“All our dreamers lose to the light” – from “Angels Go Home”
When the pandemic began, and the world shut down, so did the process of creating for Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam. In its place was a domesticity that the singer hadn’t felt in a long time, and although it was filled with many rewards, making music was not one of them. Reflecting on that time, Beam notes:
“I feel blessed and grateful that I and most of my friends and family made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed compared to so many others, but it completely paralyzed the songwriter in me. While so many artists, fortunately, found inspiration in the chaos, I was the opposite and withered with the constant background noise of uncertainty and fear. The last thing I wanted to write about was COVID, and yet every moment I sat with my pen, it lingered around the edges and wouldn’t leave. I struggled to focus until I gave up, and this lasted for over two years.”
The journey back began with a recording session in Memphis to record a handful of Lori McKenna tracks for the EP Lori with friend and producer Matt Ross-Spang.
“Recording has always been my favorite, and that session was an attempt to reconnect with what I love most about making music. I could finally feel the blood coming back into the body and the creative muscles beginning to relax and move again.”
Soon a series of short tours were booked entitled “Back to Basics,” which, out of necessity, were solo acoustic shows in smaller venues. They had an unspoken weight to them for Beam and the audiences alike, and also an incredible sense of relief for finally sharing art together and being back to work! A larger tour with Andrew Bird followed in the summer of ’22, and Beam was inspired even more by the excitement of collaborating with Bird and his band and the warmth of musical friends.
“By the time I got home, the paralysis had officially passed, and I was finishing lyrics and booking studio time for what would become Light Verse!”
As Beam began to assemble the musicians he wanted for his record, one common thread arose- they all lived in Los Angeles. Outside of his own pedigree, the decision to work with engineer and mixer Dave Way at his studio Waystation high up in Laurel Canyon was a logical step based on recommendations from two of the joining players on the record. An additional session would also take place at Silent Zoo Studio, where a 24-piece orchestra would lay claim to a handful of songs, helping prepare them for lift-off.
“I’ve met and played with so many talented musicians from Los Angeles over the years but never recorded there, and this felt like the perfect time to try. Tyler Chester plays all the keyboards, Sebastian Steinberg plays the bass, David Garza guitar and slide and stuff, Griffin Goldsmith, Beth Goodfellow, and Kyle Crane all play drums here and there, and Paul Cartwright plays many various sizes of violin and mandolin and wrote some wonderful string arrangements for the orchestra! Even Fiona Apple was kind and generous enough to lend us her voice (that miracle that sounds like both a sacrifice and a weapon at the same time) to a duet called “All In Good Time.”
Beam lyrically once again takes focus on a series of both fictional and personal insights, filled with desperate characters and wide-eyed optimists, offering promise and a dose of heartache, tears and laughter, life and love. Taking stock in the album’s title, he jokes, “Light verse is a form of poetry about playful themes that often uses nonsense and wordplay, and it’s my first official Iron & Wine comedy album!…. Just kidding….”
While true this may be Iron & Wine’s most playful record, Beam says the title mostly reflects the way the songs were born with joy after the heaviness and anxiety of the pandemic. Where recent records like Beast Epic or Weed Garden gave air to the disquiet of middle-aged frailty and brokenness, these songs trade that for the focus acceptance can bring. Moment by moment, they delight in being pointed or silly (or both) and attempt beauty over prettiness.
Light Verse arrives April 26, 2024 and is Iron & Wine’s seventh full-length overall and fifth for Sub Pop Records. Fashioned as an album that should be taken as a whole, it sounds lovingly handmade and self-assured as a secret handshake. Track by track, its equal parts elegy, kaleidoscope, truth, and dare.
1. You Never Know
2. Anyone’s Game
3. All in Good Time
4. Cutting It Close
5. Taken By Surprise
6. Yellow Jacket
7. Sweet Talk
8. Tears That Don’t Matter
9. Bag of Cats
10. Angels Go Home