Sam Beam, like Alexander, can survey his kingdom and weep for lack of further worlds to conquer. At this point in his career, under the sobriquet of Iron and Wine, the folk singer has mastered every art form he’s attempted. He’s directed short films and videos, written screenplays, painted or designed almost every album cover in his catalog, and – while he was first setting his Rimbaud-evocative poetry to music over a decade ago – taught film and cinematography classes at a Florida university. He plans to helm a feature-length movie in the near future. Beam, who calls the term Renaissance man “one of my favorites,” has just issued his fifth Iron and Wine album, “Ghost on Ghost.”
What was it like being a film professor?
It was cool. And I’ll be honest – I was always one of those people who thought that if you can’t do, then you end up teaching, so I was kind of bummed starting out. But I learned a lot more from my students than I ever learned from my teachers in film school. You have to get really specific with what you know in order to explain it to someone else, so a lot of things that I’d absorbed without fully understanding became really clear when I had to explain them to my students.
What were your own student films like?
I made several shorts and then worked on a bunch when I got out of school. But my films were really pretentious, and most of them didn’t even have titles. But one was called “The Settlement” – it was a conquistador thing. I was way into Herzog, and I was in Florida, too, so it was easy to go shoot in the swamps. But it was a piece of garbage, that’s for sure.
How has your visual eye helped your songwriting?
Well, I was always into music, even when I was studying painting and film. I’m just one of those people with a lot of creative energy to burn. And I’m not sure if it makes for better songs, but I definitely tended to write more visual songs because that’s the kind of communication that I like – I like describing more than explaining. And those are the kind of poems I like, too – more visceral, physical kinds of poems.
Color and shadows feature prominently in every “Ghost on Ghost” track, right?
Yeah. I guess so. In a screenplay, you’re basically limited to descriptions of action and dialogue. But with songs, you can go a lot further. So I’m always searching for the right combination of settings, characters, what they’re wearing, their background _ little bits of information that move the story along.
IF YOU GO
Iron and Wine
At BottleRock Napa 2013
Where: The Miner Family Stage, Napa Expo Center, Napa
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday May 11
Tickets: $139 one day only; more for multiple-day pass