Jurvanen: likes festivals, is handsome
by John Cameron
When Afie Jurvanen wants to spread on the charm, he spreads it on thick.
“I dunno if you’ve ever had your ego stroked by a thousand hands at the same time, but it’s a wonderful feeling,” he said when I asked him how he manages to deal with being so damn handsome (see photo) in front of huge festival crowds.
His voice dropped into its most sultry register. “If there’s some people in Regina that are looking forward to not only hearing my music but seeing my golden locks and my manicured beard and my tailored Levis, you know what? Just feast on it, people. Take it all in.”
Jurvanen’s been catching eyes onstage for a while now. The man behind Bahamas was, before the success of 2009’s Pink Strat and 2012’s Barchords, the man beside indie rock luminaries like Feist and Hayden (both Regina Folk Fest co-headliners, to boot), ably playing the role of sideman on tour and at festivals alike.
These days, he’s known more for his laconic, sparse, and effortlessly charming folk-soul than his work as a hired gun.
But his backing-band dues are still paying off at festivals.
“I love festivals. It’s a chance to see your friends, to see other bands. It’s nice. Most bands are busy all year doing their own thing, they’re on tour, and you don’t really cross paths. You’re in your own world, in a way.”
Jurvanen particularly loves folk festivals’ “wholesome” atmosphere, with the families in attendance and the outdoor daytime sets being a nice change of pace from the relentless series of darkened, windowless bars most Canadian performers spend their tours playing to. But he’s especially fond of Regina’s festival, which has for him a key advantage: “Being able to walk to the casino and lose my money.”
He laughs. Like a lot of things Bahamas, the joke is a lead-in to something a little more earnest.
“I mean, I think the thing that’s cool about Regina is that it’s right downtown. A lot of the other [folk festivals] are kind of on the outskirts of town, mostly just because a lot of places can’t accommodate that many people. But I think it’s cool for people to walk from their house to the gig and then walk home.”
An old-school folk and soul devotee — his iTunes Sessions EP from earlier this year features, among other things, a Bobby Charles cover — Jurvanen also appreciates the RFF’s respect for North American folk fest traditions.
“I like the ones where you can see real folk music, you know?” Jurvanen said. “People with acoustic guitars and songwriters. You know, I write songs, and I hope to keep writing songs for a long time, so when you see people who have been doing it for a long time, that’s, for me, always exciting and inspiring, because there’s not that many people who last.
“It’s cool to play with the younger bands and the more popular bands but I really sort of gravitate toward the side stages and try and see the lone guy with his acoustic guitar that’s just sort of traveling around and playing gigs.”
Of course, this describes Jurvanen himself, who says he wants his vocals and his guitar playing to be the through-line connecting his past records to his future ones. And even when folk festivals seem to be incorporating more stylistic and instrumental diversity — Austra’s gothic dance party last year, or the gonzo-rock of Man Man this summer — he’s most comfortable as the archetypical guy-with-a-guitar.
“There’s so many people making music that’s so contemporary sounding and they use instruments that are basically computers or pedals or effects,” he said. “There’s all kinds of wonderful music that’s made that way, but it’s just not something I’m familiar with at all. I just grew up playing the guitar and so I think it’s just the most natural way for me to make music, basically. If I tried to do something else it would probably come out pretty strange-sounding.”
Jurvanen says he’s just starting to think about the next Bahamas record, and so he’s not planning on road-testing new material aside from the new songs recorded for the iTunes Sessions EP. Aside from the fact that his backing band is composed of other busy Toronto musicians and, as such, doesn’t get much time to practice together (“We basically rehearse in the van on the way from the airport to the gig”), when it comes to settings like the Regina Folk Festival, he’d rather do a set of songs people can sing along to.
But it’s Folk Fest, which means daytime stages and one-off collaborations — which means that even if Bahamas’ set is familiar to his fans, they’ll still see a side of Jurvanen that’s loose, playful, and unexpected.
It’s one of the things Jurvanen looks forward to.
“It’s just something special, just for that moment and for that audience and nothing more,” he said, adding that, for him, the moments at folk festivals where performers are willing to fall on their faces in the name of playing around with each others’ songs are the moments he loves watching the most.
“I think audiences, they enjoy those moments the best, in a weird way. When things don’t work out, a lot of times, audiences don’t think any less of you as a musician. It endears you to them.”
He laughs. “‘Oh yeah, that’s a human being and they just fucked up.’”
Bahamas plays the Regina Folk Festival mainstage at 9:30 Saturday night and daytime stage two at 12:45 Sunday.