Here’s a little bit of a geography lesson: The musician who calls himself Bahamas actually lives in Toronto. Last year in Austin, he drew a capacity crowd to his South by Southwest showcase, thanks to a smooth groove, smart songs and a polished presentation.
About one year later, a tour stop with the band Calexico brought him through Nashville a few weeks shy of a European tour. The man behind the moniker, Afie Jurvanen, chatted with CMT Edge in the breakfast bar at a Best Western just off Music Row.
Although much of the music on his 2012 album Barchords would probably would fit under the Americana umbrella, Jurvanen says he doesn’t follow that scene much at all.
“I like a lot of older music,” he says. “That’s not to say there’s not good music being made now. I just haven’t come around to it. I feel like there’s so much to discover from the past. I guess I’m still making my way through that right now.”
He says he’s especially interested in music from the 1950s and 1960s and cites Willie Nelson as one of his favorites.
“And a lot of the production elements, I guess I feel more akin to those than the modern ways of doing this,” he adds.
Asked about the influence of classic country music in his songwriting, he says, “I think there’s something about the storytelling, for sure. … There’s a long line of writers who tried to be storytellers. I wouldn’t say that my music sounds like Townes Van Zandt — or even sounds like Willie Nelson, for that matter — but definitely the simplicity of marrying a lyric to a melody is much more pleasing to me than worrying about a lot of the other production elements.”
Listening to Bahamas’ music in concert, it’s hard to miss the bright female voices that add pizzazz to the arrangements. Originally, Jurvanen recorded many of the harmony vocals himself, then decided to enlist two women to sing on the track “Lost in the Light.” Pleased with the results, Jurvanen now tours with a similar setup. Plus, it adds a sensual side to the music, not to mention an attractive lineup onstage. Usually dressed to the nines, everybody looks slick up there.
“I wanted the visuals to match the mix. Their voices are loud, you know? They’re not background singers. They’re very much featured for this tour,” he says. “I hope it’s not too over-the-top, but they are doing something different and doing something special.”
As for a typical day on the road, Jurvanen sums it up this year by saying, “Lots of driving.”
The musicians travel in a van, which gives him a chance to play guitar when he’s not behind the wheel.
“It’s not enough for me to play for just 45 minutes. And also, performing is different than just playing. So when you’re backstage or you’re in the hotel, when no one’s listening, you’re going to play differently than you would onstage,” he says.
Jurvanen says that they’ve also started getting into “ridiculous teas” just to make the time go faster.
“We really got into tea on the last tour,” he says, laughing at himself and the way it sounds. “Basically out of boredom. We all got these Thermoses and went to Whole Foods and bought these ridiculous teas. It’s a way to pass the time. You get into these sorts of things. Some people get into crossword puzzles. Obviously, some people are on the phone all the time. But for me and Markus [Gilgan, his tour manager], we get into the teas. He’ll have an elderberry, and I’ll have a peppermint medley or something like that. And we’ll compare notes.”
After a European tour in March, Jurvanen says he’s going to take some time to figure out what to do next. A new record seems likely to be in the schedule later this year, he says, “but I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself.”
Doesn’t he get antsy after a long tour is over?
“Not at all,” he says, laughing. “I have a life at home, a family. You end up missing out on all that stuff. So when I’m at home, I do all the cooking. I have a very civilized, domestic life. So going on the road is some great adventure because you’re going to all of these great restaurants and stuff, but I don’t do any of that at home.”
Just like he’s done for the last four years, he figures he’ll hit the road for the long haul after writing and recording the next album.
“Thankfully, I still like playing. I’m not sick of it or anything,” he says. “I hope I get a chance to keep touring. There are so many bands that want to play that don’t get a chance.”