Music

Bahamas: 5 songs that changed my life

The singer-songwriter discusses songs from Marvin Gaye, Feist and more.

The singer-songwriter discusses songs from Marvin Gaye, Feist and more

Bahamas | 5 Songs that Changed My Life

7 months ago
Duration 4:20
From Fiest's "1234" to Tony Rice's "Church Street Blues", watch Bahama's share the 5 songs that changed his life.

When people say Bahamas "went country" on his latest album, Bootcut, it sounds like a hard swerve down an unexpected, new path. But in reality, frontman Afie Jurvanen argues that he's "always written songs that kind of lean in that direction." 

Indeed, Bahamas' music has always encapsulated a number of different influences: folk, rock, R&B and country have all peeked through Jurvanen's intricate guitar stylings over the years. But with his sixth studio album, a country twang emerges, primarily thanks to the help of an all-star cast of Nashville-based players including Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam), Russ Pahl (Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton), Sam Bush (New Grass Revival), Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson) and the Eagles' Vince Gill. 

"Over the pandemic, I did some remote recording with these musicians," he tells CBC Music, "They were in Nashville and I was in Halifax…. I just really enjoyed that process and thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to just go down there and work with them in a room?' I didn't plan on making a country record, I just wanted to work with those musicians." 

Jurvanen says his favourite part of country music is the storytelling: "The best country songs, to me, are the ones that sort of take you somewhere, you know?" And if Jurvanen has mastered anything outside his virtuosic guitar skills, it's building simple, but effective narratives in his songs, whether he's singing a tale about divorce on "Second Time Around" or waxing poetic about the art of songwriting on "Just a Song." 

To mark the recent release of Bootcut, Jurvanen stopped by CBC Music to discuss five songs that changed his life. 


'Church Street Blues,' Tony Rice 

"'Church Street Blues' is just a monumental song for me, for guitar playing. The whole album is just him, solo acoustic guitar and vocal. There's no production; it's like a classical recording. They just put the microphones up and they capture the performance, and his playing is so powerful and delicate at the same time. It has everything you would want out of any piece of music, and it's just guitar and voice. I just found that so moving as both a guitar player and as a singer. To find everything that I think is worthy about music or art encapsulated in something so simple and so profound was really moving.

"It influenced my [musical] style, probably in a direction that I was already heading down. It's just about economy. It's about trying to say more with less. It's trying to communicate the idea as effortlessly and as clearly as possible." 

'I Met a Little Girl,' Marvin Gaye 

"This whole album is sad. The album is called Here, My Dear and as far as I know, he had gone through a divorce and was contractually obligated to make this album for the purposes of diverting the royalties to his ex-wife and the whole album is like a breakup album in the worst sense of the word. But it resulted in the most beautiful music. That song is so tender, it's so heartbreaking that, I don't know, you can't help but be charmed by it in a way. It seems bad to revel in someone else's pain, but I think a lot of great art has that quality — it sort of invites you in and says, 'Alright, here's something that I went through and maybe you can relate to it.' A lot of Marvin Gaye songs, energetically, they are at the top end, which I really like. But this one's the opposite. He's just so relaxed, it's almost like Neil Young's Harvest Moon or something. He's so chill, and I think I've been called chill myself, I might also fall into the chill zone, so I think there's just something there that I connect to. It's just very relaxed and it's almost conversational." 

'1234,' Feist 

"I played in Feist's band. At that time, we were playing in clubs and bars, and things like that, and I loved it. The music was really good, all the people — all the musicians, the crew, was just a wonderful assembly of people, and I just felt lucky to be a part of it. And then she had this album and this song, '1234,' was used in that iPod commercial, and it was almost overnight. I mean, at least my experience of it; she might say something else, but it really did change. It went from playing these smaller venues to suddenly they're re-booking things and we're playing theatres and hockey arenas, and now there's another bus, and now there's expensive lighting equipment, and there's organic avocados in the dressing room, so it literally changed my life. It really allowed me to experience a level of professionalism in the music business that, up to that point, I just hadn't been exposed to. We played on Saturday Night Live and we played at the Grammys…. We toured all around the world. I had been a professional musician up to that point, but that just took it to that other level. When I left that band and started playing Bahamas music, I had all this experience in relatively high pressure situations and on big stages and with big crowds, and I felt like I could draw from that experience." 

