Canadian singer-songwriter Bahamas, aka Afie Jurvanen, is hitting our shores this month. With gigs all around the country (supported expertly by our very own Fraser A. Gorman), he’s also playing a spot at the Brisbane Festival off the back of his third album released last year, Bahamas Is Afie.
We had a chat to Afie and his howling dogs, direct from his backyard – to find out why he named his album after himself, what Canada’s music scene is like, and whether he has the Australian slang down well enough to enter the country.
Music Feeds: Hey, how are you Afie what are you up to?
Afie Jurvanen: I’m doing good! Just hanging out in my backyard; it’s 8 o’clock in the evening. What time is it over there?
MF: It’s 10am and it’s freezing today! …aaaand I just realised I’ve told a Canadian that I’m cold sitting in Australia.
AJ: Ha – yeah, it is definitely not cold, I bet. What’s it like in mid-September?
MF: Oh, it’ll be fine by then – surely you’ll be hitting mid-20s at least, in some places.
AJ: Oh, cool! So just pack, like, a light jacket and I’ll be okay!
MF: Definitely don’t quote me on that because if you say something, our weather will do the opposite. It’s very contemptuous. ANYWAY, a belated congratulations on the record, it’s stunning; definitely hit my top albums of last year list.
So you named it after yourself – was that a conscious, like “oh, I want this to be more personal,” rather than a project that doesn’t carry your real name so is a bit disassociated with yourself?
AJ: I think it was me sort of reaching a point being comfortable with what I’m doing, you know? When I first started, I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I had these songs – just a few recordings, I didn’t have a band, or an album. At the time, I had no idea what it was, so it was just easier to give the project a name – I just liked that idea.
It’s actually been a really good thing, I think. I think people hear the word Bahamas and it kind of colours their perception of the music, even before they hear it – you know? Before they listen, they hear the music through a certain filter, and I think it’s a positive one.
MF: Definitely; it conjures up a certain atmosphere, and I think the reality is pretty consistent with what I imagined anyway!
AJ: But at the same time, over the years, I’ve realised that I could make a character, but I usually end up just getting on stage and saying “Hi, I’m Afie, I’m going to play some songs,” – and I think by the time I was making that third album I was pretty comfortable with that idea, and I also just think it’s a weird title! The punk rock in me thinks it’s cool to mess with people.
I like the idea of people picking up Bahamas Is Afie and going “no, Bahamas is a country” or “what the hell’s an Afie?” – it’s a bit confusing still, and I kinda like it.
Watch: Bahamas – Waves
MF: I was going to say, what I loved most about it is that the name alludes to it being much more personal and perhaps even private, but I felt like it reached even further out of your box. It was so much fuller, more layered, more involved – so while the title feels more introspective, I suppose it’s almost the opposite that we hear in the music.
AJ: Sure – right on! I was definitely thinking about that while I was making it. Writing the songs, it seemed like there was the opportunity for them to go into a lot more places; evolve in more sophisticated ways.
My first two records I just recorded with the band, and I didn’t give them any instruction, we would just start playing it was more just capturing what was going on in the room. With this one, I knew exactly what I wanted it to sound like, what I wanted to do – because ethe ideas were so solid, it was just about layering it up to get that solidness.
You’re right – there is a lot of things that are very arranged; there’s definitely no jamming on this one. I worked pretty hard on it! Can’t say I’ve listened to it in a long time, but I think it sounded good when we finished?!
MF: Oh, it did. Don’t fret about that. I suppose it’s interesting with so many people popping up in your industry so young at the moment – not even just your Biebers and One Directions, but even more on your wavelength I think Laura Marling got her first record out at 16. You started releasing as Bahamas a little later…
AJ: Yeah, that’s true. I started really doing stuff for this when I was about 27, I think, and the album came a couple of years later. I suppose I just approached it with a different path. When I finished high school – actually, no, I didn’t even finish high school! I can’t say I have the best academic streak – I was just SO into music, and I played in bands, and we were all just sitting around writing songs, recording our own little things.
