Afie Jurvanen doesn't have time to mess around. The singer-songwriter known as Bahamas has two young daughters at home in Toronto, so when he's in creative mode, he can't afford to spend a ton of time tweaking a musical phrase, passage, or tone the way he used to. He's taken to scrapping anything that doesn't work quickly.
"I've just gotten ruthless," he says. "If an idea isn't working out or feeling right, I just move on. I used to sit and tinker with a song for hours or days — in some cases, I've had songs hang around for years — but now it's more elemental, much more immediate. I just sort of go with that gut instinct, I guess."
Incidentally, he's finding that urgent-sounding music often connects with audiences in a more basic way than more cerebral songs. "Those songs that came together in five or ten minutes are the ones people seem to really love and sing along to every night," he says. "It's interesting, you know? I wish I knew what the formula was, but you've just got to be open to it and be ready to capture it when it comes up."
He's set to play Culture Room this Thursday, May 17, in support of Bahamas' new album, Earthtones. He cut the record in three studios, in Los Angeles, Prague, and Toronto, with a backing band featuring members of D'Angelo's rhythm section.
"I had a lot of fun on this album," he says. "It's bright and lively, and playing with these top-quality musicians makes me feel like a little kid. When you surround yourself with people who are better than you are, it forces you to dig deep and do the best you can. If you're on a football team and everybody can run 5 or 10 percent faster than you, that means you're running at top speed all the time. I prefer to be in that position as a musician, to be sort of out of my element."
Jurvanen says it was uncomfortable, but constantly stretching his abilities took Bahamas' sound into new territory. He's always been a fluid guitarist with a gift for breezy melodies, but on the Earthtones standout "Bad Boys Need Love Too," he sets aside his guitar, adopts a swagger, and lays down some raps.
"It just kind of came out like that," he explains. "The lyrics and the melody dictated how the song should go, and I didn't fight it. I just let [the band] go for it, and we ended up with this track that's funky and groovy. For me, that's a very important track because it seems a little bit outside the rest of Earthtones, but at the same time it's perfectly in keeping with the other songs."
It's also in line with Jurvanen's personal taste. He doesn't consider himself a rapper by any means, but that's the sort of music he listens to. "I love how the rhythmic aspects are so much at the forefront," he says. "It makes you want to move your head and your body. And then, lyrically, a lot of [hip-hop] artists are speaking to the times we're living in such a relevant and cool way. I'm not a very nostalgic person; I like to make music about now."
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