Gregory Alan Isakov Talks About Touring and Farming!

There are two seasons for Gregory Alan Isakov – touring and farming.

That’s why you only find the singer/songwriter on the road primarily in the fall and winter. For much of the summer, he’s got work to do on his small farm near Boulder, Colorado, starting in the springtime.

“My season’s about 18 weeks of production,” Isakov said. “I do salad vegetables for restaurants, mainly. I’m working pretty hard at it from May through the end of September, which is why I tour in the winter.”

Isakov’s work on his tiny farm starts in March and really gets rolling in May. He has about an acre of specialty greens that he hand tends, from planting to harvesting to delivery to the restaurants and farmers market where they’re sold.

“The last two years, I’ve got it dialed,” Isakov said in a a recent phone interview from the farm. “It’s pretty intense. I’m not farming with a tractor or anything. I use a plow once a year. It’s mostly by hand. I’ve got a walk-behind tractor I use. Those are pretty cool.”

So is there any overlap between farming and music, any way one influences the other?

“I’m sure there is, but I don’t know. I’ve been doing both for so long,” Isakov said. “I just feel too much of one isn’t good for me.”

As often happens, Isakov is touring in the fall this year — in support of “Evening Machines,” the album he released late last year.

“I’ve never put out a record in the fall before,” Isakov said. “I always love new albums in the fall. But from a label perspective, your record’s only new for a month or two, then it’s last year’s record.”

Isakov is often tagged as a folk musician. But “Evening Machines” is pretty far from a folk record, adding organ, piano and electronics to the strings and acoustic sounds usually associated with folk. And the songs aren’t straight ahead folk either.

“I like to play with those old time cliches, I guess you could call them,” he said. “I was never a ‘folk musician’ like you think of. I have friends, we’ll be sitting around a fire and I’ll have the guitar and they’ll say ‘Gregory, play us a song with a chorus.’ I don’t have any.”

Isakov, who lists Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, Paul Simon, jazz saxophone and old folk records among his influences, can’t explain how he writes his songs, particularly how he comes up with his insightful, personal, yet universal lyrics.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of understanding of the process at all. I feel it’s all kind of ineffable. As writers, I’m sure you can relate to this, you kind of take in your experiences and something comes out, I don’t really know from where. I don’t even know what songs are about when I’m writing them.”

Isakov primarily writes for his band that contains electric guitar, cello, violin, bass, drums — with Wurlitzer and electronic sounds. Then he brings the musicians into the portion of his barn that he’s converted into a studio to record.

“I used to arrange more than I do now,” he said. “We just know each other so well now, it’s happens really organically and seamlessly.”

Recording a song can happen fairly quickly, Isakov said. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be immediately.

“I have a lot of material and the process of making sure they’re going to live and be in a position I know, that takes so much time,’ Isakov said. “We’ll record them and then step away for a few months and then come back to them. That process takes awhile.”

For “Evening Machines,” that process ended in mid-2018, just in time for farmer Isakov to turn into recording artist and touring musician Isakov and hit the road. He never really envisioned that music would become a career endeavor for him.

“I was always playing, but I never thought I’d get to do it as a job,” Isakov said. “I’d do it after work. I’d be writing a song at work. Now I’ve got two things I’m super stoked about…It’s funny, I’ve been farming for a long time and it’s great to be like you’re really good at something. I’ll never master either of them, for sure. But I’m getting pretty close in both.”

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