For 'melancholy indie' musician Edwin Raphael, inspiration comes from dreams and hour-long showers
The Montreal singer-songwriter's new EP, Staring at Ceilings, is a serene, introspective journey
"A lot of my songs are things I get from dreams as well as conversations I have with myself in the shower," admitted Montreal's Edwin Raphael during a recent Zoom call with CBC Music.
"I would have a full-blown drama in the shower and be like, 'This is a great concept,'" he continued, adding, "a lot of girlfriends have been mad about my one-hour showers in the past [laughs], but, you know, it is what it is."
All that dreaming and steaming has paid off for the emerging singer-songwriter, whose new five-song EP, Staring at Ceilings, has been a cathartic process of introspection.
"I'm a very anxious person, but in the last two years, I've come to terms with it," he explained. "And that's where the EP stemmed from. I feel way better about my anxieties now, so I was like, 'If I put this into an EP, people can also take from this and it can help people the way it helped me.'"
Collaborating with guitarist/producer Jacob Liutkus, Raphael crafts a stirring, dream-pop esthetic for his songs, but that wasn't the case on his debut EP, 2015's Ocean Walk, on which he sang with straightforward guitar accompaniment.
"Over time, I've just become more confident in my songwriting and production and arranging songs in a way that is not just an acoustic, one-dimensional thing," he reflected. "That's probably the biggest thing, because now I feel like it's like an orchestra. We're doing huge arrangements and it's just really cool."
While his Facebook bio consists simply of the words "melancholy indie," Raphael takes that basic notion and expands it into a whole emotional journey on his new EP.
"'Time to Sink' is a place of hopelessness, riddled with anxiety," he said, reflecting on Track 1. "It's the moment where I'm like, it's time to sink, just indulge in it, dive in headfirst, go.
"Then comes 'Sea of Things,' where you're being rushed around and you're in the sea of all this craziness, and 'Mild Sanity,' where you have a realization — maybe there's hope. 'Staring at Ceilings' is that moment where you realize it was just a vicious cycle, you've been travelling through all this stuff and you're going to be OK in the end. And then 'The After' is where you come back to shore and you realize it was just all in your head."
'Do you sing?'
Raphael was born and raised in Dubai, U.A.E., and unlike his high-school classmates, who mostly headed to England for post-secondary studies, he moved to Montreal seven years ago to attend the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University.
"My dad's been grooming me for business since I was born, essentially," he said. "I was in economics and marketing, and during the first year of university I realized I was procrastinating hard by making and writing music in my dorm room. I kind of kept it on the low and then, once the first project was about to come out, I was like, 'Yeah, I've been making some music and stuff in my dorm room and I'm going to put it out.' And [my parents] were like, 'Do you sing?' And I was like, 'You're going to find out.'"
Raphael stuck it out and got his degree from Concordia — "My dad asks me periodically, 'Like, you still have that diploma on you, right?'" — but by the time Raphael graduated, music had really taken over and Montreal had seduced him.
"When I came here, I was like, 'Oh my God, this is my people!' I was going to these underground shows and all these, like, little pay-what-you-can shows and it was just beautiful talent — really cool settings and, like, really good indie music. I'm a fiend and an avid listener, so it was super exciting, and within a year and a half, I was playing these little shows, too."
Raphael includes Oscar Lewis and the bands Ivytide and Fleece in his Montreal circle, and he hosts his own intimate house concerts, which he dubs Favourite Library. "I curate, like, six different Montreal artists who come and play a very unplugged set in my living room with just 25 people. It's just a really nice lineup with no mics. Everyone's quiet, sitting on the floor and just, like, listening."
While the music on Raphael's new EP benefits from lush studio production, it still retains that lean-in-and-listen quality that makes those Favourite Library house concerts so special.
"It's a more mature record and there's a lot of textures," he said. "I'll be shook if people don't like it."
Edwin Raphael's EP Staring at Ceilings comes out on Feb. 26 via Dine Alone Records. He plays two songs from it and chats with Saroja Coelho on the Feb. 24 episode of CBC Music's The Intro, available for viewing at the top of this post.