The other day, I got not one but two invitations from Grand Central on Facebook to more imported alternative rock acts visiting South Florida during the month of September. I have already detailed five noteworthy shows I hope to attend during the month. Now here come two more, both thanks to Grand Central. And both perfectly paired, as one is a group of New Wave pioneers and the other is a revivalist of the New Wave sound. The UK’s Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Australia’s Cut/Copy will travel across the world for their respective US tours during the month of September, and both tours include stops in Miami (click on the respective artists’ names to see other dates on their tours).

Once again, it seems luck allows for no overlaps in the shows noted in my earlier posts regarding September live shows in South Florida (Manu Chao to make Miami debut in Sept.; September offering some good concerts in SoFla). OMD’s show is the earlier of the two shows, happening Friday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. It marks the start of the band’s US tour featuring original members that at least date back to 1986’s The Pacific Age (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon.com), including founding members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. It’s classic British new wave, and I was first turned on to the band through a video clip on one of the great documents of the early eighties music scene, as a kid thanks to the movie Urgh! A music War (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the DVD on Amazon.com). I remember repeatedly renting out that VHS from a local video shop to experience over and over again. One of the highlights on that compilation video of live performances was OMD’s energetic interpretation of their hit single “Enola Gay”:

Hopefully they can give up some more of that energy on Friday night. They will be joined by Aussie recording artist Washington (very poppy).

Next comes Cut/Copy, whose date in Miami falls in the middle of the band’s US tour, again on a Friday night: this time Sept. 30. The show starts at 10 p.m. and bounds to be a long night, with two notable acts touring along with Cut/Copy: Washed Out recently signed with Sub Pop Records. Those who have seen “Portlandia” on IFC, may recognize this song. Meanwhile, Midnight Magic, a very disco-retro sort of band, should warm-up the stage nicely.

I know I slagged off Cut/Copy’s latest album for being way too derivative of the worst of eighties pop, from the musical clichés to the vintage instruments. I stand by the review. However, I am still a fan of their first album, Bright Like Neon Love (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the album on Amazon.com), which had Cut/Copy bursting on the scene with a dramatic sound that celebrated electro dance music while throwing interesting curve balls of psychedelia. Here’s “Going Nowhere” from that album, live…

I think, with a little less than two months to go for the string of dates I already have tickets for, this beats the amount of shows I saw last October. I plan to start preparing posts ahead of time for live reviews, pictures and videos, this time (Who knows what could happen?). If possible, maybe some artist profiles will come out of it.

If September is not enough, just as I was preparing this post, Grand Central sent another invite to an indie rock show of interest: Ladytron. Scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 15, at 9 p.m., that concert comes soon after the release of the band’s new full-length Gravity the Seducer (Support the Independent Ethos, pre-order the vinyl on Amazon.com). The band has posted three full tracks from the album on Soundcloud. You can stream them all for free here:

Tickets to all shows are available from Grand Central’s website.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

The members of Fleet Foxes have been away from the recording studio a long time since the recording of their breakout self-titled full-length in  2008. Their follow-up, Helplessness Blues (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon.com), reveals the Seattle-based folk rockers have grown up a bit since then. Most distinctly amiss from the new album is the lack of hooks that made a lot of their lush, dreamy debut such a darling in the indie rock world. However, in place of hooks, the band have conjured a work of immersive music that rewards patient attention.

With Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes shows more concern with evoking atmosphere than pulling together catchy songs. The music more than ever buoys the words of singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold, making his lyrics stand out more than on any previous album, which also includes the band’s debut mini-album Sun Giant (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the CD on Amazon.com). The first three songs alone on Helplessness Blues open with solitary acoustic guitar lines. While the guitars on most songs  sound as crystalline as on any other Fleet Foxes album, the opener seems to come out of some dark, cavernous chamber, echoing, as the guitar rambles along like some babbling brook. Then Pecknold sings the album’s opening lines: “So now I am older/than my mother and father/when they had their daughter/Now what does that say about me?” Throughout the album, Pecknold’s words seem obsessed with mortality and a search for place and purpose in the fleeting moment that is human existence. Helplessness Blues could almost be the soundtrack to Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the book on Amazon.com).

