Gregory Alan Isakov turns late-night writing sessions into ‘Evening Machines’
Before Gregory Alan Isakov set off on his current tour, he had a few things to cross off his to-do list.
There were the standard things, like band rehearsals and packing his suitcase, but Isakov, a full-time farmer, also had a few sheep to take care of.
“Our sheep have been living under a tarp all summer because I took over their pasture to grow for a couple restaurants that I’m doing,” said Isakov, who owns a 3-acre farm in Boulder County, Colorado, said. “Of course we leave on Thursday, and I was like ‘Maybe it’s a good time to build a new shed.’ ”
Isakov said this tour, which brings him to the Bing Crosby Theater on Tuesday for a fundraiser for Global Neighborhood, falls during the time of year when his worlds collide and things get a little crazy, but even still he’s looking forward to hitting the road.
Isakov is due to release his fourth full-length “Evening Machines” on Oct. 5.
In another instance of worlds colliding, Isakov wrote and recorded the album in a studio he set up in a barn on his farm, largely late at night, hence the album’s title.
In a cheeky nod to his nocturnal sessions, an “Evening Machines” pre-order package contains an LED pen that lights up when in use.
“A friend of mine gave me a pen like that once and I love it,” he said. “You can write poems in a closet … or sometimes on the bus it will be really dark at night and everyone’s sleeping.”
Isakov spent a year writing songs for “Evening Machines,” eventually tracking 35 tunes.
Despite the fact that “Evening Machines” comes 15 years after his first release, Isakov said he never feels like he has things figured out when it comes to songwriting.
“It’s so different than farming where you’re like ‘This isn’t working. Let’s move the wash station here and now it’s way more efficient,’ ” he said. “For songs, I feel like I’m starting over every time and there’s a new possibility to go every time.”
As it tends to happen for Isakov, some songs came easily while others took much longer to finish themselves.
“Chemicals,” for instance, came together on a drive home from Austin, Texas, while “Berth” and “Southern Star,” which was originally a poem, took months to figure out.
“If a song is making me travel inside and it makes me feel something, I know I’m onto something,” Isakov said. “For me, a lot of times I’ll end up realizing something’s done when it’s not getting better. I’m working on it and it’s like ‘This change isn’t actually helping that feeling get stronger. It doesn’t make me more or less in the song.’ ”
With a collection of completed tunes in hand, Isakov then set to work figuring out “what wants to live together on the record.”
Isakov said it’s important to him to make records that feel useful, noting that he’s heard multiple times that people play his records during nap time at preschools or at yoga studios.
“We’re huge in the nap time circle,” he said. “That’s a huge demographic for us.”
Granted, Isakov’s hushed, moody, sunset-recalling indie-folk fits right in in those comforting spaces, but he wanted “Evening Machines” to be a little louder to better reflect his live shows so he incorporated more of his band’s sound while also maintaining “a certain sense of space.”
Isakov produced “Evening Machines” himself, then asked Andrew Berlin (Descendents, Rise Against) and Tucker Martine (Neko Case, The Decemberists) to mix the record, spending a month in Martine’s Portland studio.
“Tucker has such a great aesthetic, and he has so much vintage gear and analog gear,” Isakov said. “We recorded most of our record to tape so mixing it there really felt like it married well.”
Looking at the record as a whole, Isakov can see his own journey in the album, but he’s not so interested in that. More than anything, he hopes listeners can find a journey or use of their own in “Evening Machines,” even though their use might be wildly different than his.
“I’m least interested in my story around the record because I feel like I want it to feel useful to people,” he said. “I think a good song, a classic song, that’s the goal, someone else is going to make it theirs.”