Iron & Wine

Total Guitar - - ACOUSTIC -

Sam Beam, AKA Iron & Wine, re­turns to his acous­tic roots, tap­ping into his an­i­mal self in the process on his si xth record, Beast­Epic

Sam Beam, bet­ter known by his song­writ­ing moniker Iron & Wine is con­tem­plat­ing the ef­fects of work­ing solo. “When you make your own records for a while, you al­most don’t hear your­self,” he says. “When you have some­thing else to com­pare it to you’re like, ‘Oh, this is what my voice does’ – you’re al­most re-in­tro­duced to your­self.”

The Durham, North Car­olina-based in­die-folk song­writer and his shape shift­ing line-up of back­ing mu­si­cians – of­ten de­scribed by Beam as “a band with one per­ma­nent mem­ber” – are pre­par­ing for the re­lease of his new full-length, Beast­Epic. It’s the sixth with “Iron & Wine on the spine”, the first since 2013’s GhostOnGhost and the con­tin­u­ance of the po­etic writer’s own nar­ra­tive, fol­low­ing well-re­ceived col­lab­o­ra­tions with Ben Brid­well (Band Of Horses) and Jesca Hoop. It may be long-awaited, but the part­ner­ships, par­tic­u­larly the lat­ter on 2016’s Love

Let­terForFire, reaped re­wards for a song­writer used to fly­ing solo.

“Jesca called it ‘smelling your own breath for too long’, which I thought was re­ally funny,” says Sam, of his past per­spec­tive. “But it’s true. There’s a lot to be gained from trust­ing other peo­ple, be­cause I think we can get very guarded with our own aes­thetic and our own cre­ative process, so I found the whole process re­ally re­ward­ing.”

The con­fi­dent Beast­Epic has been born from this free­ing process and has, in Sam’s words, “a kin­ship”, with his much cel­e­brated first al­bum TheCreek

DrankTheCra­dle, stretch­ing the acous­tic song­writer for­mula into new forms and rhythms, while still em­brac­ing the whis­pered dy­nam­ics, art­ful ob­ser­va­tion and lush melodies of its fore­bears.

“I hadn’t re­alised that through­out my whole ca­reer I was try­ing to push my­self to un­fa­mil­iar places, to dis­cover what my voice could do or what kind of ar­range­ments I could come up with,” says Sam. “But those col­lab­o­ra­tions were the first time where I had to sit back and re­alise what I do, in­stead of what po­ten­tial it has for some­thing else. I just kind of re­laxed and was my­self for a change in­stead of be­ing some­thing that I didn’t recog­nise. That was valu­able to me be­fore, to dis­cover some­thing new, but on this one I did what I en­joy do­ing.”

It’s at this stage that alarm bells usu­ally ring, but the same qui­etly idio­syn­cratic, south­ern­style man­ner­isms that im­bibe Iron & Wine’s out­put pre­vent Beam from stray­ing into smug ter­ri­tory. Chord pro­gres­sions are as­sertive, but the ar­range­ments are un­forced, weav­ing lush, im­pro­vised ta­pes­tries of dou­ble-bass, per­cus­sion and beau­ti­fully-full and rich acous­tic tones.

“I’ve fi­nally fig­ured out how to sur­round my­self with re­ally tal­ented peo­ple and just throw ideas out,” laughs Sam. “I’m not writ­ing avant-garde mu­sic, it’s folk mu­sic so the chords are set largely but within that frame­work there’s room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion and that’s what we were chas­ing.”

While the al­bum was recorded at The Loft in Chicago, back home the song­writer in­hab­its a base­ment space, hav­ing given up his pre­vi­ous fully-fledged stu­dio in Drip­ping Springs, Texas in favour of some­thing a lit­tle lower main­te­nance. “I do less song­writ­ing now than I used to,” he tells TG. “I’ll sit down and pick at the gui­tar at least once a day, be­cause I en­joy it. But when your raw ma­te­rial is life, you have to live life, you know? Oth­er­wise you start writ­ing songs about writ­ing songs – and that’s no fun.” As such, Beast­Epic, is an al­bum about life – and, ap­pro­pri­ately, given its fa­mil­iaryet-dif­fer­ent tone – about re­flect­ing and tak­ing stock. “As a young per­son, you feel like you’ll grow up and then you’ll have it all fig­ured out,” says Sam. “But then you re­alise, ‘I still feel like a child, even though I have all of th­ese new ex­pe­ri­ences.’ I feel heav­ier, be­cause of the ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had, so it re­flects that jour­ney… That wheel had spun around un­til it brought me back and I feel like when you recog­nise that hap­pen­ing in your life it’s some­thing to cel­e­brate.”

The ti­tle, dis­cov­ered in a dic­tio­nary of lit­er­ary terms, speaks to this realisation of mov­ing from play­ing roles to ac­cept­ing and even cel­e­brat­ing them. “‘The term ‘beast epic’ is a way to de­scribe a story like TheTor­toiseAndTheHare – usu­ally fa­bles with moral lessons – where an­i­mals are act­ing like peo­ple,” ex­plains Sam. “If you’re writ­ing from your heart, that plays into any group of songs.”

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