“Lorelai” opens with Pecknold singing, “So, guess I got old/I was like trash on the sidewalk.” But lest one think this might herald a darker turn from previous albums, Pecknold also offers contrasting images of joie de vivre and enlightenment. On the title track there are experiences of finding passion in something as quaint as maintaining an orchard in contrast to the disillusionment of the predestined purpose of a person’s role in society.

Highlighting the lyrics further is the band’s more evolved use of vocal harmonies, more than ever recalling the Beach Boys. If it wants to, Fleet Foxes could make songs with only vocals. Pecknold’s voice alone is like a wind swirling up to heaven, then behind are these cooing layers of breathy vocals humming along. “The Plains / Bitter Dancer” opens with the gradual crescendo of vocals piling up on each other with various “oos” and “ahhs” at various lengths and tones, sounding like a Philip Glass organ piece.

Underneath the lyrics and voices is a new, more adventurous musical styling for Fleet Foxes focused on mood. On the title track, the shift in tone of the lyrics accompanies an extreme turn in the music. As Pecknold sings lines like “I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me,” acoustic guitars drive the song along on ringing riffs like some troubadour folky piece by Bob Dylan. But then, halfway through, the song breaks out to another dimension with booming percussion and tremolo electric guitars, recalling the brighter side of Red House Painters.

Atmospherics in music does not come from hooks but from things like sound quality, subtle things like noise. A perfect example would be the abstract ending of “The Shrine / An Argument,” featuring the reedy freak-out of a bass clarinet and the warped plucking of strings. It offers a distinct contrast to the quiet babbling of the acoustic guitar that appears on many tracks of Helplessness Blues. On “The Shrine / An Argument” Pecknold even sings in a raspy howl contrasted with his more familiar ethereal exhalations, which is actually juxtaposed from one line to the next in the line “Sunlight over me/No matter what I do! Apples in the summer all gold and sweet…” The song then shifts to a chugging melody where even the guitar sounds percussive. With another sudden shift to the dreamy world of acoustic guitar plucking, something indecipherable hums in the background before the song swells to the aforementioned cacophony of clarinet and strings.

“The Shrine / An Argument” is practically a progressive rock moment unheard of in the Fleet Foxes canon until now. To top it off, this is not the only song that features extreme shifts in tone. The title track also features such a moment. Then, in the grander experience of listening to the album all the way through, the band explores a range of ideas that add to the dynamics of the work as a whole, almost like the prog rock of the late sixties/early seventies. There are not only surprising tonal twists within the songs but throughout the album. There is an acoustic instrumental at the center of the album called “the Cascades” that could have felt right at home on an album like Genesis’ Selling England By the Pound or King Crimson’s Islands. The quiet “Blue Spotted Tail” features a tremolo guitar line and Pecknold’s voice without any of the usual backing harmonies featured on the other tracks. The album then continues to the near bombastic finale of “Grown Ocean,” which sounds like Sigur Ros crossed with Yes.

This album is a challenging listen and may not win over the same kind of fans the first album gained for the band, and it probably will not reach the same kind notoriety in this age of immediacy and trashy delights. But it will reward those listeners who like to invest attention when listening to music. Indeed, Helplessness Blues is by no means background music. One should be prepared to have a seat, stare out the window, gaze upon nature, and follow Fleet Foxes on an elegant journey into music. Helplessness Blues offers a delightful and majestic aural experience for those ready to invest their attention to subtle yet rewarding songcraft.

One final note: Fleet Foxes released a video of “Grown Ocean” featuring home movies of the band as it recorded the album. Seeing the presence of a reel-to-reel machine among the images, gives hope for an analog source for this material, so hearing it on vinyl seems more appropriate than the mp3 version Sub Pop Records shared with me ahead of the album’s release (I have been listening to it off and on for the past two weeks before passing this judgment, and the more familiar I become with it, the more moving it gets). I leave you with the aforementioned music video:

If you want to hear the entire album now, NPR was granted the privilege of streaming the whole thing as one track, a week before the album’s official release, May 3 (Stream Helplessness Blues).

