The Dual Obsessions of Musician-Farmer Gregory Alan Isakov
Gregory Alan Isakov has two distinct identities: He’s a singer-songwriter and a horticulturist. When he’s not traveling the world playing music, Isakov is tending to heirloom seeds on his farm in Boulder, Colorado where he lives with his bandmates and friends. Isakov is set to perform in Flagstaff Sunday. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with the musician-farmer and produced this audio postcard.
I’m Gregory. I’m sitting at a table on our farm here in Boulder County. And, there’s a lot of noisy tractors outside and I hope you don’t hear any of them.
You know, I’ve been working since I was in high school just mainly in horticulture and landscaping and farming and stuff. I love it, it like turns me on in a weird — I love soil, I love plants, I love seeds. It’s very similar to music in a way that I feel like I can never master it. The more I get into it, the more there is, you know?
I think any work is good for art. At least for me, I never wanted to be one of those artists that like, “I’m an artist,” and that’s all. I’m like, what would I be making art about if I wasn’t working? Where would my perspective come from? I don’t want to see the world through the window of a tour bus. I kind of need work, so I think that’s sort of always been an important part of my writing, an important part of my process. I think as a musician, as an artist, I think your hands can get soft, I think you can lose perspective on the world pretty quickly.
I think a lot of my creative aesthetic probably comes from a certain space that isn’t very literal maybe. I’ve always looked up to songwriters that are amazing at a chronological story, or telling a story — like, Springsteen’s amazing at that, Leonard Cohen is amazing at that in his own way, but my style is so different than that.
I’ve tried it out. I think my whole life — I think any artist’s life is like a series of trying new things out, trying to kind of discover and dig deeper into your craft, whatever that is. I remember in high school, I just wanted to sound like Eddie Vedder. And eventually, I realized I’m not going to sound like Pearl Jam. I’m just going to have these weird quiet songs in my room and I guess I just have to, like, be cool with that. That was a big step for me where I was like, this might not be my favorite music that I’m making, that I’m listening to, but it’s the music that I make, and let’s develop that. That was a huge moment for me I think, creatively. And just finding that writer’s voice, that authentic voice.
Musically speaking, I can’t say that songwriting or any art really is evolutionary in any way for me, at least so far that I’ve been able to tell. Like, I don’t know if any artist is getting better, you know? I think it’s just about deepening and kind of being curious about the world and really learning about how to get into that, get into each curiosity. Way more of an exploration.
It just matters if you feel something, if the song transports you somewhere the piece of music is working. And that’s you’re only priority, put it on: Does this make me feel something? Hopefully it will for other people too.