Iron and Wine’s website has only seen a few news bits dropped this past year. Most recently the band announced the title of its new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, slated for release sometime in early 2011. Not only is there finally some news of a follow-up to 2007’s the Shepherd’s Dog, but also a new tour. Mastermind Sam Beam corralled the band and kicked off a small tour in Europe only a few days ago. A longer North American tour will commence for a couple of dates in October and then again in mid November.
As far as how it pertains to the neighborhood from where I am blogging from (the Greater Miami area), the band has scheduled a stop in Miami Beach on Nov. 18 (tickets went on sale just this past Friday). I do plan to be there, video camera in hand.
So that’s the news on Iron and Wine, which makes it all too suiting for another installment of … “From the Archives” where I offer up some of the older stories I had written for press, prior to this blog.
I had the honor of knowing Beam as a local, low-key musician before his sudden rise to fame after signing to Sub Pop Records in 2002. As many Iron and Wine fans know, Beam originally hailed from Miami before he turned over is home-recorded demos to Sub Pop and got national exposure (he has since moved to Austin, Texas). Click on the retro-era mug of Beam for a link to the original story I wrote for the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times”:
But I don’t want to simply dwell on the published piece. I also would like to offer some behind-the-scenes perspective on what lead to the article and some of what occurred during the writing of the piece. This two-part blog posting, will not only reveal some of the work I do to compose an artist profile but also offer some of the unpublished information on Beam before he became the rock star he is today.
I first heard Beam’s guitar playing wafting out of Churchill’s Hideaway in the Miami neighborhood of Little Haiti, sometime in the later part of 2002. This was before he had even signed to Sub Pop. I think that night was supposed to be one of Churchill’s famous noise festivals, but what I heard as I approached the front door of the famous pub was this amazing droning, progressive electric guitar music. The musicality was like nothing I had ever heard during one of those festivals, and it wasn’t just because it was melodious. It also came from the fingertips of a very talented player, and one I had never seen on the local music scene before.
The guitarist had a strange, long bushy beard, unheard of on rock musicians in that early era of the ’00s (it has since become a trend bordering on cliché). His only accompaniment was Rene Barge, a local musician and former singer of underground noise punkers Cavity, on drums. They played meandering instrumentals that sounded like math-rock merged with country. Beam plucked his guitar strings in a manner that could have fooled the audience (if they had been paying attention) into thinking there was more than one guitarist on stage. Even the ringing effects emitting from the lo-fi guitar amp added a depth to the duo’s sound that made it sound more like an quartet than a two-piece, making for a mesmerizing aural experience. I, for one, was blown away.
After the show, Barge would introduce me to the guitarist, Beam.mBeam came across as a very friendly and humble sort, appreciative of meeting a new fan. He informed me that he was about to sign a recording contract with Sub Pop, and I immediately suggested a story in the “New Times,” a publication I often freelanced for back in those days. He would later send me a CD demo of tracks that would mostly become his debut for Sub Pop, the Creek Drank the Cradle (they were essentially the unmastered tracks).
I had been expecting more of the droning, melodic prog-rock stuff I had heard at Churchill’s– the kind of music a less hyper Robert Fripp might have produced. Instead, I heard this super chill singer-songwriter stuff with a country-fied twinge. I must admit, I was at first disappointed, my expectations being what they were. When I asked Beam about the music he had created with Barge, he told me the CD he gave me is what Sub Pop was planning to release. I proceeded with the story anyhow, though it would not be until the second (and last) solo live show I saw of Beam that he had truly won me over again with this atmospheric, mostly acoustic side.
I describe my first live Beam solo experience a bit in the article above. What I never mentioned in the article, though it would have been a colorful detail, was how terribly Sam was screwing up his songs in front of the small audience. Though intimate, the spectators also featured some big shots like the CEO of Sub Pop Records, Jonathan Poneman, and Isaac Brock of Mouse on Mars, who wanted Iron and Wine to open on a tour for his side project, Ugly Casanova. A smattering of movers and shakers from the local music were also there (some just to meet Brock). There was a barbecue brewing and Sam was there with some of his family. It was all real casual and cool. But when Sam took the stage, with his sister next to him on vocals and tambourine, he would start playing but seemingly trip on the tricky guitar lines of his creation. I could also tell he was shaking a bit with nerves. I thought, man, is this guy really going to get signed? Is this all a joke? But Brock and Poneman were super supportive and positive of Beam’s talent. Beam later admitted to me he was nervous as hell to be playing in front of these guys.
The next time I saw Beam, he took the stage at the One Ninety restaurant and club, in October of 2002. This was the show the article was promoting. The venue was an obscure spot for local music that I had never been to or since for a live show. Besides myself, in attendance were only the patrons of the establishment, some students of Beam (he was teaching a cinematography class at Miami College at the time), my then “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” editor, Jeff Stratton and another local music writer who had also recently written a piece on Iron and Wine, Shawn Bean. On stage, it was just Beam and his guitar, and I finally heard the music as it was meant to be heard. He played the guitar with amazing prowess, letting the delicate, swaying melodies flow, as he sung in that beautiful hushed voice. He was relaxed and jovial, as he students hooted in support.
After the show, I had him sign my just-released Creek Drank the Cradle CD that night (see image at left), on my editor’s suggestion, as he felt Beam was going to go places. The only other local musician I had seen go places up until that point was Brian Warner, a.k.a. Marilyn Manson , and that was way back in 1995. I never felt any inclination to have my CDs and records signed by local musicians. In this case, though, I was glad I did.
Though Beam had later recommended we hang out and finally go over our shared love of cinema (I too had once taught a college film class), I never followed up. The next I knew, Thurston Moore had become an early fan and I heard his music accompanying an M&Ms commercial in a movie theater. I’d never personally hear from Beam again.
So, that’s what I think about when I recall this story. In the second part of this post, I will offer some of the straight-forward Q&A culled from emails between myself and Beam, Barge, and Sub Pop CEO Jonathan Poneman (besides email, there were also telephone and face-to-face meetings that added to the short profile linked above). In the meantime, I leave you with a video I recorded of Iron and Wine performing “Upward Over the Mountain” at Club Revolution in Fort Lauderdale, on April 12, 2008. This is the full song without cuts, sounding pretty damn good: