Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019-2020 issue.
Gregory Alan Isakov is the cover of the “Love Your Planet” issue.
In 2000, singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov moved to Colorado to attend horticulture school at Naropa University in Boulder. Isakov was born in South Africa and immigrated to Pennsylvania with his family when he was just a young child. But as an adult, Colorado is where Isakov has chosen to put down roots, quite literally, with a farm in Boulder County and a barn that houses a recording studio where he wrote and recorded his last album, “Evening Machines.”
I was able to grab a few moments of time from this busy man-of-many-talents, just hours before his show at the Mission Ballroom in Denver, and days before he left for a European tour.
What does “Love Your Planet” look like for you?
It’s easy when you live in Colorado to be connected to the land here. The natural world is so strong and has such a big presence … I think that’s why I’ve stayed for so long. Along with that, I’ve farmed here for a long time; I know the soil really well. Well, this year’s a little different (he laughs) but for the most part it’s such a huge character here.
It’s easy when you live in Colorado to be connected to the land here. The natural world is so strong and has such a big presence … I think that’s why I’ve stayed for so long.
What about this season was different?
I’ve been farming here for 15 years and we’ve never had a season like this. We had flooding, we have two plots in the back and we were pulling rotting turnips out of the ground — just bizarre weather where I think we got almost a foot of rain within an hour. It really set us back, we lost a lot, and it was really disheartening because you take it so personally when you put so much time into something. Luckily I’ve done this for a long time so I have a backup, but it was a volatile season. And it felt weird to complain about water in Colorado, because we don’t usually have this much. But it was the extremity of the weather — climate change is clearly happening.
How do you stay earth-friendly when you are out on the road?
Touring is not a marvel of ecology in any way. You’re in a bus with 11 other people, we get big jugs of water instead of bottles. It’s hard to stay ecological, we think about it a lot. We bring our own mugs everywhere, and we do the little things that we can.
If you had to pick one thing for the rest of your life — music or farming — which one would you choose?
People have asked me before, that’s funny! I have no idea, I don’t know if I could. For me, I’ve been doing both for so long, and I think that the challenge is how to make a music career fit around a season, and I’m getting really close. It’s been really exciting.
Who holds down the farm for you when you are gone?
I have one friend who lives at the farm that does our orders, we mainly do restaurants. We have 11 restaurants that we grow for, and so I do deliveries a couple times a week. So Nat, my friend, kind of gets my back when I’m gone. But in the summer we aren’t gone that often, maybe a week.
(Here are a few of the restaurants where you might be able to order something grown at Isakov’s farm: Arcana, Oak, Blackbelly and Mateo in Boulder; Beckon Call and Moxie Eatery in Denver.)
I’ve heard that people can get seeds from you too, is that true?
I grow for a seed company called Lineage Seeds (a company started in Boulder, owned and operated by Jared Hagood). I do an heirloom corn and a bean.
How does the environment show up in your music and songwriting?
I think sense of place always seem to make it into my writing. I think I have a different kind of style of writing where nature comes into it a lot as characters. And I don’t know why that is … I’ve always looked up to writers like Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen who can tell a really amazing story in a song, and I just don’t write in that style, but I really look up to it. But yeah, it just seems to be the natural way I do it, there are a lot of natural elements that make it in.
Do you have a favorite song?
I love the song “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” by Leonard Cohen. I think it’s such a beautiful song, it might be my favorite one ever written.
Do you have any other updates?
Yeah, we’ve been working on a new album, so that should be coming in 2020.
Photos by Rebecca Caridad.