[Part 2 of 2] Read Part 1 of the Iron and Wine interview…
Here is the second part of the interview with Iron and Wine.
Prefix Magazine: Could you talk about the relationship between your training as an academic and in cinematography and the way you craft your songs?
Iron and Wine: I think it’s sort of a habit you get into when you get involved in screenwriting; it’s just a way of writing visually. So when you limit yourself to description of action and dialogue, it sort of makes for more visual writing. You don’t get a chance to get too internal with it, like you do with a voiceover or something. You know, when I do the songs, I don’t pretend like I’m writing a screenplay; it’s just a habit I got into. It’s interesting.
PM: I think that is what’s really interesting for a lot of people who enjoy your music.
Iron and Wine: I think it’s fun, a way to make things a little more interesting. Whenever you get too internal, when you describe your feelings or someone else’s feelings, you have so many adjectives you can use, and they all kind of say the same thing after a while, so I just try to make it a little more interesting.
PM: I think that’s what photography does in film, too. It speaks for itself and it has that honest quality you hope to achieve in art. I think you do that pretty well.
Iron and Wine: Thanks. I mean it doesn’t take a lot of poetic license to develop strictly a screenplay or strictly a poem, but I try to keep the melody in mind at the same time to keep things interesting.
PM: You achieve that effect, definitely. In terms of being innovative in that way, I was hoping you could talk about the role of faith in your music. Some of your songs allude to a residual Southern religious upbringing. What role does that play in your life and how do you work that into your songs? Is it more of a poetic effect or is it a conviction? How do you see religion in terms of what you’re doing?
Iron and Wine: I’m not a religious person, but definitely, I grew up religious and grew up in a very religious place. The way that it translates now into the songs is more of my interest in the way the country is and the people I’ve met and the places that I’ve been. I think it’s a pretty important issue, a pretty important part of our culture; it’s hard for me to write about kinds of people or kinds of places without dealing with it, but I’m not a religious person.
PM: I intuit a spiritual quality to your music; how do you respond to that?
Iron and Wine: When I say I’m not religious, I mean I’m not a Christian. I’m more like agnostic; I’m not an atheist by any means. But I absolved to practice my spirituality the way that people in the songs do.
PM: Not in a public sense?
Iron and Wine: Yeah, or just an organized-religion kind of way.
PM: I know you’re from South Carolina and you’re living in Miami; I want to know about your sense of home and it’s place in your songwriting. You’ve mentioned you’ve moved around.
Iron and Wine: Yeah, I’ve moved around quite a bit. You know, a lot of people put a lot of time and energy into finding a place where they know you felt like home, but I kind of came to the realization early on that it’s really about who you’re with, what friends you have, wherever you are.
Now I have my family — my best friends — so I could be really about anywhere. We’re staying in Miami because my wife is in school. We’ll be here, it works out, the sun’s nice, the water’s nice, but I don’t necessarily feel at home here; I feel at home with my family.
PM: Wherever that is. What about singing with your sister? Were you musical as kids? What was your household like growing up?
Iron and Wine: Not really. We had a piano, but nobody really knew how to play it. We took some piano lessons and stuff, but it was never really taken seriously. We just kinda liked music. We’d compare CD collections when we got together. It was more like playing your guitar to the radio — it was never really a serious thing. It was always sort of a hobby for me, and when I got the record deal and had to go on tour, I had to get a band together. And I knew she liked to sing, so it just kind of worked out.
PM: What was it like recording at home for your first album and in a studio for your new one?
Iron and Wine: Recording at home is a lot of fun. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a hobby of mine, I’m real comfortable with that. In the studio, you get ideas, experience and you also get to change your sound up. Brian Deck [Red Red Meat, Modest Mouse] asked me to come in and record, and I thought it was a good idea, and it was good. Nice equipment, and the time clock was of the element. At home I only have to deal with recording equipment; I generally do it when I want to do it. That was a big element; I already recorded the songs a couple of times at home so it wasn’t a big deal.
PM: Do you have a method you prefer?
Iron and Wine: They both have their pros and cons. You know at home I can take my time, but in the studio they have so much stuff, good microphones and stuff. Definitely pros and cons for each.
PM: What do you see for yourself in terms of future albums and approaches you want to take with them?
Iron and Wine: I’m not sure, we’ll have to see.
PM: A live album maybe?
Iron and Wine: A live album? I’m not super fond of live recordings, honestly. I kinda tend to doubt that. We’ve been putting out some live stuff, but in terms of albums I think it’s more of the recording process.
