We’re big fans of Gregory Alan Isakov here at Folk Radio UK so we jumped at the opportunity to catch up with the man when we heard he was touring the the UK this month. For anyone that missed the great session he recorded for us back in 2011 we’ve included it at the bottom of this interview along wth those all important tour dates. On many of the current UK tour dates Greogory will be supported by Chris Pureka, they’ve both traveled a lot together in the US.
“We were in the UK about a year and half ago” Gregory tells me, reflecting on his last tour, “it was some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, and shows were spectacular.” In that time Greory Alan Isakov’s fan base has grown substantially which has seen the tickets on the latest tour getting snapped up, in fact, his London gig was recently moved to a bigger venue The Water Rats Theatre due to tickets selling so fast (tickets still available here). “I am always surprised by the response. It’s such an honor to play for people in general; being given people’s time. There is so much art and music out there and it’s a big deal in our current economy to go out and spend time and money on shows. It blows me away, the support we have received.”
Although I knew about plans for the release of a new album in 2013 I knew nothing else, so it was only polite to dig a little deeper and he obliged us, a little… “The new record is sort of a throw back for me, to some earlier 4 track recordings I used to put out a long time ago. I wanted the listener to feel the room in the songs, the breath, and the subtleties. The thing I love about making records is that I find that I am playing to one person, and so I can get away with a lot of space in a record that’s different to a live show. I was never concerned with making the live show and the record identical. They are two different mediums. The songwriting for me on the new record has a lot of continuation of feels from ‘This Empty Northern Hemisphere’ like the thread of travel and space, but I think they have a rawness that I love hearing. I tried to keep it honest, I guess. The musicians are mostly the same band that I have been touring with for years. Phil Parker on cello, Jeb Bows on violin, James Han on organ and pianos, and Ramaya Soskin on electric guitar.”
We get onto the subject of ‘sense of place’…a term I saw used in describing Gregory’s music and one which I’d also given a lot of thought to since recently seeing Northumbrian artist Kathryn Tickell perform which I told him about. Did he perceive such places in his minds eye when writing, did he revisit them in new songs…a deep question which had the possibility of never making it onto paper but thankfully he was on the same wavelength. “In a way, I do. I think there is a place in every song. It’s not literal or anything, like the song ‘San Francisco’ was written in Philadelphia, and I think I was writing it about four different towns and five different characters all in the same ‘place’. That’s the magic of writing. The place is more often an arena for a feeling. But somebody asked me once what kind of songs do I write. I guess I write ‘noticing’ songs and yeah, about the place I’m at in that moment.”
One of his other loves I read about was horticulture, he in fact as a degree in it. With his current touring lifestyle and focus on music I wondered whether he had kept in-touch with that side of his life and still made a concerted effort to get out there. “I do. I have been able to take a lot of time off in the summers here in Colorado to grow a garden. I used to have a small gardening company here, and manage a farm outside of Lyons, Colorado. And so when the band and I got busy, I moved on from my job into touring more. I found that to be so exciting, to be making a living from the music. And so I didn’t think about myself as a gardener anymore. After a while I just didn’t feel like myself, I guess. I felt empty without it in my life. And so I have reclaimed it again the past few years and am still finding a balance.”
One question I’ve found myself asking artists recently is about their perfect day for writing a song…some prefer the late hours, others the road and some…the morning. “I write a lot in the morning. The road is quiet outside my house and I guess the whole world feels still. It isn’t like I stop during the day, I more sorta grab words or notice things and I scribble a lot through out the day, but it all comes out in the morning. I’ll go a while with out picking up a guitar, because I like to let melodies sit before I work them out. A good day is when they come together perfectly. The words and the melody.”
Maybe spurred by his touring with Chris Pureka I begin to imagine who he’d sound good with in a duet, a number of names jump to mind, many of whom are well established stars, so I ask the question and lo and behold he even mentions one I was thinking of (Gillian Welch). “Ha, that’s interesting. ya know, I love Leonard Cohen. I would probably just want to listen to him from the back of a theater and not interfere. I never thought of myself as a ‘singer’ per se or even one who is worthy of a duet. I would love to hang out and sing with Gillian Welch or Emmylou Harris. Yeah, that would be a good day.”
We round our chat off with the inevitable trivia:
What are you listening to?
“Today, I’m listening to my friend, Kelly Joe Phelps. He was just here in Colorado and dropped his new record off in my kitchen while I was out of town. It’s called “Brother Sinner and the Whale” and it’s gooooood.”
What are you reading?
“I’ve been reading John Steinbeck’s “To a God Unknown” for the past month or two. I’ll pick it up for a while and then write songs. Man, he would have been the greatest songwriter, Steinbeck.”
Recommend an artist you think our listeners may be interested in.
“I love the music of Nathaniel Rateliff. He is good friend of mine here in Denver and we share some band mates. He’s making a new record as well and I am so excited to hear it. His old stuff is killer, one under the name of ‘Desire and Dissolving Men.’ ”
The man is not only a great singer / songwriter; he also has impeccable taste. He’s a good sort!
FOLK RADIO UK SESSION
This is by far, one of our most popular sessions we’ve ever featured so enjoy!
A session we’d never seen before but really liked. It was recorded in late 2010 by todd roeth and features Gregory with Jeb Bows and Phil Parker performing Big Black Car
Oct 20 Ratoath, Ireland, The Venue Theatre
Oct 24 Milton Keynes, UK, The Stables
Oct 25 Nottingham, UK with Chris Pureka, The Maze
Oct 26 Halesworth, UK with Chris Pureka, Halesworth Arts Festival
Oct 27 Kingston, UK with Chris Pureka, The Kingston Barn
Oct 28 Brighton, UK with Chris Pureka, The Prince Albert
Oct 29 London, UK with Chris Pureka — The Water Rats Theatre
Oct 30 Oswestry, UK, The Ironworks
Oct 31 Liverpool, UK with Chris Pureka, Grateful Fred’s
Nov 01 Glasgow, UK with Chris Pureka, Woodend Bowling & Tennis Club
Nov 02 Saltaire, UK with Chris Pureka, The Live Room
Nov 03 Kirkgate, UK with Chris Pureka, The Kirkgate Centre
Nov 05 Eindhoven, The Netherlands, Muziekgebouw
Nov 06 Leiden, The Netherlands, Qbus
Nov 07 Deventer, The Netherlands, Burgerweeshuis
Nov 08 Ottersum, The Netherlands, Roepaen
Nov 09 Bakkeveen, The Netherlands, De Slotplaats
Nov 10 Lage Vuursche, The Netherlands, De Furs
Nov 11 Hoorn, The Netherlands, Het Huis Verloren
Nov 13 Heerlen, The Netherlands, Cultuurhuis Heerlen