As promised in the first part of this two-part series of “From the Archives,” here are some samples of the reporting I did to augment my earlier sit down with Sam Beam of Iron and Wine, just before he signed a deal with Sub Pop Records. This reporting resulted in a story in the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times,” which you can read here.
First, here is a simple between Q&A Sam and I compiled from email that followed our face-to-face interviews (This was mostly to flesh out details. I always have more questions as I begin writing a piece, and I would never call any story I turn in a finished work, just turned in at deadline, so I probably could have kept asking him questions)…
This was in response to an email dated May 19, 2002:
Hans Morgenstern: What singers would you consider an influence on your music?
Sam Beam: Lots of influences, primarily J.J. Cale and Nick Drake.
HM: There are lots of references to Christian imagery in your lyrics. Are you Christian rock? Maybe a follower?
SB: I’m not a Christian. I think the imagery slips in there so often due to the fact that I draw so much of my musical inspiration from the area where I grew up. I was raised in South Carolina, and the Bible belt tends to leave a very lasting impression.
HM: Did you know a friend of yours gave your demo to someone at Sub Pop?
SB: No, I didn’t know. His name is Ben Bridwell*, and he and I had been sending each other our music for quite some time (he was part of a band called Carissa’s Wierd) and Subpop was interested in doing a 7-inch with them and so he kind of stuck some of my music in their ears while he had their attention. I think half of the city of Seattle has heard of Iron and Wine thanks to Ben Bridwell. He’s really quite a saint.
HM: Did you record these songs to get signed?
SB: No, I had no real plans for getting signed. In fact, I was doing research at the time in order to release it myself independently. I honestly didn’t think anyone would be interested. Luckily I was wrong. Personally, I never really liked the idea of making a demo. I believe the music should come about for a different reason anyway. If I were to have sat down and tried to write songs in order to be signed, or to please some people that I’ve never met before, the songs probably would never have come about. Songwriting is hard enough without the added grief.
HM: How did you wind up on the Yeti compilation?
SB: Ben Bridwell again. He is good friends with Mike McGonigal and when [McGonigal] was putting together the Yeti #1, he asked if he could use one of the songs. It’s funny, Mike says he got emails from Czechoslovakia saying, “Iron and wine… what the shit fuck… where I find.” That was the defining moment, when I realized I had finally reached the Czechs… I knew I had a calling…
HM: How did you feel when you heard Sub Pop wanted to release your album?
SB: It was great.
HM: Did you ever think you’d release your songs on such a big shot label?
SB: Are they a big shot label? When I ask most of my friends in Miami if they’ve ever heard of Sub Pop, they say, “Who?” No, I never dreamed of it. It’s really very flattering.
HM: Why were you doing music in the first place?
SB: It seems like I’ve always been doing music. Ever since I got a guitar when I was 14, it’s just been a hobby of mine. It wasn’t until I came across a 4-track recorder a couple of years ago that I started thinking a little more seriously about it. Until then, it was just something to do in those spare moments of the day while trying to resist watching television.
SB: Yes, she does have red hair.
HM: How old is she?
HM: What’s your heritage (what part of Europe are your roots from?)?
SB: Scotch, Irish and English (hence all my internal conflict).
HM: Did you ever think you would be a making a career out of making music?
SB: No, in fact my father had some experience with music promotion when he was in college and warned me very early on not to look at it as anything but a hobby. I think it stuck, I never thought of it seriously as a career. He’s right in a lot of ways, the history of the music industry was written by thieves. So I just spent my spare time playing and writing out of pure enjoyment. I’d still do it, to be honest. The record deal and tour still seem pretty unreal.
HM: If you can, would you be satisfied to do that?
SB: Who doesn’t dream of being rewarded just for doing something they love to do?
HM: What’s it like to get your hobby turned into a career?
SB: When it happens, ask me again.
