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      Gregory Alan Isakov in Charleston


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      January 15, 2019

      Tuesday   7:30 PM

      37 John Street
      Charleston, South Carolina 29403

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      Gregory Alan Isakov

      with Shook Twins
      Many musicians have day jobs to make ends meet. However, few artists maintain the lifestyle kept by Gregory Alan Isakov. The Colorado-based indie-folk artist is a full-time farmer who sells vegetable seeds and grows various market crops on his three-acre farm, while also tending to a thriving musical career.I switch gears a lot, he says. I wake up really early in the growing season, and then in the winters, Im up all night. Im constantly moving back and forth.Isakov had an easier time balancing his two passions while making his fourth full-length studio album, Evening Machines. In between farm duties, the multi-instrumentalist wrote and recorded in a studio housed in a barn on his property. Like the farm, this studio has a communal atmosphere, filled with instruments and gear stored there by musician friendsgear Isakov always leaves on, just in case inspiration strikes.Sometimes I couldnt sleep, so Id walk into the studio and work really hard into the night, he says. A lot of times I would find myself in the light of all these VU meters and the tape machine glow, so thats where the title came from. I recorded mostly at night, when I wasnt working in the gardens. It doesnt matter if its summer or winter, morning or afternoon, this music always feels like evening to me.As its name implies, the dark indie rock and folk populating Evening Machines possesses a dusky hue. Hushed acoustic guitar and sparse piano combine for a moody foundation thats amplified by ornate and heavy embellishments: distant electric guitars, keyboards, pedal steel, saw, percussion, strings, banjo, and some electronic drums. Lilting background vocals intertwine with Isakovs watercolor-streaked murmur on Powder, while Where You Gonna Go applies haunting, echoing vocal effects to his voice.However, in a nod to the musicians desire to strike a balance of space and instrumentation, these lush flourishesloping banjo on Dark, Dark, Dark, ghostly pedal steel on Was I Just Another One and strings twirling through the waltzing Southern Starenhance his precise, thoughtful arrangements. Its an intimate album that encourages close listening and contemplation.Evening Machines came together via an organic process rooted mostly in solitude and along side of engineer Andrew Berlin (Descendents, Rise Against). Isakov sketched out 35 to 40 songs himself during marathon studio sessions that could stretch up to 14 hours for many months. He recorded all the instruments and slowly intertwined the band: Steve Varney, Jeb Bows, John Paul Grigsby, Philip Parker, and Max Barcelow. A bevy of other contributors added additional sonic flourishes as well.From there, Isakov whittled this large batch of music down to 12 songs, and spent a month in Oregon mixing Evening Machines with Tucker Martine (Neko Case, The Decemberists) and some final mixing with Andrew Berlin. Andrew and I took many different approaches making this recordwe used electronic instruments and more ambient sounds, and incorporated heavier elements, Isakov says. But Ive always had a hard time mixing in the barn. Its easier for me to mix something with a lot of space. Thats where Tucker was invaluable. Hes just got such an incredible approach and sense of sound.Isakov is no stranger to collaboration or traveling to hone his craft. In 2016, he released an album of his songs played in collaboration with the Colorado Symphony, and he tours regularly in the U.S. and Europe, performing alongside acts such as Iron & Wine, Calexico, Ani DiFranco, Passenger, Josh Ritter, Brandi Carlile, and Nathaniel Rateliff. But when the time came to make Evening Machines, Isakov discovered that his time on the road had started to take a toll.A lot of the music that was written for this record happened at a really difficult time of my life, he says. When I finished a six-month stretch in Europe I had a lot of time to be alone, and feel things that maybe I hadnt in a long time, being on the road and with the lifestyle of touring. I experienced this new sensation of anxietythis level of physical anxiety that Ive been investigating ever since. To cope, he turned to writing songssome of which were ways for me to ground myself during that time where it was really bad, he says.As an example, Isakov cites the album-closing Wings In All Black, a deeply personal song thats about being resilient in the face of jarring loss. Still, not all of Evening Machines songs are this decisive: The album brims with elusive characters and slippery emotional situations, the kinds that linger long after their presence dissipates. Did I hear something break?/Was that your heart or my heart? he asks on Caves, while San Luis observes, Im a ghost of you, youre a ghost of me.Yet Isakovs lyrics themselves are vivid and deliberateIll leave you with this poem, about the galvanized moon and her rings in the rain, he offers on Too Far Awayand devastate with economy. Take Chemicals, which observes, You saw her bathing in the creek/Now youre jealous of the water. Whether addressing romantic love or human connection, Evening Machines has no easy answers.Still, the album does have poignant resonance with current events. Take the string-swept opening track, Berth, which Isakov wrote and recorded during an all-night session. The original version of the song was 12 minutes longand it wasnt until Isakov and his brother, Ilan Isakov, started editing and cutting verses that the former realized Berth was an immigration song, about landing in this country and throughout timesomething he knew well, as a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, who moved to the U.S. as a child.Writing songs is this delicate balance, Isakov says. My process has never been to start out saying, I want to write a song about this. This is an important issueor this is an important emotion that Im going throughand I need to write a song about it. That has never happened; its never been part of my process. But you need to have a spark of all those, something visceral and something tangible as well to make something that sings well. Words have so much power on their own.Isakovs words especially have resonated deeply both at homehe recently sold out a Red Rocks Amphitheatre headlining showand around the world. His last studio album of new material, 2013s The Weatherman, sold over 100,000 copies, and his entire catalog has sold well over 370,000 copiesan impressive amount for a musician who releases records via his own independent label, Suitcase Town Music.With Evening Machines, Isakov is poised to reach an even larger audience, as its the first album hes licensing to a larger record label, Dualtone. For the fiercely DIY musicianin addition to housing a studio, the barn doubles as a storage and distribution hub for Suitcase Town Musiclinking up with Dualtone wasnt out of a place of need, but it was a place of curiosity, he says. I was like, Well, Ive never tried this. This could be really fun.But despite this label backing, Isakov isnt changing up his approach to music. Hell still be touring around his farming seasonand striving for a cohesive musical vision that feeds his soul. Music helped me get through some of the hardest times, Isakov says. I always write in regards to an entire record. Trying to find the music that fits together as a whole piece was the most important thing to me.-Annie Zaleski

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