Iron & Wine – the project of songwriter Sam Beam –will play New York’s Radio City Music Hall to support upcoming album Kiss Each Other Clean later this month, one of the band’s biggest shows ever. But Beam and Co. previewed the new songs last night in a 10-song, hour-long “secret” set in front of journalists, record label staffers and others at the 250-capacity Mercury Lounge in New York’s East Village.
The gig felt like a loose rehearsal, with Beam taking gaps to figure out which guitar he’d use. “It’s nice to play new songs, but it’s nerve-wracking,” he admitted at one point. “You never know what’s going to happen, and we don’t exactly practice.”
Wearing a charcoal blazer over a sweater and sporting a large, bushy beard, Beam still looks like the film professor at the University of Miami he once was (he now lives in Austin, Texas with his five daughters). Strapping on his acoustic guitar, backed by a seven-piece band, he kicked off with the new “Tree By the River,” a nostalgic, heavy-strumming ode to a high school sweetheart with vocal harmonies.
“A lot of people I talk to say it has an AM Gold feel to it,” Beam tells Rolling Stone of the track. “They remember hearing in their parents' car growing up, and I love that music.”
It’s a new kind of album for Beam, whose last disc The Shepherd's Dog was born out of a click-track and an acoustic guitar. Kiss Each Other Clean is Iron & Wine’s first with a live band, and though the songs are some of Beam’s catchiest, he often goes for chaos elsewhere, with wailing saxophones, spacey synth and at times, Jamaican rhythms. The epic eight-minute album closer “Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me” even features a grungy Neil Young-style guitar solo.
“It’s hard to turn heads with quote-unquote 'experimental' music,” says Beam. “I like doing stuff you haven’t really heard. I like to push myself and for me it wasn’t necessarily in reaction to other people but in reaction to my own sort of development. It’s hard to get more simplistic than the early stuff and so the only place you can go is more complex at the moment.”
Beam began recording in Chicago in April with longtime producer Brian Deck, working over several months in one-week bursts. “Then I would take it home and fool around with a bunch of weird synth stuff,” says Beam. “It’s like painting where you make a couple marks, go back and look, make a couple marks, go back and do another week."
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