Iron & Wine is the stage name for Samuel Beam. The sounds of Iron and Wine originally were filled with acoustic and slide guitar, as well as softly spoken vocals. However, since Iron & Wine began producing music commercially in 2002, the sounds have evolved to a more bluesy and upbeat jam band style.
Before performing as Iron & Wine, Beam had a brief encounter with Hollywood as a lighting engineer. He worked on the movie The Patriot featuring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. Afterward Beam got a job as a college professor who taught film and cinematography at the University of Miami. He spent his spare time writing and recording songs in his basement, as well as expanding his family; as of 2012 he and his wife, Kim, have five daughters. His family has had a constant influence in his decision to commit to his music, which has thus far, been rather successful.
As a child growing up in Irmo, South Carolina, Beam remembers being obsessed with art and music. He recalls, "In my room, the radio was really always forever on. I grew up drawing. I was always drawing, all the time, with the radio on." As a teen, Beam moved to Richmond, Virginia where he studied fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth University. He had goals of becoming a painter, but ended up studying photography. Eventually he transferred to Florida State University to study cinematography, which is where he met and fell in love with Kim, who would later become his wife.
Iron & Wine's lyrics, which are written entirely by Beam, use quite a few references to religion. During an interview with NPR, Beam explained that "It's part of my upbringing. We went to church, and those are the characters [from whom] we were taught to learn about morality." Beam further explained that he prefers to use religious inference to explain otherwise complex moral issues and ideals.
The label that signed Iron & Wine for Beam's debut album was SubPop Records of Seattle, Washington. Other well-known bands to record under that label include Nirvana, Flight of the Conchords, and Soundgarden, which are more related to rock and grunge than the folk sounds of Iron & Wine.
Iron & Wine's debut album, The Creek Drank the Cradle
, was recorded on tape in Beam's home; he never even entered a music performing studio until his second album. After the release of The Creek Drank the Cradle
in 2002, Beam recalls his first experiences touring. It was a "rough" time for him, he said. "I could hear people down the front talking about the most mundane stuff, [like] their grocery lists." Within the same year, a remix by Beam, "Such Great Heights
" by The Postal Service, propelled Iron & Wine into stardom after being used in an M&Ms commercial. That song was also recorded on the soundtrack to the flick Garden State
By 2011, Iron & Wine took the next step up from an acoustic solo performer with the addition of Calexico, a rock band that utilizes synthesizers, saxophones, and drums. In an effort to explain his transformation, Beam stated, "It's no fun for me [to make the same record], and it's no fun for anybody else to listen to. I'd much rather hear someone try something new and f--k up, rather than just play it safe and make the same record I already have."
Asked by Uncut how his religious upbringing affected him, Sam Beam replied:
"In lots of ways! Religion was a huge part of how I understood the world, and when I left that, it all came crashing down. I'm still dealing with it. Grand shifts in perspective are really disturbing for people, especially young people who are still carving out their idea of how the world works. But I feel like that's the rite of passage everyone goes through, especially in their late teens and early twenties. Mine was no exception, it was just a bit more violent in its move from a religious idea to a secular idea. It changed the way I trusted information a lot."