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(Soundbite of song, "Bird Stealing Bread")

IRON AND WINE: Tell me baby, tell me. Are you still on the stoop watching the windows close?

GUY RAZ, host:

This is the music that made legions of fans fall in love with the band Iron and Wine back in 2002. But actually, at that point, it wasn't much of a band at all. Iron and Wine was one man named Sam Beam alone with his guitar. The songs were barely whispers, delicate, tender home recordings. Now, a decade into his recording career, Sam Beam has gone through a series of transformations.

His latest album is called "Kiss Each Other Clean," and it's a whole new Iron and Wine.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Burned Hand")

IRON AND WINE: (Singing) When the arrogant goddess of love came to steal my shoes.

RAZ: That is the same artist. And Sam Beam is here with me in NPR's performance studio.

Sam Beam, welcome to NPR.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SAM BEAM (Singer): Hey, Guy. How's it going?

RAZ: What a contrast in sounds. I mean, obviously, a major change.

Mr. BEAM: That's funny. I hadn't listened to them back, you know, side by side like that. That was interesting. As someone who's working and recording music and writing songs, I mean, you just keep moving forward.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. BEAM: You know, you don't think about really.

RAZ: I mean, there was a saxophone in that and...

Mr. BEAM: Hell, yeah. There's a saxophone.

RAZ: Amazing. I mean, it has this kind of J.J. Cale southern shuffle sound to it.

Mr. BEAM: Yeah.

RAZ: And - but you - for such a long time, you were a man with a guitar.

Mr. BEAM: I remember, you know, the early days trying to find the right setting for, you know, a group of lyrics or something, you know, the perfect stage for a set of lyrics. Whereas now, you know, as you get into it, you keep trying to surprise yourself and push yourself into new areas because putting out the same record's boring.

RAZ: I want to take a listen to another song off the new Iron and Wine album. This one's called "Walking Far from Home."

(Soundbite of song, "Walking Far from Home")

IRON AND WINE: (Singing) I was walking far from home, where the names were not burned along the wall. Saw a wet road form a circle and it came like a call, came like a call from the Lord.

RAZ: That song ends with a line: It came like a call from the Lord. And then...

Mr. BEAM: Yeah. Right.

RAZ: ...a lot of religious themes scattered...

Mr. BEAM: Yeah. Yeah.

RAZ: ...you know, throughout your work. Why do you keep going back to...

Mr. BEAM: Well, I mean, I grew up in South Carolina. You know, it's kind of a big deal there.

RAZ: Is it a big deal to you?

Mr. BEAM: Well, you know, it's part of my upbringing. We went to church. And, you know, that's the characters that we were taught to learn about morality. And then, you know, at the same time, it's an easy way to say - for instance, there's a song that includes Cain and Abel.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. BEAM: And I could say, you know, Joe and Bob who represent, one is jealous and cruel, one is innocent and, you know, everything we want to be, but at the same time they represent the duality that lives in each of us. You know, you could get into all of that, but - or I could just say Cain and Abel went to McDonald's and smoked a bag of weed and, you know, and it means something else, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BEAM: It creates an economy of language.

RAZ: Sam, since I have you here in the studio, I wonder if I could get you -and you have a guitar with you, not your saxophone - this time - but I was wondering if I...

Mr. BEAM: That wouldn't be fun, trust me.

RAZ: I'm sure it'd be fun. I'm hoping that you could play us a song.

Mr. BEAM: Sure. This song is called "Tree by the River"

(Soundbite of song, "Tree by the River")

Mr. BEAM: (Singing) Mary Anne, do you remember the tree by the river when we were 17? The dark canyon wall, the call and the answer, and the mare in the pasture, pitch black and baring its teeth. I recall the sun in our faces, stuck and leaning on graces and being strangers to change. The radio and the bones we found frozen, and all the thorns and the roses beneath your windowpane.

Now I'm asleep in a car. I mean the world to a potty-mouth girl and a pretty pair of blue-eyed birds. Time isn't kind or unkind, you like to say, but I wonder to who and what it is you're saying today.

Now I'm asleep in a car. I mean the world to a potty-mouth girl and a pretty pair of blue-eyed birds. Time isn't kind or unkind, you like to say, but I wonder to who and what it is you're saying today.

Mary Anne, do you remember the tree by the river when we were 17? Dark canyon road, I was coy in the half-moon, happy just to be with you and you were happy for me.

RAZ: What a beautiful song.

Mr. BEAM: Well, thanks.

RAZ: That was Sam Beam. He is Iron and Wine, and that song's called "Tree by the River." It's on his new record, "Kiss Each Other Clean." Again, what a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful song.

Mr. BEAM: Thanks, Guy. Appreciate that.

RAZ: And that song, like a lot of your songs, is so visual. It's almost like you're describing scenes from a silent film. The tree by the river, the dark canyon road...

Mr. BEAM: Right.

RAZ: ...the half-moon. Do you try to make it visual?

Mr. BEAM: I guess, you know, I went to an art school. I got into cinema.

RAZ: You even taught filmmaking at the time.

Mr. BEAM: Yeah. So, you know, I'm drawn to this sort of visual communication style. I find it leaves room for the viewer or the listener or whatever to participate with you. The song doesn't succeed on whether I explain my point sufficiently. 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 -you know, a tree by the river, you know, the tree means something, a river means something, then what you describe after that paints those images, you know?

RAZ: You are - I mean, you have a film background. You kind of fell into the music business. I mean, this was your hobby, you said.

Mr. BEAM: Right. Yes. I got a phone call from Sub Pop, this record label from Seattle. You know, Sub Pop, like Nirvana Sub Pop.

RAZ: Yeah. Right.

Mr. BEAM: And so, I was like, are you sure you have the right number?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BEAM: You know, at the same time, I had children. So it wasn't like I could just drop everything and go do music. I had to really consider. But at the end of the day, it seemed a lot more fun than teaching class, to be honest.

RAZ: Yeah. That's Sam Beam. He's better known as Iron and Wine. His new album is called "Kiss Each Other Clean."

Sam Beam, thank you so much.

Mr. BEAM: Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: And would you mind leaving us with one more song before you take off?

Mr. BEAM: Sure, sure. This song is called "Half Moon."

(Soundbite of song, "Half Moon")

RAZ: And if you'd like to hear both of the songs Sam Beam performed in our studio and his Tiny Desk concert, they're at our website, nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Half Moon")

Mr. BEAM: (Singing) Halfway home in the hilltop trees and all our footprints in the snow and the evening glow leaving. Low night noise in the wintertime, I wake beside you on the floor...

RAZ: And for Saturday, that's Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on a new podcast, Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. We post a new episode on Sunday nights. Subscribe or listen at iTunes or at npr.org/weekendatc. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

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