meta-scriptPoll: From Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" To Tyler, The Creator's "I Am The Grinch," What's Your Favorite Holiday Song? | GRAMMY.com
Tyler, The Creator

Tyler, The Creator

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Poll: From Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" To Tyler, The Creator's "I Am The Grinch," What's Your Favorite Holiday Song?

Let us know what your favorite holiday song is in our latest GRAMMY.com poll!

GRAMMYs/Dec 19, 2020 - 06:49 am

'Tis the season to listen to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" on repeat! Whether you're one of the people who turned up the jingle bell jams to find some joy back in November or you've just started to dust off your playlist of jolly gems, we want to know what your favorite holiday song is.

Let us know what your fave festive bop of all time is in our poll below. You'll see new songs from artists like Todrick Hall, Andrew Bird, Dolly Parton with Miley Cyrus, and classics from José Feliciano, Chuck Berry, Eartha Kitt and more.

And make sure to check out our 2020 holiday songs roundup here to hear some of the latest ones.

21 New Holiday Songs From Todrick Hall, Tinashe, Mariah Carey & More To Spark Joy As 2020 (Finally) Comes To A Close

Amaarae performing in London in 2024
Amaarae performs in London in March 2024.

Photo: Burak Cingi/Redferns

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10 Can't-Miss Acts At Primavera Sound Barcelona 2024: Amaarae, Ethel Cain, Troye Sivan & More

Barcelona's Primavera Sound shines as a star-studded spectacle every year, but the famed international festival's 2024 lineup is especially lively. Get to know 10 acts you won't want to miss at Parc del Fòrum from May 29 to June 2.

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2024 - 08:43 pm

Since 2001, Primavera Sound has served as Barcelona's kickoff to summer. And with a stacked lineup chock full of effervescent acts for its 2024 iteration, this year's fest will certainly get the feel-good, warm-weather vibes rolling.

Phoenix starts the party with pop rock and new wave on May 29, setting the stage for fellow headliners Pulp, Vampire Weekend, and Justice on May 30. Lana Del Rey, The National, and Disclosure will make everyone's Friday night on May 31. Then, SZA, PJ Harvey, Mitski, and Charli XCX will ring in June on Saturday, before house/electronic acts ANOTR, The Blessed Madonna, Chloé Caillet, and Mochakk close things out on June 2.

But the headliners are just the beginning of what makes this year's Primavera Sound Barcelona exciting. Peggy Gou, L'Imperatrice, or Omar Apollo will likely tease new tunes, as they all gear up for June album releases. And just a month ago, Faye Webster, The Last Dinner Party, and Eartheater all had their respective Coachella debuts, proving they're more than ready to tackle the Primavera stage.

In the festival's jam-packed five-day lineup, hundreds of acts are primed to kick-start summer with a bang. Below, GRAMMY.com highlights 10 sets you won't want to miss in Barcelona — from Deftones' alt-metal bash to Amaarae's soulful hip-hop.

yeule

Performing: May 30, Plenitude Stage

Singaporean musician yeule is pioneering the ambient and glitch pop genres one song at a time. Born Nat Ćmiel, their stage name is based on a video game character, Paddra Nsu-Yeul, which speaks to their artistic steps in and out of reality. yeule's musical (and fashion) aesthetic is defined by the cyberworld, marked by futuristic, alternative styles that bewitchingly break norms.

Though they started out as a bedroom producer, yeule's more recent creative endeavors — like their invigorating 2022 album, softscars — have been more collaborative, adding a new layer of inspiration and beauty to their work. With influences ranging from Avril Lavigne to Radiohead, yeule's Primavera set will be ideal for living out all of your emo nostalgic fantasies.

Deftones

Performing: May 30, Amazon Music Stage

Get ready to scream with Deftones at Primavera. Winning their first GRAMMY back in 2001, the alternative metal band is still rocking out 20-plus years later — and making waves in this festival lineup. While Primavera tends to be led by various electronic and pop acts, Deftones is uniquely ushering punk to the festival's frontlines.

Banding together in 1988 in Sacramento, Deftones is known for their progressive experimentation within metal and rock, often dipping into psychedelia, post-punk, trip hop. Headed by lead vocalist Chino Moreno, the band's hardcore sound is unabashedly raw, original and heavy, continuing to evolve expansively with the metal genre.

Paving the way for contemporary heavy metal over the years, Deftones is a defiant act you won't want to miss at a major stage at Primavera Sound.

Troye Sivan

Performing: May 31, Santander Stage

Ready to feel the rush? Troye Sivan certainly is.

The Australian pop star is making Primavera an early stop in his tour for Something To Give Each Other, his latest album featuring jubilant singles like "Rush" and "Got Me Started." Once his European tour wraps in Birmingham, England at the tail end of June, he'll be headlining the Sweat Tour with fellow headliner Charli XCX — who coincidentally will be performing at Primavera the next day on June 1.

