By Brent Thompson
Photo Credit: Jess Baumung
AHI’s roots lie in Canada, but his songs take listeners on a sonic journey to places near and far. Citing Bob Marley as a prominent musical influence, the singer/songwriter (pronounced “Eye”) incorporates the wide-ranging styles of Michael Kiwanuka, Alabama Shakes and Michael Jackson into his sound. AHI’s latest release, In Our Time [22nd Sentry/Thirty Tigers], is an 11-track collection that furthers his reputation as a master storyteller. On Thursday, October 25, AHI will perform at the Alabama Theatre in support of Lauren Daigle. Recently, he spoke with us by phone from a tour break in Nashville.
Birmingham Stages: AHI, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about the songs that comprise In Our Time.
AHI: Most of them are new ones – a few of them are last-minute additions. “Five Butterflies” came in at the last minute and “The Hardest One” was another last-minute one – it almost didn’t make the album. These songs were all written after [previous release] We Made It Through The Wreckage.
Birmingham Stages: How do songs stay fresh and relevant to you after you’ve performed them hundreds of times?
AHI: When I get onstage, I do a lot of storytelling and I think telling the stories that revolve around the songs and getting the audience’s reaction to those stories gets me into the songs. Also, right now I’m promoting specific songs so there are certain songs on the album that I haven’t played live yet. I’m still also promoting my first album in a lot of ways because there are a lot of people discovering me that haven’t heard my first album. I’m comfortable playing the same songs over and over again because, as an artist, I’m learning how to sing these songs and I’m growing into these songs. There are a lot of singers that think their first take is the best take, but my voice always gets better and I learn about the songs as I sing the songs.
Birmingham Stages: Some artists tell me that – given the instant accessibility provided by outlets such as iTunes and Youtube – this is a great time to be releasing music. Others tell me that – for those same reasons – this is a difficult time to separate yourself from the crowd. How do you view the climate these days?
AHI: I acknowledge both points of view, but I’m more on the side that it’s the most beautiful time in the world to make music. I can sit down and write exactly the material that I want to write. So, I look at it more from a creative point of view. If this was 10 years ago, maybe I would’ve been signed sooner or maybe I wouldn’t have been acknowledged at all. So being able to make the songs I want to make and connecting with the audience gives me the perception that this is the perfect time for an artist like me to exist. I can’t take that for granted.
Birmingham Stages: The phrase I hear quite often these days is, “The gatekeeper has been removed.”
AHI: I don’t know about that one [laughs]. The gatekeepers still exist, but there are other entry points. A lot of artists have decided, “I can go through this gate instead of that gate and get more of the pie and own my own publishing and masters.” That’s what I do – I own my own publishing and my own masters. When I get a check from Spotify, it’s a lot bigger per stream than artists on bigger labels because they’re divvying it up.
Birmingham Stages: You are well-traveled and your sound and songs reflect it. If you will, talk about how your life experiences affect your musical style.
AHI: I feel like we’re all people trying to connect to something and trying to be recognized for that connection. I’ve been to Ethiopia and Trinidad and, for the most part, people are kind and we all just want to have a human connection. What I try to do with my music is peel back the layers as much as possible to give people the most honest, pure connection possible from my point of view. I’d like to think that my voice is transmitting something that’s inside the human spirit.
Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?
AHI: I write at home 99% of the time. I need a base where I feel like I can be comfortable and I can be vulnerable. But, with that said, my biggest song was written in Nashville at an AirBnB [laughs].
AHI will perform at the Alabama Theatre on Thursday, October 25 in support of Lauren Daigle. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show are available at www.ticketmaster.com.