PM: What were you feeling as you arranged your albums? The thing that I get the most out of listening to your music is a kind of isolationist agenda. Kind of a connectedness verses solitude thing, and I don’t know if that’s anything you can talk about.
Iron and Wine: I’m not quite sure what you mean…
PM: I’m thinking of “Southern Anthem” from your first album. There’s this very obvious split, in black-and-white terms. When you talk about race in the South, how has that affected the way that you respond to the world?
Iron and Wine: I mean, that wasn’t entirely what that song was about, but it was definitely a part of it. That whole song for me was more about the Southern identity, given all the stuff that people still deal with, repercussions of the Civil War. And then what I think is more sad is how it’s gotten transfused into this media image, like Lynyrd Skynyrd, like flag-waving bullshit. It’s just a silly translation of Southern culture.
That’s more of what the song was about, the lost identity. But yeah, race definitely plays into it. We made the music video deal more specifically with that issue than I felt the song was, but for me that’s what’s fun about videos. But you know, a song like “Sodom, South Georgia” is more specifically about race.
PM: I don’t know, I’m still struggling with this “you verses them” thing. This is how I interpret your work. You are an individual in the sense that you are an artist, and your perspective is kind of filtered through that.
Iron and Wine: A lot of the writing comes from a certain amount of … I guess I do, I let myself go for a matter of focus, so you know, you can concentrate. And a lot of them are first-person songs; they’re definitely from a personal perspective, so in that sense it is kind of an isolation thing. Maybe that is part of it. But it’s not usually a direction I would usually write about.
PM: Again, that’s just the way I interpret what I’m hearing.
Iron and Wine: Yeah, it’s something to think about. It could really be interpreted in a lot of different ways. But it must be frustrating for people who have to write about it.
PM: But that’s what’s cool about being a creative person. You can do what you do, and let it go and let it be that, and have people respond to it the way that they will.
Iron and Wine: Nice.
PM: Yeah. One more question. I wanted to talk about your cover songs. I dig them all — “Sleeping Diagonally” (The Six Parts Seven), “Such Great Heights” (The Postal Service), “Waiting for Superman” (Flaming Lips). What’s it like to perform other people’s songs?
Iron and Wine: It’s good; I like covering other people’s songs, those are the only ones I do. That Flaming Lips song is one of my favorite songs. The Postal Service song is one that Jen asked us to do; kinda a cool song. The Six Parts Seven — we were asked to be part of that record. Yeah, I just sort of pick out parts of their songs to change it in a way that was interesting.
PM: Any favorite song you like to perform live or when you’re jamming with your friends — cover or your own?
Iron and Wine: Not really, we don’t get to “jam” a whole lot; we all live in different cities. We basically get together and cram for a tour. There are definitely songs that are fun to play, you know, as the tour progresses.
PM: Well, that’s what I wanted to talk about in terms of “serious stuff.” I was hoping we could play a game called “When Was the Last Time?” Basically, it’s a series of questions that are completely random and they have nothing to do with much of anything, other than my own weird desire to know.
Iron and Wine: Um, okay. Yeah.
PM: When was the last time you took a cookie from the “12 and under” cookie basket at the store?
Iron and Wine: I don’t remember.
PM: Maybe you’re not that kind of person.
Iron and Wine: Maybe when I was under 12?
PM: Last time you watched, The Gods Must be Crazy?
Iron and Wine: I think it was college.
PM: Okay. When was the last time you referred to your friend as your “colleague”?
Iron and Wine: My colleague? [Laughs.] I don’t know.
PM: The last time you dreamt something that came true?
Iron and Wine: Dreamt something that came true? I had a dream the other night that I got bit by a mosquito; there’s a lot of mosquitoes down here. Crazy dream, huh?
PM: Yeah, crazy. When was the last time you got up and left the movie theater?
Iron and Wine: I don’t usually do that; I don’t think I’ve ever left the movie theater — I’ve fallen asleep in movie theaters.
PM: Called your mother?
Iron and Wine: Yesterday.
PM: Skipped a department meeting for band practice?
Iron and Wine: I don’t think I’ve ever done that. [Laughs.]
PM: When was the last time you heard a good joke, and what was the joke?
Iron and Wine: Aw man, I don’t know any good jokes. Sorry.
PM: It’s alright…When was the last time you picked up a hitchhiker?
Iron and Wine: I’ve never done that.
PM: Took public transportation?
Iron and Wine: I guess it would be when I was in Chicago the last time.
PM: Ran a red light?
Iron and Wine: About two weeks ago.
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