A Conversation with Edwin Raphael: A Dubai Native Making Waves in Montreal with New EP ‘Staring at Ceilings’

Edwin Raphael © Gaelle Leroyer
Edwin Raphael © Gaelle Leroyer
His anxiety troubles may be real – but so is his musical ingenuity and longtime fascination with the ocean. All combine to produce the stirring sounds of ‘Staring at Ceilings,’ Edwin Raphael’s latest EP. 
Stream: ‘Staring at Ceilings’ – Edwin Raphael

“Every so often, you stumble upon that day where everything is nothing like you knew before,” says Edwin Raphael of Montreal. “You see colors you’ve never seen before; you stare at the same ceiling, but it gives you an entire cosmos today.”

That chain of thought inspired the title and prevailing themes of Raphael’s latest EP, Staring at Ceilings, released on February 26th. As someone who has struggled with and ultimately emerged from anxiety, this singer has used his new music to channel that very “progression from hopelessness to optimism.” In the words of someone who’s long been drawn to the ocean – as is exemplified by the song and video, “Sea of Things” – that whole process demonstrates “that the human mind is capable of going to the bottom of the sea and still making it out under the sun.” Such is the aquatic metaphor that guides the thematic structure of Staring at Ceilings.

Staring at Ceilings - Edwin Raphael
Staring at Ceilings – Edwin Raphael

Originally from Dubai, Raphael made his way to Montreal in 2013, where he studied Marketing and Commerce at Concordia University. He’s maintained his interests in business and social media in his professional life, but his side passions in the performing arts have proven to be every bit as enduring. Midway through college, Raphael released his debut EP, Ocean Walk (2015), and has continued to release music regularly since then.

For his latest project, the 25-year-old singer has collaborated with another Montreal-based musician: Marcus Paquin, who studied across town at McGill University and who has previously been heard playing drums, keyboard and other instruments for the likes of Arcade Fire, the National and Local Natives. Together, the two have concocted a rich musical landscape across five interconnected tracks that ultimately “reflects the spectrum of human indulgence and the cost of our anxieties,” according to Raphael.

Atwood Magazine dives even more deeply into this watery, imaginative world through a conversation with Edwin Raphael.

Edwin Raphael © Gaelle Leroyer
Edwin Raphael © Gaelle Leroyer


Staring at Ceilings - Edwin Raphael

Atwood Magazine: You grew up in Dubai and now live in Montreal. How did your experiences in the two cities compare? How has each one's music scene informed your own artistry?

Edwin Raphael: They are vastly different. Dubai feels like a part of my life where the writers were figuring out a plot and writing room was all over the place. Montreal feels like the story finally taking shape and blooming into something. I didn’t have many intentions with music while I was in Dubai and so I don’t think it honed my artistry, although it was almost a necessary prologue. Montreal really got me fired up about writing within its music scene, and it was all very exciting. I think it definitely allowed me to center myself a bit more and indulge in it.

You say you had to ''ditch a career path carved out by your father'' as you pursued your music career. Can you elaborate on that experience? Are you on better terms with your father now that you've had some success in the music industry?

Edwin Raphael: I think he sort of had an idea simmering that I would perhaps forge a similar path, like going to business school and all that. Ironically, that all changed when I came to Montreal for business school. I started writing music and diving into it pretty soon into university, almost as a means of procrastinating from school work. So I get why it was a little bit of a shocker for my parents that one day I was like, “So, I realised I can kind of sing and make music, so I’m going to give it a shot”. They’ve been super supportive of it all from the start and I think they’ve also realized how it was one of the things that made me tick most.

What was the inspiration behind the music video for ''Time to Sink?'' How does the wide variety of imagery in the clip add up to one grand thematic statement?

Edwin Raphael: “Time to Sink” is the build-up of all the noise in your head, a somber moment of accepting that, and then the split moment during a dive where you feel that beautiful weightlessness. The music video is sort of a visualizer to carry you through these moods with a colour graph. The imagery goes through the wondrous things you’ve seen in your lifetime, your search for it all, and how you’re ready to indulge in your subconscious without fear.

You described the EP's lead single, “Sea of Things,” as ''a testament to the chaotic and oftentimes, perplexing nature of the ocean and of living without control.'' How do the song's lyrics/music reflect that description? Do you have a longtime fascination with the ocean/ocean culture?

Edwin Raphael: So ‘Sea of Things’ is the song that follows ‘Time to Sink’ & now you are completely underwater realizing your subconscious is riddled with chaos and calm, it takes you through dips & highs without a sense of control. The song mirrors the notion of feeling like you’re underwater and dealing with the things you are afraid to say out loud. I think I am drawn to and romanticize the ocean quite a bit, as I naturally tend to parallel much of my feelings towards it. It’s weird.

Anxiety is a common theme in your music. Is this something you deal with personally? How does making music help you overcome it?

Edwin Raphael: 100% & 110%. Anxiety is a recurring theme in my music and evergreen personally. I think music is one of those outlets that always kind of numbs me for that little while, whether I’m making it or listening to it. It’s one of those things I get super lost in and I think it’s been important for my sanity.

Edwin Raphael © Gaelle Leroyer
Edwin Raphael © Gaelle Leroyer

What are some memorable experiences that emerged from the making of Staring at Ceilings? How do you hope listeners will connect with the finished product?

Edwin Raphael: I think it was one of those projects that came together very naturally and beautifully. Nothing was forced. It felt very stream-of- consciousness-like. As soon as the concept came together, I was excited, because I knew it was really real for me. Arranging it with Fox Graham (my co-writer) and mixing with Marcus Paquin was even more thrilling, as we felt like we were sort of putting colour to the concept and finishing up this lush painting. I think listeners can indulge in a way that you can numb out their anxieties, as well as have a newfound resolve to confront that thing you’ve been hiding from in your mind.

Anything you'd like to add?

Edwin Raphael: I just hope it helps whoever is listening the same way it helped me.

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Staring at Ceilings - Edwin Raphael

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