Iron and Wine

Scraggy bearded cult folk maverick Sam Beam gives Hamza Khan a little bit of insight into his new album and the sorry state of his Hallowe'en costume collection.

Feature by Hamza K | 08 Oct 2007
Iron and Wine's beauty perhaps lies most in its universality. Everybody from soul seeking bankers to new world hippies seem to interpret something special in Sam Beam's hushed lyrics. But, even if the songs are open letters, the man remains a mystery, as The Skinny recently found out.

You introduce a lot of new instrumental elements on your latest album, are you shifting focus away from the lyrics?

"Each song starts with me, a guitar and a notebook and I'm not so worried about people missing something. They have more to listen to, you could sit and listen to the arrangements and take another pass and just listen to the lyrics. It's all kind of intuitive. I thought there was a general unrest in a lot of the songs and I tried to reflect that in the arrangements. So it does take the focus away but in the earlier albums it was so easy to concentrate on the lyrics because there wasn't really much else, just a few plucks… which was cool but I don't want to keep putting out the same album."

The Press response has been very positive so far – indeed, we gave it four Skinnys - but do you ever worry about a critical backlash?

"I don't really read the reviews. When I put the first record out I read them because I'd never done it before and I was interested. But reading a good or bad review doesn't help you put pen to paper, you either get too self conscious or over confident. So I just don't."

The new album is more directly Christian at points, was a religious direction a conscious move?

"Well there's a Christian character about it and Christian ideas. I'm not Christian and I don't think the songs are about that, it talks about a lot of characters from the Bible because that's the context, it's a huge part of the culture so I don't shy away from it. It actually makes it easier. If you have a character named George you have to define everything but if you say Cain and Able you can start a lot further along because you have context."

Is that to say you're trying to find universal truths in human nature?

"I don't know, it's kind of easy to look back on the biblical songs and say they're more universal. The album is more social in context than a lot of the older songs but there has definitely been this kind of thing happening in the other records."

You have a lot of unrecorded/unreleased songs, are you a prolific writer or has it all accumulated over the years?

"It's probably more the latter, I do work consistently, for better or worse, but I try to treat it like a job so if you sit down for a little bit each day you end up with a lot of material. But I'm always writing, I just always take ideas as they come, if I have time to record something I'll do it. It's a bit of both really."

Did you expect your cover of Such Great Heights to receive so much attention?

"Ben [Gibbard of The Postal Service] asked me to do it for the b-side of the single and the guy from the movie [Braff] I guess just asked if he could use it. But, definitely, when that movie came out we had more people at our shows, it had a huge impact."

You're playing in Edinburgh around Hallowe'en, have you thought about a costume or are you too old to dress up?

"I'm not too old but I hadn't thought about it yet, I thought I'd just wing it."
Iron and Wine play the Queens Hall, Edinburgh on 29 Oct
The Shepherd's Dog is out now on Sub Pop