Incendiary interviews Iron & Wine

After the initial greeting and pleasantries were exchanged, we retired to a wooden picnic table, Sam lit up a smoke, I pressed record on my little machine and we began to talk.

After the initial greeting and pleasantries were exchanged, we retired to a wooden picnic table, Sam lit up a smoke, I pressed record on my little machine and we began to talk.



Incendiary interviews Iron & Wine


Sam Beam is, as far as we here at Incendiary are concerned, one of the greatest songwriter’s currently working, so, when the latest Iron & Wine cd dropped through the letterbox, we got so excited we had to put the kettle on and bring out the Ginger Nuts. The Shepherd’s Dog is a fantastic record, (you can read our review right here), and is easily as good as anything Iron & Wine have released previously and has been in common circulation on the Incendiary playlist for the past couple of months. Then, when we found out that Sam would be available for interview, well, we got so enthusiastic we had to bring out the bourbon creams to celebrate.


And do it was that, on a beautiful August day (the only bloody one!) I found Sam Beam relaxing in the gardens of the Hotel Vondel in Amsterdam, which would be one of the most calming places in Amsterdam if a) there weren’t so many workmen around b) there weren’t as many loud humming noises coming from the sheds out back – quite worrying – and c) it wasn’t a stone’s throw from Vondel Park itself. Still, it was calmer than the Incendiary shed and there weren’t as many biscuit crumbs lying around so who was I to complain?


After the initial greeting and pleasantries were exchanged, we retired to a wooden picnic table, Sam lit up a smoke, I pressed record on my little machine and we began to talk.


INCENDIARY: I hear you’ve moved over to Austin?


SAM BEAM: Yeah, we’ve moved over to Texas.


IN: Well Austin‘s not exactly like the rest of Texas though, is it?


SB: No, it’s our little beacon of hope. It’s nice. Well, we live about an hour outside of Austin, out in the country, but Austin‘s the closest place so we go get groceries and stuff. It’s nice.


IN: Cool, I’ll have to get out there sometime. I’ve heard so many good things about it. But you’re just over here on a promo thing at the minute, yeah?


SB: Yeah just a quick week of promo.


IN: You excited about the album coming out?


SB: Yeah well I’ve been sitting on it for ages. (laughs) I’ve been sitting on the songs for years. Like at least, three years. I mean we started recording about a year and a half ago and we were gonna put it out a bit earlier but we just had another baby in April so I put it off for a bit. (laughs)


IN: Well I can see how that might alter your plans somewhat.


SB: Yeah, but I don’t mind. It’s been a nice feeling.


IN: And you recorded this all at home again.


SB: Yeah. I did the first one at home because I was just demoing stuff for fun and then I tried the studio a couple of times and although I’m proud of what we got I just was never really satisfied with the time clock. So I’ve always been kind of working towards some autonomy and being able to put together a studio at the house.


IN: It feels quite polished though. It doesn’t have that stereotypical, low key, home made feeling to it.


SB: Yeah well it’s not that hard. It’s cheap to get good gear now so you might as well spend the money that you would spend in a studio on your own gear. I mean, if you have the inclination.


IN: I can remember reading a while ago about when you worked with Calexico and how you said that you’d wanted to work with them earlier on in your career, like even with the first album.


SB: Oh we had talked about it.


IN: Because I caught a show of yours in Haarlem last year, with Calexico.


SB: Oh right, yeah, that festival. Thanks man.


IN: Yeah


SB: That was a fun festival. A good mix of people.


IN: I was surprised when I read about you collaborating with them because at first I couldn’t imagine how it was going to work. Then the EP came out and I really liked that but then, seeing you play with them last year, it just made so much sense.


SB: Oh thanks, thanks man.


IN: But was the In The Reins similar to how you wanted the first album to sound?


SB: Not necessarily. Well I guess it’s kind of misleading because it was just an idea that we threw around. Howard Reynolds and I, the guy that put out that record – and he’s my manager now – we were talking, you know around the time that Sub Pop called me, he called me and I was considering putting out the record with him too. So we were just talking. I don’t think it ever got past that but we had been talking about working together for quite a while before we did the record together.


For some reason, people assume that I have carved this sound, this particular style of making songs, as a purposeful thing and it really wasn’t. It’s all kind of intuitive. It exists in a tactile way for other people more than it does for me. For me it’s always changing. Working with Calexico, I didn’t think twice about it. For me they’re just songs and you can record them however you like and I was looking forward to making them sound different. It wasn’t a case of trying to bring Calexico into an Iron & Wine song, I was more interested in what the combination would sound like.


IN: Well it’s a fine example of that though, and I’m sure I’ve probably been guilty of this on occasions myself, that lazy journalism thing where whatever you are when you first get noticed and somebody writes about you, is what you remain for ever more. It’s quite hard to break away from that.


SB: Well we’re all guilty of that. I mean, we all have a favourite Dylan record. It’s the same with any band that has some kind of longevity. Everybody has their favourite record and wishes that they’d done more records like that but there’s also so much music now that you’re actually trying to look for something with a stamp on it. You want it to have some kind of character to it and then if they lose that or it changes you’re lost again.


IN: Well I’ve been listening to the new album all week and it’s a fascinating record. Now this might sound horrible and I really don’t mean it to be (Sam laughs) but I really can’t get my head around it. Every time I listen to it it makes me feel completely different and I mean that in a good way.


SB: Thanks. No, man, I take that as a compliment.


IN: A friend of mine asked me to describe it to them and the only way I could come up with was to say that, you know when you’ve just had an argument with someone you love and your head’s just filled with allsorts of feeling and emotions. You’re angry, guilty, shocked, everything all at once and you’re just kind of lost and bewildered by everything for a moment. That’s what The Shepherd’s Dog feels like to listen to. That confused mind thing.


SB: (laughs) Thank you, that’s flattering. I mean it’s something that I try to do in writing the songs. The music is kind of intuitive but when writing the songs I try more to describe and suggest than I do explain. I mean I rarely have a point to make so there’s no judging whether the song is successful or not on those terms. So in that way, as long as you’re painting portraits of things or places or people or things that happen, you treat them like a poem. The meaning that people attach to them can change and that’s what I like in other people’s music. I like it when you can revisit a song and get something else out of it so I try to do that to.


You know, I might say "he says this" or "she says that" but I’ll never write "and that means this" because then you just spoil it. That’s the trick of poetry. It’s the difference between poetry and essays, I suppose.


IN: There’s a definite narrative sense to your songs though.


SB: Yeah well I like stories. I try to relay and reflect the human experience in some way and that’s using stories. In order to have a story you need to have some kind of conflict so I’m sure that there are people who think that I’m some kind of depressed person (laughs) but it’s just a technique. It’s just a way of telling stories.


Words: Damian Leslie


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