a, Arts & Entertainment, Music

Afie Jurvanen (Bahamas) talks indie music and the perplexity of the Canadian music scene

At Osheaga, the sunny grounds were filled with a dazzling array of musical talents from a multitude of different sounds. Out of these, the easygoing and dreamy indie sound of Afie Jurvanen—the Toronto-native behind the stage name Bahamas—could be easily picked out. His newest album Bahamas is Afie (2014), is often described as a ‘breakup album.’ Rather than being heavy and melancholic, the album has a lighthearted dreamy sound thanks to its strong folk and 1960’s rock influences. Before the whirlwind frenzy of Osheaga, Jurvanen spoke with a wry sense of humour about his musical influences and what it’s like to be an indie musician.

McGill Tribune (MT): You’re one of the biggest up and coming names in the Canadian indie music industry. How does it feel to be playing at Osheaga, the biggest music festival in the country?

Afie Jurvanen (AJ): We’ve played here before, and always had a wonderful time. They have great catering—the seafood is awesome. Hopefully they have the same chef this year.

MT: So you toured with Jack Johnson and Wilco early last year. Can you describe what that was like? Do the people you tour with influence the way you think about your music?

AJ: I don’t think it changes anything musically in those particular examples, but they’re really wonderful people and I think that’s the most important thing. When you’re travelling, you gotta be around people that you like because you spend so much time together. I think that Jack in particular is involved with all kinds of good initiatives outside of music, and those are the types of things I care about too. I like to be around people that care about the same thing, you know?

MT: The harmonies between you and your backup singer are really good. Can you describe the relationship between you and the members of your backing band?

AJ: Well, yeah, I mean it’s not really that complicated. They’re just really talented and I’m in a lucky position to be in, to have a band that you trust and I’m really grateful. They’re just very great players. They have very strong musical intuition, and I think that’s the best skill to have, no matter what skill level you’re at. As long as you’re really listening, have the ability to play with people, to respond to people, to have that musical conversation, you’re in a good position.

MT: Since your debut album, your music has developed quite a lot. Can you describe what musical influences have played a part in the evolution of your music? Are there specific bands or genres of music that have pushed you to develop your sound?

AJ: I wouldn’t say that there’s one above all else. I think I like a lot of types of music. There was a period where I really loved country music a lot. There was another period where I really loved rock and roll music. These days I listen to mostly hip hop music and as far as contemporary music goes, that’s kind of the genre where all the exciting stuff is happening. The hip hop artists who are pushing the boundaries sound the most original to my ears, and that’s what’s jumping out at me. Even if it doesn’t sound like that on my albums, I think some of those ideas carry over.

MT: Can you elaborate on some of the influences on your more recent work?

AJ: Well, I do like the way hip hop uses different time signatures and [artists] basically do whatever they want. For example, the chorus can be faster than the verse, and they can have all different kinds of genres all mashing together. I like that idea, and I think it’s an idea that’s carried over when I was making Bahamas is Afie. I was also listening to a lot of Celtic music; there are certain scales they use, certain notes, certain hard and fast rules that I really liked. I thought it was really powerful sound and I tried to evoke some of those ideas on the guitar when I was playing.

MT: Could you tell us a bit about your songwriting process?

AJ: It’s not set in stone. It’s generally a product of playing the guitar. I don’t get a whole lot of time to do that when I’m on tour, but at the end each day, I get to play about an hour. It’s mostly just being at home and playing the guitar as much as possible. I usually play around three to four hours a day and something usually comes out of that. Sometimes it’s a really good idea, sometimes it’s something worth pursuing, and other times it’s not so great. But I always end up taking something away from it, whether or not I end up making a song out of it.

MT: I read somewhere you worked with Feist before you started working on your own music. Can you describe what that was like?

AJ: It was a wonderful experience. I got to travel all over the world, which was amazing. It was a very formative experience for me. Now I get to do the same thing and bring my band along. I’m lucky to kind of do the same kind of thing and I think it keeps it interesting

MT: Can you describe what the Canadian music industry was like when you first started out compared to what it is today? What’s changed, and what’s remained the same?

AJ: I don’t know too much about the Canadian music industry. The music business in Canada is quite small, since our population is quite small. I’m grateful I get to tour in Canada, but I don’t actually play that much in Canada. Ironically, I spend most of my time playing in America, and touring in Europe. We’re also playing in Australia in the fall. That’s a lucky position to be in, since it means we get to play in more shows. If I were to only play in Canada, I would only get to do something like 20 shows a year. But I think the Canadian music thing is great, people really support their own here. If you get momentum, people are always keen to jump on and support you.

MT: If you could tell yourself back when you started out one thing that you know now, what would it be?

AJ: I would say bring your wallet on stage and leave your passport in the dressing room.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

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