I don’t have time for sealing things in amber
AN AUdIENCE WITH IRON & WINE
“All my friends have beards and all musicians I know have beards… we’re just a lazy bunch of bums! I was worried my facial hair was more interesting than the music I was making!” Interview by michael bonner
IT’S early morning at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam has taken time out from the July 4 holiday celebrations to speak to Uncut. “I’ve brought the kids to visit my folks,” he says. It transpires that Beam has five daughters. “Most of the day is pretty free now that they’re in school,” he explains. “I used to have to carve out time to work, now I can treat the time a little more frivolously. I’m always working. I used to be more focused, now it’s notebooks all over the place. I don’t push it any more. There’s a lot of hours in the day to do other things.”
Over the past 15 years since Iron & Wine’s debut, The Creek Drank The Cradle, Beam has refined his brand of hushed, hesitant Americana to incorporate folk balladry, funereal elegies and lustrous blue-eyed soul. His latest, Beast Epic, offers a further upgrade on his sound. “This is my sixth collection of new Iron & Wine material and I’m happy to say that it’s my fourth for Sub Pop Records,” he says. “It’s a warm and serendipitous time to be reuniting with my Seattle friends, because I feel there’s a certain kinship between this new collection of songs and my earliest material, which Sub Pop was kind enough to release.”
Meanwhile, Beam is enjoying a bit of downtime before he heads out on a run of dates in North America: “This is the quiet before the storm,” he says with a laugh. “I’m trying to soak up my kids’ faces!”
What makes a good album title? Bryn Hughes, Cardiff That’s like, “What makes a good recipe?” It’s different for everybody.
I like words, so if the words resonate in a fun way, it doesn’t really matter how it relates to the body of music it’s titling. I usually go through and pick up some lyric from one of the songs that I feel relates to the body of work. But it’s really just out of laziness. I’ve always liked Rubber Soul – it relates to the music, but in a better way than any of the lyrics. Beast Epic is a literary term for a story like The Tortoise And The Hare, where there are animals talking and acting like humans. I thought it was a fun way to describe our more base nature. It can be a Trump reference, if you like – you can apply it to whatever you like.
That song in Twilight. How did that come about? Chris Nicolas, Weybridge
Lots of luck! The story that I’ve heard is that the album [The Shepherd’s Dog] had just come out and Kristen Stewart was listening to it on her headphones when the filmmakers were blocking the prom scene. As the song “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” was working in her head, she suggested they use it to block the scene. So they did, intending on switching it later to something that other people might really want to hear. But you know how it is, you hear it too many times and it sticks – so that’s what happened. Am I fan of Young Adult vampire fiction? Sure, it’s very inspiring for making music!
You’ve written many songs over the years – are there any particular ones that you don’t enjoy playing any more?
Zach Ladd, via email It’s always a challenge to play a song a million times, when what you really enjoy about music is what’s lying undiscovered around the corner. But at the same time, it’s a challenge that’s fun to take up. I’ve always found that if you’re willing to look at your work as a capsule of what you were doing at that moment – instead of a eulogy that has to walk with you for the rest of your life and describe you in completeness – it’s fun. You can breathe a new energy into a song that might have been lying dead on the table. It depends on how precious you want to be! I don’t have time for sealing things in amber.
Iron & Wine have covered Stereolab, Spiritualized and New Order. Are there any ’80s/’90s UK indie bands you’d deem too difficult to cover?
Neal Reeves, Manchester No. I have such affection for that music – it had a lot to do with my sonic upbringing. It was around; if I could find it, anyone could find it! I was a Cure fanatic. I loved Robert Smith and a lot of bands along those lines. But that’s what was in the water at the time. I feel like from the beginning, Iron &
Twilight’s Kristen Stewart let The Shepherd’s Dog loose on set…