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

The turn out was epic in its minutiae when Wolf Parade played the Fillmore in Miami Beach the other night, and keyboardist /singer Spencer Krug would remind the audience of the fact throughout the set. He even said, “This is our first time in Miami and probably the last” citing concerns no promoter would ever have them down again. “Someone lost a shit ton of money,” he added.

Still, the indie prog-rock influenced outfit would not skimp on the energy when it came to their songs. Despite Krug’s bitching in between several songs, these boys from Canada tore into their music with some of the highest energy I have seen on that stage.

Still, it was a worrisome site when I arrived uncharacteristically late to the venue (almost an hour after doors had opened). There were so few people inside the Miami Beach Fillmore– the site of sold-out performances for MGMT, Vampire Weekend and Phoenix just last month– that one could hear the barmaid in the corner of the hall from across the room mutter to herself: “Shut up. This is Awful,” as she looked up from texting on her smartphone at the smattering of 50 or so people who wandered to the front of the stage when opening band Ogre You Asshole started their set.

Here’s an image of the stage just a few minutes before Ogre You Asshole took the stage with said barmaid in the corner (on phone):

But, wouldn’t you know it, the bands played with more heart than most I saw during Rocktober. Though playing to only about 50 or so people in a theater designed to hold 1,000, Ogre You Asshole charmed the audience almost immediately with their hyper-melodic and intricate songcraft. The four boys from Japan were amazingly tight and melodic and held everyone’s attention even while singing entirely in Japanese. The band members played with exacting precision and little flash (there was no set dressing on stage whatsoever except for a large fan, only there to serve a practical purpose).

Despite, the fear-inducing name of the band, Ogre’s songs were nice and meandering—almost cute. Their MySpace page features many songs across their three-album plus career, which mostly other indie US musicians have appreciated, being a band’s kind of band.* Krug would later acknowledge this was Ogre’s first US tour. I was able to capture “Balance” on video:

Turns out it ain’t easy getting their music in the US, so I was glad I picked up the vinyl for their second album, Alpha Beta vs. Lambda. The whole band was at their own merch stand, which was crowded with new appreciative fans. I had them sign the album cover after I bought it (yes, and they are smart enough to include a CD copy, as well):

After Ogre played there was a lengthy pause before Wolf Parade came out (probably in hopes of a larger audience). Still, the maximum number of audience members probably would not exceed 150, and it looked like half of those were with dates who did not really want to be there. Still the Miami Wolf Parade fans responded to the Canadian quartet’s angular, prog pop with an enthusiasm that made up for their lack of numbers. Here are a couple of pictures I took that captured that energy:

Here, a fan can’t contain his enthusiasm while riding on another fan’s shoulders:

One the first videos I made was for one of their punchier new songs, “Palm Road”:

Krug may have sounded dismal between songs (at one point he noted how pretty the giant chandeliers high overhead were but how he had to avert his gaze from them to keep from feeling depressed about the turnout). But his band tore into their catalog with ferocity.

May I present a pretty sped up and enthusiastic version of “Ghost Pressure,” also off the new album Expo 86:

It was all about the music and Krug and fellow vocalist/guitarist Dan Boeckner pushed their voices and slammed on their instruments reaching for the high empty balcony seats (notice the echo in the video). If they had a set list, they must have damned it because, in the end they even invited requests. Here is one they took, “Oh You, Old Thing”:

After that new number off Expo 86, the band reached into their back catalog to close with the lengthy 10-minute finale off 2008’s At Mount Zoomer, “Kissing the Beehive.” It offered a great range of dynamics and changes, true to Wolf Parade’s undeniably prog-roots (one hip chick called them “King Crimson-y”). Here is “Kissing the Beehive,” captured in its entirety:

It looked like there would have been no encore. The house lights went on soon after Wolf Parade left the stage, and the recorded music came on, yet the crowd, which had diminished even further would not let up cheering. The band came out and Krug said “We weren’t planning on coming back out,” but he expressed some genuine gratitude and the band played a song Krug introduced as a song he heard several members of the crowd scream out for: “Fancy Claps.”

That was it for the encore, despite another attempt by fans to get the group out, chanting “One more song, one more song!” Hopefully, this truly does not mean the end of Wolf Parade’s visits to the Miami-area. There are an array of venues that could appear packed for these guys, should the promoter choose the right spot. There is certainly a passionate Wolf Parade following in South Florida. Maybe they need one of their songs featured in a TV commercial to get noticed by the other Miami “indie” hipsters.

