Gregory Alan Isakov

First Fleet Concerts Presents:

Gregory Alan Isakov

Haley Heynderickx

Sun, November 4, 2018

Doors: 6:30 pm / Show: 7:30 pm

Wooly's

Des Moines, IA

$25.00 - $30.00

This event is all ages

Gregory Alan Isakov
Gregory Alan Isakov
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, I’m
up all night. I’m 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 friends—gear Isakov always leaves on, just in case
inspiration strikes.
“Sometimes I couldn’t sleep, so I’d 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 that’s where
the title came from. I recorded mostly at night, when I wasn’t working in the gardens. It doesn’t matter if
it’s 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 that’s 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 Isakov’s watercolor-streaked
murmur on “Powder,” while “Where You Gonna Go” applies haunting, echoing vocal effects to his voice.
However, in a nod to the musician’s desire to strike a “balance of space and instrumentation,” these lush
flourishes—loping banjo on “Dark, Dark, Dark,” ghostly pedal steel on “Was I Just Another One” and
strings twirling through the waltzing “Southern Star”—enhance his precise, thoughtful arrangements. It’s
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 record—we used
electronic instruments and more ambient sounds, and incorporated heavier elements,” Isakov says. “But
I’ve always had a hard time mixing in the barn. It’s easier for me to mix something with a lot of space.
That’s where Tucker was invaluable. He’s 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

hadn’t in a long time, being on the road and with the lifestyle of touring. I experienced this new sensation
of anxiety—this level of physical anxiety that I’ve been investigating ever since.” To cope, he turned to
writing songs—“some 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 that’s 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, “I’m a ghost of you, you’re a ghost of me.”
Yet Isakov’s lyrics themselves are vivid and deliberate—“I’ll leave you with this poem, about the
galvanized moon and her rings in the rain,” he offers on “Too Far Away”—and devastate with economy.
Take “Chemicals,” which observes, “You saw her bathing in the creek/Now you’re 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 long—and it wasn’t 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
time”—something 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 issue—or this is an important emotion that I’m going
through—and I need to write a song about it.’ That has never happened; it’s 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.”
Isakov’s words especially have resonated deeply both at home—he recently sold out a Red Rocks
Amphitheatre headlining show—and around the world. His last studio album of new material, 2013’s The
Weatherman, sold over 100,000 copies, and his entire catalog has sold well over 370,000 copies—an
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 it’s the first album he’s
licensing to a larger record label, Dualtone. For the fiercely DIY musician—in addition to housing a studio,
the barn doubles as a storage and distribution hub for Suitcase Town Music—linking up with Dualtone
“wasn’t out of a place of need, but it was a place of curiosity,” he says. “I was like, ‘Well, I’ve never tried
this. This could be really fun.’”
But despite this label backing, Isakov isn’t changing up his approach to music. He’ll still be touring around
his farming season—and 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.”
Haley Heynderickx
Haley Heynderickx
Venue Information:
Wooly's
504 E. Locust St,
Des Moines, IA, 50309
http://woolysdm.com/