Gregory Alan Isakov: “The creative world is a living, breathing thing”

by James Hendicott
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In a musical world where fame and status is a huge thing, Gregory Alan Isakov, a popular songwriter who focuses more on maximising his interests than musical success, is fascinating, and something of an outlier.

Living and working on his farm between tours, and very much treating music like something to enjoy as much as a commercial endeavour, the singer is now based in Boulder, Colorado, where he puts his degree in horticulture to good use between international tours, and has found success despite his pointedly fame-avoiding approach to the whole experience.

“For the most part, it’s a huge relief, sending an album out into the world,” Isakov says of his recent record ‘Appaloosa Bones’. “The songs aren’t mine anymore, and that feels good. I’ve always put things out there pretty intentionally, and I tend to veer away from a lot of video content and stuff like that. For me, the creative world is the most important. It’s a living, breathing thing. And maintaining a space to be quiet and musical is so sacred to me.”

“I make a lot of work at once,” he continues. “For this record, I think I recorded over thirty songs that I flushed out, and then I sort of step back and take time away from them.  When I come back, the record reveals itself and the song choices are obvious.”

“I’m always working on something. Records can take a while for me, but I’ve sort of been cooking away at [the next] something already. I’m constantly taking things out. Words. A melody line that doesn’t need to be there. Space is the key in a lot of the music I like making.”

“I think Colorado landscape definitely makes it into the music. But a lot of songs come from travelling all the time. So I find pieces from everywhere.”

When it comes to performing live, Isakov takes a slightly different approach to the notable sparseness that infuses his albums.

“The shows definitely have a heavier vibe,” he says. “ I get to play every night with my friends, and the music takes on this other life. It’s an incredible thing to get to do. I do love making records. I think because on the records I’m playing for one person, in their car, or on the train, or on their way to work, or at night. You can get away with a whisper on a record. Shows are this other thing, and I’ve really come to love both.”

“I have been cursed (or rather blessed) with two great loves. After some practice, I’ve found a balance. But it took a while. Being a market farmer (my first job) has some seasonal requirements that I easily work around. We tend to tour a tonne in the fall  and winter. And I’m lucky I run the farm with two others now, which allows me to do a few festivals and stuff during the growing season. I would feel really strange if I didn’t help run the farm and just played music all the time. I think they both serve me so well.”

“We’ve always loved playing in Ireland,” he concludes. “The UK and Europe really made an impression on me playing there, even when we couldn’t really afford to, we kept booking tours over there. There is such an incredible feeling of playing so far away, and people showing up for us is mind-blowing and humbling.”

Gregory Alan Isakov plays the National Stadium, Dublin as part of the Appaloosa Bones tour, on November 22. Tickets, priced at €32,50, are on sale now.

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