Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Sept-Oct Contents 40 Rhythms
i was listening to the new iron & wine album, Beast
Epic the other night when my wife walked into the room.
within two bars, she commented, “ah, new iron & wine!
it’s like hearing an old friend!”
Sam Beam laughs delightedly when I recall the story to him
in person. The point is, that for my wife to able to identify
the author within two bars of hearing a new song, Beam
must have found a sound distinctly his own.
“You know I’ve always approached it that whatever I do is
Iron & Wine,” Beam responds when asked if he has a clear
definition of Iron & Wine’s identity. “I just use the name as a
band name because I thought it was more interesting than
my name (laughs). But you know, I stumbled across the
title and it just seemed to sort of fit with what I was trying
to achieve with the music. Just the contradiction and the
dualities and how it really represents us, we’re all iron &
“But I like the idea of the aesthetic being expanded, of
people’s idea of what you do being expanded. Some
people are game and some people aren’t. Some people like
categories and some people aren’t worried about it. I don’t
really worry about it, but I understand the idea.”
Beast Epic is the sixth album under the Iron & Wine
moniker, 15 years on from the beloved debut, The Creek
Drank The Cradle. Drawing on acoustic folk traditions,
Beam’s thick, hushed voice made an immediate and lasting
impression that has remained at the heart of subsequent
albums, even though Beam has gone from playing and
recording all the parts himself, to recording in professional
studios with a full band.
“When I started I was just playing in my room and just
recording myself,” Beam recalls. “I would do overdubs but
it was all based on a track that I’d just played with ebbs
and flows and things like that. And then I started after that
slowly making more records that could only really exist
because of studio equipment. And that was a real learning
experience and I enjoyed that quality about the records.
But at the same time it felt, it always felt a little hollow. A
little... like I wish... I don’t know how to put that into words.
It always felt a little lacking, in the sense that it just didn’t
have the spark of people making music.
“So what I learned about the live experience is that the
imperfections are just as much a part of the performance
as the parts that you performed flawlessly. It’s a matter of
being able to include that and use it to your advantage
that makes things feel human. It’s fun to be able to include
those things so that’s something I’ve learned to pursue in
recording. I think the first... well I made a couple of records
that were really computer records. I have a certain amount
of discipline where I would be playing it, but they would
really be relying on the overdub process.
“And then there was a record called Ghost On Ghost,
where I hired some musicians and we just performed the
whole thing. And that was really freeing. I mean they were
really talented and you didn’t really hear a lot of mistakes
(laughs), but the process was about making things as
people, not just relying on the technology. And so ever
since then, they’ve become smaller and more fragile and
more flawed in a good way I think.”
Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to pick out any obvious
“imperfections” in Beast Epic. Recorded with revered
producer Tom Schick in Wilco’s Loft in Chicago with a
five-piece group, most of them long-term Iron & Wine
collaborators, the album is rich, warm and lively. But it
sounds like nothing but Iron & Wine.
The album’s songs feature perspectives on experience (even
maturity) and transition and Beam confirms that his music
is always in transition.
“Oh I definitely feel that way with music, you know I’ve
been really lucky to play with some really talented people
over the years and I always learn something. I always feel
like with music there’s always something else to learn.
There’s always some other thing to concentrate on. There’s
always something new to discover, it seems. Even though
there are only so many notes it’s crazy once you start
combining them and phrasing and different approaches,
there’s always something left to reveal itself to you. Which
is really fun.”
As for the experience, how does Beam go about making the
voice of experience as interesting as the voice of the wide-
eyed youth and not trite?
“Oh I don’t know,” he muses. “Those things are subjective
too – what some people think is trite might be your
obsession so that’s what you should be making art about. I
don’t worry about those things too much, I mean if there’s
people who think they know better what I should be doing,
then maybe they should be doing it. So I just... it could be
really naïve but the creative person inside me just has a
blind faith in whatever you’re into. That’s really all you can
do as artist is just give yourself over to your obsessions and
hope for the best.”
That said, Beam is objective enough in his own album bio
to recognise that the voice in earlier songs was a completely
different one to that speaking in Beast Epic.
“Yeah, you know I’ve never really gotten too wrapped about,
‘I can’t play the old songs because they don’t represent me
at the present moment.’ I kind of like the snapshot of the
past. I mean we were rehearsing today some older songs
and I don’t know who that person was who wrote that song.
I have no idea how I came to that song. But at the same time
I find a lot of joy in that because I find it a kind of freeing
perspective, like you can look at an old school photograph
and you can laugh at your weird hairdo.
“And on a good day, if the stars align and you’ve got a pretty
good song, it can reveal new things that you weren’t really
aware of at the time you wrote it. And you get to reinterpret
it because you come at it with a different set of experiences
and perspective that you gained along the way.... On a good
day,” he laughs. “On a bad day, you might say, “I’m not sure
what to do with this!’.”
As Beam rehearses with his band in preparation for a tour
that will pretty much span the remainder of the year, he
also faces his first appearance at the innovative Americana
conference and festival this month.
“Oh that’s cool,” Beam says about being embraced by the
long arm of Americana. “I mean I don’t really understand
iROn & winE
Links Archive 2017 Jul-Aug 2017 Nov-Dec Navigation Previous Page Next Page