From the electropop seedlings on his 2015 debut, Blue Neighborhood, to the full-fledged forlorn beauty of his 2020 EP, In A Dream, Sivan's artistry has evolved significantly in the last decade. Today, his music is its most freeing yet, and there's no doubt it'll be glorious (and sweaty) on the Primavera stage.

Obongjayar

Performing: May 31, Plentitude Stage

UK-based Nigerian artist Obongjayar's musical style is nearly indescribable. Interlacing Afrobeat, spoken word, and EDM, all of his songs are distinctly tinged with a signature, soulful vibrance, and it'll be sensational to see how Obongjayar takes his pensive profundity to fill the Primavera stage.

Though he might be best known for the Fred again.. collaboration "adore u" (which samples his track "I Wish It Was Me"), Obongjayar's special sound effortlessly meshes with everyone he works with. From "If You Say" with Sarz, to "Point and Kill" with Little Simz, to "Protein" with Jeshi, it would be fair to call Obongjayar a chameleon — except instead of blending in, he's standing out.

Ethel Cain

Performing: May 31, Santander Stage

There's no better word to describe Ethel Cain's music than transcendent.

A master of gothic indie rock, Cain stitches together uncanny Americana and lovelorn nostalgia into a radiant, sensory experience. Her debut album, 2022's Preacher's Daughter, is divine and sometimes disturbing, but its ambience live sends audiences into an impossibly satisfying trance.

Whether you're listening to the enchanting slow burn of "A House In Nebraska" or the eerie roar of "American Teenager," both Cain's storytelling and live performance are infallibly spine-chilling — do yourself a favor and don't miss Cain's hauntingly beautiful set at Primavera.

BADBADNOTGOOD

Performing: May 31, Cupra Stage

Looking for a band that combines jazz styles with hip-hop production? Look no further than BADBADNOTGOOD, an innovative Canadian instrumental band.

After meeting at a Toronto jazz program in 2010, the three-piece band bonded over their hip-hop music appreciation, and the rest is history. Since then, BADBADNOTGOOD (which now features Leland Whitty in place of original member Matthew Tavares) has released five studio albums — fittingly, including covers of hip-hop songs with jazz interpretations. The group has also worked with Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, The Creator, Thundercat, and many more notable artists.

The band's collaborative production and remixing has earned them two GRAMMY wins and five total nominations, and there's no question BADBADNOTGOOD's set will put a spell on Barcelona.

Arca

Performing: May 31, Amazon Music Stage

Electronica is Arca's playground, and the pioneering producer's set at Primavera is sure to craft a whole new world. Dynamism defines the Venezuelan musician's shape-shifting art; through its avant-garde fusion of reggaeton, ambient techno, and dark electronica, her music is bursting with vigor.

Arca's music often discusses themes of gender identity and sexuality, and her views of queerness center around harmony and inclusion, which reflect in her pristine tracks "Nonbinary" and "Machote" on her GRAMMY-nominated album KiCk i. Having released 10 albums since 2006; worked with artists like Rosalía, Björk, and the late SOPHIE; and even opened for Beyoncé's Renaissance World Tour, Arca brings immeasurable experience to Barcelona.

The producer's music naturally begs to be heard live — it's meant to sweat to and be danced to, and Arca's Primavera set will embody true electronic extravagance.

ATARASHII GAKKO!

Performing: June 1, Cupra Stage

This rising Japanese girl group's powerful sound easily warrants a stage name in all caps and with an exclamation point.

Fresh off their U.S. television debut on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," ATARASHII GAKKO! is ready to tackle the Primavera Sound stage with their engaging J-pop that integrates elements of hip-hop, rock, and jazz. Intrepid and commanding, their live performance features synchronized dancing, matching sailor school uniforms, and occasionally a marching band.

The quartet's upcoming world tour has a handful of sold-out dates. They've already conquered crowds at Coachella and Head in the Clouds — and there's no doubt that ATARASHII GAKKO! will bring their best to Barcelona.

Amaarae

Performing: June 1, Amazon Music Stage

Ama Serwah Genfi — better known as Amaarae — is an alté trailblazer. Raised between Atlanta and Accra, Ghana, the singer crafts mercurial music that is both introspective and stylish, and destined to be performed for vast audiences.

From her 2017 EP, Passionfruit Summers, to her 2023 album, Fountain Baby, it's easy to be mesmerized by her distinct, eccentric soprano and overflowing confidence. Her critically acclaimed "Sad Girlz Luv Money" (featuring Molly and Kali Uchis) charted globally in 2021, and just last year, she became the first Ghanaian American to perform an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Amaarae's live performances bring her blend of R&B, pop, and afrobeats to a new level, and she's ready to introduce her infectious global beats to Primavera.

