Afie Jurvanen, who takes on the stage name Bahamas when he's playing his sparse, beautiful compositions, is poised to take on the world, one love song at a time. As we caught up with him over the phone, driving home from his mother's house in Toronto, we talked to him about his songwriting similarities with Feist, being Canadian, getting on Jack Johnson's label and loving a woman with really big teeth.
OC Weekly: You know, I think your latest album Barchords is the best I've heard this year (so far), but I was really hooked by a song from your debut, “Hockey Teeth.”
Bahamas: It's really just a love song about a woman who had really big teeth.
I was crazy about her.
I thought it was a reference to teeth that get knocked out…I don't know, hockey is big in Canada, too.
I like hearing that stuff, where people fill in the blanks and create their own ideas about my song. (Laughs.) It's more interesting to me than what I wrote. But yeah, maybe being Canadian has something to do with the [hockey reference]. It's certainly more interesting than baseball teeth.
So that was autobiographical.
All my songs are autobiographical. They're
all born out of my own experiences. I've tried to mask and hide things
behind complex lyrics, but more often than not I come back to the first
person narrative because that's what makes sense to me. It would be hard
for me to write a song and pretend to be something else.
How did you end up on Jack Johnson's label Brushfire?
struck up a friendship [the label and I], and it really felt right. They'd had my first album Pink Strat for a while, and when we told them we were
working on a second record, we were already friends and it became an extension of that friendship to
put out the album. Maybe the name of the band endears me to the other
artists on the label, although musically I don't know if I fit in as much. But
the spirit of the way I do things in Toronto seems to be the same way [Brushfire] does things in California. We seem to have parallel-type lives in
different worlds, you know?
Speaking of the name Bahamas, where did that come from?
I grew up in a small town north of
Toronto. I don't want to disrespect that place but growing up there–much like growing up in any small town–you kind of fantasize about what
else is out in the world. And when I was recording the first record I
had a long list of names that I was choosing from. [Bahamas] just jumped out at
me, it fit the tone [of the album] and conjured up this imagery, an idea of escapism. People use music for that purpose anyway, but if I had to call the band
something else from that list, it would have had a really different impact on people…
like if I called the band Alaska, people would walk away from the songs in a different way. [Bahamas] is a fantasy for me–I've never been there, but it just conjured up nice
imagery before even hearing the music.
You've never been?
No. I'd love to go and bring
an empty suitcase and bring back a whole bunch of merchandise and just sell it
at my shows…but it's more of a time thing than anything else, what with touring and all.
You're part of the whole Toronto scene, with Broken Social Scene, Feist, Stars and all those bands, which was really trendy around 2005 to 2008. Are you glad that Bahamas came out after being Canadian was trendy?
Just to clarify things, I
didn't ever play with Broken Social Scene. I played with Feist and was really proud to be
part of that music and that band, though. I think it can be dangerous to be caught up in
a trend, and the scary part is, as someone making music you have no
control over that thing. Those things are constantly shifting anyway; Toronto
was popular was because they were producing cool music that people
wanted to listen to. And I live in Toronto and people here are still
producing good music. I don't really think of [trendiness], and there's just so
much else to think about when you're involved in creative pursuits.
Has playing with Feist influenced your music at all?
spent so much time playing with her that even if I wasn't conscious of
it I'm sure I've picked up something along the way. I don't think our
music sounds similar at all but we do thrive on musical economy and not
putting too much stuff in the song.
What else influenced your music? I read somewhere that it's a lot of music from the 1960s.
I've generally listened to the same thing for a long time. Neil Young,
Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan. There's music happening in Toronto that's
really amazing, too. Some of them are friends of mine so it can be hard to
see it objectively, but I'm in awe of them, like holy crow, these guys
are great. And it's inspiring for me to be part of that. There's singer-songwriter Doug
Paisley, and The Weather Station just put out a great album.
Bahamas performs at the Satellite in Los Angeles tonight, 10:30 p.m. $10.