Bahamas, the easy-going alias of Toronto-based singer/songwriter Afie Jurvanen, is returning with his first LP in four years. His new album Earthtones will be out on Jan. 19, 2018 via Brushfire/Republic Records, following up his 2014 record Bahamas is Afie.
Largely recorded in a compact, three-day session, Jurvanen finds himself joined by drummer James Gadson and bassist Pino Palladino, who separately have supported the likes of Beck and John Mayer, and together played alongside D'Angelo for his superlative comeback album, Black Messiah. The inclusion of the Vanguard members illuminates the grounded qualities that have always always been just beneath the surface of Bahamas' breezy music.
Billboard is pleased to share the first track off Earthtones, the charming and soul-bearing "No Wrong." A soft, cushiony piano ballad, Jurvanen dishes out twinkling guitar riffs as he croons about venturing on and doing what you love, even if doing so leaves you feeling fatigued and lonesome.
Listen to "No Wrong" below, and catch up with Afie in our interview, where he chats about Earthtone's inception, the sacredness of funk and the forward-thinking hip-hop that's influenced his creative streak.
A majority of this album was recorded with members of D'Angelo's backing band. Could you tell me more about how those recordings came together?
Basically, I love all that music. I love R&B, I love hip-hop, and definitely D'Angelo's last record. I would say it was the biggest record of the past couple years for me; I just listened to it so much, loved the vibe of it, loved the message. The band is just so slamming on those tracks, so I mentioned it to my manager in passing, and he phoned me a few days later and said, "these guys are available for only three days." I was about to do a six-week tour, but I just went for it.
Once you were in the room with them, did it go exactly how you imagined working with them would be?
The truth is when I go into the studio, I always try to have no expectations and listen, not like a musician, but like a fan: "Am I hearing something that's making my head move? Am I hearing music that makes me feel something, as opposed to something that's being worked on?" As per usual, we were crunched for time, as most people are, so everything came pretty quick. In a way, if I was in a different headspace, that would probably just feel like pressure, but it just ended up feeling like excitement. An idea would come to me, and if I was really in it, I would focus on it. If it wasn't working, I would move on and not be precious about it. In the past, there have been songs where I work them. This one is much more immediate.
Once we figured out that they were in and it was actually going to happen, I got really excited and started writing songs with them in mind, thinking about that rhythm section. I knew I wanted to make something really rhythmic and funky -- if I say the word "funky" to my band, they kind of giggle a little bit. But to me, that's a sacred thing. It's like reggae: it's a genre of music you can't mess with, you either do it or you don't. Going to L.A., I knew I wouldn't even have to talk about what I wanted to do. I just started playing a song, and they were listening to what I was putting out and elevating it to such a high degree. Their instincts are in the right place. They're great listeners, in addition to being great musicians. That's what you're doing, you're communicating with one another.
Besides Black Messiah, what else were you listening to as you were getting into the headspace of these sessions?
I was listening to a lot of modern music. A lot of R&B and hip-hop: Anderson .Paak; Kendrick Lamar's been totally nailing it the past few years; even Kanye's last record The Life of Pablo I really, really liked. I like how it evolved, too. I got some weird early version of it, and then he changed it a million times.
Did you get it before he fixed "Wolves?"
I had it super early, and I liked it! It was super raw. There's something about that genre of music to me that appeals to me. I used to listen to classic hip-hop like Pharcyde and Tribe when I was a skateboarding teenager. Now, that's the genre where all the important stuff is happening, you know? They're pushing the boundaries from a production standpoint. With their lyrics, they're able to write about the times we live in and modernity. They're able to write about their emails and the internet and make it all sound cool and relevant to everyone's life. Obviously, there's a lot of great rock and folk music, but a lot of it just seems too nostalgic to me. When it comes to modern music, I seem to gravitate back to hip-hop. It feels fresh, of the time I'm living in.
Most of those artists that you listed are L.A.-based. Do you ever feel the urge to head out West and embrace that lifestyle?
I don't know, I like Los Angeles a lot. If my wife and kids were up to it, I definitely would go out there for the winters, at least. I've been going there for 15 years or so. When I first started going there, I had a tough time finding it. I felt everyone else's hustle and it was just a little bit too much, but over time I met people who were actually from Los Angeles. Those more clichéd, laid-back, West Coast vibes are a great energy, but given your current political climate, I don't have too much of a desire to do it.
Where did your new song, "No Wrong," come from?
"No Wrong" was one of the only ones I didn't record in L.A., but it's a great example of how inspired I was by those sessions. I was so fired up by the nine or ten songs we did, I wanted to keep that energy going. Right when I came away from Los Angeles, I flew over to Europe for this long tour. I was telling my road band about how great an experience I had working with these guys, and we went to a studio in Prague to do a few more tracks inspired by what we did. I wrote that song on this little keyboard called an OP-1 in the back of the van as we were driving to Warsaw.
The verses are all little snapshots about struggling with the day-to-day of my life: "Stay right here, I'll be coming home soon / I just emptied my lungs to some empty room." It just feels like that's what I'm always saying to my wife and my kids. The verses are that struggle, and then you get to the chorus and it's like "I can do, I can do no wrong." I get to hang out with my buddies and play music, go swimming and eat french fries. Compared to a lot of the awful stuff that's going on the world, most days I feel pretty good.
I think there's a lot of songs [on this record] that play up this idea of bigging yourself up out of necessity. I feel like artists have to do that in general. In the beginning, you have a lot of people telling you, "you can't do that" or "that's not a good idea." You have to be the first one to drink the Kool-Aid and convince everyone else that it's worthy of their time.
Bahamas' new album Earthtones is out Jan. 19. You can pre-order the album and see all the stops on his upcoming tour starting tomorrow (Oct. 27).