*According to the All Music Guide, Modest Mouse’s bassist Christened the band, and I had personally first heard about them on the blog of Bradford Cox (of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound). Apparently, Atlas Sound had toured with Ogre in 2008, but in Japan.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

As promised in the first part of this two-part series of “From the Archives,” here are some samples of the reporting I did to augment my earlier sit down with Sam Beam of Iron and Wine, just before he signed a deal with Sub Pop Records. This reporting resulted in a story in the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times,” which you can read here.

First, here is a simple between Q&A Sam and I compiled from email that followed our face-to-face interviews (This was mostly to flesh out details. I always have more questions as I begin writing a piece, and I would never call any story I turn in a finished work, just turned in at deadline, so I probably could have kept asking him questions)…

This was in response to an email dated May 19, 2002:

Hans Morgenstern: What singers would you consider an influence on your music?

Sam Beam: Lots of influences, primarily J.J. Cale and Nick Drake.

HM: There are lots of references to Christian imagery in your lyrics.  Are you Christian rock? Maybe a follower?

SB: I’m not a Christian. I think the imagery slips in there so often due to the fact that I draw so much of my musical inspiration from the area where I grew up. I was raised in South Carolina, and the Bible belt tends to leave a very lasting impression.

HM: Did you know a friend of yours gave your demo to someone at Sub Pop?

SB: No, I didn’t know. His name is Ben Bridwell*, and he and I had been sending each other our music for quite some time (he was part of a band called Carissa’s Wierd) and Subpop was interested in doing a 7-inch with them and so he kind of stuck some of my music in their ears while he had their attention. I think half of the city of Seattle has heard of Iron and Wine thanks to Ben Bridwell. He’s really quite a saint.

HM: Did you record these songs to get signed?

SB: No, I had no real plans for getting signed. In fact, I was doing research at the time in order to release it myself independently. I honestly didn’t think anyone would be interested. Luckily I was wrong. Personally, I never really liked the idea of making a demo. I believe the music should come about for a different reason anyway. If I were to have sat down and tried to write songs in order to be signed, or to please some people that I’ve never met before, the songs probably would never have come about. Songwriting is hard enough without the added grief.

HM: How did you wind up on the Yeti compilation?

SB: Ben Bridwell again. He is good friends with Mike McGonigal and when [McGonigal] was putting together the Yeti #1, he asked if he could use one of the songs. It’s funny, Mike says he got emails from Czechoslovakia saying, “Iron and wine… what the shit fuck… where I find.” That was the defining moment, when I realized I had finally reached the Czechs… I knew I had a calling…

HM: How did you feel when you heard Sub Pop wanted to release your album?

SB: It was great.

HM: Did you ever think you’d release your songs on such a big shot label?

SB: Are they a big shot label? When I ask most of my friends in Miami if they’ve ever heard of Sub Pop, they say, “Who?” No, I never dreamed of it. It’s really very flattering.

HM: Why were you doing music in the first place?

SB: It seems like I’ve always been doing music. Ever since I got a guitar when I was 14, it’s just been a hobby of mine. It wasn’t until I came across a 4-track recorder a couple of years ago that I started thinking a little more seriously about it. Until then, it was just something to do in those spare moments of the day while trying to resist watching television.

HM: Your sister has red-hair right?

SB: Yes, she does have red hair.

HM: How old is she?

SB: 24

HM: What’s your heritage (what part of Europe are your roots from?)?

SB: Scotch, Irish and English (hence all my internal conflict).

HM: Did you ever think you would be a making a career out of making music?

SB: No, in fact my father had some experience with music promotion when he was in college and warned me very early on not to look at it as anything but a hobby. I think it stuck, I never thought of it seriously as a career. He’s right in a lot of ways, the history of the music industry was written by thieves. So I just spent my spare time playing and writing out of pure enjoyment. I’d still do it, to be honest. The record deal and tour still seem pretty unreal.

HM: If you can, would you be satisfied to do that?

SB: Who doesn’t dream of being rewarded just for doing something they love to do?

