Courtesy of the artist
Sam Beam's recordings have gone from bedroom whispers to full-throated albums over the past decade.
Courtesy of the artist
Back in 2002, Iron and Wine made delicate, tender home recordings that brought legions of fans to the band. But in those days, it wasn't much of a band at all: Iron and Wine was a man named Sam Beam, alone with his guitar.
Now, nearly a decade after its debut, the band has undergone a series of transformations. The latest album, Kiss Each Other Clean, showcases a whole new Iron and Wine.
"As someone who's working and recording music and writing songs, you just keep moving forward and don't think about it, really," Beam says. "As you get into [making music], you try to surprise yourself and push yourself into new areas. Putting out the same record is boring."
Throughout Iron and Wine's discography, Beam has used religious imagery in his lyrics, a trend he continues on Kiss Each Other Clean. He says the references help him express complex ideas in a simple way.
"I could say, 'Joe and Bob, where one is jealous and cruel and one is innocent and everything we want to be, they represent the duality that lives in each of us.' Or you could say 'Cain and Abel went to McDonald's and smoked a bag of weed.' It creates an economy of language," Beam says.
Beam says the religious themes he explores stem from his childhood in the South.
"Well, I grew up in South Carolina. It's kind of a big deal there," he tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "It's part of my upbringing. We went to church, and those are the characters [from whom] we were taught to learn about morality."
During Iron and Wine's early years, Beam taught film at the University of Miami and Miami International University of Art & Design. Drawn to a visual style of communication, Beam says he wants the listener to interpret his songs in his or her own way.
"A song doesn't succeed on whether I explain my point sufficiently," Beam says. "You set up a few different images and make connections between the two. And the listener can make their own assumptions of what things mean."
Beam says he was hesitant to enter the music business in the early 2000s. But, after nearly a decade of successful releases, it seems he made the right choice.
"I got a phone call from Sub Pop — you know, like Nirvana and Sub Pop? I asked them, 'Are you sure you have the right number?' I had children. I really had to consider," Beam says.
He ultimately succumbed to the allure of making music professionally.
"At the end of the day," Beam says, "it's a lot more fun than teaching class."