Just as Luke Doucet found a very different brand of music after performing guitar-slinging duties for Sarah McLachlan, so Afie Jurvanen plays tunes that don’t sound much like his most frequent tour boss, singer-songwriter Feist. In fact, the 28-year-old sideman even goes by a different moniker when doing his own thing: Bahamas. It’s not clear how that nickname arrived—except as it connects with his sporadic enjoyment of garish stage clothes—just as he’s not quite sure how he nabbed his own first name.
“Nobody seems to know where that name came from,” he answers into his cellphone, his words competing with the rumbling sounds of the highway. He’s in a crowded car headed east, to dates in Quebec and, when they turn around, out here. Afie isn’t Finnish, although that’s the background of his mother, who raised him in Barrie, Ontario, before he broke away and moved back to Toronto, where he was born. There he discovered a talent for accompaniment on self-taught guitar.
“When I met people like Howie Beck and Jason Collett, even though those guys were 10 or 15 years older than me, we shared the same reference points in music—back to the ’60s, really—and all our sensibilities fit together, without even being aware of how we were arranging the songs.”
Jurvanen’s intuitive skills led to session and stage work with acts like Amy Millan, Hayden, and the Great Lake Swimmers, and eventually to his superb debut album, Pink Strat, named after the Fender Stratocaster he’s smacked on many of those other dates. The CD features guests like Feist and members of Zeus, but it’s a spare affair, with the leader softly singing his haunted originals, plus a definitive cover of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World”. There’s little of the blazing away you might expect from a hired gun going solo.
“I think that’s kind of a reaction to what I’ve been doing for the last bunch of years,” Jurvanen explains. “When I actually sat down to play my own music, I maybe didn’t feel the need to prove anything. That being said, I’ve just started making another record, and it has been fun to rediscover the guitar—especially the parts up above the 12th fret, where a guy can get hurt!”
In live shows, the versatile player has been relying on funky vintage gear.
“I mostly use cheap old Harmonys and Silvertones from the ’50s and ’60s, specifically a black Harmony Stratotone with only one pickup,” he says. “I’m a little obsessive about those, really. I don’t know if I should be revealing my tone secrets, but there’s something so magical about a guitar you have to wrestle each note out of. It makes me resist the temptation to get carried away.”
Of course, if he must go nuts, there’s still that conch-coloured Fender standing patiently nearby.
Bahamas performs with Zeus and Jason Collett at the Biltmore Cabaret on Friday (March 26).