Q&A: Bahamas


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Canadian musician Afie Jurvanen — popularly known by his stage name Bahamas — has ridden a steady road to success since the release of his first album, Pink Strat, recorded in a cabin in Ontario in 2008. His third and most recent album, Bahamas is Afie, was released on Aug. 19, 2014, and met with acclaim, earning the No. 1 spot on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s Top-20 Albums of 2014 and comparisons with other stripped-down artists such as Jack Johnson. Currently on a tour that will take him to Bonnaroo Music Festival in June, Bahamas performed at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., on Tuesday and caught up with The Daily Iowan before the show.

The Daily Iowan: When did you decide to go by a stage name?

Afie Jurvanen: Pretty early on, before I had an album. My friends and I were playing a bar, and they said, “What do you want on the poster?” At the time, I really didn’t feel like going by Afie — that felt too strange of a name to go by. I’m not sure when Bahamas came up the first time, but as soon as it popped into my mind, I thought it was a cool word and conjures nice imagery for people before they hear the music. So I said, “Put that on the poster” and basically didn’t think about it again. It was a little bit accidental, but I’m happy with it — it ended up suiting the music even if I didn’t design it that way.

DI: You are self-taught on a lot of the instruments you play on the album. Do you write music around your own abilities, or do you come up with a song in your head and figure out how to create it later?

Jurvanen: It’s a bit of both. I do like to play a lot of guitar, so a lot of times, I’ll just stumble onto things as I’m working my way around the instruments. You might play a chord progression 100 times the same way, and for some reason, you play it one more time slightly differently and unlock something. That’s always really exciting as a writer.

On the other hand, just as often I’ll write music without instruments. If you have a lyric or just some words floating around in your head, they’ll have the power to suggest a melody, and then you have to test it out afterwards and figure out how it all comes together. There are several songs on [Bahamas is Alfie] that came together that way. 

DI: You collaborated with a few other musicians for the new album, but for the most part, you were running around the studio playing all the parts. What are some of the pros and cons to working as a solo artist?

Jurvanen: The pros are you don’t really have to deliberate with anyone, you don’t have to fight for your ideas. If you’re working with other people, you have to be democratic about it and give everyone’s ideas fair chance and that takes a lot of time.

The cons are you don’t really have someone to celebrate with. It’s really fun when you’re in the studio, and you figure out something that wasn’t there five minutes before. Part of the excitement of the studio is sharing that with people. But I’m lucky; I get to do a fair amount of recording on my own, and on tour, I get to work with a band.

DI: You have some pretty entertaining music videos: You try on about 1,000 hats in the one for “Caught Me Thinking” and “I Got You, Babe” just shows a bunch of people frolicking on the beach. Do you have fun making music videos, or is it just part of the job?

Jurvanen: I’m not sure that I enjoy it. I’m getting better at it, getting better at enjoying it. It’s not something I ever think about when I’m making the album; it’s only after when we’re thinking about how are we going to get people’s attention? I’m lucky; I work with some really talented directors. I have a lot of wacky ideas, and it’s good to work with people who are passionate about film so they can take whatever seed of an idea I might have and realize it in a way that doesn’t make me cringe.

DI: Was it your idea to include muscly guys from the World’s Strongest Man competition in the video for “Stronger Than That”?

Jurvanen: It was really just an idea my friend Emmett and I had. We were trying to think of all these artful ideas for videos, and nothing felt like it was fitting the song, and then we came up with this very literal idea of strength. That sort of led to this idea of a weightlifting competition. It was pretty silly, the video, but in a lot of ways, it fit the song. It’s nice to have a song with a wholesome message and some images that were silly and a little ironic.

DI: Do you feel like you’ve “made it” in the music industry yet — or is that even something you’re striving for?

Jurvanen: There are so many ways to define success. For me, I’m just trying to live my life as an artist and as a musician, and that in itself is really difficult, but it’s also really rewarding. There’s not a whole lot of luxury involved in what we do: There’s a lot of travel, a lot of time away from home. I think most artists at this level will probably tell you the same thing, how do you balance relationships, and family, and things in your life that are so much more important than music?
Success to me would be to continue to have a career in music. I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I get to travel around, and crack jokes with my friends, and make music. It’s the dream job I never knew I wanted. I feel really lucky.

DI: How have audiences been responding to the current tour?

Jurvanen: We don’t have a hit single or anything, so the people who are coming to the shows are coming to experience the whole thing and are willing to be active listeners. They’re going for the slow songs and fast songs, which lets us have a dynamic show.

DI: Do you have any goals for the future?

Jurvanen: More shows in Iowa.

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