Summer may be flying, but Bozeman is in store for a fantastic show to help close out Montana’s preferred season. Bridger Brewing is set to host another outdoor concert event next month, this year showcasing the talents of two incredible names on the indie circuit. Mark your calendars for August 9th as the faultless teaming of Coloradoan Gregory Alan Isakov and Portland-based sextet Blind Pilot makes its first joint tour stop at the area-favorite brewery.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Isakov kicked off what would eventually become a successful stateside career in his teens. Though he got his start touring with a small Pennsylvania band in his then-home of Philadelphia, he would eventually branch out on his own as a singer, songwriter, and masterful storyteller. Isakov has since become quite the road warrior alongside his band of consummate performers from their home base of Boulder, Co. He’s released five albums of all-original material, a compilation of favorites from those records revamped with the Colorado Symphony (in addition to new tune “Liars”), and has a farm-fresh LP on the horizon.
In anticipation of his upcoming Bozeman performance, The Rolling Zone was able to get Isakov on the phone to talk his music-making fervor — and always leaving room for ane insatiable green thumb.
RZ: Hey Gregory. How’s it going?
GAI: I’m good, just in the studio now.
RZ: How was your Fourth of July?
GAI: It was great. We always just kinda hang on our farm and blow shit up.
RZ: Fun! So you’re gearing up to hit the road with Blind Pilot next month, bringing the first of many shows to Bridger Brewing’s outdoor stage in Bozeman. What do you have planned for this tour? How did this pairing come to fruition?
GAI: It’s something we’ve wanted to do for years. They’re good friends of ours, we’ve toured together a ton in the past. I’m recording a record this year, so we weren’t planning on doing too much touring until it comes out. We thought it would be a fun way to get out there just to play places we haven’t been in a minute, and also be with our friends.
RZ: Considering last summer’s release With the Colorado Symphony, fans have the opportunity to enjoy different renditions of their favorite songs. Will you bring to your show elements of both the earlier recordings and those with the symphony? And it sounds like maybe some new stuff.
GAI: We’re actually [bringing] a little bit of everything. We have a small string section in our band anyway, so we have different arrangements but still string-heavy on the songs. But, yeah, a lot of new stuff too.
RZ: That’ll be really cool. How has your new material been coming along?
GAI: It’s been going great. We’ve tested some of it — we were in Europe for a month, played about thirty shows and really got a chance to try a lot of them out live. This summer I’ve just been working, I kind of run this farm. I don’t usually tour much in the summer, but I’ve been writing a ton, and getting off the road has been good for that.
RZ: Sweet. When do you think that album will see the light of day?
GAI: Oh wow. I always have these goals to finish like, “by the fall,” but then that song’s not done, or this one — so I stopped putting a timestamp on it. But I’ve been working on it every day, so it should happen.
RZ: Have you noticed a certain shift or progression in your music since Rust Colored Stones was released in the early 2000s?
GAI: So different. Gosh, music has evolved so much. I think every time a song happens or you’re trying to be creative, you kind of try to uncover new sides of yourself. To me, every record it’s like, “This is suuuper different, oh my gosh, would you listen to this? I kind of went to the circus.” And then my friend will be like, “I don’t know, man. It sounds like you.” [laughs] So then maybe it’s not that different, but to me it is!
RZ: Give us a peek into your creative process. What inspires you to write a song and how do you know if it’s record-worthy?
GAI: No you don’t, you don’t know. I’ve spent weeks tracking songs that still don’t want to live on a record. Then some things, I’ll just go into the studio in the middle of the night and kinda turn shit on and try something out, and then it’s just done. It’s the weirdest thing. And sometimes songs just love being played live, then you try to record them and they just don’t have it. It’s such a different medium, making a record and playing a show. You can be so intimate with a record. I love that. You’re singing to one person, maybe on the subway or in their car or in their house, and you can be so subtle. With a big concert or a show, our shows are way heavier. I just like making sleepy records, I guess.
