On an early tour through Colorado in 2003, Sam Beam, performing as Iron & Wine, was scheduled for a March show in Denver at the Climax Lounge, a then small rock club north of downtown. It was the night of the worst blizzard in recent memory.
“I do remember the guy from the club talking to the local opener and saying, 'These people drove in from Florida, so get your ass over here!'" recalls Beam. “We ended up playing to three or four people. That was fun.”
Since then, Iron & Wine has gone on to become one of the most popular musical projects of the indie-rock era. Part stripped-down folk, part baroque pop, Beam's music is diverse and doesn't adhere to a predetermined style — a quality very much in line with his current collaborator, Jesca Hoop, whom Beam describes as “a genre potpourri kind of artist.” The two are currently touring in support of their collaborative album, Love Letter for Fire.
“That's what music's about,” comments Beam, no stranger to multiple collaborations. “It's a collaborative art form. As an artist, hopefully you don't get to the point where you think you've figured it all out. That would be like being stuck in amber with a bunch of mosquitos and dinosaur blood. That's the only way you learn different perspectives. That's what life is about, really, collaborating with other people. In music, especially. I can play all day, and I enjoy playing by myself, but as soon as you introduce someone else's sensibilities, it gives you something else to react to, and it becomes exciting and a conversation. Conversation is always more interesting than monologue.”
Iron & Wine started out as a solo project of Beam's. He had been a film student and professor before getting to write his own songs beyond some informal guitar playing in his youth. But one day he got ahold of a four-track machine, and learning to use it connected to his other creative impulses.
“What I really like to do, and the reason I went to art school, is because I like to make things,” offers Beam. “I like to polish something and develop it into something you can present. What the four-track afforded me as an artist already familiar with polishing something into a developed thing was [taping] the little jam sessions I was doing [so that] I could listen back and react to them and make changes. And then develop it the same way I had done drawings or whatever else. That's when the lightbulb went off, because it fit into the way I worked with the other art forms I was interested in. On the one hand, [music is] a fleeting thing, but when you record it, it becomes [something] different.”
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Beam had the idea in mind to record a duet album with a female collaborator, and he stumbled across Hoop's own music in 2013. He invited Hoop on tour as an opening act to see if they could get along beyond his admiration for her music. The experience proved positive, and they discovered that their voices complemented each other's. They knew they had something. Beam went on to record vocals for Hoop's 2014 album, Undress, before the two worked together as co-songwriters on the material that became Love Letter for Fire. Because of their co-songwriter status, the album was not released as an Iron & Wine record, but rather under the name Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop. Although the new record has drawn comparisons to classic country and R&B duets, Beam had a different outlook on the project.
“I didn't have a specific thing in mind in terms of what it was going to sound like,” explains Beam. “In fact, the whole point was to find someone that I could make something that only the two of us could make together. I was looking to be surprised. That was the launching-off point of two people having a conversation. Whether it's a conversation other people can understand is up for debate. But just that the narrative could expand and give you different things to play with as a writer.”
“We picked the subject of love, and it's universal,” continues Beam. “All songs are love songs in a way, unless they're super-political, and even then they're also love songs. Everyone's experienced something along those lines, and there's so much ground to cover and so many different points to discuss and so many different stories that have to do with it, so it was a really generous topic to fall into.”
Sam Beam (of Iron & Wine) and Jesca Hoop with Marlon Williams, Tuesday, June 7, 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show, Boulder Theater, 303-786-7030, $27.50 balcony / $30 reserve seating / $32.50 golden circle seats, all ages.