Interview: Gregory Alan Isakov

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photo by Blue Caleel

“With my music, I’m always trying to create a sense of place, and Colorado always seems to make it into the songs,” says renowned folk artist Gregory Alan Isakov. “The first time I ever played in Los Angeles, I remember seeing palm trees and an ocean, and playing my songs there that were all written in the mountains seemed so weird to me. It was trippy, I never thought my music would fit in other places.”

Actually, Isakov’s music fits perfectly in a multitude of settings—on the small screen, performed in venues across the globe, and most recently, on a live recording collaboration with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. His new full-length album, Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony, was released on June 10th via Suitcase Town Music and has already claimed the #1 spot on the iTunes Singer/ Songwriter chart. The eleven-track record features songs from his previous albums, The Weatherman, This Empty Northern Hemisphere, and That Sea, The Gambler, as well as “Liars”, which was written by Ron Scott.

“It was the weirdest thing, I don’t really know how it happened,” he says of his venture with the Symphony. “It felt like the strangest collaboration I would ever think of, and it was so cool. Originally, we were just going to do one show together and record it. We loved it so much and we all had such a great time, we decided to do it again. It was a profound experience to have the hands of so many creative people involved, it just blew me away,” Isakov recalls, of the album, which was recorded in the elegantly spacious Boettcher Concert Hall, home of the Colorado Symphony. “These arrangements began in 2013, after we’d just put out The Weatherman, and a lot of the songs on the record with the Symphony were from that album. Some of the score took about 6 months to make, charts for 75 people take a while,” he laughs. “We chose songs that we thought would sound best with string arrangements, ones that we love playing live.”

The songsmith was born in South Africa, but now calls his working farm outside of Boulder home. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been weirdly into plants, and I didn’t really know why,” he explains. “I went to school for horticulture, but I originally thought I would focus on music—I’d been playing guitar in high school. After one day of music classes and I said, ‘Nope. I don’t want a teacher in my head when I’m playing. I don’t want any structure around it.’ I knew I could probably learn a lot, but gardening was where I decided to go.” When Isakov is not on the road cultivating his music, he tends to sheep and bees, as well as the sustainable agriculture and heirloom seed-growing projects he champions. Are there commonalities between Isakov’s love of plants and his love of music?  “I’ll probably never master either of them,” he says with a laugh.

“There was a lot of new stuff I’ve been working on; these arrangements began in 2013, after we’d just put out The Weatherman, and a lot of the songs on the record with the Symphony were from that album. Some of the score took about 6 months to make, charts for 75 people take a while,” laughs. “We chose songs that we thought would sound best with string arrangements, ones that we love playing live.”

There are others who live on the farm who can manage it while he is away, as he is now—Isakov and company have embarked on a nationwide tour to support the release of the new album, and will be making a stop in Nashville to perform a seated show at Marathon Music Works on Tuesday, June 28th, accompanied by his friends, The Ghost Orchestra. “They’re amazing classical musicians; they’ve been doing the club shows with us. They play a good chunk of the show with us, then they take a break, and we in the band road test some of the new stuff we’ve been working on,” he says. “I can’t wait.”

Purchase tickets to the Nashville show: http://www.marathonmusicworks.com/event/1140003-gregory-alan-isakov-ghost-nashville/

Purchase Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphonyhttps://itunes.apple.com/us/album/gregory-alan-isakov-colorado/id1102604602

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Susan Hubbard

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