Q&A: Gregory Alan Isakov talks YouTube, songwriting and touring
Gregory Alan Isakov is a touring musician among many other things. His songs sound like a cold water creek, flowing calmly and smoothly as they invoke a variety of emotions with his moving lyrics. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Isakov moved to the U.S. when he was 6 years old. He now lives in Colorado, but he spends much of his time on the road. He is currently touring in support of his most recent album, “Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony,” released in 2016.
The Emerald spoke on the phone with Isakov before his show at the Hi-Fi Music Hall on Monday night.
Emerald: How did you get started making music?
Gregory Alan Isakov: It really started as a family thing. My brothers and I are really close and we would move to a new town and wouldn’t really know anyone so we would just play music in the basement all the time.
E: What was it like moving from South Africa to America as a kid and bouncing around the country a bit?
GAI: I was only six when my family moved, so all I really knew about America was “The Wizard of Oz” and tornados, and it was just a little kid lens of the world at the time.
E: Do you see that feeling of moving along to different places reflected in your music?
GAI: I think it definitely makes it in there. Especially now because I travel so much for music.
E: I saw a comment on one of your YouTube videos saying “I want to drive all around America listening to his albums.” I get that sense in your songs, do you?
GAI: It has felt like that lately. That’s funny because I have this rule and I’ve never seen a YouTube video of myself. Like five years ago I made that rule because it was so weird watching myself and I just said, “OK, no more YouTube.”
E: Do your songs begin as music or do they begin as lyrics?
GAI: It’s kind of both. They happen at the same time. I don’t have a method. I write a bunch that is either prose or poems or stuff that isn’t going to sing well. I’m a huge fan of Leonard Cohen, and he first became a poet and then he started putting out records later. He said that ‘only some poems are worthy of songs.’ So when I’m in front of an instrument like piano, guitar, banjo or something, it kind of all happens at once. I don’t have the writing in front of me — it’s just kind of in there, churning.
E: What are some of your hobbies besides making music?
GAI: I have tons. I’ve always been really into gardening. I run a small farm in Colorado and we grow heirloom seeds and stuff like that. I’m always building stuff. I love photography. I’m always into shit. I’m taking a class this summer about small engine repair. People always ask, “What do you do?” and I hate saying I’m a musician because there is so much more to be into than just one thing. There are so many things to learn.
Q: Has music made you more or less comfortable?
GAI: That’s a great fucking question. It’s been a huge source of medicine for my sanity. I need it. I need to play. Performance and travelling and relationships and trying to juggle everything can be so hard. I’m not built for it all the way as a performer and it’s a really vulnerable place that you have to be in every day. So it’s definitely both. I would never stop playing but it is definitely hard for me.
E: Are you excited to come out to Eugene?
GAI: So excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a show in Eugene. We’ve just been hitting major cities like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and nothing in between, so I’m real excited.
Watch the video for “Liars” below:
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