Canadian singer-songwriter Bahamas is back with his new album Earthtones, full of fresh, soulful folk inspired by the likes of Anderson .Paak and recent touring buddy Jack Johnson. Sculpting songs out of the highs and lows that make up his day-to-day life, Afie Jurvanen’s (as he’s known to his mum) fourth full-length album follows 2014’s Bahamas Is Afie. Afie unveiled the process that brought together Bahamas’ latest record in a chat with SARAH DAY, delving into details of what inspired Earthtones and what it was like to work alongside D’Angelo’s backing band.
Did you have a clear vision for what you wanted to create with Earthtones, or was it a bit more of an experimental approach?
I definitely didn’t want to make an album of a certain genre — so it wasn’t like I was trying to make a hip hop record or a country record or a rock record — it was more just like I wanted to make a record that sounds modern and relevant to the time I’m living in and hopefully doesn’t sound like anything else. I always try and work with songs to the point where they have their unique sound. The minute that you can’t say that it sounds like another artist, I mean that always feels good to me when that happens.
How does this album differ from your work in the past?
I think it has immediacy to it, just because of the way that the lyrics are, they’re just that much more personal than what I’ve done in the past. Through that process the lyrics for me have a real in your face quality — hopefully not in a bad way — they’re really clear, they’re upfront, they’re loud, and you can really hear what I’m saying. To me that feels really good and I hope other people can jump onto that.
You write about quite personal subject matter in your lyrics on this album such as your struggle with depression, but it’s overall quite a positive body of work. Do you find that expressing these types of things through music helpful for you to reflect on what you’ve been through with your career and personal life?
Oh for sure! I’m so grateful that I have music and that it provides me with not just my livelihood and entertainment and that it’s a hobby and a passion, it’s also therapeutic you know it’s also a process that I can work at for my whole life. Basically it just keeps on giving, it really never takes anything from me it just sort of energises me. I kind of think of it as like going to the gym, you know before you go to the gym you’ll always kind of think ugh I don’t wanna go and you kind of look for a way out; but once you’re there and you’re doing it, right after you’re done you’re like ‘oh wow that was awesome, I want to do it again.’
With writing music you just get energised by your ideas and then ideas keep coming. I might write three or four songs in one little bash and then I’ll have a break then write another bunch.
After six years of recording and touring at the beginning of 2016 you mentioned feeling uninspired and a bit lost as to the direction you wanted to take with your music. What kick started your new work and got you out of that funk?
A combination of things, I used to write songs with just one method and I would just play guitar for hours and hours and I basically just had to change that overnight. I went through a period where I was really frustrated because I didn’t have all that time to play the guitar and work on songs the way that I wanted to; then I realised I don’t need that time, I can write songs anywhere, I don’t need a guitar, I can be sitting in traffic, I could be walking down the street. If I really just use my musical mind I can really write music anywhere. I just started to do that more and take my ideas seriously when they came.
Once I realised that I was going with work with this band I started to get excited because those are musicians that I really admire. I started to think about how they might hear the songs and how they might interpret that music. That definitely fed into the inspiration too.
What was it like spending three intensive days in the studio with D’Angelo’s backing band — how was the process bringing together the ten tracks that came from these sessions?
Yeah it wasn’t like a calculated thing, like we didn’t sort of discuss the approach I would just start playing the songs and the musicians would immediately just instinctively follow in with how they felt it. I had three days with those guys and I did some more with my band on the road. The way of recording now is just that you can work on it anywhere so we worked on it in different studio’s all over the place. We just sort of hit the ground running, it’s amazing once you get going how much you can get done.
What drew you to working with Pino Palladino and James Gadson (who were a part of the Vanguard on D’Angelo’s 2014 record Black Messiah) and what do you feel that they brought to your new music?
I think they’re just free of any genre and they’re free of any reference point. They’re really just open to music in a real sort of obvious way where they’re not tied to anyone’s dial. Both of those guys will play country music, hip-hop, rock, you know basically just as long as the quality is at a certain level they can elevate it that much further and bring so much to the table. That’s really inspiring to me, just to be around people who are just comfortable with who they are and where they’re at in life. In their case they’re quite a bit older than I am and have that much more experience but they’re just so relaxed, so when they’re relaxed that makes me relax and that’s a very good place to start from.
What kind of music were you listening to when you were writing the songs for Earthtones?
A lot of modern music, a lot of R&B and hip hop. Anderson .Paak — I really liked his last record you know, so good, so fresh and relevant, it just kind of hits all the marks for me that one. Probably just all the stuff that everyone’s listening to you know, Kendrick Lamar and yeah — I was never really that big into the indie bands… When I was younger I used to listen to a lot of AC/DC. In most cases it’s not really that hard to find really quality stuff because it does tend to be in the popular conscious.
That’s impressive, even our Prime Minister couldn’t name any AC/DC songs in the media recently after guitarist Malcom Young died.
Oh really, that’s too bad I have an AC/DC key chain (laughs) — I went through a huge phase with AC/DC man I love those guys. It’s a big loss for the rock community for sure and just music in general. With social media now you can really see how people respond when someone like that passes, it’s such a visceral response.
You’re supported your Bushfire records labelmate Jack Johnson at Kings Park on December 6 last year, has he been much of a musical influence for you?
I met the people who run the label that he’s with that I’ve known for many, many years now; I’ve done several records with them now. They have an ethos and a philosophy for putting out music and it’s really sort of inspired by Jack and the way he puts himself and his music out into the world and it’s really in a generous and gentle way that obviously people really respond to. We’ve done several tours together now and yeah just the vibe of the shows is very positive you know, everyone always arrives in a good mood and they’re just ready to have a good time — for me as a musician that’s a great audience to play to.