Released in the spring, Love Letter For Fire is the surprising collaboration between Sam Beam (of Iron And Wine fame) and Jesca Hoop, the California-born sing-songwriter now based in Manchester.
Like the recent pairing of Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones, Beam and Hoop cite such ‘classic’ couples as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, and George Jones and Tammy Wynette, as inspiration, though theirs is a far more textured and varied road than the one travelled by Teddy and Kelly.
Recorded in Portland, Oregon, with producer Tucker Martine and musicians associated with Fiona Apple, The Decemberists, Primus and Wilco, the songs explore the topic of l-o-v-e in it’s the broadest sense…
The duo take a trip over the Atlantic this month for a brief run of dates that concludes at Moseley Folk Festival, Birmingham, on Sunday 4 September 2016 where they share the bill with The Jayhawks and The Proclaimers.
Sam has cited your 2007 album, Kismet, as what first attracted him to your work; do you have a favourite from Sam’s catalogue?
I have favourites from across Sam’s albums dating back to 2002, through the present. The album I have spent the most time with is The Shepherd’s Dog. Singing Resurrection Fern is a treasured experience for me and is one of my favourites songs from any writer across time.
Hunting My Dress, from your 2014 album, Undress, featured Sam as a guest – was this the first thing you recorded together, and the impetus for the album?
Yes, that was the first ever recording we did … and I would say there was some serendipity in the joining of our creative forces. I was asked by Sam’s management to come out as the support act on one of Iron and Wine’s Ghost On Ghost tours. I was making my album Undress as I travelled on that tour and though I did not know Sam very well, I ended up asking him if he would join me on the song Hunting My Dress. He not only joined me on the song, he transformed it and also facilitated recording it on the last night of the tour. During our preparations for recording Sam would say very casually, “if we ever write any songs together” which came as a surprise and was a notion that delighted me. I learned later that bringing me out on tour was all a part of a plan he’d been hatching. It turns out that he had been looking for a co-writer for some time, and he brought me out on tour to see if I might be that writer… So while he was quietly scheming, the recording of Hunting My Dress opened the door and give us a chance to agree that I was that writer indeed!
I understand that neither of you had co-written songs with others before – how did you find the process? Freeing? A compromise?
I would say freeing… but when I say freeing, I don’t mean that freedom came without compromise and the challenge of letting go. We set the precedent at the start that any idea put forward was raw material, malleable, changeable and non-sacred. There were times when Sam would send back an idea of mine, shifted in a way I would have to adjust to. At times that adjustment would challenge me to let go of my attachment to my own singular ideas. (That’s not saying we didn’t duke it out here and there…). I had to recall the original precedent and implement abandon. I developed the exercise of reserving judgement and moving into singing his alterations with my own tongue to hear my own voice try on his ideas before making up my mind about the changes. I liken it to being dressed by a stylist… there are times you fall in love with an article of clothing that you at first reject until you try it on. Through this exercise I found the gift of transformation and began to hear my own voice in a totally new way through a language Sam and I developed together, through the act of generous offering and weightless abandon. In a trusting way, we let each other shape and reshape the songs, until the songs eventually told us both what ideas we were to hold onto. So yes…. freeing!
What’s your personal favourite track/s from Love Letter For Fire?
My favourites are Know The Wild That Wants You and Bright Lights And Goodbyes – for me they are the most complete and the most enjoyable to sing.
Does your set-list stick to the album? Or do you call on your own back catalogues, or drop in any choice cover versions …?
As well as singing the Love Letter For Fire tunes I have cherry picked from Sam’s catalogue, my favourite Iron and Wine numbers, and he has done the same in the reverse… and yes we sing a couple covers as well! So much fun to be had!
Is this a one-off project? Or do you see more possible collaborations with Sam in the future?
Hard saying not knowing… there is no plan for more collaborations at this time… so I would suggest folks get in on it now… like you’ve got just this one life to live!
What’s next for you? Do you have a new solo record planned yet?
I do, I do! I have a new record coming out in 2017. That’s all I’m gonna say about it now but it’s all recorded and mastered ( hallelujah Jesus!) and I’m working on artwork now – Very exciting!
Are you still documenting your ‘sleeplife adventures’ via your You Are Innocent When You Dream blog? If so, any good dreams recently … ?
I come and go with my dream blog… I recently posted a dream, yes… last night I had a dream I was being pursued by a very large insect with spiky legs and it crawled up my back. I recall squealing in my dream and wondered if my beloved could hear me squealing in wake life.
* Moseley Folk Festival runs from Friday 2 to Sunday 4 September 2016 with acts including The Coral, Songhoy Blues, Billy Bragg, The Oyster Band and The Levellers. Details/ tickets: www.moseleyfolk.co.uk
* For full Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop tour dates, see: www.jescahoop.com/tour