Catching Up With Bahamas' Afie Jurvanen

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Bahamas, the songwriting alter-ego of former Feist guitarist Afie Jurvanen, is set to release his follow-up to 2009’s Pink Strat on Feb. 7 with Barchords, which we’re streaming for the next week here. The beautifully recorded set of songs was recorded at Jurvanen’s own space and features a wide-open, natural reverb sound throughout.

Jurvanen intentionally limited the instruments and musicians on Barchords to keep the feel immediate and personal. Comprised of himself, Jason Tait on drums, Darcy Yates on bass and Carleigh Aikins and Felicity Williams on backup vocals, the album’s musicians embraced limitations instead of fighting them to create the no-frills, pretty tracks that make up the album.

Paste caught up with Jurvanen to talk about the new album, playing smaller venues and his upcoming tour.

Paste: What’s the idea behind the name of the album, Barchords?

Jurvanen: I think it’s a musical reference, a guitar reference. I spent a lot of years playing guitars in other people’s bands. My first record is called Pink Strat, and I wanted to honor that idea of me being a guitar player. I think barre chords are the simplest thing, and in my songwriting I try to go after the simplest thing. I played in other bands in big venues, so when I set out to play my own music again, we played in bars, driving my own car to the gigs. I wrote a lot of those songs on tour for my first record and it really was a return to my own songs and music and my own voice. I guess the overall idea is simplicity and something direct.

Paste: Do you prefer to play in smaller venues?

Jurvanen: I wouldn’t say I prefer it, but it’s so much more tangible. Any musician will tell you it’s easier to understand your relationship with your music and that your music has with fans. When you drive to a gig, you open your guitar case and play and you meet some people, sell some records, put your guitar away and leave. There’s a real human element when you take away all the production. That being said, of course playing in bigger venues is a great thrill and you want to get bigger, but for me it was a welcome break. I didn’t dread it at all, I really relished it and I still am.

Paste: Why was it important to track the album mostly live?

Jurvanen: I do like to play all in the same room with the drums and the bass at the same time. More or less, the majority of the tracks were recorded that way. There were a couple where we had to go back and fix some things, but the ones that resonate with me the most are the ones we did live. The drums sound a certain way, you can get a sense of the room. There’s a visual element to the album.

Paste: What is your favorite track on Barchords?

Jurvanen: I think “Lost in the Light.” It was a late addition and I finished what I thought was the record, and then I wrote the song and initially I thought, “OK, this could be a song for the next record,” but as time wore on, I thought the song was in keeping with the other things that were happening on this record. I wanted it to be a part of it, and not only did I want it to be a part of it, I wanted it to be the first track of the record to set the tone for the whole thing. I think the voices and this heartbeat drums and the whole repeating guitar riff thing was very pleasing and important to me and it speaks to the rest of the record.

Paste: Did your arrangements for Barchords songs change when you started working with the band on the album?

Jurvanen: When we used to tour it was just me and a drummer, and I have two female singers with me. So it’s guitar, drums and voices. I treat playing live and recording as two different entities. I don’t worry about recreating studio versions of what we do live. I’m really proud of the record and how it sounds, but for me, playing live has to be more about recreating a thing. There has to be some level of spontaneity and living in the moment. Not having a bass player is my attempt at purposely fucking things up a little bit. We have to work harder to find different arrangements. We recorded the album so quickly that it wasn’t something we thought through on arrangements. I basically go on feel, if something feels right, than it probably is right. The more that you over think things, the more they grow away from you.

Paste: You sing “I feel like it’s all been done,” after talking about The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” in Barchords’ “Okay Alright I’m Alive.” Is that line in reference to trying to write new, fresh music?

Jurvanen: In some ways it is. I’m also just name checking two things that are relevant to me musically. It’s this sentiment to stop worrying about all that sort of stuff. In modern music, where we are now, it’s very hard to break ground. It’s hard to be an innovator. I think there are some bands that are doing it, but this idea of ignoring the past, I don’t really relate to that. A lot of music from that time I really connect with.

Paste: What are you most excited for once Barchords is released?

Jurvanen: I’m excited to play. I love touring and we did a good chunk of it on my last record. And it seems like we’re going to be pretty busy over the next while. We have South by Southwest and we’re going to do an American and Canadian tour after that. Then U.K and Australia, and that brings us to the summer time. I like traveling and playing music and meeting people in that context is really a pleasure. Also, I think it takes a while when you finish a record to when it comes out. There’s this desire to get out there and play these songs. Basically they belong to you and they have been sitting on a hard drive for a year. So it’s satisfying to put them out to the world. They don’t belong to you anymore, they belong to whoever wants to listen to them.

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