Gregory Alan Isakov landed in Colorado by way of Philadelphia after his family emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa during the height of apartheid. The Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray loves him, as does pretty much every fan of the singer/songwriter genre from Pueblo to Fort Collins—and lots more across the country. Isakov’s poised on the brink of national recognition, thanks to a recent tour with Brandy Carlile, and another soon to follow. Here, he talks about Nick Drake, the ’80s and his passion for horticulture.
French Davis: Who among your influences do you prefer to listen to the most? It seems like “The Moon Song” is a tribute to Nick Drake, for instance.
Gregory Alan Isakov: I listen to too much Leonard Cohen I think. If I’m in a writing mood, I usually won’t listen to music at all. I listen to a lot of stand-up comedy, actually. That Nick Drake comparison is interesting though, he probably did make it in there. And I listen to a lot of Springsteen, and a lot of my friends who you probably wouldn’t know.
FD: If the ’90s is grunge and post-grunge; it seems like the ’oughts might be the decade of singer/songwriter.
GAI: I was listening to the radio the other day and an old ’80s classic song came on and I started laughing at it. Then I was like, “Wow, is this what will happen to today’s music?” I guess I think the singer-songwriter is something that will always exist. I hope so anyway.
FD: It seems like your lyrical inspirations might come from different places than your musical inspirations. True? No? Why or why not?
GAI: Yeah, I write a lot. I try to write every day. Someone asked me the other day what kind of songs I write and I said I write “noticing” songs, I guess. I want to write more story songs, and I have a couple on the record, but they are really hard for me. They just don’t come easy for me. It’s out of my comfort zone I think.
FD: What’s your composition process like? Do you start with
a melody or just lyrics or a bass line and then go from there? Or something else…?
GAI: I feel like I don’t really have a set way of doing things. I try really hard not to repeat myself. Like if I’m writing a totally new song I’ll have to stop and think, “Wait, did I already do this?” When I come up with new material, I may be driving around and I’ll hear a lyric in my head or a melody. So, really every song is different for me.
FD: Who are your favorite all time musicians? Why?
GAI: Oh wow. All time? Well, Leonard Cohen would be up there for sure. Oh, and the other night my friend and I were hanging out in my kitchen and we were on a (Bob) Dylan website that just listed all of the songs he wrote. Man it’s just retarded how many songs that guy wrote. He’s pretty amazing. And I do really like Michael Jackson a lot.
FD: Who’s your most famous fan so far?
GAI: Well, Brandy Carlile was into my music and she took me on tour with her. In fact, we are going out again soon. I really like working with her. And Kelly Joe Phelps has been great. Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls. Everyone has been pretty great to me.
FD: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
GAI: I love gardening. I went to horticulture school and I graduated in ’03. I had my own little landscaping business for a while; I really love doing that too.
Gregory Alan Isakov plays at the Fox Theatre on March 5, 8:30 pm. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 at the door. Call 303.443.3399 for more information.