Don’t let the taste dissuade – Iron and Wine is very, very good for you.
The name stands for Sam Beam, a singer-songwriter with a fast folk finger and instantly recognizable gentle vocals. The talented southerner has recorded two full-length albums and numerous EPs and singles, most for Sub Pop Records, and recently collaborated with Calexico on the excellent album “In the Reins.” He was also featured on the “Garden State” soundtrack for his cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” – that was him crooning during Zach Braff and Natalie Portman’s post-coital bliss.
I chatted with Beam this spring as he hit the road for a countrywide tour. The former college professor (and father of three) loaned his perfectly cadenceddrawl to observations on religious chicks, hillbilly medicine and his epic facial hair. And he likes reggae. Who knew?
Art Beat (AB): So why ‘Iron and Wine’? What does it represent?
Sam Beam (SB): It’s actually a substance, a home remedy, like castor oil. There’s still stuff called “beef iron and wine.”It sounds pretty gross. It’s like a protein supplement kind of thing.
AB: Did you grow up in the South?
SB: South Carolina. But yeah, I thought that name was interesting.
AB: So it’s supposed to cure everything?
SB: I don’t know. I wouldn’t take it!
AB: Sounds smart. So what are you listening to right now?
SB: Bunch of random stuff. What have I got? I like TV on the Radio. I’ve got my iPod on shuffle – I like lots of kinds of music. Folk, blues, African music (and) reggae.
SB: I guess I’m all over the board, really.
AB: That’s cool. Has fatherhood affected your music at all?
SB: Yeah, it affects your whole life. (laughs) It affects your whole outlook on things. You’re not the main priority in your life anymore. Your whole perspective changes – your perspective on your parents, yourself, everyone you meet who’s been through this kind of event before.
AB: What emotions do you like to express in your songs?
SB: It depends on the tone of the music – that comes first.
Usually I start to play and go from there. But I’m not a confessional kind of writer, not like diary entries or anything. I try to make a little story for each one. It depends on what’s going on in that little situation. (laughs) It’s kinda hard.
AB: Let’s talk about “Woman King,” which is awesome, by the way. I’m a big fan of it.
SB: Thank you, thanks a lot.
AB: It seems to have a lot of female and biblical references, so what was your idea going into it?
SB: I didn’t really enter into it knowing I was gonna do a thematic record. I try to write every day. So when that “Woman King” song came around, I sorta realized I had a bunch of songs with woman characters, either referential or made-up. So it made sense to put them all together. But they’re just characters I’m interested in; as far as the Biblical characters, you have dichotic characters that you try to revisit and put a different human aspect to.
AB: Is a religion a popular theme for you in your music? I think I’ve heard it in past releases as well.
SB: Yeah, I think it is. I’m not a religious person, but I’m definitely interested ” I grew up in the Bible Belt! It’s interesting to see how it affects that culture.
AB: How does it?
SB: Lots of ways. I mean, look at the news!
AB: And from the pictures I’ve seen, you have a very big beard, of possible biblical proportions.
SB: Yeah, I guess it is kinda huge. (laughs)
AB: When did you start playing music?
SB: I got a guitar when I was about 15-. I was in a group with friends and we always sat around and tried to play Joy Division songs. But we weren’t that good. (laughs)
AB: How would you classify your music? Would you call it indie?
SB: I don’t know. I don’t really think about that.
AB: It just seems like ‘indie’ music, if it’s a whole genre, has become a trend. Like if you watch the show “The O.C.,” that style is played a lot. Videos from underground bands are played on MTV a little more frequently. So what do you think defines independent music now ” is it the same that it used to be?
SB: Right, I don’t know. I think it turned into the same thing that alternative music turned into. I mean, it’s a name that’s being used to describe something that they couldn’t fit into a genre. So it became a genre unto itself. I don’t know. When I write, it doesn’t really come up. (laughs) And that’s really good. But at the same time, I feel much more open to those kinds of artists than any other genre, I guess.
AB: And you’re on Sub Pop Records, which is a little louder than you in general.
SB: Yeah, definitely.
AB: You’re on the “Garden State” soundtrack, and that was pretty huge. For college kids it was, I dunno, bigger than Jesus.
SB: (laughs) Yeah, it was big. But I’ve gotta confess, I haven’t seen [the movie] yet!
AB: What was your best experience while in college?
SB: Oh gosh- Well, I met my wife there. That was pretty cool!
Stacey Anderson is a journalism and music senior, KCPR DJ and golden goddess. She wants you to listen to the KCPR On-Air Auction, now through Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. E-mail her at email@example.com.