I think I just followed my instinct, and I ended up in a really good spot in Toronto – there’s a great music community here – and I was just able to play in other people’s bands, and I got to tour all over the world. I’ve already done Australia a few times, Europe, America – I got a chance to just work as a musician with none of the pressure of being the bandleader, and having to make the whole thing work – I just got to play music, and travel, and honestly I feel so much gratitude for that.
I just feel like I got a little window into how hard it is, but I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by really good people – that’s the one thing I learnt, I think. If you’re going to do it, and you’re going to put in all the work, bring along all the people you think are really awesome – because you have to spend all your time with them. I think that served me well, once I started playing my own stuff, to remember that – all I want is to keep having as much fun as possible.
MF: Totally – I think there’s something to be said for doing it a little later, and I guess for you finding that community organically is something that really shaped you.
AJ: I think it’s the same with movies too, right? There’s a lot of people getting in there too early, and they can’t figure out how to sustain it. And the truth is, it’s hard to sustain it. You know, a few years ago people weren’t really that tuned into what I was doing. Who knows, maybe five years from now they won’t care, but right now it seems like they do – and that’s great!
I think when you’re a little bit older, too, it’s easier to ride those waves of up and down – take the hits.
MF: I was going to ask about that Toronto music community, too. It sort of doesn’t spring to mind as a hub of music, but I’ve been doing some research and it’s seriously teeming with incredible stuff! Once you discovered the community for yourself, did you find it easy to just fall in and become part of those circles?
AJ: Ah, yeah – kind of! I grew up in a small town about an hour north of Toronto, so very quickly I met the other people in that town who were into music and art – it doesn’t take that long for those kinds of people to gravitate towards each other. Then once we were all together, we decided to just move to Toronto at the same time, which was kind of nice! I was fairly young, but I was able to arrive in the city with my buddies, and we all just played music together, and…yeah! There we were.
I think it’s kind of ironic, really – once you start touring and playing bigger places, we actually rarely play Toronto, so you fall out of touch – and that’s kinda how I feel now. I might paly Toronto once a year, you know – I end up in other places more. But ten years ago or so, I was really hanging out in Toronto a lot and there just happened to be a lot of great songwriters and musicians hanging around, and I happen to love just playing guitar in someone else’s band!
MF: It does kind of seem similar to here in Melbourne, actually – there’s that insular little community, with the same people playing in each other’s bands in that circuit, and until they break out they’re sort of just always playing somewhere.
AJ: Oh, yes! Absolutely! I’ve only done Melbourne a couple of times, but it totally does seem that way – it seems really similar to Toronto, in a strange way – although the coffee’s much better down there, but absolutely. There are a lot of similarities between the two, for sure.
MF: I first heard about you probably three or four years ago, through Noah & The Whale – they used to post about you on social media ALL the time…
*a dog barking symphony starts*
AJ: Sorry, I’ve got big dogs jumping all over me here! Yeah, I toured with them a couple of times while they were in America.
MF: RIP them…
AJ: Yeah, I know! I haven’t kept in touch with them that much, actually. When we toured they were really riding high, getting big shows, just a fun bunch of guys to be around – they had so much energy, I felt like such an old man just sittin’ there with my guitar while they bounced around the stage!
MF: Yeah, they were full of beans. For me as a teenager, their second record (The First Days Of Spring) was one that it would be clichéd but true to say it was a game-changer. I’ll always remember exactly when and where I was when I heard it and it always makes me feel something really intense. Do you have the same thing – something that conjures up something vivid every single time?
AJ: There are a bunch of Van Morrison albums that do exactly that – there’s one called Veedon Fleece. My wife showed it to me a few years ago, and yeah. We started listening to it in the fall, when it was raining like crazy, and we kept listening to it in the winter – and that was such a tough winter, too. We just listened to it every night, we’d put the record on, then it’d finish and we’d just play it again.
