BOULDER, Colo. –
Gregory Alan Isakov believes in cultivating his music and gardening careers.
The Naropa University horticulture graduate probably will spend more time on the road this year than tending to his gardens.
But that’s OK, because Isakov’s new CD, This Empty Northern Hemisphere, and his tours with Brandi Carlile are bringing his music to a whole new national audience.
Isakov will kick off his summer tour with a special Friday night CD-release party at the Fox Theatre.
“There’s a great local music community here, so I wanted to have my record release in Boulder,” Isakov said. “It was a really moving experience to make this record. I hope people like it and it finds its way into their lives.”
Boulder is long way from Isakov’s place of birth in South Africa.
Isakov and his family left the African country when he was 7 and they settled in Philadelphia.
“My whole family moved from South Africa in’86,” Isakov said. “My dad found a job in Philly and brought us back there. I was scared at first, because I only knew a few things about America. I did know that I was excited about Disneyland.
“I listened to music pretty early on and I started playing when I was 12. My brother owned a guitar, so I’d ‘borrow it’ and taught myself how to play.”
Isakov noodled around on the guitar, but he didn’t think about a professional music career — until he moved to Boulder.
The musician originally came to town to earn a horticulture degree at Naropa. Isakov said he wanted to learn how to live “off the grid.”
“Ever since I was young, it’s been a dream of mine to buy land, live off the grid and grow food,” Isakov said. “I embarked on that journey at Naropa and I took gardening and herb classes.
“I also lived abroad for a year in Findhorn, Scotland. When I was staying there, I’d play some shows at the café.”
Isakov was busy developing his own brand of multi-textured, indie-folk tunes, but he postponed his music career until after graduation.
“I never thought I’d be doing this as a career,” Isakov said. “It’s still such a mystery how the songs finalize themselves. It’s fun to watch how the songs develop and it’s a pretty organic process.
“Storytelling has always come very naturally to me. I just take pieces of experiences and paste them together as musical collages. People call my music punk-folk and I take that as a compliment, even though my music’s played on traditional instruments.”
Isakov was still involved with his gardening work, but he started performing regular shows in the Boulder/Denver market with his band The Freight. The group quickly became part of the local alt-folk community, which features bands such as Bela Karoli and Paper Bird.
The local musician slowly but surely built up a local following. He also released three records, including 2007’s That Sea, The Gambler.
Now Isakov’s ready to roll out his new record.
“There were moments when I was making this new record that I thought, ‘This is so different than anything I’ve made before,'” Isakov said. “A lot of playing music is about taking risks and this record feels bigger to me. It’s more rock’n’roll.
“The songs on this record are about leaving the farm I was living on, traveling a lot and going through that whole late-20s thing. It’s really a time for stepping into yourself, and I think this record has a hopeful vibe.”
Isakov took a hand in producing the record, but he had a little help from national recording star Brandi Carlile.
The two artists have been steadily touring together, and Carlile contributes vocals to five of the songs on Isakov’s new CD.
“Brandi invited me out to Seattle to record some of the new record,” Isakov said. “I love her songs and her band — and her voice is really complementary to my music.”
Carlile won’t be making an appearance at Friday’s CD-release party. However, Isakov will be touring with his guest vocalist and the Indigo Girls this summer.
Isakov has lined-up an impressive local roster for the Boulder release of This Empty Northern Hemisphere.
“We’re going to have Denver’s Bela Karoli on the bill and The Widow’s Bane,” Isakov said. “We’re also going to have a special after-set party with The Blue Maddies.
“I’m pretty excited about this show — and to see what else will come along.”