Big-city studios hold no attraction for Bahamas
Clearly, Bahamas leader Afie Jurvanen isn’t the type to fall in line with his peers. When he answers the Straight’s phone call, he’s at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. Rather than join his fellow musicians and partake in a boozed-up blend of sun and barbecue, Jurvanen has retreated to a hotel room to conduct the interview in peace.
“We’ve been here to play many times, so I’ve definitely gotten my fill of barbecue,” he says. “On this trip, I’ve been trying to discover some other delights.”
Jurvanen is used to going off the beaten path. Although the Barrie, Ontario–raised songwriter now makes his home in Toronto, he opted to shun big-city studios when recording Bahamas’ sophomore album, Barchords. For the sessions, he and his collaborators retreated to a remote cabin an hour and a half’s drive north of the Big Smoke.
“We benefited from being in isolation, away from girlfriends, boyfriends, and other work commitments, and away from cellphone reception and things like that,” he says, adding that the 2009 debut album, Pink Strat, was recorded in the same cabin.
The result is a roomy, organic sound perfect for the songwriter’s laid-back, R & B–tinged folk tunes. Slinky cuts like “Caught Me Thinkin’ ” and “I Got You Babe” are brightly energetic, while the ghostly “Never Again” is riveting in its barely-there stillness. Elsewhere, Jurvanen’s previous employer, Feist, lends her ethereal harmonies to the breakup post-mortem “Snow Plow”.
“We did the majority of the tracking live,” Jurvanen recalls. “The drums are in the vocal mike and the guitar is in the drum mikes. I think that really creates a more vivid picture for the listener. There’s not a whole lot of filters … not a lot of effects or processing.”
With such stripped-down arrangements, Barchords probably won’t appeal to Top-40 fans who crave studio-polished pop, but Jurvanen’s not attempting to cater to the lowest common denominator. “I think that listeners are probably smarter than musicians give them credit for,” he observes. “I’m not worried about jamming every nook and cranny of the song with licks and synthesizers, assuming that people have to hear something all the time.”
Still, he’s not opposed to making a big-budget studio record some day. “I fantasize about recording at Abbey Road,” he confesses. “At some point in my career, maybe I’ll have an opportunity to record at a place like that, with a big clock on the wall and fluorescent lights and an assistant making coffee.”
Then again, maybe not. “You can fantasize about that stuff,” he offers, “but it’s probably best to just embrace the things that you have and the resources that are available and make the most of them.”
Bahamas plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Tuesday (March 27).