After his early records were steeped in folk, blues, and country, subsequent albums have drawn influence from jazz, R&B and soul. All of his musical influences are American, placing Beam in an ongoing tradition. “We use American sounds: slide guitar, blues elements, jazz elements,” he says. “America is the setting in which I write songs and my songs take place. As a writer, you need to understand where your story takes place. Ours take place in, usually, the South-East of America, and reflect that culture.”
His sound grew bigger, in both sound and scope, on 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean and 2013’s Ghost On Ghost. Then Beam made a couple of collaborative albums with Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell (2015’s Sing Into My Mouth) and folkie songwriter Jesca Hoop (2016’s Love Letter For Fire). Returning to Iron & Wine, his sixth album Beast Epic stripped things back.
“I was writing these more introspective songs and it seemed appropriate to do a quieter, more acoustic-sounding record,” Beam says. “[Ghost On Ghost] was so large … it had the horn sections, string sections, vocal arrangements. It was pretty big, pretty dense. So, it was easy to step away from that, as a breath of fresh air.”
Beast Epic was also released on Iron & Wine’s original label, Sub Pop, which doubled down on connections to the project’s early days. “That didn’t occur to me while I was writing it,” Beam says.
“But, as I was getting ready to put it out … I made a comment … that you follow this path, and you think you’re going in a straight line, but really you’re walking in a circle, and the path has led you back to where you began.”
Iron & Wine will play the Melbourne Recital Centre on Wednesday, May 23, and the Sydney Opera House on Friday, May 25 and Saturday, May 26.