HM: What’s it like to get your hobby turned into a career?

SB: When it happens, ask me again.

I think I hit them all, let me know if you need anything else. Good luck Hans and thanks for all your interest–

Talk to you soon-

sam

* * *

You never interview just one person for an artist profile, and as I first saw Sam performing with Rene Barge of Cavity on that fateful night described in Part 1 of this post, I had to include him. After all, he was the more famous of the duo at the time. Plus, it turned out that odd pairing at Churchill’s was no fluke. They would play in that format again at now defunct club called Billabong (I believe it was located in Hollywood, Florida), a week or so after the publication of the original article.

Were there ever recordings made of the two playing these meandering prog-rock instrumentals? I would love to know. I had an old cell number for Barge, but I have not been able to reach him.

Rene Barge interview:
HM: Why is Cavity no more for you?**
RB: I did not feel ourselves as a unit. My needs at this time have been shifting
towards things more personal.

HM: How does it feel to turn from frontman to drummer?
RB: It’s quite different, focuses shift, so do sensibilities.

HM: What is so special about Sam that you want to be in this project with him?
RB: Sam writes beautiful music and is open to many possibilities.

HM: What do you bring to Iron and Wine, creatively?
RB: The drums and percussion that is required. A patient and easy drumming that
locks into and rides just beneath intricate guitar playing. Oddly enough, it’s
got to find its place without interruption.

HM: Have you ever played drums before?
RB: About 10 years ago.

HM: Will you do anything else but play drums in this project?
RB: Sure, in time.

HM: Is this your full-time music job or are you keeping busy with other things?
RB: This is full-time and I do keep busy with other things.

HM: Are you going to tour with I&W, if need be?
RB: Yes. We leave on tour June 15 throughout the NE and MW with Ugly Cassanova and The Kingsbury Manx.

HM: How do you like being linked to Sub Pop Records?
RB: The folks at Sub Pop are fantastic, they are a true pleasure.

* * *

And now on to an email correspondence I had with Sub Pop CEO and co-founder Jonathan Poneman…

Hi, Jonathan,

It’s Hans at the Miami New Times.  I was just finishing up the Iron and Wine story, which we will run before Sam heads out on the road, and I wanted to have something from you in the piece (which is due Monday).  Can you answer a couple of quick questions for me?

Jonathan Poneman: My pleasure!

HM: First, what is your title at Sub Pop?

JP: CEO, I guess.

HM: How did you come across Iron and Wine?

JP: I was introduced to Iron & Wine by way of a CD compilation that accompanied the first edition of “Yeti”, a pop culture ‘zine published in Seattle. I was initially entranced by the meditative quality of the music. Eventually I became enthralled by Sam’s voice and words.

HM: How soon after hearing their recording did you want to sign them?

JP: After a little badgering, Sam sent Sub Pop two CDs full of songs. After listening to both CDs once through, I was utterly convinced that working with Iron & Wine would be a tremendous opportunity and an even bigger honor.

Having now listened to both CDs dozens & dozens of times, I can say in full confidence that Sam is one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.

HM: What did you hear in Iron and Wine’s music that made you want to sign them to your label?

JP: Great songwriting– eloquent, spare and timeless. Beyond that, Sam has a knack for arranging that makes each song quietly arresting.

HM: Is he really contributing to the last of your “singles-of-the-month” offers?

JP: Yes, he is.

HM: Why end that club?

JP: This’ll be the second time that we’ve ended it. It may return someday. It just felt like the time to give it a rest for a spell. If we had a dozen singles of Iron & Wine quality laying about, we’d certainly keep it going for another year.

Thanks! That’s it. I hate to do this to you, but I need your answers as soon as humanly possible, as my story is due no later than Tuesday, first thing in the morning. Much appreciated! Thanks for taking the time to do this. It’s a big deal that a guy from little Miami is signed to your prestigious label.

* * *

So those are some of the emails containing a bit of the raw information that would form the story published in the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” way back in 2002, just before Beam found his career in music. I leave you with the last song I recorded of him performing at Club Revolution, in Fort Lauderdale on April 12, 2008. It’s the full song of “Naked As We Came.” It’s a fitting end to this 2-part blog post, as it features just Sam and his guitar, like back in the old days, except on a bigger stage.

