PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANDY-LYN ANTONIOU
Raised in Barrie, Ontario, BAHAMAS, otherwise known as Afie Jurvanen, is an acclaimed musician and songwriter. He has worked with the likes of Feist, Zeus, and Jason Collett, and has recorded two albums as a solo artist – Barchords being the most recent. When he’s not touring in a van he makes his home in Toronto.
THE LAB MAGAZINE—Barchords is an album full of heartbreak. How cathartic a process is song-writing for you and what do you find most rewarding about it?
BAHAMAS—Writing songs is the most difficult and is by far the most rewarding part of being a musician for me. Finding a way to fit words together and marry them to some melody is something that has a lot of mystery in it. I think that’s why I like it – it’s not something I completely understand. That sense of discovery will probably keep me coming back to song-writing for years to come… I hope so anyway.
TLM—What kind of reaction did you set out to achieve with this album, if any – is there a specific response you’re trying to illicit from you fans?
B—I was so busy playing shows that I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work up any sort of expectations. I think that’s probably for the better. Expectations are dangerous. I’m very grateful and humbled that people seem to have responded to this recording so positively.
TLM—The nature of the industry means there can be lengthy time periods between the creation and performance of your music. Is there a disconnect between the person you are now compared to when you wrote a song, and how can that inform your performances?
B—Of course. People change; the music changes; the music business changes. It’s all in flux, all the time. I think trying to write honest songs is probably the best way to stay connected to them over time. It would be difficult to sing the same songs for years if they were in any way a fabrication. Feeling connected to some sense of history is important, even if you’ve moved on from those times or feelings.
TLM—Your music is very stripped down in comparison with many contemporary artists. Can you pinpoint what has shaped and influenced you to make music this way?
B—My favorite music is usually just one person and their instrument. Bob Dylan and Neil Young playing solo are probably the biggest influences for me. They sound great with a band, but there’s an unbridled power when you hear their solo recordings. It takes balls to do that and most people don’t have it in them. When the song-writing is so good, you don’t need any embellishments. I think I try and keep that in mind when I’m recording… I don’t know, it’s not all that calculated; it’s just what sounds good to me. Too much sound never makes sense to me.
TLM—What have you learned from working with other successful musicians, such as Feist and Jason Collett? How is working with them different from performing your Bahamas records?
B—I loved playing with other people and will most likely always do it in some way or another. It’s a wonderful break from my own songs, and it’s nice to be a small contributor to something that isn’t your own. Bands are complicated, living organisms and they usually have a limited life span. I’m really lucky that I never really had to audition for anything. I just had friends who were making good music and I was lucky enough to be around when they needed some help.
TLM—On your website fans can watch a short film that centers on your family life and music. How do the two inform each other and what role does your Finnish heritage played in your music?
B—My Finnish heritage doesn’t play into my music any more than my Canadian heritage. I say that with the most respect for both of my passports. I love both countries and know I’m lucky to have that history, but I hope that people from all over can find something in the songs to hang on to. It would be a shame if they were too “Finnish” or “Canadian” for anyone else to enjoy.
TLM—You spend a lot of time on the road as part of your job. How does all the travel affect your sense of “home” and do you miss being away on tour when you’re not?
B—I sometimes joke that my real job is sitting in the van all day. I usually only get to play about an hour of music when we’re on tour, which for me is not enough. My home life is really important and of course it’s difficult to be away. Thankfully my family and friends are very supportive.
TLM—You end your live shows with your drummer and singers in the forefront, which not many musicians do. What do you hope the audience takes away from that and why is it important for you to shift the focus away from yourself in this way?
B—It’s a nice way for me to acknowledge their contribution. I’ve played solo or with bigger bands and it’s really exciting for me to hear my songs run through these different incarnations. I’m always grateful when musicians that I think are heavy have something to contribute to the songs. At the end of the day, music is about communion; musicians communing with each other, or the band with the audience. I’m just happy to be part of that conversation.