Earlier this month we saw Bahamas live at The Mercury Lounge in New York City, and reviewed their great sophomore release Barchords this week. We got a chance to catch up with Bahamas leadman Afie Jurvanen to ask him some questions about Bahamas, his process of writing songs, and advice for young musicians.
Bahamas is usually an electric band, what's different for you about playing an acoustic show?
Well the most important factor is probably volume. You can't do the same things on the acoustic guitar that you can do on the electric guitar so you have to find ways of interpreting those songs. Actually, I've really enjoyed the last couple of weeks because it's nice to just switch things up. I hope the emphasis of the songs still translates even though there aren't the drums and everything there.
Do you guys normally write songs together, or do you write alone?
I always write the songs alone but when it comes time to record them-- well I haven't done the thing where you record all the instruments yourself, mostly because I like the feel and the sound of people playing together in one room, listening to each other, you can't fake that. So of course that requires getting a bunch of other people involved. And in my case, I'm really lucky to have some friends up here in Toronto who are world-class musicians.
Could you take me through the process of recording one of the songs on Barchords?
We did do most things live, and I sang most of the things live. In some cases, if there was a glaring mistake, I'd have to re-do it, but those ones that were kept all live really have a special sound, because you can get a sense of the room, because the drums are in the vocal mic and the guitars in the drum mics. You get a sense of the space. That's what we were after, we didnt try to fuss around and do too many takes.
Is it true that you guys only took six days to record the album?
Yeah everybody I was working with was busy. They have other bands, or other domestic commitments, so it's just a matter of getting everyone together and working really hard for a few days. And then everybody goes back to their normal lives.
Was the writing process for Barchords also quick, or was it a long time coming?
They were written over a period of a few years, mostly when I was recording my first record. I'm someone who is writing all the time. I know some friends who, when they want to make a record, will go away on a trip and lock themselves in a room and they write songs for two weeks. Then they come back and make an album. And that doesn't really work for me; I'm not able to turn on the faucet. But that being said, playing guitar and writing music is part of my routine every day. So out of that, I end up writing songs pretty consistently. For Barchords
we recorded a number of tunes that aren't on the album. So when we had them all sitting there I just went through and chose the ones that seemed to have some sort of thread running through them that connected them.
What kind of thread was that?
The narrative and the lyrics and the arrangements, the singing was a big thing for me on this album. I wanted to have that instrument of the human voice; I wanted that to be connected from song to song.
I think the lyrics come across very well in this album. They could be categorized as love songs, but they're not really your typical love songs. Could you talk about what you try to write about?
Yeah, I'm writing from some place of conflict but when I hear the way the lyrics fit in with the melodies and the arrangements and everything, it doesn't leave me feeling down. It doesn't leave me feeling hopeless. It's sort of the opposite. And I guess a lot of early blues records or soul records or early country records, it's the same idea too, you're kind of singing about this dark stuff of the ages. But the way that it translates through the music, the point of it is to uplift the soul, not to wallow down in the dark.
Would you have any advice for someone just starting out writing songs?
Just among my friends, everyone's process and inspiration is so different that it's hard to cop someone elses method. That being said, the biggest thing for me is getting time. You have to give your mind time, and you have to give your musical lifetime, and be open to these ideas. If you get an idea for a lyric or a melody, you kind of have to stop what youre doing and acknowledge its presence and sort of give yourself over to it for a minute to see if it goes anywhere else. You have to learn how to do that in the face of the other things of your life. That can be difficult. So all I can say is give yourself time, good things come from time. All good things take time.