RZ: You’ve got to keep the energy up, but there are plenty who like the slower stuff too.
GAI: A show is such a different experience than a recording. I think records should feel useful, so that’s what I’m always asking myself when I’m listening back to a sketch. Is this useful? Because once it gets recorded, I’m never going to listen to it again. [laughs] It’s definitely not for me, and I need to make sure it works.
RZ: Do shows allow you to be creative and experiment, to play songs that won’t necessarily be found on your albums?
GAI: Yeah, we definitely do. We don’t really play the same songs every night, or the same set list. We work pretty hard at making a show feel complete. We definitely put a lot of intention into that.
RZ: It seems like that would make each concert its own unique experience, especially for people who’ve seen you multiple times.
GAI: Definitely, yeah.
RZ: You’ve cited Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen as influences, among others. What ingredients might you borrow from these musicians in formation of your own artistry?
GAI: It must get in there, I don’t know. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, too, that’s nothing like I play. A lot of metal, and punk, and dirty rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a certain emotive quality you’re passing on to somebody. It doesn’t matter to me what kind of music it is, or style of writing, or even if there’s lyrics that are in English. It’s more just like, “Does this make me feel…shit?” [laughs] That really is the question, that’s always the question every time.
RZ: It’s all about the feeling. And you’re not only an established musician, but quite the horticulturist as well. It can’t be a coincidence two of your greatest passions are somewhat creation-based. How do you balance those two different-but-similar lifestyles?
GAI: I’ve always worked as a landscaper, on farms my whole life. I think I let go of my last client for food production and landscaping, maybe right after Empty Northern Hemisphere  came out. I was hitting the road a ton, I think we did like 230 shows that year. I kinda didn’t feel like myself. And I realized I didn’t want to see the world through a tour bus window, or a van window or an airport. I love playing, but I really missed working. My whole life I’ve been studying plants — I know them really well and it’s fun to be good at something, something that you’re never going to master either.
RZ: And the enthusiasm is certainly there.
GAI: My guitarist, Steve Varney, he lives here at the farm too. You know that little kid feeling we all have, when you order gear, you check the tracking and you get all nerdy about it, read all the reviews. I don’t have that with audio gear. It doesn’t make me feel anything, I’m just like, “Okay. That is what we need to do to work, but cool.” For me, when I order like…fruit trees, I totally have that. It’s a good compass for me to [think] this needs to stay in my life. And I do need to work the farm for it to stay afloat. So trying to make both work, I feel like a crazy person sometimes because I’m so busy all the time, but I love it.
RZ: What do you foresee for the not-so-distant future, when the summer tour has ended, and the first snow covers your acreage? What do you have in the pipeline?
GAI: I’ll hopefully have the record in its final stages, or even finished by then. A record cycle is kind of crazy, there’s this calm before the storm. When I’m working, I’ll say yes to everything, I’ll do every opportunity I can, play as much as I can. So we’ll do US and Canada again, go back to Europe again, Australia. Winters can be sort of this, “Okay, let’s stare out the window for a month before it gets crazy.”
RZ: Well thank you for chatting with us. We’re looking forward to your Bozeman stop next month.
GAI: I love Montana. I think it’s like the best secret in America. My first tour ever, I was in my pickup truck and was like, “I wanna go camping for free.” I made CDs at the Kinko’s. I think one of my first gigs was at the Leaf & Bean in Bozeman, like nine people or ten people. I camped in that national forest and saw a grizzly bear — it was amazing, mind-blowing. Montana has a huge place in my heart.
Gregory Alan Isakov will perform alongside Blind Pilot on Bridger Brewing’s outdoor stage, Wednesday, August 9th beginning at 5pm. Tickets to this awesome all-ages show are available now for $37 in store at Cactus Records or www.cactusrecords.net. Learn more about Gregory Alan Isakov and discover some of his music at www.gregoryalanisakov.com. Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony is available for download from all major digital music services. •