“Human beings seem to be perpetually dissatisfied,” says Afie Jurvanen, better known in the music world as Bahamas.
The moniker originated from his wife, poking fun at an over-dramatic photoshoot early on that seemed out of character. It points to a keen sense of humor that keeps Jurvanen humble, a pillar of his artistry. For Jurvanen, his music comes secondary to his role as husband, father, and neighbor in Canada.
For someone who seems to have everything, Jurvanen speaks to humanity’s shared existential crisis through his new album, Sad Hunk.
“I have music; I have a family, a house, a barbecue. I’ve got pants and a hoodie, I got all kinds of whatever,” he says. “So that’s what I am struggling with, this deeply internal thing. What are we doing here? We’re just here on this rock for such a short time, and then we die.”
Songs like “Own Alone” and “Trick To Happy” offer commentary on this concept. Without preaching, Jurvanen provides insights others can align with, relieved to discover shared, stark sentiments. Offering his own ‘trick to happy,’ Jurvanen simply says, “Surround yourself with good people. If someone’s in your life, and they’re just giving you bullshit, cut them out— don’t waste your time on that.”
The songwriting and recording process pre-dates the pandemic, but this globally-shared crisis became an opportunity for him to further excavate these ideas.
“Whenever I had a problem, I used to think, ‘Oh, I’ll just do more. I’ll make more money or work more,” the artist explains. “Never in a million years would it have dawned on me to just stop doing everything and do nothing.”
While empathetically acknowledging the unmatched devastation this year brought to many around the world, the artist feels grateful for the grounding experience of 2020. The simple joy of cooking breakfast for his kids, or the camaraderie of his mutually-responsible community in Canada that has closed their borders and kept their case counts down, has confirmed his perceived role on “this rock.”
Disregarding his risk of sounding cheesy, Jurvanen dubs himself a “community guy.”
“If I’m making working to make my neighborhood the best it can be, knowing my neighbors and fellow parents at my kids’ school, and you’re doing that in yours, what more could you ask for?” he asks.
This locally-focused devotion complicates his relationship with social media and an ever-turning news-cycle delivering devastation around the clock. The artist admits his active avoidance of social platforms until this past summer, previously relying on touring as a sole means of fan connection. Jurvanen feels the danger lies in social media consumers taking on more information than they can digest.
“People are overwhelmed to the point they can’t function,” he says. “The idea that we can solve all of the world’s problems at once could drive you crazy. I try to be slower in my reaction to things. I’m not concerned with being the first one through the door. I just try to feel confident in my own position about things.”
From necessity, a balanced approach to social media has bloomed. He credits a local marketing company for helping him generate “in-character” content to keep him connected and promote the new record.
Weekly check-ins like Tuesdays’ “Taco Tunes,” which feature fellow artists he draws inspiration from, keep him interconnected with the world outside of his closed-off community. He’s not in a rush to acquire “the most followers.” He now realizes social media’s value as a vehicle for creating art, jokes, and music.
“If you chase trends, you’ll always be chasing,” the artist offers. “Whereas, if you do something that feels natural, it allows you to build an audience over time.”
This idea of originality extends beyond his social media presence. As a songwriter, he aspires to bring forth as much individualism with as little bullshit as possible. It took him hanging around enough talented songwriters early in his career to realize his work wasn’t good enough. Though slightly devastating, he re-trained his ego and expanded his repertoire with strong points of comparison. Yet, he warns fellow writers of the dangers of that comparison.
“Don’t try being someone else,” says Jurvanen. “Take whatever time is needed to determine why you have something that needs to be said. The pressure is self-produced.”
Songwriting feels entirely too personal to Jurvanen to share the experience with others. However, his album highlight, “Half Your Love,” is the product of his first co-write. He recalls the experience as “almost effortless.” “I wish they all came that easy,” he adds.
“This song means a lot to me,” he admits. “I’m always trying to write a better love song for my wife. I don’t know that she is satisfied with any of them yet, but this is probably my best attempt yet. I’m quite happy with it, but I’ll keep trying.”
Lyrically, he feels Sad Hunk is his most accessible collection yet. His “to-the-point” songwriting cuts through flowery language with raw emotion.
“The message comes across pretty damn quickly,” he says. “I don’t know any other way to do it. I feel I’m becoming a better record maker, too, and making decisions in the moment.”
With the help of Christine Bougie (guitar), Don Kerr (drums), Mike O’Brien (bass), Felicity Williams (vocals), and longtime producer, multi-Grammy nominee Robbie Lackritz (Feist, Jack Johnson), Sad Hunk was completed over just five days in the studio. Downplaying the impressive turn-time, Jurvanen expresses he’s unsure what he would have done with more time.
The record is not as much a departure from, as it is an elevation of 2018’s Earthtones. Direct lyrical messaging allows humor to fill in the spaces others tend to occupy with colorful portraits. His infusion of personal infrastructure invites a broad audience in for a light-hearted listen. Jurvanen’s storytelling carries weight but alleviates burden through shared experience, reminding his audience of the importance of perspective and laughter.
Jurvanen feels fortunate for his gentle, upward momentum as an artist. He can’t point to a moment of commercial success in his career, or a hit song that defined his career narrative. Instead, his catalog as a whole resonates with an ever-building, open-minded audience.
“People don’t know what I’m going to do next,” he laughs. “That’s a nice position to be in as a performer.”
This luxury allows for this kaleidoscopic record to be interpreted as something cohesive. The self-conscious “Not Cool Anymore” offers a tropical acoustic ambiance with hilarity. “Done Did Me No Good” and “Up With The Jones” feature signature up-tempo Bahamas style and harmonies that have garnered his cult following. A vulnerable maturity spills from the emotive, “Less Than Love.”
“We’re all sad hunks—we’re all these broken, beautiful human beings,” he explains about meeting this moment in time.