It’s weird, because it’s one of those albums where there aren’t really any hit songs – there aren’t really even any uptempo songs. They’re all just slow, with his band just jamming around barely even making songs. Van’s just one of those singers who has the ability to put in so much weight and so much emotion to his performance – so yeah, that one, I’ll never get tired of it. Makes me think of home.
MF: Well, obviously you’re coming quite a long way from home soon heading back down here for a little headline tour; how are you feeling about it? It’s a pretty big ‘un!
AJ: I’ve always had a real good time there, although I was playing solo last time (supporting City & Colour). I really like playing that way, it’s kind of liverating, but I’m psyched that I get to bring my band this time – they’re absolutely a kickass band and I’m so excited to just keep playing with them!
ALSO, a lot of them haven’t been there before, and I just keep telling them how great the food is, and the coffee – you know, that’s enough of an incentive! I’m convincing them with the coffee.
MF: So you’re the tour guide, then… effectively?
AJ: Well, yeah! I’m the team captain – it’s my job to make sure everybody’s pumped…which isn’t hard, because I’m always pumped, and it just radiates, doesn’t it?
MF: Seriously though, you guys should pack up and move a little closer – it’s a long way out there!
AJ: Don’t even get me started – the Australia to Canada trip is so brutal!
But it’ll be good. At the risk of sounding patronising, I think Melbourne’s really got it goin’ on. It’s got cute smaller neighbourhoods, and that’s what I love about Toronto too – it’s divided into all these different and interesting neighbourhoods, and I felt like Melbourne had that same kind of thing.
I really hope we get a bit of time off there, actually – normally you just get a couple of hours between soundcheck and show. I don’t even know where’ll we’ll be with the venue, but I hope it’s a good area there!
Watch: Bahamas – All The Time
MF: You’re at Howler, in Brunswick – it’s a beautiful venue, and such a nice area too – all about the coffee, good bars, good food. Winner.
AJ: Amazing – that’s what I’m hoping for!
MF: And you’re playing with our very own Fraser A. Gorman at most of your shows around the country. Are you pretty familiar with him, or?
AJ: You know, I actually don’t know much at all! I’m acting on the advice of my friends who we work with over there, and they suggested it – so I’m glad to get hooked up with some natives.
MF: You’ll love him – he’s in Courtney Barnett’s little Melbourne gang, has a very Dylan-cross-Neil Young-cross-Kinks thing going on. Such a bro.
AJ: Amazing – I’m ready!
MF: So I thought to adequately prepare you, I’d test you on your Australian slang just to make sure you’ll fit in here.
AJ: Oh NO! Don’t do this! Right. I’m just gonna wing it. I’ll come up with something.
AJ: Oh, easy! It’s a small doll, that young girls play with. There’s usually an accompanying Ken doll…right?
MF: I mean, yeah – but that’s so North America of you! I’m talking about the other one, the ‘chuck a shrimp on the barbie’ Barbie.
AJ: Oh like a BBQ? RIGHT. Easy……
MF: Chuck a sickie.
AJ: Can you say that again? Chuggasikkie? OH! Like… call into work sick. Nailed it – I figured that one out.
AJ: Wow. A durry. Is that like… the dessert version of a curry? I’m picturing, like, a chicken korma frozen with some ice-cream on top – and sprinkles, for good measure.
AJ: Are you, like, in the weeds, or something? Like you’ve partied too hard, and you’re just… you’re out. You’re hungover.
MF: Well… sort of! You’re drunk – like, proper drunk. And it’s been verbified, of course. If you munt, that’s alcohol-induced vomiting. It’s classy, I know.
AJ: Well, look – I just hope I don’t have to use it, or any of them, really. Let’s just hope that my Australian experience is much more wholesome.
Bahamas is in the country soon for a tour which includes the Dashville Skyline Festival, grab the deets here.
Watch: Bahamas – Stronger Than That