Chatting with Afie Jurvanen (more popularly known as Bahamas) about society’s addiction to busy-ness – and its perverse idea that equates being still with being unproductive – reminded me of something American author Thomas Pynchon once wrote: “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do.” In other words, idleness shouldn’t be viewed as a vice; rather, we should look at it as indispensable.

“Daydreaming is still a big part of my practice,” says Bahamas,  who moved to Nova Scotia from Toronto with his family two years back. “And I think getting bored is so important. I grew up without the internet and cellphones, but with so much freedom to just run around,” says the singer-songwriter, who was raised in Finland and then in Barrie, a bedroom community an hour’s drive north of Toronto. “My mother rarely asked where I was going. She’d just be like, ‘Make sure you’re home for dinner.’

Everything’s Hunky Dory

Bahamas averages more than 2.5 million regular monthly listens on Spotify, with more than 450 million streams to date. “Lost In The Light,” from 2012’s Barchords, is nearing 100 million streams, while “All The Time,” the lead single from third album Bahamas Is Afie, recently passed 70 million. Nominated for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical at the 2019 Grammy Awards, Earthtones won Adult Alternative Album of the Year at the 2019 JUNO Awards. Jurvanen also received this accolade for Bahamas Is Afie in 2015, when he was also named Songwriter of the Year.

“I’m in awe of the youth, and inspired by what they’re doing, but what about allowing yourself to be bored, and engaging with the creativity that comes with being bored?”

If you think that it was re-locating to slower-paced Nova Scotia – “it’s lots of rocks, trees, water, and space for everyone” – that impacted Bahamas’s creative process, you’re wrong. He’s always embraced idleness, daydreaming, and boredom. And it wouldn’t be off the mark to say that philosophy manifests itself in his breezy, blissful singing and guitar playing.

There is, of course, more than meets the ear on a Bahamas record. Listen closely to the stellar collection of songs on his just-released fifth album, Sad Hunk (out Oct. 9, 2020) – even he calls them “the best songs I’ve ever written” – and you’ll be equally charmed and in admiration of his self-deprecation, vulnerability, and transparency.

“How do you say something that’s lyrically memorable and meaningful?,” he asks, and you can sense that’s his raison d’etre. “But when that comes together, it’s so rewarding!”

So, Nova Scotia hasn’t impacted his creative process. But being a dad? Definitely!

“I used to spend hours upon hours playing guitar, but now the time just isn’t there anymore,” says Bahamas. “It’s made me a stronger writer, more efficient. And to be honest, I think getting better at your craft forces you to be a better person.”

Which results in songs like “Up With The Jones,” in which he questions his role in consumer culture, and in “Wisdom of the World,” the album’s blazing closer, about forgiveness. “You want to be your own worst critic,” he says. “That way, nothing anyone says about you or your craft can hurt you. It’s so empowering.

“The challenge, though, is when you sing about relationships or the world. It can be difficult working that out in real time. What I mean is that by the time that particular song comes out, that moment you were feeling has passed, and the question becomes, ‘How do you honour that moment [that birthed the song]?”

Why So Sad, Hunk?

“Something like 10 years ago, I did a photoshoot, and in all the pictures they sent back, I was lit half in shadow, looking all brooding and mysterious. When my wife saw the photos, the first thing she said was, ‘Whoa, sad hunk,’ and after that, it became sort of a joke among our friends.”

Which brings us nicely to “Less Than Love,” which he calls one of the most important songs on the record. “It’s a snapshot of a moment, and every line is killer,” Bahamas says proudly. “It hit really hard the first time I played it. My wife and I were sitting in the car and we were crying. There were no words.”

Elsewhere on the album, “Wisdom of the World,” is sonically different from anything Bahamas has recorded. “It’s in a minor key ,which I don’t do very often,” he explains. “I wrote it on the piano. I just had the chord progressions and the opening line, and the rest came pretty quickly. It’s about my brother, who’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Figuring out a way to sing about that was challenging.

“Addiction doesn’t just affect that person [who’s addicted],” Bahamas adds. “He retreated from me, but he was able to get into a rehab program, and his life has changed in a positive way. It’s pretty amazing to see, actually.” The intense track ends with Bahamas chanting, “I guess the whole thing’s about forgiveness” several times.

“The only way out is forgiveness,” he says. “It’s the only way out, but we have to get there peacefully, and it has to be meaningful. I’ll probably write more songs in that vein.”