Bikini Kill

Performing: June 1, Pull&Bear Stage

Famed pioneers of the riot grrrl movement in the '90s, Bikini Kill is bringing punk fun (and rage) to the Primavera stage.

Influencing alternative stars like Sleater-Kinney, Pussy Riot, and The Linda Lindas, it's no question that the iconic American band has inspired the next generation, whether that be through their music or activism. From "Rebel Girl" to "Feels Blind" to "I Like F—ing," Bikini Kill's beautifully irate music calls for female solidarity and empowerment still resonate with listeners today.

Though the band broke up in 1997, they reunited in 2019 and have since been touring together — and now, Primavera offers a special chance to see another inspiring moment from the revolutionary rockers.

​​Leap Into AAPI Month 2024 With A Playlist Featuring Laufey, Diljit Dosanjh, & Peggy Gou

Zayn
Zayn Malik attends the Valentino Menswear Fall/Winter 2024-2025 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 20, 2024 in Paris, France

Photo: Marc Piasecki/WireImage via Getty Images

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New Music Friday: Listen To Songs & Albums From Zayn, The Avett Brothers, Bebe Rexha & More

As Billie Eilish fans rejoice over the release of her latest album, they're not the only fandom jamming new tunes on May 17. Check out new music from Maria Becerra, Saweetie, Galantis, and more.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 04:12 pm

As music fans know, Friday is the official weekday of new releases — but this week began with a bang.

On Monday, May 13, Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, released Atavista, a "finished" version of his 2020 album, 3.15.20. Back then, he released a nascent version of said album on his website, before pulling it down and uploading it to streaming services the following week, with guest appearances by Ariana Grande, 21 Savage and more.

Happily, the finished product retains those inspired guest appearances, over polished and honed versions of the original tunes. With the release of Atavista, Glover released a music video for "Little Foot Big Foot," featuring Young Nudy. He also promised special vinyl with visuals for each song, as well as an all-new Childish Gambino album due this summer.

And before Friday even hit, two country superstars also delivered exciting new tracks. Also on May 13, Lainey Wilson unleashed "Hang Tight Honey," the first single from her forthcoming third album, Whirlwind, out August 23. Three days later, Luke Combs released "Ain't No Love In Oklahoma," the lead track from TWISTERS: THE ALBUM. (Arriving July 19, the soundtrack will feature a number of other country greats, from Miranda Lambert to Shania Twain to Jelly Roll.) 

Today, there are plenty of other musical delicacies to savor. One of the most prominent is Billie Eilish's hotly anticipated third album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT. Also, Puerto Rican rap star Álvaro Díaz's SAYONARA; American singer/songwriter Sasha Alex Sloan's Me Again; and 1D star Zayn's ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS have been unveiled. Even renowned actress Kate Hudson has also joined the musical ranks, releasing her debut album, Glorious.

Veterans, too, are stepping out with fresh offerings. Psych-tinged retro rockers Cage the Elephant are back with their first album in five years, Neon Pill. Slash released Orgy of the Damned, an album of mostly blues covers featuring guests from Gary Clark Jr. to Iggy Pop to Demi Lovato. On the opposite side of the coin, boy band pioneers New Kids on the Block return with Still Kids, their first album in 11 years, featuring guests DJ Jazzy Jeff and Taylor Dayne.

Still, that doesn't even begin to cover the trove of new songs delivered on May 17. Omar Apollo, Peggy Gou and HARDY released tracks from upcoming albums, and Russ (feat. 6LACK), Charlotte Cardin and T-Pain released inspired singles. What other treasures have this Friday wrought? Check the below list for albums and tunes to add to your weekend playlist!

The Avett Brothers — The Avett Brothers

With their previous album, back in 2019, Americana favorites the Avett Brothers declared they were Closer Than Together. Now, they're back with a self-titled album, and a return to their original label, Ramseur Records.

But that's just one way they're circling back to their roots; the Rick Rubin-produced The Avett Brothers returns to burning-rubber vocals; sturdy, folkloric melodies; and lovelorn lyrics. If those are your bag, don't miss tracks like "Love of a Girl," "Orion's Belt" and "Same Broken Bones."

Bebe Rexha, "Chase It (Mmm Da Da Da)"

Bebe Rexha's last album was 2023's Bebe, but this phenom of a pop singer/songwriter is already back with new music. Get warmed up for the impending summer sun with "Chase It (Mmm Da Da Da)," complete with a rip-roaring video.

The four-time GRAMMY nominee debuted her latest banger in the desert sands of Coachella 2024; if you're ready for the swooping, thumping official version, chase it down today. 

