“Is there some trick to being happy?” Afie Jurvanen sings on the lead-off track of Sad Hunk, his fifth album under the Bahamas banner. The Toronto roots-rocker doesn’t profess to know the answer, but he’s working overtime to put a smile on your face. Sad Hunk continues down the wood-paneled path of 2018’s Grammy-nominated, Juno Award-winning Earthtones, filtering a soft-rockin’ country-soul sound through the irreverent sensibility of a housebound indie auteur. While these songs boast the cozy, lived-in familiarity of ’70s radio standards, the charmingly off-kilter guitar solos (courtesy of bandmates Christine Bougie and Sam Weber) and Jurvanen’s witty wordplay give the album a peculiar personality all its own. “So many of my songs are just about domesticity and the everyday,” Jurvanen tells Apple Music. “But I'm also trying to sing about modernity, and that's hard to do in guitar-based music. Like, hip-hop guys can rap about their emails and checking their iPhones all fucking day long, and it sounds cool, it sounds fresh, it sounds relevant. But if you try to do that with a guitar, I find it puts people off. And it's like, why? I want to sing about my life and the life we're living right now.” But amid his real-world references to selfies, credit cards, and working at Subway, Jurvanen taps into some eternal, essential truths about not living beyond your means, the freedom in being uncool, and the power of forgiveness. Here, he outlines Sad Hunk’s 10-point plan for finding happiness.
Trick to Happy “I think we're all looking for the trick for happiness. You fool yourself into thinking that it's going to be a relationship, or it's going to be a certain amount of money, or a certain amount of recognition from your peers. And we all fundamentally know that those are never the one thing. When you lay your head down at the end of the day, you just want to feel like you spent the day doing something worthy of your time and that kept you interested and engaged. You want to go to bed tired. So for me, music is a huge part of that, and this song is saying: Stop looking for a shortcut to being happy and just get in there with what you're doing.”
Own Alone “There's definitely some guitar Olympics going on with this one. I did have the benefit of playing live a fair bit last year—I did a tour in Korea and Japan and all these faraway places, and I used it as an opportunity to play some of these new songs that I had. And this was one of those ones where every night, from the first beat, people seemed to be moving and digging it, despite having never heard it before. That's always a good sign to me.”
Less Than Love “This is a big tune for me on this record. It's pretty personal. You don't really have to wonder what I'm singing about—it's all right there on the tape. I sort of realized at some point, like, shit, I'm not making a living as a guitar player anymore—my songs really are doing the heavy lifting in terms of this being a profession or career for me. So I spend a lot of time on the words—a lot more than I do on the guitar.”
Done Did Me No Good “This one is just pure fun to me. It's as close as I'll get to a pop song—or my own twisted version of it. It's nice to just be in a place professionally where I don't think too much. When we're in the studio, if it feels good, I do it. I know that's not a very sophisticated approach, but the instinct portion of what I'm doing is so much more relevant to my working life than anything else.”
Half Your Love “I'm always trying to write a better love song. I cowrote that with this guy Pat McLaughlin in Nashville, which was my first time writing with somebody. I went down there to write for some other artists and then we ended up writing this tune together and I was just like, 'I like this song—I think this is my song!' It's so earnest and on the nose. For some people, maybe it's too much—maybe they prefer love songs with more metaphors. But I just love a sad song that's filled with love. I always reference Willie Nelson's ‘Always on My Mind’—that song to me is such a heartbreaker. It's hard to think of a sadder song than that. But it's in a major key, and the sound of it is so happy. I love songs that have that quality, so hopefully 'Half Your Love' has a little bit of that. I feel like I'll be able to play it in 20 years, and I'll still feel connected to it.”
Up With the Jones “This one's pretty obvious: It's a song that's wondering, ‘Are we really making the best decisions with how we're choosing to live our life?’ On my more pessimistic days, I think, ‘Am I just another bot that's been created to buy new running shoes when I don't need them?’ It's pretty easy to get caught up in consumer culture.”
Not Cool Anymore “I really love this song. It's an acknowledgment of aging, of being comfortable with yourself, and letting your gut out a little bit after Thanksgiving dinner, and just not caring what other people think about you. It's pretty liberating. In my case, having kids has been such a great gateway for me to reexamine so many of my relationships with stuff and with life and with people. It's funny: With that kid comes a pair of New Balance shoes and like a slightly looser pair of jeans, and it feels pretty good!”
Can’t Complain “The main sentiment is just one of gratitude. I would feel silly complaining in any way. I don't really feel like I've ever paid any dues. I've been a professional musician for so long, and if it all ended tomorrow, I had a pretty good run. I enjoy the work, so I can't complain. There's parts that are challenging, but that's kind of the best part, too—you want things that are challenging.”
Fair Share “I have a lot of gratitude for the people that are interested in my music, and I hope everybody finds a way to create a little corner for themselves in this world. But you can't wait for someone to knock on the door. I wanted something, and I put it out to the universe and it materialized to some degree. Luck and timing and all the other things come along with it, but you gotta want it first and foremost."
Wisdom of the World “This song starts from a pretty personal place: My brother is a recovering addict, and it's been really hard for him and my family, so figuring out a way to write about that has been important for me. And I'm just sort of realizing that you can hammer things into the ground, but at the end of the day, you just have to truly forgive people. And in a way, you kind of get the power back by doing that. You actually don't give up any power—you get all of it back. Holding grudges and blaming other people is draining as hell. Taking ownership over things is really empowering, and that’s the one thing I want to remember going forward: If you own all the mistakes, then you get to own the wins, too, you know?”