By Jordan Yeager
VANCOUVER – From a three-acre farm in Boulder County, Colorado drift the sounds of strings, drums, and soft vocal arrangements. Gregory Alan Isakov is the farmer here, passionate and careful about what he cultivates. Though he’s made his name as a musician, agriculture was Isakov’s first love; in fact, he never had musical aspirations at all.
“My musical outlet was just part of my workday,” says Isakov. “I would play after work or before work. When I was starting out, that was the extent of it. I grew up gardening, and I don’t know why I’m into it. I guess soil just turns me on. I’m home most of the growing season – I grow for four or five restaurants and a couple markets in the summer, usually around April to September – and then we tour the rest of the year. But music was never my goal.”
His tone is incredulous. Evening Machines, his upcoming release, will be his fourth full-length studio album. But despite having been at it for upwards of 15 years, Isakov still can’t quite believe how far his career has come. While he didn’t envision it as a career path, music – and more specifically, writing, whether the result is a song or a poem – has always been something Isakov has just done. It’s a practice he’s fastidious about, and while its parallels to horticulture may not be obvious, they are plentiful. Both require self-motivation and discipline. Both involve starting with nothing and bringing a new entity to fruition. And for Isakov, they’re both labours of love.
“I don’t know why I do any of it,” he says. “I feel like I need to write, and what arises from that is a mystery to me a lot of the time. I don’t start out with a lot of intention behind it, like ‘I’m going to write a song about this.’ I usually start out with some sort of melody, or a lyric will inoculate my mind, and then it just grows. It has this life of its own. Sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t, but when you do, you feel like you’ve struck gold.”
“Landscape makes it into a lot of the music in general for me: where I am, what creeps its way into the songs, is landscape,” he says. “But I wrote a lot of the songs [on Evening Machines] going through a really dark period of time. Music has that ability to transport you out of, or dive into, a certain feeling and get to another side of it. And I think that’s what I was going through when I was writing this record.”
Isakov’s live performances have run the gamut, from solo shows to touring with a full symphony.
“It’s really intimidating,” he laughs. “The first time we did a symphony show, I felt almost apologetic. You have all these well-dressed, incredible musicians behind you, and you’re just like, ‘Is my amp too loud?’”
This time around, Isakov will be accompanied by a six-piece band made up by many of his closest friends. He wrote the album knowing this, almost tailoring the process with a live audience in mind.
“I’ve always made really quiet records in the past, and our shows tend to be heavier,” he says. “When I’m making a record I always picture one person listening to this collection of songs in their ’87 Toyoto pickup. At a show, it’s different. There’s a crowd. It’s more of a group experience. And bringing that group experience onto a record, it’s really challenging. But I wanted to try something like that, so I got a little darker and a little heavier on this record.”
Evening Machines is slated for release on October 5. Gregory Alan Isakov plays the Commodore on October 10.