Meaningfully, "Chase It (Mmm Da Da Da)" marks Rexha's first solo dance track after numerous collaborations with electronic acts; she even earned back-to-back GRAMMY nods in 2023 and 2024 for jams concocted with David Guetta, and her only other release of 2024 so far was a collab with Brazilian DJ Alok.

Galantis, Rx

We haven't gotten a new album from the beloved Swedish EDM duo Galantis in a hot minute; that just changed. Though they has released two albums since 2015's Pharmacy — 2017's The Aviary and 2020's Church — Galantis' latest album is a direct successor to their game-changing debut. Behold, the aptly titled Rx.

Running the gamut from ethereal textures to electrifying, pulsing rhythms, Rx directly reckons with Galantis's now-sole member Christian Karlsson's ADHD, and how medication was a game-changer in his life and work.

"Pharmacy was when I knew I was neurodivergent and I knew the studio was like a pharmacy for me," Karlsson stated in a press release. "I was the patient. Rx is when I found medication. For me, it was key, but of course, everyone walks their own path."

Saweetie — "NANi"

Before Saweetie officially released "NANi," she had been teasing the track all week long. On May 11, at the 2024 Gold Gala, an annual gathering of top Asian Pacific and multicultural leaders, the rapper (who has Filipino and Chinese roots) told Billboard, "NANi' is that girl. 'NANi' is main character energy." And on Instagram, as part of the cover art reveal for the single, she declared, "We gon' fkkk up the Summer."

She certainly will. The poolside-partying, Smirnoff-plugging video lives up to a YouTube commenter's adroit description: "It's giving Barbie and Bratz royalty!" Will it be part of Pretty Bitch Music, the album she's been teasing (and honing) for years? Time will tell.

Warren Zeiders — "Betrayal"

Warren Zeiders staked his claim with his 2021 debut single, "Ride the Lightning"; now, he's got a stormcloud overhead. The uber-moody "Betrayal" makes no bones about its subject: "This isn't how I pictured you and I/ Smile in my face while you twist the knife/ Shame on me if you fool me twice/ You fooled me twice."

As unremittingly bleak as the lyrics are, though, the budding country star's melody lets the light in. What an alchemy: the more Zeiders bemoans being chapfallen and frustrated, the lap steel-laced music evermore swoops and sparkles.

María Becerra — "IMAN (Two of Us)"

Once a YouTuber, and now an urbano sensation, bubbly Argentine singer María Becerra is back with a four-on-the-floor stomper. The somewhat Dua Lipa-tinted "IMAN (Two of Us)" is a delight, as is its candy-coated video, where Becerra cavorts and romances through a surreal art exhibit.

Her new album, MB3*, is expected sometime in 2024; it should also include tunes like "Slow it Down," "Do You (feat. 24kGoldn)" and "Agora." Let the earworm "IMAN" slake your thirst in the meantime.

Zayn — ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS

Boy band acolytes will always long for the return of One Direction, who have been on hiatus since 2016. But in the meantime, their solo work just keeps getting sweeter. Following a three-year intermission, Zayn released ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS; for him, this music cuts to the quick of who he is.

"I think the intention behind this album fully is ​​for the listener to get more insight on me personally as a human being," Zayn explained in an Instagram post. "My ambitions, my fears, and for them to have a connection with that and that's why it's so raw. It's just me."

Taking six years to get right, and marking a return to Mercury Records, ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS is an unmistakable sonic and thematic evolution for the One Direction star. As with the other selections on this list, it's right on time for spring — let the songs of the season help you flourish, too.

New Music Friday: Listen To Songs From Megan Thee Stallion, Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X, BTS' RM & More

Sean Ono Lennon at 2024 Oscars
Sean Ono Lennon attends the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

Photo: Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

interview

Catching Up With Sean Ono Lennon: His New Album 'Asterisms,' 'War Is Over!' Short & Shouting Out Yoko At The Oscars

Sean Ono Lennon is having a busy year, complete with a new instrumental album, 'Asterisms,' and an Oscar-winning short film, 'War is Over!' The multidisciplinary artist discusses his multitude of creative processes.

GRAMMYs/May 2, 2024 - 02:23 pm

Marketing himself as a solo musician is a little excruciating for Sean Ono Lennon. It might be for you, too, if you had globally renowned parents. Despite his musical triumphs over the years, Lennon is reticent to join the solo artist racket.

Which made a certain moment at the 2024 Oscars absolutely floor him: Someone walked up to Lennon and told him "Dead Meat," from his last solo album, 2006's Friendly Fire, was his favorite song ever. Not just on the album, or by Lennon. Ever.

"I was so shocked. I wanted to say something nice to him, because it was so amazing for someone to say that," Lennon tells GRAMMY.com. "But it was too late anyway." (Thankfully, after he tweeted about that out-of-nowhere moment, the complimenter connected with him.)

