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Interviews, Music

Interview: Iron and Wine on “Ghost on Ghost”, Making Music and the Future

By: Luke Ottenhof (@lukeottenhof) –

It has been over a decade since South Carolina’s Samuel Beam, better known as Iron and Wine, released his debut record, The Creek Drank the Cradle. The Sub Pop product garnered the young songwriter striking praise for his lyrical dexterity, and humbling, mellow folk sounds. Reflected, but not necessarily prominent, were etchings of jazz, blues, and a broad spectrum of sounds, all buried under praise of “folk revival” and “indie acoustic”. Beam would agree that those terms don’t encompass him.

“I’ve always enjoyed those types of music,” he remarks over the phone from Toronto, his thick, southern warmth immediately obvious. “It’s been fun to be able to sort of fold my interests in those [types of music] into what we do on the stage, and one the records.”

Beam’s stage game has certainly upped a notch with the latest tour.

“I decided to take a big band out this time. It’s a 12 piece band, so there’s a horn section, a string section, backup vocals, all kinds of stuff,” Beam explains. “It lets you revisit old material and reinterpret it with this new kind of expanded pallet, but at the same time, I’ll also have everybody stop playing and I’ll do several solo songs, and even some of the new songs, done in the sort of stripped-down way.”

“I never feel any obstacles. I like the challenge of trying something new, so I like getting into unexplored territory.”

“It’s exciting in the opportunity that it gives you. It does give you an opportunity for a lot of variety over the course of the show. You can do the large arrangements, or you can scale it back. With a small ensemble, you’re kind of locked into your dynamic range.”

His latest record Ghost on Ghost, was released earlier this year in April on Nonesuch Records. The organic progression of Beam’s sound led to a record that is intrinsically unique.

“I don’t really feel like this record is too much terribly different from the last one. It feels a bit more refined, there’s definitely more going on with it than the last one.”

For Beam, making music hasn’t been marked by constraints or struggles, but rather been a very free and easy-going endeavor.

“I never feel any obstacles. I like the challenge of trying something new, so I like getting into unexplored territory,” Beam says. “I think maybe ‘cause I don’t really approach it like I have an agenda to achieve.

“When I’m starting out, it’s really just a process of exploring new things and seeing what you can create, rather than just having a specific idea of what you want in mind and trying to get to it. You just start the journey and see where it goes; it’s just a matter of exploring what’s there and what could come up.”

“[Some people] put their career first. I probably should, but I don’t.”

Another key component of Beam’s ascension through the musical ranks over the past 10 years has been a focus characterized by personal means.

“[Some people] put their career first. I probably should, but I don’t,” he laughs. “I just try to make something that I’m engaged with. That means trying something new usually. Variety never hurts, that’s for sure.”

To slap the indie-folk-rock label on Beam is to do absolutely no justice to his diversity.

“I’ve never felt painted into a corner… I don’t like the idea of making the same record twice, so its fun to be able to explore different types of sonic pallets.”

The future holds more of the same for Iron and Wine; nothing set in stone.

“I’ve been working on some new recordings, but it’s all pretty embryonic. A bit more simple, but at the same time I really like working with the strings, so I think that’ll be another similar element.”

With a laugh, Beam adds, “But at the same time, it could turn into an electronic record, I couldn’t say.”

Discussion

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  1. Pingback: YSP Sound: Iron & Wine Live in Concert (Review) | The Yonge Street Portage - September 30, 2013

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