He says his new album, “Bahamas is Afie,” was inspired by a guitar he bought from Maine guitar maker Dana Bourgeois.
Afie Jurvanen has never performed in Maine, but he already has a pretty high opinion of what the state has to offer.
That’s because he started playing a Maine-made acoustic guitar, from high-end guitar maker Dana Bourgeois of Lewiston, just before writing songs for his most recent album, “Bahamas Is Afie.”
“This was my first new guitar – all the others I have were from the 1950s – and this one really influenced the way I wrote these songs,” said Jurvanen, who performs under the name Bahamas. “The guitar to me sounded like a bell, just ringing out. I’ve always loved guitars, so it’s great when you discover new layers by using a new instrument.”
Jurvanen will bring his Maine-made guitar, and a small backing band, with him for a show at Empire Friday night. He toured with Wilco this summer, just before starting his own headlining tour this fall.
Jurvanen said people who come out to Empire can expect to hear songs off his three albums, but he says he likes to remain flexible enough to play his songs in new ways that fit the time, place and mood of each performance.
“But people can still recognize the songs, it’s not like we turn them into an art project or anything,” said Jurvanen, 33.
Jurvanen, whose name is Finnish, grew up in the town of Barrie, Ontario, about an hour from Toronto. His mother was a social worker and he never knew his father. He says his earliest experience with playing music was the result of peer pressure, with a positive outcome.
“Growing up I rode my bike a lot, fished and played a lot of sports, because everyone did. Then I started playing guitar because all my friends got guitars,” said Jurvanen. “I liked it because there was a built-in social structure, you had friends right away. If I play guitar, and you play guitar, and we meet a guy who plays drums, then we have a lot to do.”
When asked about his earliest musical influences, he said he was influenced more by his musical friends and their older brothers than by any artist he heard on the radio.
“I remember learning from those guys the wonder of creating something that wasn’t there 10 minutes ago,” Jurvanen said.
Jurvanen moved to Toronto when he was about 21 and began playing with, and touring with, several Canadian acts, including Feist and Jason Collett. He wanted to make his own music but says for many years he was too busy to make a solo album.
He finally said no to offers of work long enough to record his first album, “Pink Strat,” in 2008 and release it under the name Bahamas. Several published reports say Jurvanen recorded his first album “in a cabin” in rural Canada. He says it was more of a “country house” about an hour north of Toronto.
“I think the Internet has a tendency to exaggerate things. It had running water and electricity,” he said of the house.
His second album, “Barchords,” was released in 2012. Both of his first two albums were nominated for Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Awards.
Jurvanen has gained some notice in this country too, with good reviews in Rolling Stone and other publications. His latest album, “Bahamas Is Alfie,” came out in August, and like his others, has a folk/roots sound. Jurvanen gives the songs a very warm, almost fuzzy quality. On the song “Waves,” for instance, his guitar strumming sounds like waves gently lapping the shore. Jurvanen says he found his Maine-made guitar in a Toronto guitar shop – Bourgeouis sells guitars all over and often to professional musicians – and was instantly taken with its sound.
On most of the songs, Jurvanen sings in a quiet but powerful, voice. He said someone told him long ago that to deliver a song as personally as possible, you should think of yourself as talking to a lover in bed.
“Learning to relax your vocal cords and just sing is hard,” said Jurvanen. “It’s all about learning to find your voice as singer.”
With the help of a Maine-made guitar.
WHEN: 9:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $10 in advance; $12 day of the show