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ACL Music Fest Saturday Interviews

Sam Beam on saxophones and subjectivity

By Austin Powell, Fri., Sept. 16, 2011

ACL Music Fest Saturday Interviews

Iron & Wine

4pm, AMD stage

Sam Beam was well aware of the risks of Iron & Wine's major label debut, Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.). The album's a daring work of subtle provocation, filtering his allegorical and slipstream narratives through a sprawling backdrop of Motown soul, 1970s jazz fusion, and West African hypnotism.

"I want to make something interesting, but it's subjective," observed Beam at Ruby's BBQ shortly before the album's release. "Each record is a collection of the experiences of the past few years in a certain way. In that process of marking and erasing, there's a tendency to bloat things and then carve away. Sometimes you scratch it all and start again. Some songs ended up with these huge arrangements – just ridiculous – where you can't even hear everything. Then you look at it and say, 'All right, what's working here?' You learn to trust your melody and trust that if you stretch things out maybe it will end up okay."

That almost explains the saxophone blaring through the squiggly 1980s funk of Kiss Each Other Clean highlight "Big Burned Hand." Almost.

"Hell yeah there's saxophone," counters Beam, breaking character with a noticeable tinge of excitement. "Saxophones are awesome. You see Rob Lowe shaking his sweaty head on people in those Eighties movies .... What, you don't like jazz?"

It's a rhetorical question.

"Just like with the religious imagery, the sax is loaded dice," Beam continues. "It has Afro-pop, jazz, cheesy Eighties music, all of these connotations. It has a history, from New Orleans to R&B horn sections. They all have the same voice, but they're used in different ways. It depends on your history with it. You carry that into the tune, and I like that.

"I feel like if you close yourself off, if you decide this is what it's about, then you're fucked. As soon as you even think that, you're fucked. You're a date. That probably frustrates a lot of people, but to me that's the only way to stay engaged."

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