On playing Saturday Night Live and at the Grammys: "It was awesome. I met Barack Obama when he was Senator Obama at Saturday Night Live. He was campaigning and came into the dressing room, and gave out his business cards. It was funny. I just have so many little experiences like that where it was definitely not my normal, and definitely wouldn't be my normal now. He's not coming to my dressing room. That Grammys thing — we were so out of our element. I think we were one of the only bands that just played music; everyone else has these big shows, a lot of production. I think Aretha Franklin played right before us, and that's a very high bar. She absolutely destroyed, like ripped the mic in half. And then we were on and it was now like, [sings a hushed version of '1234']. It just sounded so wimpy by comparison! It was just two totally different things and I guess that's the whole point, is to display all different types of things in the world that people take joy in. But again, I just feel lucky that I got to experience those things and the spotlight wasn't on me. No one cared, I was just playing guitar, playing piano, got to hang out and be part of this thing, but really, it was [Feist's] music and her show." 

'Till it's Done (Tutu),' D'Angelo 

"I was obsessed with [D'Angelo's 2014 album, Black Messiah] when it came out. Just loved it. I had been waiting since [D'Angelo's last album, 2000's Voodoo], just hoping that he'd put something else out. And it was just so rewarding, the whole album. But that song in particular has a very specific rhythmic groove that I, and I think millions of other people, kind of connect to. And if you analyze it, it's all about the way the drums are locked. They're perfectly in time, like a metronome, and the rest of the band is just on another planet, time-wise. They're really behind and other things are forward, and it sort of creates this really interesting feel that you kind of can't help, but you start looking around like, 'What the heck is going on? Why am I moving?' You don't have any control. And if my music were even able to have a hint of that quality, I would love that because I have so many ballads, I have so many down-tempo songs and I have a few of them where I know they have that quality, and you can see it at a live show — people just start to move to the first downbeat, the first chord. Suddenly they're in it, and as a writer and performer, I think, 'Geez, to have a whole set of that?' That's amazing. That song just has that quality in spades." 

On having James Gadson and Pino Palladino, from D'Angelo's band the Vanguard, play on his 2018 album, Earthtones: "After that Black Messiah record, I thought, 'Is there some world in which I can get into a room with these guys?' And we couldn't get all of them, but we got a couple. Musically, it was instant. These guys are pros, so we show up, there's maybe 10 minutes of joking around and having coffee, and then it's like, 'Alright, let's get to work.' And the thing that I found most flattering and gratifying was, after a couple days, independent of each other, the musicians would just come up and be like, 'Man, this is so fun,' just working on music because, as crazy as it sounds, I think it's kind of rare. Most of the time, they get a phone call, come into the studio, they play to a click track with the producer — the artist might not even be there — so to be all together in the room, just jamming, just playing music, trying to work together to create and capture something that's just really of the moment, that has a special thing to it and it really bonds people together. I'm just flattered to know those guys and to play music with them. It's a joy." 

'Don't Let our Love Start Slippin' Away,' Vince Gill 

"This album is so slick, it's crazy. It's like walking on a sidewalk made of banana peels. The last job I had before I was a professional musician was here in Toronto [...] I worked in the basement and I could listen to music loud, and I could listen to whatever I wanted. And I don't know how I discovered this Vince Gill record, but I listened to it on repeat for two years, just nonstop. I really fell in love with it and I always wondered (a) how you play guitar like that, and (b) if I could ever get myself into a room with Vince Gill. I can say I haven't figured out how to play the guitar like that. I can also say that I've never been in a room with Vince Gill, but the great thing is that he plays on [my] new record. He played on a couple tracks; he wasn't able to come to the sessions so he sent it over and it was perfect. He didn't send me like six different takes. He sent one thing, he was like, 'If you don't like it, no problem at all.' The man knows, you know? And I guess when you have 23 Grammys, and you're the lead singer of the Eagles, you probably know a thing or two about how a song should be structured and how a solo should land so, again, a real flattering thing for me to have someone like that contribute to my tunes."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melody Lau

Producer, CBC Music

Melody Lau is a Toronto-based writer for CBC Music. She can be found on Twitter @MelodyLamb or email melody.lau@cbc.ca.

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