It's a nice glimmer of past Lennon, one who straightforwardly walked in his father's shoes. But what's transpired since 2006 is far more interesting than any Beatle mini-me.

Creatively, Lennon has a million irons in the fire — with the bands the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, the Claypool Lennon Delirium, his mom's Plastic Ono Band, and beyond.

And in 2024, two projects have taken center stage. In February, he delivered his album Asterisms, a genreless instrumental project with a murderer's row of musicians in John Zorn's orbit, released on Zorn's storied experimental label Tzadik Records. Then just a few weeks later, his 2023 short film War is Over! — for which he co-wrote the original story, and is inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono's timeless peace anthem "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" — won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

On the heels of the latter, Lennon sat down with GRAMMY.com to offer insights on both projects, and how they each contributed to "really exciting" creative liberation.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You shouted out your mom at the Oscars a couple of months back. How'd that feel?

Well, honestly, it felt really cosmic that it was Mother's Day [in the UK]. So I just kind of presented as a gift to her. It felt really good. It felt like the stars were aligning in many ways, because she was watching. It was a very sweet moment for me.

What was the extent of your involvement with the War Is Over! short?

Universal Music had talked to me about maybe coming up with a music video idea. I had been trying to develop a music video for a while, and I didn't like any of the concepts; it just felt boring to me.

The idea of watching a song that everyone listens to already, every year, with some new visual accompaniment — it didn't feel that interesting. So, I thought it'd be better to do a short film that kind of exemplifies the meaning of the song, because then, it would be something new and interesting to watch.

That's when I called my friend Adam Gates, who works at Pixar. I was asking him if he had any ideas for animators, or whatever. I knew Adam because he had a band called Beanpole. [All My Kin] was a record he made years ago with his friends, and never came out. It's this incredible record, so I actually put it out on my label, Chimera Music.

But Adam couldn't really help me with the film, because he's still contractually with Pixar, and they have a lot of work to do. But he introduced me to his friend Dave Mullins, who's the director. He had just left Pixar to start a new production company. He could do it, because he was independent, freelance.

Dave and I had a meeting. In that first meeting, we were bouncing around ideas, and we came up with the concept for the chess game and the pigeon. I wanted it to be a pigeon, because I really love pigeons, and birds. We wrote it together, and then we started working on it.

So, I was there from before that existed, and I saw the thing through as well. I also brought in Peter Jackson to do the graphics. 

This message unfortunately resonates more than ever. Republicans used to be the war hawks; now, it's Democrats. What a reversal.

It just feels like we live in an upside-down world. Something happened where we went through a wormhole, and we're in this alternate reality. I don't know how it happened. But it's not the only [example]; a lot of things just seem absolutely absurd with the world these days.

But hopefully, it points toward something better. I try to be optimistic. In the Hegelian dialectic, you have to have a thesis and antithesis, and the synthesis is when they fuse to become a better idea. So, I'm hoping that all the tension in society right now is what the final stage of synthesis looks like.

How'd the filmmaking process roll on from there?

Dave had made a really great short film called LOU when he was at Pixar; that was also nominated for an Oscar. He and [producer] Brad [Booker] know a ton of talented people; they have an amazing character designer.

We started sending files back and forth with WingNut in New Zealand; they would be adding the skins to the characters.

One of the first stages was the performance capture, where you basically attach a bunch of ping pong balls to a catsuit and a bicycle helmet. You record the position of these ping pong balls in a three-dimensional space. That gives you the performance that you map the skins onto on the computer later on. 

For a couple of years, there was a lot of production. David and his team did a really good job of inventing and designing uniforms for the imaginary armies that never existed, because we really didn't want to identify any army as French or British or German or anything.

We wanted to get a kind of parallel universe — an abstraction of the First World War. We designed it so that one army was based on round geometry, and the other was based on angular geometry.

It was a long process, and it was really fun. I learned a lot about modern computer animation.

Between Em Cooper's GRAMMY-winning "I'm Only Sleeping" video and now this, the Beatles' presence in visual media is expanding outward in a cool way.

I think we've been really fortunate to have a lot of really great projects to give to the world. I've only been working on the Beatles and John Lennon stuff directly in the last couple of years, and it's been really exciting for me.

And a big challenge, obviously, because I don't [hesitates] want to f— up. [Laughs.] But it's been a real honor. And I'm very grateful to my mom for giving me the freedom to try all these wacky ideas. Because a lot of people are like, "Oh, when are you going to stop trying to rehash the past with the Beatles, or John Lennon?"

Because the modern world is as it is, I feel like we have a responsibility to try to make sure that the Beatles and John Lennon's music remains out there in the public consciousness, because I think it's really important. I think the world needs to remember the Beatles' music, and remember John and Yoko. It's really about making sure we don't get lost in the white noise of modernity.

