Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bahamas (Afie Jurvanen) Brings Us Up To Speed On "Barchords"

Afie Jurvanen, also known as Bahamas, has previously worked with such highly-respected and beloved artists as Feist, Jason Collett (of Broken Social Scene), and Amy Millan (of Stars) before releasing his last album, Pink Strat.

Pink Strat was originally released in Canada in 2009 and landed in the US the following year. The album went on to be nominated for the 2010 Polaris Prize for Best Canadian Album of the Year. Based on the strength of Pink Strat, Bahamas was selected by such bands as Wilco, Elvis Costello, Calexico, The Weakerthans, and Sam Roberts to serve as their opening act on their tours.

You can read my previous interview with Mr. Jurvanen regarding Pink Strat here:

This week Bahamas released Barchords, a record that will no doubt continue to build more momentum, gain more praise, and attract more listeners to the rewards of Mr. Jurvanen's songwriting. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the artist a couple of weeks ago for a quick Q and A regarding the release of his new record.

Can you discuss how and when you began first working on the material that would become Barchords, specifically, your transition from the Pink Strat album and tour to beginning work on the new material?

Afie Jurvanen: Well, Pink Strat was already available in Canada for some time when it was re-released in the US. Then we toured again in support of it. We actually recorded Barchords a long time ago, but had to wait until now to release it. I'm really excited to finally get the record out and start touring again. 

Did you have a preconceived direction for the "kind of album" you wanted to make when you began writing material for Barchords, or was it more of an intuitive, song-by-song basis?

Afie: I've always written songs in the same way. I just try and be as direct as possible, both lyrically and melodically. I knew I wanted a more fully realized recording, as my first record was basically a live record. The songs cover a lot of different ground stylistically, but I think lyrically they're all born of the same place.

What were some of your influences/ sources of inspiration when working on the new material?

Afie: All of my songs come from life experiences. I think the recording was informed heavily by all the touring that we did behind my first record. When I hear Barchords, I hear us playing with more consistency and confidence, and that's probably a product of playing so much together.

I was listening to a lot of Willie Nelson and Neil Young, honestly, the same things I'm always listening to. They may not make direct appearances on the album, but they're definitely there in spirit. I don't want to emulate those recordings, but they are the ones that I go back to, time and time again. It's all about the voice, and in their case, I believe every word. 

How would you sum up your songwriting process for the new record?

Afie: I'm constantly writing and we recorded many more songs that didn't make the record. I think it's definitely a continuation of my previous work, but I do feel like these songs are more comfortable in their own musical skin. They felt that much more natural, both to write and to record.

I can't imagine that my process is all that different from most other writers. I work alone. And I work a lot. It generally comes about one of two ways. Either a lyric inspires a melody, or the melody inspires the lyric. For me, it's more often the latter.

Can you talk about the recording process of the new record?

Afie: We recorded in the same place I've done all my recording. At a house in the country, in isolation. Being surrounded by nature is inspiring and calming. That may be a cliche, but it makes more sense to me to have the songs birthed in that environment. I'm sure one day I'll want to go to New York or Los Angeles and work in a big studio, but for now, keeping the process tangible and small has allowed my songs to become bigger than me.

Who played with you on the record and what was most memorable for you from those sessions?

Afie: I played with some really fantastic musicians and friends of mine here in Toronto. Jason Tait played the drums and he has been with me for some time. We did all of our early touring as a duo. Darcy Yates played the Fender bass. I think he's Canada's heaviest bass man, musically and metaphorically.

We didn't discuss the arrangements all that much. Often times I would just start playing and they would follow my lead with the first thing that came to mind. In my experience, those first takes often yield the most immediate and interesting results. Nothing is more exciting to me than people playing on the edge of their seat, people who are really listening.

Although the lyrics deal with dark and often painful subject matter, the recording process was pure fun and excitement. Spending a week with your friends, making music and eating really good food..that's what I'll remember about that time.

Now that Barchords is coming out this week, can you tell listeners how this record adds to your discography and musical experiences overall?

Afie: I think it's a much more realized document of my musical life. Lyrically, it's more to the point and I think that's reflected in the music too.

I want to make a lot of different records during my lifetime and I know I'll be able to stand next to this record years down the road. That's always my barometer for putting anything out into the world: What would 65 year old Afie think of this? If he's not okay with it, chances are no one else is going to hear it..

What's next for you in 2012?

Afie: Lots of touring. SXSW and the US, then Canada, then the UK, and then Australia. That brings me to about summertime and that means festivals too. Folk festivals are big in Canada and it's always nice to see all your pals that have been out touring too.

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