I think I hit them all, let me know if you need anything else. Good luck Hans and thanks for all your interest–
Talk to you soon-
* * *
You never interview just one person for an artist profile, and as I first saw Sam performing with Rene Barge of Cavity on that fateful night described in Part 1 of this post, I had to include him. After all, he was the more famous of the duo at the time. Plus, it turned out that odd pairing at Churchill’s was no fluke. They would play in that format again at now defunct club called Billabong (I believe it was located in Hollywood, Florida), a week or so after the publication of the original article.
Were there ever recordings made of the two playing these meandering prog-rock instrumentals? I would love to know. I had an old cell number for Barge, but I have not been able to reach him.
Rene Barge interview:
HM: Why is Cavity no more for you?**
RB: I did not feel ourselves as a unit. My needs at this time have been shifting
towards things more personal.
HM: How does it feel to turn from frontman to drummer?
RB: It’s quite different, focuses shift, so do sensibilities.
HM: What do you bring to Iron and Wine, creatively?
RB: The drums and percussion that is required. A patient and easy drumming that
locks into and rides just beneath intricate guitar playing. Oddly enough, it’s
got to find its place without interruption.
HM: Have you ever played drums before?
RB: About 10 years ago.
HM: Will you do anything else but play drums in this project?
RB: Sure, in time.
HM: Is this your full-time music job or are you keeping busy with other things?
RB: This is full-time and I do keep busy with other things.
HM: Are you going to tour with I&W, if need be?
RB: Yes. We leave on tour June 15 throughout the NE and MW with Ugly Cassanova and The Kingsbury Manx.
HM: How do you like being linked to Sub Pop Records?
RB: The folks at Sub Pop are fantastic, they are a true pleasure.
* * *
It’s Hans at the Miami New Times. I was just finishing up the Iron and Wine story, which we will run before Sam heads out on the road, and I wanted to have something from you in the piece (which is due Monday). Can you answer a couple of quick questions for me?
Jonathan Poneman: My pleasure!
HM: First, what is your title at Sub Pop?
JP: CEO, I guess.
HM: How did you come across Iron and Wine?
JP: I was introduced to Iron & Wine by way of a CD compilation that accompanied the first edition of “Yeti”, a pop culture ‘zine published in Seattle. I was initially entranced by the meditative quality of the music. Eventually I became enthralled by Sam’s voice and words.
HM: How soon after hearing their recording did you want to sign them?
JP: After a little badgering, Sam sent Sub Pop two CDs full of songs. After listening to both CDs once through, I was utterly convinced that working with Iron & Wine would be a tremendous opportunity and an even bigger honor.
Having now listened to both CDs dozens & dozens of times, I can say in full confidence that Sam is one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.
HM: What did you hear in Iron and Wine’s music that made you want to sign them to your label?
JP: Great songwriting– eloquent, spare and timeless. Beyond that, Sam has a knack for arranging that makes each song quietly arresting.
JP: Yes, he is.
HM: Why end that club?
JP: This’ll be the second time that we’ve ended it. It may return someday. It just felt like the time to give it a rest for a spell. If we had a dozen singles of Iron & Wine quality laying about, we’d certainly keep it going for another year.
Thanks! That’s it. I hate to do this to you, but I need your answers as soon as humanly possible, as my story is due no later than Tuesday, first thing in the morning. Much appreciated! Thanks for taking the time to do this. It’s a big deal that a guy from little Miami is signed to your prestigious label.
* * *
So those are some of the emails containing a bit of the raw information that would form the story published in the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” way back in 2002, just before Beam found his career in music. I leave you with the last song I recorded of him performing at Club Revolution, in Fort Lauderdale on April 12, 2008. It’s the full song of “Naked As We Came.” It’s a fitting end to this 2-part blog post, as it features just Sam and his guitar, like back in the old days, except on a bigger stage.
*He was singer in Carissa’s Wierd at the time of this interview but has since moved on as the frontman of Band of Horses.
**Cavity broke up about a year before this article was printed.