Bahamas explores the space between soft and loud

Afie Jurvanen says it’s the quieter musical moments that both he and his audience most respond to.
Dave Gillespie
Afie Jurvanen says it’s the quieter musical moments that both he and his audience most respond to.

The drummer couldn’t make it to Bahamas’ Boston gig back in June. He and his wife had recently had a baby. That left Afie Jurvanen, the Canadian musician behind Bahamas, onstage at the Brighton Music Hall with two female vocalists who did a lot more than just sing. They colored in all the quiet spaces that Jurvanen intentionally left in the songs.

The performance was riveting for all the things it lacked. No drum beat. No thumping bass. No pulsating keyboards. Just Jurvanen on electric guitar finding the sweet spot between his supple voice and those of his black-clad singers who occasionally sounded like runaways from a Leonard Cohen ballad or maybe Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” It was unnervingly intimate.

“I like a lot of country music and old music that’s rooted in harmony and simplicity,” says Jurvanen, who returns to town on Monday as the headliner at T.T. the Bear’s (this time with his drummer back behind the kit). “I guess it is a different setup by modern standards, but people have been doing that for a long time. You let the voices be upfront, and people connect to it.”


Jurvanen (pronounced “YUR-va-nen,” in line with his Finnish heritage) lives in Toronto, where he sprang from that city’s fertile music scene that also includes Leslie Feist and Jason Collett. Jurvanen has recorded and toured with both of those singer-songwriters and particularly identifies with Feist’s elemental approach to making music.

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As Bahamas — a quirky name he chose “basically [because] I didn’t want to have to say ‘Afie Jurvanen!’ in a loud bar” — Jurvanen has released two albums of graceful pop songs that glow with hints of classic country, doo-wop, ’60s soul, and just a touch of twangy guitar. His voice will remind some of the dusky, cracked croon of M. Ward.

His latest release, “Barchords,” found Jurvanen exploring the power of dynamics, specifically the relationship between soft and loud. For every song that seems to simmer, eventually there’s a swell of emotion that overwhelms both its singer and the listener. That’s the beauty of “Lost in the Light,” which opens the album on a note of resignation: “I’m lost in the light/ I pray for the night/ To take me, to take me to/ After so many words/ Still nothing’s heard/ Don’t know what we should do.”

Persistent touring for his first album taught Jurvanen a valuable lesson when it came time to make the follow-up.

“The moments I responded to, and in turn the audience responded to, seemed not to be the moments that were really loud,” he says. “Sure, riffing on the electric guitar is fun and everything, but the thing that people responded to most was when we basically went down to nothing — 90 percent air, 10 percent sound hanging in the room.”


“That can be a very powerful communicator of ideas,” he adds. “I applied that idea to the recording process, and what I heard back really resonated with me.”

Like his debut, 2009’s “Pink Strat,” “Barchords” has a casual charm that suggests Jurvanen started rolling tape deep into the night. For both albums, he insisted on not rehearsing with the backing musicians beforehand.

“What’s right is usually obvious,” he says. “I apply that to a lot of things. I always try to leave some loose ends, because I feel like there’s a lot of interesting stuff that happens there.”

The new album addresses various stages of love, from the first blush of feeling it to eventually wondering if it has been snuffed out. It’s hard to tell if Jurvanen was falling in or out of love as he made the record. “I think at the time I didn’t know, either,” he says. “So if that message is translated, that’s pretty accurate.”

More apparent, however, is the impression that Jurvanen sounds entirely at ease — as a singer, songwriter, and interpreter.


“With the first record, I had the advantage of not knowing what I was doing. I just had the songs and made the record in about a day. That one was very much a live recording,” he says. “I was loose and more forgiving of stuff that might be considered flaws. With this one I realized there was a sound. I just had to embrace it and accept it as my own.”

James Reed can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.