Afie Jurvanen, a.k.a. Bahamas, leaves room to roam
Afie Jurvanen, a.k.a. Bahamas, takes a spare, economical approach on ‘Barchords,’ his new album. He is playing the Satellite in Silver Lake.
If indie rock were given a clinical diagnosis right now, it would likely be attention-deficit disorder. Every space — lyrically, musically and sonically — is often overstuffed with information. But there is an antidote: the cool and relaxed music of Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist Afie Jurvanen (who uses the stage moniker Bahamas).
The songs on Bahamas’ sophomore album “Barchords” revel in the wide open spaces that capture a frontier ambience, a trait he shares with other Canadian musicians such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Cowboy Junkies. The album has generated laudatory reviews in The Times, the Boston Globe, the All Music Guide and several other media outlets.
“My entire approach to songwriting and recording — and life in general — is one of economy,” Jurvanen said recently from his home in Toronto shortly before embarking on the U.S. tour that took him through Austin, Texas last week for the South by Southwest festival and swings on through to Los Angeles for his stop Tuesday night at the Satellite club in Silver Lake.
“I’m trying to get to the point as quickly as possible, but not necessarily rushing,” said the 30-year-old musician who backed other Canadians, Leslie Feist among them, before striking out on his own. “I don’t like to put too much between me and the song, or between the song and the listener.”
His curious stage name stems from “Whole Wide World,” a song on his first album in which he recounts his mother telling him that there’s one girl in the world for him, and she might be in Tahiti, the Bahamas or some other far-flung locale — putting the idea of scouring the globe for his soul mate into his head.
“People have been writing songs about love, and love lost, for as long as popular music has existed,” he said. “I’ve tried to write songs from different standpoints. There have been times when I would try to be more verbose, but more often than not, I come back to the first-person narrative. That just seems to be what makes sense to me with music that’s born of some place of pain.
“I subscribe to the idea of putting the emotional element at the forefront. The more direct and honest I can be with the songwriting and lyrics, the more it’s reflected back to me. For me, that’s probably the only way to really make art.”
On “Barchords,” Jurvanen’s guitar and voice are front and center, in contrast to his 2009 debut album “Pink Strat,” with little or no sonic effects to distract. His arrangements are spare, a la the Cowboy Junkies’ work, leaving his instruments and voice ample room to explore themes of love lost or gone awry.
“I can tell when you lie, it’s obvious,” he sings in “Okay Alright I’m Alive,” in which he name-checks a couple of his pop heroes, George Harrison and Sam Cooke.
There’s a kinship to the laid-back sound of surfer-cum-musician Jack Johnson, who signed Bahamas to his Brushfire Records label, but Bahamas’ music comes with a sharper edge, albeit sometimes one that’s sheathed in wry expressions.
His affinity for Young surfaces on the new album in parts of “Overjoyed,” eliciting Young’s “Harvest”-era folkie side, then “I Got You Babe” stomps away forcefully a la his band Crazy Horse. The latter also reveals his self-deprecating side: “I sang loud/My voice cut through the crowd/As if I was anybody that might have something to say.”
On tour, Jurvanen’s approach is just as spare as his recording style. On stage, it’s just him, a drummer and two additional singers.
“I love a band that’s just guitar and drums,” he said. “Some people look at it as limited. For me, rhythm and harmony and melody are very much alive and intact. As a guitar player it means I can do whatever I want. I can play different chords, extend sections of songs if I want to. In the last few years, I’ve discovered all this musical freedom that way.
“It’s exciting for me to do it that way — it forces me to reinvent the song,” he said. “What works on record wouldn’t work in that [live music] dynamic. You have to push yourself outside your comfort zone, and for me that’s a good place to be making music. It’s very visceral.”
Photo: Bahamas is the recording name of Afie Jurvanen. Credit: Dave Gillespie