There are people in this world that claim to be possessed by demons. Other folks say they are celebrities, presidents, or kings reincarnated, and still others are occasionally overtaken with feelings of lust or murderous rage.
Along those lines, South African-born songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov is occasionally possessed with song.
“I’ve always had this sense about music and writing, that I sort of have to do it. Like I’ll implode without it,” Isakov has said. “My songs have nothing to do with me; they have a life of their own. A lot of times I won’t know what a song is about when I’m writing it.”
Regardless of where it comes from, Isakov has an undeniable gift for lyrics and story telling. His latest album, This Empty Northern Hemisphere, was widely praised by critics, and was named one of the best of 2009 by No Depression magazine.
His talents will be on display locally on Aug. 25 when he performs on the Walton Arts Center stage just before Darrell Scott and John Prine during the 2012 Fayetteville Roots Festival. He’s also set to play the next night at a special “Friends of the Festival” thank you concert on Sunday night at George’s Majestic Lounge.
The Fayetteville Roots Festival will take place at various venues around Fayetteville from Aug. 23-26. Tickets are on sale on at FayettevilleRoots.com.
We got in touch with Gregory recently, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us.
What have you been listening to lately?
I always listen to a lot of Leonard Cohen. A lot of NPR lately. Also a lot of stand-up comedy, especially Stephen Ray.
Have you ever been to Fayetteville? What is your impression of the place?
No, but I have a lot of friends there now. I go to Kerrville (Folk Festival) and there were a lot of people talking about Fayetteville down there. I get the impression it’s a really cool place, and I’m really psyched to be coming down there for the first time.
Tell us about your music. Can you think of one of your songs that you might play for someone to introduce your music to them?
If there were, it would probably be about space or astronauts or something. No, that changes for me all the time, and I can’t think of what that would be. We never really did the radio hit thing.
We heard you were working on a new album. How is that going so far?
It’s cool. I’m tracking it now. We have a studio in the mountains above Boulder, and it has been really amazing. My whole band is on it, the songs are coming together.
I’ve been crafting it for a few years now. Writing it took the longest. Records take a long time for me for them to feel good. I’m not a perfectionist, but I like things to feel right.
Do you enjoy recording more or playing live?
They’re so different. I love them both. I never thought I’d be playing shows for people for a living. At first, the idea of it scared the crap out of me, and I still get really nervous. There’s something amazing about it, though.
I also love making records. I spend a lot of time on them, and I feel like I’m writing it for one person, like I’m playing for that person alone. When you’re playing a show, you are dealing with so much more energy, and that’s really cool too.
You mentioned you’ve been doing music for a living. What do you think you’d be doing of you weren’t a musician?
You know, I don’t know. I went to school for horticulture school in Colorado, and I managed a farm for several years. I also had my own gardening business, and sometimes I miss that a lot. Horticulture would be my other love.
So, have you heard about the local food aspect of the Fayetteville Roots Festival?
I have! Yeah, Bernice (Hembree of 3 Penny Acre), she was filling me in on it. I heard there are some really cool farmers in that area, and farmers markets, that are doing cool stuff. I’ll nerd out about gardening with anybody.
What are some other songwriters you admire?
My buddy Johan Wagner, who will also be at the festival. There’s another guy, Rob Scott who I love a lot. Other friends, Jeffery Foucalt, Chris Pureka is a great writer. Their records are probably what I listen to a lot. Oh, and Nathaniel Rateliff. He’s from Denver, and he’s great.
Have you seen the lineup of the Fayetteville Roots Festival? Anyone you’re excited about?
I saw John Prine is in the lineup. He’s one of my favorite artists ever. I got to play a show with him once, and he’s amazing. He’s the only artist that ever made me cry at a concert. Just amazing.