Not one to mince words, or volume, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam has been a little quiet since his last record, 2013’s Ghost on Ghost — but don’t think that’s for lack of material. The Durham, N.C.-based bard, whose famously understated whisper sounds like the rustling pages of a forgotten folk tome, will release 16 previously unheard songs as Archive Series Volume No. 1. The companion album to Iron & Wine’s 2002 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, contains tracks Beam started recording in the late ’90s and early ’00s when he was working in film production and teaching art school in Miami.
“[Archive] is for people that really connected to that first record,” Beam tells Billboard, while acknowledging that it wouldn’t exactly be a hardship if the album gained some new fans. “It’s definitely for the heads. But why limit yourself?”
Indeed, Beam reached at least a few new ears with Iron and Wine: Dreams Are My Favorite People, a companion film that chronicles Iron & Wine’s performance at Cleveland, W.V.’s Jerry Run Summer Theater, a venue a music fan built in his backyard. “The show was interesting because all the locals who watch bluegrass, they don’t know me from Adam; and the kids who had traveled — the local kids who knew who I was, traveled from Pittsburgh or Morgantown — were equally confused as to why I was there,” says Beam. Watch the trailer after streaming to the album below.
Billboard: How did you rediscover theses songs?
Sam Beam: When Sub Pop called and asked to put some stuff out, we picked out a couple and all the other ones were put out on an EP or two. These others, I wasn’t hiding them, I’m usually more interested in what’s coming next than what I did yesterday. Over the years some of them have gotten out of the Internet and people have showed interest. And putting out another record like that now, it seems like there’s been enough time so that it sounds significantly different than what I’ve been doing these past few years. It feels more like a time capsule or a diary entry. The distance makes it more fun.
Do you have any anecdotes you remember from making this batch of songs?
It’s a kick in the head to shake hands with yourself 15 years ago. Your memory is so caught up, is so connected to music, a lot of times you’re immediately transported back to your grandma’s kitchen. I got to hear the ambience of my apartment at the time, things like that.
How did you edit them? Are there more?
We mastered them to balance the levels so it felt like a cohesive thing. Since they were songs pulled from the same batch, it would make sense to make them sound the same. We’re definitely planning on making [The Archive Series] a thing, but I’m not sure how consistent it’ll be. There’s still a lot more of these songs, but I couldn’t put them all out because there’s too much; it would be cruel to people. You have to be a nice host. We were talking the other day with Calexico about doing more recordings, other versions of songs we recorded with them. It presents itself as an opportunity for all these things to come out.
Why did you start your own label, Black Cricket Recording Co.?
It’s just a way to keep autonomy for what kind of release it is. It makes more sense to be a homegrown thing. We’re in-between labels right now and it seemed like the right time to start that kind of thing. Pretty much everything I do will be associated with Black Cricket, whether I put it out myself or license it to another record.
What other releases are coming out?
I did a record of covers with Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses. He and I grew up together, so we’ve been trying to find the time to do something together. I’m working on an album of album of duets with Jesca Hoop. And we’re always working on new Iron & Wine stuff. We’re probably going to start recording that end of summer, early fall. This felt like a nice little window to put out older material.