*He was singer in Carissa’s Wierd at the time of this interview but has since moved on as the frontman of Band of Horses.

**Cavity broke up about a year before this article was printed.

Read Part 1 of this archival piece.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Iron and Wine’s website has only seen a few news bits dropped this past year. Most recently the band announced the title of its new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, slated for release sometime in early 2011. Not only is there finally some news of a follow-up to 2007’s the Shepherd’s Dog, but also a new tour. Mastermind Sam Beam corralled the band and kicked off a small tour in Europe only a few days ago. A longer North American tour will commence for a couple of dates in October and then again in mid November.

As far as how it pertains to the neighborhood from where I am blogging from (the Greater Miami area), the band has scheduled a stop in Miami Beach on Nov. 18 (tickets went on sale just this past Friday). I do plan to be there, video camera in hand.

So that’s the news on Iron and Wine, which makes it all too suiting for another installment of … “From the Archives” where I offer up some of the older stories I had written for press, prior to this blog.

I had the honor of knowing Beam as a local, low-key musician before his sudden rise to fame after signing to Sub Pop Records in 2002. As many Iron and Wine fans know, Beam originally hailed from Miami before he turned over is home-recorded demos to Sub Pop and got national exposure (he has since moved to Austin, Texas). Click on the retro-era mug of Beam for a link to the original story I wrote for the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times”:

Beam's first publicity shot for Sub Pop, click it for a link directly to the story I wrote for "New Times."

But I don’t want to simply dwell on the published piece. I also would like to offer some behind-the-scenes perspective on what lead to the article and some of what occurred during the writing of the piece. This two-part blog posting, will not only reveal some of the work I do to compose an artist profile but also offer some of the unpublished information on Beam before he became the rock star he is today.

I first heard Beam’s guitar playing wafting out of Churchill’s Hideaway in the Miami neighborhood of Little Haiti, sometime in the later part of 2002. This was before he had even signed to Sub Pop. I think that night was supposed to be one of Churchill’s famous noise festivals, but what I heard as I approached the front door of the famous pub was this amazing droning, progressive electric guitar music. The musicality was like nothing I had ever heard during one of those festivals, and it wasn’t just because it was melodious. It also came from the fingertips of a very talented player, and one I had never seen on the local music scene before.

The guitarist had a strange, long bushy beard, unheard of on rock musicians in that early era of the ’00s (it has since become a trend bordering on cliché). His only accompaniment was Rene Barge, a local musician and former singer of underground noise punkers Cavity, on drums. They played meandering instrumentals that sounded like math-rock merged with country. Beam plucked his guitar strings in a manner that could have fooled the audience (if they had been paying attention) into thinking there was more than one guitarist on stage. Even the ringing effects emitting from the lo-fi guitar amp added a depth to the duo’s sound that made it sound more like an quartet than a two-piece, making for a mesmerizing aural experience. I, for one, was blown away.

After the show, Barge would introduce me to the guitarist, Beam.mBeam came across as a very friendly and humble sort, appreciative of meeting a new fan. He informed me that he was about to sign a recording contract with Sub Pop, and I immediately suggested a story in the “New Times,” a publication I often freelanced for back in those days. He would later send me a CD demo of tracks that would mostly become his debut for Sub Pop, the Creek Drank the Cradle (they were essentially the unmastered tracks).


The track list Sam Beam wrote on the insert for the CD demo he sent me as I composed his profile for "New Times."

I had been expecting more of the droning, melodic prog-rock stuff I had heard at Churchill’s– the kind of music a less hyper Robert Fripp might have produced. Instead, I heard this super chill singer-songwriter stuff with a country-fied twinge. I must admit, I was at first disappointed, my expectations being what they were. When I asked Beam about the music he had created with Barge, he told me the CD he gave me is what Sub Pop was planning to release. I proceeded with the story anyhow, though it would not be until the second (and last) solo live show I saw of Beam that he had truly won me over again with this atmospheric, mostly acoustic side.

