The man behind Iron and Wine9/18/2013
Samuel Beam is a laid back dude. Chatting over the phone from his home in South Carolina, his voice doesn’t have the high-mileage road weariness of William Elliot Whitmore. His words don’t have the brooding gravitas of a Nick Cave or the emotional supplication of Glen Hansard. Beam is, in short, just a nice, quiet guy. After recently moving back to his home state from Texas, Beam now splits his time between life on the road and life at home with his wife and three daughters. It’s not an even division.
“I’ve learned my lesson over the years,” Beam said with a laugh. “I don’t go out for very long — about a week, week and a half at a time, which is about how long it takes for things to fall apart around (home).”
Family life is where Beam feels most comfortable, and raising three children who aren’t in his typical demographic of fans helps to keep him grounded.
“They don’t really hear my music,” he said. “They’re used to it, because they’ve kind of grown up with it. But they like what young girls like. They listen to Bieber and Taylor Swift, so it’s not like they’re going to accidentally hear my music on the Hot 100.”
True enough. But while Beam’s brand of deep-rooted Americana balladeering may never be fodder for the I Heart Music Festival, it’s developed a strong following from fans with an appreciation for intricate storytelling.
Beam’s work is every bit as honest as Whitmore’s — an artist with whom comparisons are regularly drawn — but in a much different way. While Whitmore sings to the work ethic of the Midwestern farmer, Beam strikes at broader motifs.
“I like songs about life,” he said. “They should be fun and stuff but can also include the heavy stuff, like God, sex and death. Those are the three truisms about everyone’s life.”
Sticking to those truisms has been a formula that’s worked well for him. So much so, that when he made the jump from Seattle-based indie label Sub Pop to the multimedia giant Warner Bros, the larger label saw no need to interfere, which has allowed Beam to explore new avenues as he sees fit, while staying true to his established sound.
“There are definitely differences,” he said, talking about Sub Pop and Warner. “Large labels are money making entities, and indie labels aren’t really like that. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t passionate, hard-working people at major labels.”
“(But) as for as my process,” he continued, “I don’t think it’s changed all that much on my end. Writing the songs isn’t any different. I feel like I’m playing the same game.”
Helping maintain that feeling of continuity has been Beam’s close collaboration with producer Brian Deck, who’s played a role in Beam’s last three albums.
“I really enjoy working with Brian,” Beam said. “I think we’ll probably keep doing it as long as nothing happens to him. I’ve never needed someone to tell me how to make an album, you know? Well, maybe people will disagree with that, but I’ve never felt like I needed someone to point me in the right direction, just help me get where I’m going.”
The two are collaborating again on Beam’s next album, with Deck once again acting as Sherpa while Beam forges his own path.
“I’m not sure what it’s going to be just yet, because it’s still pretty embryonic,” Beam concluded. “But making an album is kind of like that: You pack for the journey, but you never know where you’re going to wind up.” CV