Afie Jurvanen is a Finnish-Canadian from Barrie, a working class town in rural Ontario. Since 2009, Mr. Jurvanen has been making music as Bahamas. He toured with Feist for three years before working on what become his debut album, Pink Strat. The record was originally released in Canada in 2009, and was finally released in the US in April.
Since the Canadian-only release of Pink Strat in 2009, word has spread amongst such well-respected artists such as Wilco, Elvis Costello, Calexico, The Weakerthans, and Sam Roberts- who have all taken Bahamas on tour with them as their opening act. In addition, in 2010 Pink Strat was nominated for the Polaris Prize (Canada's Mercury Prize) for "Best Canadian Album Of The Year" and a Juno Award (Canada's Grammy Awards) for "Roots/ Traditional Album Of The Year".
Pink Strat is named after the guitar that has seen Mr. Jurvanen through his early days as a sideman when he was playing and touring with Jason Collett (also of Broken Social Scene) and Amy Millan (also of Stars) through to today. The record is a strong debut, that gets better with each listen. It's a stripped-down and intimate sounding affair, that simply delivers a collection of expertly-penned songs that resonate with long-lasting power. It's a recommended listen for fans of M Ward, Iron and Wine, and . Just check out the recent Bahamas session on Daytrotter (from last April) for a taste.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with the man behind the Bahamas moniker, with the hope of introducing him to new listeners, and to help spread the word on his excellent album, Pink Strat.
Who were your early influences?
AJ: Whatever was on ROCK 95, the local generic radio station. Tom Petty, Neil Young, AC/DC...of course they played the modern rock too, but I seem to have a selective memory.
What song or album compelled you to pick up a guitar?
AJ: All my friends had guitars before I did. I would basically ask them to hang out so I could hang around their guitars and get a chance to jam on them. If my friends had of been into volleyball, things might have turned out pretty differently.
When did you begin writing songs?
AJ: I was writing songs before I had a guitar. I think it was easier to make up my own stuff than to try and learn stairway to heaven.
You have been making music as Bahamas since 2009, first as a band and most recently on your own. For listeners new to your work, can you describe your development as Bahamas?
AJ: I had a band for many years and we toured around and made music and pretty much did what bands will do. Then I went away with Feist for a few years and the band slowly splintered. They started their own band and I came home and just started playing solo. In some ways I really miss my old cronies, but I think that we're both musically liberated now to do what ever we want to.
You have worked with/ toured with Jason Collett and then Leslie Feist. Can you describe your experiences working with them, and what kind of influence that had on your own work?
AJ: Playing in someone else's band is something I did for a long time and it's something I really enjoy doing. Jason is definitely a "big brother" to me and I have a lot of respect for his dedication to his family and his music. Feist is one the rare voices of our time and I feel lucky to have been a part of her world, even for a brief time.
Where and when did you obtain your "pink Strat"?
AJ: I bought it in Toronto after my old guitar was left in a taxi cab. It's been with me the longest and can be heard on a fair amount of recordings.
Can you describe your songwriting process for the album Pink Strat?
AJ: I wrote a lot of those songs on the Pink Strat while I was away touring, first with Collett, then with Feist. When I finally made time to get it together and record the songs seem to work themselves out pretty easily.
The production on your record is very straightforward and direct, emphasizing your performance and storytelling. Can you describe your recording and production processes/ decisions?
AJ: I just try and surround myself with musicians whose instincts I trust. There was no rehearsal and I really didn't give them much direction. We just set up and played together in an old cabin and we recorded most of it in one long day. There are little blemishes here and there, noise and bad notes, but they've kind of become my favorite parts of the record. Leaving some room for surprises is a good thing.
Pink Strat seemed to circulate and receive a warm welcome by some fellow musicians, such as Wilco, Elvis Costello, Calexico, and others, who decided to bring you out on tour with them. What were those live experiences like for you and how have they influenced you?
AJ: It's always nice to meet people that have been playing music for a long time and just see how comfortable they are with their own voice. I hope I can still hear my own voice in 20 years.
Now that Pink Strat is available here in the US, how have you been finding its reception to a wider audience?
AJ: Well, I guess the truth is I have no idea! We're on tour right now and the shows have all been great. People singing along and such. In my experience, that's always a better measure of how well something's doing than sales or myspace friends. It's more tangible.
Any thoughts you would like to share on the next record and/ or upcoming project(s)?
AJ: It's coming....soon.
What have you been listening to lately?
AJ: We're on tour, so we've been listening to a lot of US country radio. I only recognize the odd song, but the lyrics are pretty entertaining.
What are your touring plans?
AJ: After this tour, we're doing some shows with Robert Plant and a show with Bonnie "Prince" Billy. After that I suppose the best thing would be to be on tour in America, as the record just came out. I do fancy a trip to downtown Europe at some point though. You can't beat downtown Europe.