I describe my first live Beam solo experience a bit in the article above. What I never mentioned in the article, though it would have been a colorful detail, was how terribly Sam was screwing up his songs in front of the small audience. Though intimate, the spectators also featured some big shots like the CEO of Sub Pop Records, Jonathan Poneman, and Isaac Brock of Mouse on Mars, who wanted Iron and Wine to open on a tour for his side project, Ugly Casanova. A smattering of movers and shakers from the local music were also there (some just to meet Brock). There was a barbecue brewing and Sam was there with some of his family. It was all real casual and cool. But when Sam took the stage, with his sister next to him on vocals and tambourine, he would start playing but seemingly trip on the tricky guitar lines of his creation. I could also tell he was shaking a bit with nerves. I thought, man, is this guy really going to get signed? Is this all a joke? But Brock and Poneman were super supportive and positive of Beam’s talent. Beam later admitted to me he was nervous as hell to be playing in front of these guys.

The next time I saw Beam, he took the stage at the One Ninety restaurant and club, in October of 2002. This was the show the article was promoting. The venue was an obscure spot for local music that I had never been to or since for a live show. Besides myself, in attendance were only the patrons of the establishment, some students of Beam (he was teaching a cinematography class at Miami College at the time), my then “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” editor, Jeff Stratton and another local music writer who had also recently written a piece on Iron and Wine, Shawn Bean. On stage, it was just Beam and his guitar, and I finally heard the music as it was meant to be heard. He played the guitar with amazing prowess, letting the delicate, swaying melodies flow, as he sung in that beautiful hushed voice. He was relaxed and jovial, as he students hooted in support.

After the show, I had him sign my just-released Creek Drank the Cradle CD that night (see image at left), on my editor’s suggestion, as he felt Beam was going to go places. The only other local musician I had seen go places up until that point was Brian Warner, a.k.a. Marilyn Manson , and that was way back in 1995. I never felt any inclination to have my CDs and records signed by local musicians. In this case, though, I was glad I did.

Though Beam had later recommended we hang out and finally go over our shared love of cinema (I too had once taught a college film class), I never followed up. The next I knew, Thurston Moore had become an early fan and I heard his music accompanying an M&Ms commercial in a movie theater. I’d never personally hear from Beam again.

So, that’s what I think about when I recall this story. In the second part of this post, I will offer some of the straight-forward Q&A culled from emails between myself and Beam, Barge, and Sub Pop CEO Jonathan Poneman (besides email, there were also telephone and face-to-face meetings that added to the short profile linked above). In the meantime, I leave you with a video I recorded of Iron and Wine performing “Upward Over the Mountain” at Club Revolution in Fort Lauderdale, on April 12, 2008. This is the full song without cuts, sounding pretty damn good:

Read Part 2 of this archival piece.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Somehow reconciled, the Vaselines have returned with a second full-length album, Sex With and X— more than 20 years since their first and final album. Even after all those years have passed, they have still managed to maintain a punky garage rock ethos and the witty lyricism that made their sound unique. The only difference from the recordings they made in the late 80s, is a new found polished sound in their production. Don’t take my word for it, hear it all here, where their label, Sub Pop, is streaming the entire thing. After one listen, this a sure-buy for me on vinyl! What an amazing return to form!

The Scottish group was founded by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee in Edinburgh, back in 1987 and broke up just a couple of years later. The duo had parted ways just as their debut full-length Dum-Dum, was released in 1989.

They would later enjoy a second wave of posthumous fame after Kurt Cobain touted them as a major influence, famously covering “Jesus Doesn’t Want me for a Sunbeam” during Nirvana’s appearance on MTV’s Unplugged show in 1993. Nirvana’s original label, Sub Pop Records, would compile the duo’s recordings on two compilations. The Way of the Vaselines combined all of the band’s singles with the Dum-Dum album. It came out in 1992, during the era of Cobain’s fawning about them (and indeed you can hear the origins of grunge in the Vaselines’ sound). Then, in 2009, Sub Pop released Enter the Vaselines, which essentially expanded the same compilation with demos and live tracks. It came at around the time the band had reformed and began touring, like so many nostalgia acts.

But now they have taken the reunion act to a higher level by recording this brilliant new album, released just this past Sept. 14. It goes to show that the chemistry between the two main figureheads is still firmly intact despite the many years apart.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)