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In a small room in his Miami Beach home, with an open mike and eight tracks, Sam Beam laid down lush acoustic plucks and whispered vocals, songs capable of rocking you into sweet dreams on the front porch. With lemonade. And if his demo had never ended up penetrating the ears of those at Seattle's mythic label Sub Pop, the fragile songs may have served only as lullabies for his two children.
"It was completely unexpected. Until then I was thinking of putting [the record] out independently," Beam says of his road to Sub Pop. "I've always just done [music] for myself. I would love if I could make a living off it. I never really planned on it, but Sub Pop has been telling me that I can." A professor of film at the International Fine Arts College, Beam credits celluloid envy with bringing him to Miami, his home for the past three years. With a day job and a night vision, that little room birthed his musical moniker, Iron and Wine, and The Creek Drank the Cradle, a debut written, performed, and produced solely by Beam.
Covered in a napkin-thin short-sleeve shirt and facial hair of Biblical proportions, Beam fields questions with measured tone, his eyes bright and calm. "If I sold 300 copies I'd be excited, but like any art form, you put it out and hopefully people like it. Luckily I have another job," Beam laughs, the hand on his chin sinking out of sight into the beard. "It's not party music, more like sit-at-home music," he says, reflecting his own background in the sit-at-home or on-the-porch state of the North Carolina of his childhood, one that included listening to his parents' Fleetwood Mac and Carole King records.
The Creek Drank the Cradle, due out September 24, is eleven folk-tinged ditties that resemble a long-lost twelve-inch from the Library of Congress. The opening track, "Lion's Mane," introduces instrument after instrument with jazzlike respect -- acoustic guitar begets slide guitar begets banjo. Beam's voice tucks you in, moving from near sigh to falsetto. But the LP's greatest asset is its warm, raw sound, the result of "doing it in my room with open mikes. You get a lot of room tone, and it sounds like a lot of old recordings, field recordings. I thought about going into a studio, and I'm sure I eventually will, but right now I like this sound." Also a reflection of his background as a photography major at Virginia Commonwealth University, his song titles are reminiscent of those of photographs: "Bird Stealing Bread," "An Angry Blade," "Muddy Hymnal."
Following a release party in Seattle on September 25 and a Sub Pop showcase in New York, Beam, 28, looks forward to spending time with his baby daughter, who was born at home. "I'm still in shock, I think, still coming to grips with her being here," Beam says. Likely, that little house will keep birthing various forms of physical and musical life.