In 2014, Bahamas — the indie-rock solo project of Toronto-based Afie Jurvanen — rocketed into the mainstream on the back of its most-known song to date, “All The Time,” off 2014’s Bahamas Is Afie. The downtempo track delivered soft and tender lyrics against a sharp and electric sonic backdrop.
Now, four years later, Bahamas is back with a new album, Earthtones, out Jan. 19, which builds on his easy-listening energy, and also introduces more uptempo tracks — “to play at outdoor festivals and feel like we have some stuff to throw out at those big crowds,” Jurvanen says. The LP was announced via a non-traditional press release, written by Jurvanen himself, as “the newest and totally best album yet from Bahamas, aka me, Afie.”
Since the release of his last album, Jurvanen admits he grew tired of the endless cycle of touring, writing and recording. “At some point, I got physically exhausted and thought, ‘What am I going to do here?’” he tells Billboard. Enter his longtime friend and manager: Robbie Lackritz. In mid-2016, Lackritz called and suggested recording with some of D’Angelo’s rhythm section, an idea that Jurvanen was immediately sold on. “I thought that could be really fresh, because I couldn’t picture in my mind what it would be, which was the exciting thing — the unknown.” By September of 2016, Jurvanen was back in the studio.
As he itched to shake up his professional life, he soon realized his personal life needed a change too. He says since having kids, he’s had to reevaluate where he devotes his time. “As a writer, I had to evolve,” he relates. “Before I had kids, I used to play guitar for hours and hours every day and work on a song. In some cases, I’d work for years on a song, tweaking the lyrics or the arrangement.”
When writing Earthtones, it became clear that structure would no longer work. “It’s the complete opposite,” he says of how much time he would spend with one song. “If I have ten minutes, then that’s what I’m working with. It was much more instinctual. If it didn’t feel good, I would just move on to the next idea.”
He describes his approach to recording the album in the same way, saying there were no discussions on strategy prior to hitting record in a Los Angeles studio. Instead, the allowed his studio musicians — bassist Pino Palladino, known for playing with The Who, and drummer James Gadson, who has played with everyone from D’Angelo to The Temptations — to “follow their own musical instincts.” Jurvanen adds: “That’s reflected in the recording — it’s an immediate-sounding record to me, almost like the band is sort of jumping out of the speaker.”
On the melodically bluesy and positively spun “No Wrong” — the track Jurvanen wanted to release first, because “now, more than ever, you have to believe in yourself and believe in big ideas, because there’s so much anger and name-calling going around” — the listener is transported to an intimate and hazy room, where the ceiling is low and the high-tops scarce. Meanwhile, album opener “Alone” sees Jurvanen dig deeper (as his voice dips lower) to contemplate individuality, over growing layers of production; on “Bad Boys Need Love Too” Jurvanen experiments with his register even more (and also wades into rapping); while “Everything To Everyone” is the most festival-ready choice with its rallying chorus.
“Every time we play, it serves as an opportunity to make a connection with the musicians I’m playing with and the audience — it really is a living, breathing dynamic.” says Jurvanen, who kicks off the North American leg of his tour in Brooklyn on Friday, Jan. 19, the day the new album drops. And much like the other changes he has introduced to his life, from his writing process to letting loose in the studio, he has adjusted his onstage mentality, too: “I’m starting to really enjoy being a part of it, as opposed to being in control of it.”