Samick Motherlode

December 2014

Iron and Wine: Folk Heretic

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Iron and Wine: Folk Heretic

After the writing phase, we started recording in April 2009, and I cut the basic rhythm tracks with the band in Chicago at Engine studio. I wanted to record the basic tracks with my band, because on the last album [2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog] we used a click track, and I think it suffered from that. We did the other half at my home studio, and then Brian mixed it at Engine. I would take parts home to flesh them out with different overdubs, adding parts and taking them away. I guess Brian and I treat songs like paintings, where we make some marks or throw some paint on, and then come back and do it again until they’re finished.

Do you think a record’s feel can suffer from using a click track?

Well, a click track doesn’t lack feel per se, but it definitely has a feel of its own, which wasn’t right for me.

What are your favorite tunings to write in?

I use DADGAD quite a bit, as well as open G [D–G–D–G– B–D]. On Kiss Each Other Clean, I used DADGAD on “Half Moon” and “Big Burned Hand.”

Do you bring several guitars onstage tuned to your open tunings, or do you just re-tune onstage between songs?

No, I usually have two guitars—one in standard tuning, and another in DADGAD. Sometimes, I’ll figure out how to play DADGAD songs in standard tuning, which is kind of fun.

Do you ever collaborate or do you prefer to write alone?

I mostly write alone, but I did an EP with Calexico back in 2005 called In the Reins, and that was a lot of fun and great creatively. So, yeah, I do like to collaborate, but the opportunity doesn’t come along that often.

What guitars did you use on Kiss Each Other Clean?

Oh man, my publicist said you were going to be asking me about guitars [laughs].

Don’t tell me you don’t like guitars?

I love guitars—each of them has songs in them! I just don’t have a proper inventory off the top of my head. They aren’t even all in one place. I know your readers would like specific setups, but I select tones because they serve the song, not because I’m trying to establish a certain guitar-and-amp setup that defines Iron and Wine.


Beam, his ’72 SG, and a Fender Hot Rod DeVille 212 (right) rest between
takes at Clava Studios in Chicago. Photo by Piper Ferguson

Let’s talk about the tracks on the album and see if that jogs your memory.

I’ll do my best.

On “Walking Far from Home,” there’s a cool drone intro that sounds like an Ebow or some sort of Robert Fripper-y . . .

There really isn’t much guitar on that track. The drone is mostly processed piano and organ, but I think I did do a strummed acoustic guitar track through a Moogerfooger pedal as part of the drone.

The guitar on “Tree by the River” has a twangy, deliciously crispy overdrive. How did you get that sound?

It was a Gibson ES-335. It has humbuckers, but it can get a cool, almost Tele-like twang, too. The amp I used was built by Jesse Duke, a friend of mine in Austin, and it’s a big part of the sound. It’s a Fulton Webb 30 Watt, which has a ’60s Marshall channel and a tweed Deluxe channel. I flipped the half-power switch, turned it up loud, and that’s the sound it made.

“Half Moon” has a great mess of slide playing. Is that you?

No, it’s a friend of mine named Jim Becker playing slide on his Tele. He plays it with a volume pedal, so the volume swells sort of like a steel guitar. Actually, there are two tracks of slide. The other is me playing my ’57 Gibson ES-125 with a single P-90 at the neck. I love that guitar. I also played the chugging, blues-type rhythm on my early ’70s Strat through a tweed Fender Bassman.

I hear a Phillip Glass-type repetition going on in there, too.

Yes, there is. I did the arpeggio-type fingerpicking on a Gretsch Country Gentleman from Brian Deck’s Engine studio in Chicago. The warbly sound comes from a Moogerfooger pedal, again.

Do you use a claw-hammer or Travis-style fingerpicking technique?

I wish I knew how to do those styles [laughs]! I just use my thumb and index finger: The thumb plays the low end and the index finger does the higher stuff, which fills up a lot of space. The first thing I do when it comes time to overdub with the rest of the band is get rid of my original guitar track, because it usually doesn’t leave enough sonic space for the band.

“Rabbit Will Run” has a kalimba-sounding part that’s doubled on guitar. It sounds kind of like ’80s Peter Gabriel.

Wow, Peter Gabriel? Thanks for the compliment! That was a Jerry Jones JJ Original Shorthorn reissue—a really well-made copy of an old ’60s Danelectro. The lipstick pick- ups have enough of that tic-tac bass sound to fool you into thinking it’s a baritone guitar.

“Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me” sounds like finger tapping rather than picking.

No, its not finger tapping. It’s basically just me fingerpicking a blues riff on the Gretsch Country Gentleman. Then a clave track kicks in and it all sort of mixes together. I like throwing a bunch of different instruments together and processing them until you’re not sure which instrument is creating a particular sound and you can just sit back and enjoy the noise.
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