Iron & Wine's Sam Beam Talks Recreating and Reinventing His 'Our Endless Numbered Days' with David Campbell and Members of the CSO

Performing at Taft Theatre March 22, Cincinnati is just one of three cities in which Beam will promote the re-issue of his breakthrough sophomore album

click to enlarge Sam Beam aka Iron & Wine - Photo: Kim Black
Photo: Kim Black
Sam Beam aka Iron & Wine

Sam Beam may well be the closest anyone has come to being America’s Nick Drake, a comparison he accepts as a great compliment. Luckily, the comparison doesn’t extend to Drake’s frustration and depression due to his complete obscurity at the time of his three brilliant releases.

Beam, in his performing guise as Iron & Wine, was a critical success with his 2002 Sub Pop debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle; commercial success followed with his sophomore release, 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days, which has sold nearly a quarter of a million copies to date.

That tally will likely increase when Our Endless Numbered Days is reissued in a 15th-anniversary deluxe edition Friday (March 22), which coincides with a unique Cincinnati appearance by Beam.


The expanded version of Our Endless Numbered Days is being supported with a three-concert run of dates that will revisit the second Iron & Wine album in its entirety with an orchestral score written by renowned composer/conductor David Campbell. Beam will be accompanied by members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the first of the concerts Friday at the Taft Theatre, with Campbell conducting the CSO. (The other concerts are in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.)

Beam has been mulling over the idea of orchestrating an album for years.

“You know, it’s kind of going around,” he says with a laugh from his North Carolina home. “I’ve always liked the idea, I just never had the project to do it with, so this seemed serendipitous. We had this promoter who was interested in doing it and also the anniversary for this record, so it all just kind of made sense.”

Campbell became involved with the project through his association with the tour’s promoter. Besides being a major figure as a performer (his viola appears on albums by Carole King, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye), Campbell is a go-to composer/arranger for the likes of Adele, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé and hundreds of others and an in-demand film scorer and orchestrator. He may be just as well known in Alternative Rock circles for being Beck’s father and arranger.

Campbell was also the driving force behind working with the CSO.

“David had nothing but great things to say about (the CSO), to the point that he said it was one of the better companies in the country, and that’s exciting to hear,” Beam says. “David is super excited about it.”

In spite of Beam’s orchestrating daydreams, Campbell composed the score for Our Endless Numbered Days with very little input from him. That may have been Beam’s plan all along.

“David’s a lone wolf, man — he has a process,” Beam says. “I sent him a bunch of material to listen to, different versions of the songs, and he started filling things in, and then I visited. He was definitely eager for feedback but I didn’t have a whole lot to add. My whole approach to this project is to see what happens.

“I don’t have a grand vision of what it should be; I’m just interested to see what it could be. I trusted his instincts and everything he played for me was wonderful, surprising and interesting, lush, beautiful, lots of contrast.”

The songs from Our Endless Numbered Days have evolved over the 15 years since their release, so between Beam’s tinkering in various iterations of Iron & Wine and Campbell’s interpretations to achieve his accompanying score, this concert promises to be a dynamic reimagining of a classic Indie Folk masterpiece. Beam had already discovered some unexpected wrinkles when revisiting the album for the upcoming reissue, but Campbell’s score revealed even more.

“Anytime you go back and listen to old material, there’s always the threat of being surprised,” Beam says. “It’s a funny thing having a recording be part of your career. It means you can go back and revisit yourself, in a way most people don’t. You have high school photos and stuff, but to have a recording of your voice and your work from 20 years ago, it’s a kick in the head to hear how you’ve changed and what you were interested in at the time and how it’s either changed or stayed the same.

“I’ve been playing these songs and changing them, sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically over the years — it just happens. David heard different versions of the same songs and it was interesting to see which ones he picked. Some are spacious, some are ambient and some are directly drawn from the record.”


The concert will be split into the orchestral set and a subsequent acoustic set, and the entirety of Our Endless Numbered Days will be presented across those two formats. The acoustic set will also include a number of additional songs drawn from Iron & Wine’s voluminous album/EP/archive discography. There may be slight variations in the selections for the acoustic set between the three concerts — the other two take place with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles two days after the Cincinnati performance and at the end of April with the National Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. — but nothing drastic.

“They’ll probably be pretty similar, now that I think of it,” Beam says. “I have back-up singers coming that have been working hard. Some (songs) will be different for each concert, some will be the same. The concert is about the record but it’s also some of the other songs that people are interested to hear. It’s for variety’s sake and it gives the orchestra a break while I do some songs by myself.”

Beam’s back-up singers are among the best in the business: Bloodshot recording artists Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor and renowned singer/songwriter Eliza Hardy Jones. All three have sung with Iron & Wine previously and Beam is excited to have them backing him in this new context.

“We’ve worked together before. They’re wonderful,” he says. “I send them the songs we’re doing, what key and what melody they’ll be singing. They’re good about their homework and they’re so quick.”

Perhaps the hardest part of this whole process for Beam has been simply processing the necessity of revisiting his early career and the reality of just how long Iron & Wine has been in the spotlight.

“I’m still getting used to the idea that that much time has passed,” he says. “I just have to get my head wrapped around the fact that it’s actually happening. I don’t know where the time goes.


Iron & Wine performs 8 p.m. Friday at the Taft Theatre. Tickets/more info: tafttheatre.org.


 


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