I love Asterisms. Where are you at in your journey as a guitarist? I'm sure you unlocked something here.

Like it's a video game. It's weird — I don't even consider myself a guitar player. I'm just, like, a software. But I think it's more about confidence — because it's really hard for me to get over my insecurity with playing and stuff.

For so many different reasons, it's probably just the way I'm designed — being John and
Yoko's kid, growing up with a lot of preconceived notions or expectations about me, musically.

So, it's always been hard to accept myself as a musician, and this was kind of a lesson in getting over myself. Accepting what I wanted to play, and just doing it.

This is my Tzadik record, so it had to be all these fancy, amazing musicians. It doesn't matter what your chops are: it's more about how you feel, and the feeling you bring to your performance.

Once we recorded, it sounded amazing, because we recorded live to tape. So, everything on that album is live, except for my guitar solos. I didn't play my solos live, because I had to play the rhythm guitar. I was just paying attention to the band and cueing people. Once we finished the basic tracks, it just took us a couple of days, and it was done.

It was the simplest record I've ever done, because there were no vocals, so there wasn't a lot of mixing process. We recorded live to 16-track tape, and it was done.

I caught wind a couple of years back that you were working on another solo record simultaneously. Is that true?

I was working on a solo record of songs with lyrics. I finished it, and — I don't know, I think this speaks to the mental problems I have — but I didn't like it suddenly, and i never put it out. I just felt weird about it. I think I overthought it or something.

Then Zorn asked me to do an instrumental thing, and it was a no-brainer, because I've been a fan my whole life. The idea of getting to do something on his label was really an honor.

I got turned on to so many amazing musicians from Zorn, like Joey Baron, Dave Douglas, Kenny Wolleson, and Marc Ribot. Growing up in New York, that's always been my idea of where the greatest musicians are — Zorn and his gang.

Why'd you feel weird about the other album? Did it just not have the juice?

It's not that I didn't think it had the juice. I just got uncomfortable with the idea of putting out a solo record, and the whole process. I got nervous. I still think it's good. But I don't know if it's good enough to warrant me releasing it.

That's fine playing in bands, like the [Claypool Lennon] Delirium and GOASTT [Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger]. It takes a degree of unnecessary pressure off of making music. But as soon as your actual birth name is on the record, it starts to feel uncomfortable for me.

People are ruthless today, period. But they're especially critical of me with music. So, it's like, Do I really need to do that s—? It's a little more awkward: "I, myself, Sean Lennon, am putting out my art, and here it is." I'd rather be part of the band.

The Beatles' Final Song: Giles Martin On The Second Life Of "Now And Then" & How The Fab Four Are "Still Breaking New Ground"

Sam Beam
Sam Beam of Iron & Wine performing in 2022

Photo: Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

interview

Iron & Wine Offers 'Light Verse': Sam Beam On His New Album, 2000s-Era Pigeonholing & Turning Up The Whimsy

If your memories of Iron & Wine are of melancholic folk songs for drizzly days, wipe your glasses dry: singer Sam Beam is a richly multidimensional artist. As displayed on his sophisticated, fancy-free new album with killer collaborators, 'Light Verse.'

GRAMMYs/Apr 29, 2024 - 02:15 pm

Upon first impression, Sam Beam of Iron & Wine’s got a wildly endearing trait: he laughs even when something’s not explicitly funny. Even through Zoom, the man most of us know for aching, desolate folk songs will give you a tremendous lift.

"I like to joke around and stuff with my friends," the beardy and serene Beam tells GRAMMY.com — those friends including fellow mellow 2000s favorites, like Andrew Bird and Calexico. "Honestly, it's harder to be serious than it is to joke around most of my friends."

That’s partly what spurred the four-time GRAMMY nominee to make the shimmering, whimsical Light Verse. While it follows 2023’s soundtrack to the documentary Who Can See Forever, and 2019’s Calexico collaboration Years to Born, in relatively short order, it’s still the first proper Iron & Wine album since 2017’s Beast Epic.

Getting to the space to write waggish songs like "Anyone’s Game" ("First they kiss their lucky dice and then they dig themselves a grave/ They do this until it’s killing them to try") wasn’t easy. In conversation, Beam mentions "the pandemic that put me on my ear." In press materials, he expanded on exactly how it did.

"While so many artists, fortunately, found inspiration in the chaos, I was the opposite and withered with the constant background noise of uncertainty and fear," Beam wrote. "The last thing I wanted to write about was COVID."

"And yet, every moment I sat with my pen," he continued, "it lingered around the edges and wouldn’t leave. I struggled to focus until I gave up, and this lasted for over two years."

