Iron & Wine

Pollstar was discussing Sam Beam’s box office numbers with Inland Empire’s Robin Taylor. A sold-out show here, a sold-out show there and then there’s one that’s even 101 percent.

“That’s Minneapolis!” Taylor said, obviously delighted. “We love them!”

Actually, we were looking at back-to-back sold-out shows at another venue in the Pacific Northwest. But who can blame the agent for the misunderstanding? The capacity shows (1,300 in Chicago, for instance) are becoming common for Beam who goes by the onstage pseudonym Iron & Wine, named after a home remedy he saw at a backwoods grocery store.

Beam is a self-proclaimed homebody who unabashedly loves his wife and three daughters (many of his songs are love songs to his wife). About a year ago, the bearded Floridian quit his job as a cinematography professor at Miami International University of Art & Design to play music full time. He travels across the country playing solo or with a band that includes his sister Sara on violin and backup vocals.

And the songs, like his album titles (The Creek Drank The Cradle, Woman King), are filled with mythical references. Life started to change for Beam in 2000 when some of his four-track recordings found their way to Mike McGonigal, who runs Yeti magazine and is a Miami native transplanted in Seattle.

McGonigal fell in love with Beam’s ability to approach time-worn subject matter with a fresh perspective. He sent Beam’s recordings to Sub Pop Records, which called the guitar player out of the blue one day. At first, Beam thought they had the wrong number

Nirvana’s former label was calling him? A guy who sings using his “indoor” voice?

As it turned out, the professor had been recording music on a four-track for about five years and had about 100 songs to offer the label.

“The first time we played a show was right before our first record came out, and Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse) asked us to go along on tour with him on his Ugly Casanova side project,” Beam told Pollstar. “I opened up for him so, based on that tour, I hooked up with his agent. Ever since then, Robin’s always been the agent.”

Beam doesn’t have a manager, though, and so far doesn’t feel the need.

“I enjoy that kind of stuff, to a certain point, and it’s nothing I can’t handle at the moment,” he said. He wasn’t kidding.

Pollstar actually called Beam prior to the interview because we needed him to settle an internal debate on whether to list him as “Iron And Wine” or “Iron & Wine.” Normally, the issue is resolved by management, so we gave Beam a ring on his cell phone.

Iron & Wine

“Either way is fine,” he said. “Whatever you decide is OK.”

And, while we were at it, Pollstar asked for an interview, which he set up for a few days later, during the first day of traveling on the current tour. He planned to hunt down artwork for the cover by checking his home computer for images

something that is usually handled by a publicity firm.

“Honestly, my music career has always kind of taken a back seat,” Beam said. “I didn’t have grand designs for my music career. I was just more interested in the craft of the music, so I’m just interested in what comes along at the moment, and I’m enjoying it.”

But things could get to be too much – more and more phone calls on the cell and management duties could become a 24/7 project.

“Yeah, well, we’ll see what happens if it does,” he responded cheerily.

Even with his quiet, subtle music, Beam is quickly becoming an indie rock star. He was recently featured on the cover of a magazine alongside Wade Hayes, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Joss Stone, among others, announcing his debut at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.

The soundtrack for the movie “Garden State” had a lot to do with Iron & Wine’s recent success. The successful CD includes his cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” and includes songs from Coldplay and The Shins.

Was that the watershed event?

“Well, you’re asking the booking agent, so of course I’m going to say, ‘Well, it’s all about the touring!'” Taylor joked. “It’s a combination of things. It’s the touring, it’s picking and choosing who you go out with, it’s who you align yourself with when you write music for movies – a lucky break with ‘Garden State’ – and it’s having sheer talent. When all that lines up, it’s perfect. I can’t tell you how it happened, but I can tell you it has because of all the e-mails I get.”

Beam has been drawing amazing reviews for his live shows, whether or not they include the band (usually Sara, guitarist Patrick McKinney, bassist A.J. Holowicki, drummer Jonathan Bradley and percussionist Troy Tague).

There was one online review of a Beam show in the Midwest that was negative – because the critic said the gig should have been in a larger room, and there was a line around the block.

“He was [solo] at the Avalon in L.A.,” Taylor said. “People were a little nervous for him because of the huge crowd. But there was complete silence. People were calling the next day flipping out on how amazing it was. You get goosebumps when you see someone like that.”