Iron & Wine
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 29 Oct
It would be difficult to find a location more at odds with the music of Sam Beam than the London hotel lobby I meet him in. Swanky, super modern and decked out in stark white clinical decor and beautiful people resplendent in rock star chic and dripping with expensive accessories it is indeed a strange place to discuss the time-honoured, fragile folk of Iron & Wine with this big bearded and fiercely private chap.
Beam is now based near Austin, Texas ‘in the middle of nowhere’, and although he clearly shuns the limelight, mumbling brief quiet responses throughout the interview in a charming southern accent, he finally opens up while talking about his stunning recently released third offering. ‘While I was mixing this record I mentioned that Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones had been an inspiration for me, although it doesn’t sound anything like it,’ he chuckles. ‘The way that Waits fearlessly experimented with strange instrumentation on it was a huge influence because it made me think I could do anything and make it work, and as a result this album is very different to anything I have done before.’
And innovative it is. The Shepherd’s Dog showcases a significantly more epic and luscious sound for the amiable singer-songwriter featuring elements of dub and African percussion, sitars and multilayered vocal harmonies while still retaining the bewitching delicacy of his previous work. Said to be borne out of Beam’s confusion with modern day America and particularly at George W Bush’s re-election as US president in 2004, it features guest contributions from members of Lambchop and Calexico and is the sound of the Iron & Wine man reassessing his approach to record-making with glorious results.
‘Collaborating with people is a fun way to take songs to places you could never have imagined they would go,’ he adds while, ironically, Alicia Keys serenades us from the stereo. ‘Some people enjoy cloning what they do and doing it the best they can but I find that so boring. For me making music is definitely more about discovering something you didn’t realise you could do.’