Thankfully, a Memphis session with singer/songwriter Lori McKenna relaxed his "creative muscles" and a series of tours and collaborations loosened him up even more. Beam assembled a dream team of musicians in Laurel Canyon, and the rest is history — Light Verse is a sumptuous delight.

Read on for how it came to be — and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Light Verse is the first non-collaborative Iron & Wine album since 2017. I imagine there’s sometimes pressure to just put music out for the sake of having it out. Whatever the case, I appreciate that you put time and thought into it.

Yeah, I mean, honestly, I just like making records with other people. You can only smell your own breath so long. I enjoy putting out records, but I feel like I grow more as a musician and person by working with other people. So, I’ll probably be doing more and more of that.

I don’t feel a whole lot of pressure, one way or the other. Maybe I’m just deaf and those things are screaming at me. But I just don’t listen.

What pressures have you faced in the music industry?

Oh, there are certainly lots of pressures. One is, I should probably be on top of my social media game, but I just can't seem to engage with it. I don’t know. That's how people make their entire careers these days, but I can't find a way to sustain it.

I can't think of a way that I could, because I definitely go through days without picking up my phone at all, so I just can't. I think if I could figure out a way to make it fun, I would do it.

What do you do with the time most people spend on their screens?

Playing guitar, or I do a lot of painting. I’m not saying I never pick up my phone, but I don't think about what could I share about my breakfast to the world, I just don't think about it. I'm private.

What was the germ of the concept behind Light Verse?

I don't really usually go in with a specific idea in mind. I just like to stack the deck with people that I like to play with, or that I like what they do. And so just see what happens, throwing a bunch of ingredients that you like individually, and just seeing if it makes a soup that you like.

My idea was to go in with these folks from L.A. that I had met along the way. David Garza, I'd been wanting to play with for a long time. I'd met Tyler Chester, who plays keys, when he was playing with Andrew Bird. Griffin Goldsmith plays with Dawes.

The songs were all developed. They were a bit lighter than some of the fare that I've put out before, far as just silly rhymes. They're a little more off the cuff.

I'm kinda mining the territory of the early '70s, where the folk writers were playing with jazz musicians. It just becomes a little more orchestra, or however you want to describe it. Not quite so straightforward.

But I had these off-kilter tunes and I got an off-kilter, talented band from LA, and I was just going to see what happened. And this is what happened.

Naturally, my mind goes to Joni Mitchell playing with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. What are your touchstones?

Well, those Van records — Astral Weeks and stuff. All the stuff in that time when people started playing cluster-y chords. I love that music. It’s so expressive. Ron Carter playing with Roberta Flack, even. They’re gospel-blues sorts of tunes, but they’re also folky [in their] structures and melodies.

Are you a super technically proficient guitarist? Can you play those crazy chords?

[Grins] I wouldn’t be able to tell you what chord it was, but I might be able to get my hand in the shape. I don’t read music. I just learned to play by ear, but I like to play guitar a lot, so I end up stumbling on most stuff.

I also fool around with a lot of open tunings, so you end up with some cluster-y, bizarre stuff with that, for sure.

Even just paying attention to Brian Wilson — he’s not a guitarist, but I feel like his work can teach guitarists a lot about voice leading and stuff.

Definitely. A lot of those jazz voices have been absorbed by pop music. You can hear Bill Evans all over pop music, especially in the ‘90s.

**Can you take readers through the orchestration on Light Verse? It’s so shimmery and rich and unconventional.**

Thanks. Yeah, we were borrowing from some of those jazz ensembles we’re talking about, and also Brazilian music.

Honestly, that Gal Costa tune, "Baby" — it’s the most famous one — it’s my spirit animal for this record. Just between the strings and the way the guitars and rhythm section work — the sparse way it comes and goes.

We approached it fairly intuitively. But I do feel like Paul Cartwright, who did a lot of those strings and charts and stuff, played a huge role as far as the identity of this record. Outside of the lyrics and the forms and stuff, just the way that he interpreted in this really expressive way. His charts and stuff were really great — and a lot of it's him playing, stacking stuff on his own. He's really, really talented.

He also grew up in Bakersfield, and since the violin is strung the way a mandolin is, he rocks a mean mandolin. He had all these different bass mandocellos and all this stuff. He was just, "What are we working on now? Hand me that thing," and just did all kinds of coloring. It's great.

Can you talk about approaching your work with more whimsy and color?

I feel like for some reason, for the longest time when I sat down to write a song, it was a time to say what I mean. And so when it came time to write a song, it ended up being really somber. Some of it is acidic, but somber for the most part.

Whereas for this one, I was just looking for more balance. Maybe I'm just too old to be impressed by that stuff, so I like balance — something that can resonate on something that people recognize but also is fun at the same time. 

You can embrace both things at one time, that life is hard and also silly. And so that was the MO going into this one, and a lot of the songs that I chose to record were because they had both of those things going on at one time.

