Before singer-songwriter Sam Beam of Iron & Wine rose to folk-music stardom in the mid-2000s, he was a VCU undergraduate living on Laurel Street in Oregon Hill.
"We'd go see punk-rock shows," Beam recalls of the four years he spent in River City. "We'd go see GWAR. They all lived down the street."
Beam, who now lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, with his wife and five daughters, earned a bachelor's degree in art from VCU, specializing in painting. He went on to earn an MFA from Florida State University's film school and taught film and cinematography at two Florida universities before releasing his first LP, The Creek Drank the Cradle , in 2002.
Since then, releasing music and touring under the Iron & Wine moniker, Beam has collaborated with fellow musicians, including the Arizona-based rock band Calexico and his sister Sarah Beam, to produce three more studio albums and several EPs. His most recent release, Kiss Each Other Clean , dropped in January, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard top 200 chart.
He says that river references serve as the binding imagery for his latest album.
"It's the classic cross-cultural metaphor for the life journey," Beam says, adding that he used to frequent Pony Pasture and Belle Isle when he lived here in the mid-'90s.
Beam also drew the album cover art that features his self-portrait standing in a river in front of a burning barn. It started out as a crayon-and-tempera paint project that he later edited digitally. "There is a lot of surreal stuff [in the album], so I thought a lot of psychedelic colors would be fun," Beam says.
Beam returns to his old college town with an eight-piece band to play at the National on April 27. He will be promoting Kiss Each Other Clean , as well as playing the crowd favorites that gave him his reputation.
"My memories of Richmond are so fond," Beam says. "I met my wife there, it was a big time for Sam."
Check out the June issue of Richmond magazine for a full-length Q & A with Beam in which he discusses religion, rivers and, of course, Richmond. Iron & Wine will play The National on April 27. Tickets are $25. 612-1900 or thenationalva.com .