanied by the guitar filled the entire stage.
“Alright. I’m going to slow it down and sexy it up for you,” said Edwin with both a confidence and a shyness of an emerging musician.
His guitar melody seduced all of us as he shared another unreleased song, “Location,” and the shy crowd gathered to dance.
It’s rare to find someone who is even better live, who transports you into the piece of music, who makes you move your body to a slow indie song.
“Tangerine Skies” opened with a blue skies are coming kind of feeling.
“This one is about a moment that was sad, and when you're looking back at it, there's that moment of happiness because it's gone.” Boy, could you feel that with its fresh and hopeful instrumental.
The band truly let loose during “Kodak.” Even though the song is filled with feelings about being hurt and blindsided, it was performed with upbeat energy. It was a beautiful contrast that once again emerged from the trio.
Just like he surprised us with “Someday,” Edwin changed up the style during “Miss The Sun.” He let his guitar go and accompanied the band with his voice alone while his arms danced from one side to the other to the rhythm.
The band closed with one Edwin’s first songs, “Queen of Coast,” underlining what's beneath all his pieces: reflecting on sadness but looking onto the horizon, onto new beginnings. Something that was so fitting for this concert, reminiscing on the melancholic indie’s debut and his first album and celebrating the band stepping into new beginnings.
Written by: Gloria Pancrazi
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