You’re a three-dimensional artist, but marketing can flatten musicians. Growing up with Iron & Wine, it tended to be packaged as "chill music for rainy days" or some such. Primary colors.

We all do that. We always try to define something. You know what I mean? You want to understand it, and by understanding, control it and define it.

All artists deal with that, for sure. It's frustrating when you want to be recognized. You want them to pay attention to other things, but it's also that we just want to be appreciated. Artists want to be appreciated for every little gesture we make, and it's not realistic. We do our best.

I feel like if you work hard, hopefully the stars will align and people will appreciate what you do.

What do you remember about the atmosphere of the music industry, back when big songs I don’t need to name came out?

You mean the vampire song and stuff?

Yeah.

It's definitely a lot different. The internet upended everything. I squeezed and slipped in the door just as the door was closing on the closed circuit of records and stuff.

It was more of a monoculture, where everyone was having the same conversation about the same groups of musicians. Now, [you can have] the entire history of recorded music at any moment of the day. It's hard to have the same conversation about things. That's been a big difference.

When you hang out and collaborate with friends like Andrew Bird, is there ever a sense of "We survived, we’re the class of 2000-whatever"?

Well, for one thing, it's hard to realize that you've been making music that long. Most bands don't even last that long. It's insane.

But it's also, I just feel really blessed. Maybe it's because I never studied music — my career feels like a fluke. I still feel blessed that people are still interested, blessed that I'm able to do this. I never thought it was in the cards, and so I just feel really lucky.

Sam Beam

Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. Photo: Kim Black

I feel like one route to longevity is self-containment. Namely, self-production, which you’ve done forever. Where are you at with that journey?

I like autonomy. I see the musicians who are also producers in their own right, so usually I have a room full of producers and I don't end up using them. We all think everyone should get a producer credit, but I take it because I'm selfish.

But I like having the autonomy. That's why I still release on an independent record label. I like steering the boat. We're all steering around the same fog, but I don't like to have someone else to bitch about. I just bitch about myself.

It releases you from those moments where it’s like, "Sam, sales are down. We’ve got to get you in with Danger Mouse," or something.

Well, hell, man, I’d do that. But I know what you mean. The idea committees I imagine for most artists are really brutal.

Trend-wise, there’s pressure to chase trains that can lead to all music sounding the same.

The things that you're offered, really teach you a lot about what you're in it for. Or it's also after a while, your reasons for doing it change. I don't fault people for reaching for the ring, but I also feel like I was lucky in the sense that I was just doing it for fun.

And all the songs that have been popular were a surprise to me. The songs of mine that were embraced in a way were a surprise. I felt like there were others that might've been more popular or something, or I would've chosen to promote.

So, the lesson I learned is you have no idea. Just put your best into each one and see what happens because you really can't predict what's going to happen. In that sense, if you're trying to be popular or record something that sticks, you're trying to emulate something that's proven to be popular. And for me, that seemed like a recipe for disaster from the beginning.

I feel like if you wrote a really great song in the ‘90s or 2000s, it’d get heard. Not so much in 2024. You need to take it to market and bother everybody about it.

Yeah, it's a tricky thing. The internet has been wonderful as far as we have access to all kinds of stuff that we didn't have access to before, but it just also disperses all the attention. It's hard. There's a lot of great music happening right now — but like you say, you might never know.

What are you checking out lately that you’re really connecting with? Past or present.

I heard a great tune the other day by this woman named Barbara Keith, "Detroit or Buffalo," from 1972. Obviously not contemporary, but it was incredible. I'd never heard it before. I'm checking out stuff, trying to keep up. It's hard.

What do you like that would make people say, "Sam Beam likes that?"

Oh, in my case, it’s all over the place. I’m not real proprietorial with music. It’s something to experience. I’m not so much into dance music, but I like a lot of really intense electronic music. That might be surprising. Who knows?

Everything’s out there for the taking. It’s the universal buffet.

I think everyone can recognize a musical omnivore, and then not be surprised.

Anything else about Light Verse you’re raring to talk about?

We did get to sing with Fiona Apple, which was really a treat. That was unexpected, but a very welcome experience. And she turned a regular song into an incredible duet, which was really a surprise and a blessing.

What was it like working with Fiona?

I never actually met her. Because of the way technology works these days, she was in a whole other state and sent us the track. But a lot of the people that were playing and a lot of people in the room; we share band members like Sebastian Steinberg, and David Garza plays with her a lot too.

One of the reasons that I recorded there in LA with Dave Way is because they had made their last few records with Dave, and Sebastian had been in my ear about, "You got to go record Dave." And it turns out he was right. It was great. She had a lot of friends in the room, so it wasn't too hard to convince her.

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