Making a living from music was nothing more than a pipe dream for 39-year-old Sam Beam at the turn of the 21st Century. Circa 2001, Beam had completed an MFA from Florida State University’s film school and was working as a professor of film at the International Fine Arts College in Miami (now referred to as the Art Institute). Becoming a world traveling, indie folk troubadour gracing the pages of Rolling Stone was furthest from his mind. As a hobby, the gifted artist had been messing around in his Miami Beach bedroom with a mike and eight tracks, recording tenderly wispy, introspective numbers under the pseudonym Iron and Wine–named after a Beef Iron and Wine dietary supplement Beam had found while shooting a film. The soft-spoken, hirsute musician was simply seeking an outlet for his musical creations.
Unbeknownst to Beam, this little bedroom project–filled with gentle guitar strums and captivating emotional lyrics–would become his sensational debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle. The collection of melancholic harmonies found its way to and won the favor of Sub Pop Records co-owner Jonathan Poneman. With the help of this influential Seattle label, Beam’s musical hobby catapulted into a full-time profession. “My time at Sub Pop was an invaluable experience,” says Beam in his gently affable manner to EU Jacksonville from his Chicago hotel, while hiding away from the winter chills and getting ready to embark on his Florida tour.
Beam has nothing but positive words for the prominent label that put such great grunge giants like Nirvana and Soundgarden on the map. He says he owes a lot to Sub Pop, who exposed his music to the label’s followers who “consumed whatever [the label] put out.” He is in a reminiscent mode because his most recent release, 2013’s Ghost on Ghost, was released on an entirely different label, Nonesuch Records. It’s his first on the notable Warner Brother’s subsidiary, which Beam describes as a “historically world music and jazz label.”
Coincidentally, Beam’s effort on the Nonesuch label is considerably more orchestral than his previous four works. Beam tells us it was all serendipitous however, stating that he had written and recorded the songs that are contained in his current release on the road, long before landing on the label that broke such acts as Philip Glass and the World Saxophone Quartet. He says he ended up on Nonesuch Records after releasing 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean on Warner Brothers and subsequently finding that everyone who worked with the label and on the record had “left or had been fired.”
In reference to Ghost on Ghost, critics use terms like “dreamy,” and “visceral,” and state that it’s a deviation from Beam’s standard breathy lo-fi affairs. Beam isn’t as convinced though; he says the album is not “the strangest record” he has done, and he describes it as simply “normal sounding” to his ears.
On previous records like the Shepard’s Dog, Beam has utilized a common thread (such as mentions of a canine on each track), and although he says there is no “unifying narrative,” on Ghost on Ghost he does fess up to a loose theme that runs through the record. “The stories deal with a guy and a girl who are up and against the world and are looking towards to the horizon for something better.”
Has Beam, a father to five daughters, had ever penned a song about his experiences in fatherhood? With a slight guffaw, Beam tells us he hasn’t “written any lullabies” per se, but admits to writing parts of songs about experiences with his gaggle of daughters. Sagely, Beam tells us: “When you become a parent your kids inform your perception of the world; inadvertently or not, they play a role in all my songs.” Beam is a family man at heart, who moved from his previous home near Austin, Texas, to Durham, North Carolina, to be closer to family.
About his time in Florida, Beam has fond memories. He’s regretful he hasn’t been able to tour through the Sunshine State in many years but is looking forward to performing in North Florida this time around. It’s been four years since he’s performed in Florida, according to Beam, and he is more than anxious to take the stage in his previous home state.
The casual Iron and Wine fan might not know this, but Beam is a budding visual artist. He has done the cover art for many of his previous albums. When asked if visual art was a pastime or more of a second career, Beam states that between touring, recording and raising five daughters he simply doesn’t have enough time to devote to his passion for visual arts. The multifaceted artist does admit that he would love to retire and focus on his art full-time one day. That future day might not come soon, as Beam tells us he’s already written songs for a future effort and has plans of performing at a few major summer music festivals. Between films, songs, daughters and pictures, this busy bearded bee certainly has his plate full for many, many years.