Gregory Alan Isakov

NS2 & CMH present:

Gregory Alan Isakov

Shook Twins

Tue · January 15, 2019

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

$26.00 Tier 3 | $36.00 Tier 2 | $46.00 Tier 1

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$1 from each ticket sold for this show will support the Southern Africa Education Fund (SAEF). SAEF helps children in the remote village of Aussenkehr, Namibia receive the education necessary to lift themselves and their families out of poverty by building classrooms and playgrounds to uplift educational standards.

 

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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.”

-Annie Zaleski
Shook Twins
Shook Twins
“I love the harmonies of the Shook Twins, the dreamlike songs that seem somehow permeated by the American Folk tradition, without actually being part of it. They make music that twines through your soul the way vines cover an abandoned shack in the woods.” – Neil Gaiman, New York Times – Best-Selling Author

“The Shooks will Shake you. These ladies have been keepin’ it real since the day they were born and that was only seconds apart from one another I think. Do yourself a favor and check ’em out. I do declare, ya won’t be sorry.” – Langhorne Slim

“The Shook Twins put on a heck of a show. Keep your eyes on these folks. I’m excited to hear what they do next.” – Tucker Martine

“A unique, personal music that lights up the stage with its joy and enthusiasm.” – Mason Jennings

Magic revolves around the number two. Opposite halves define our existence. There’s dark and light, black and white, night and day, yin-and-yang, and so on and so forth.

On their 2017 EP 2, critically acclaimed Idaho-born and Portland-based indie outfit Shook Twins draw on the inherent power of the group’s namesake duo—identical twin sisters Katelyn Shook [vocals, guitar] and Laurie Shook [banjo, vocals]. In early 2017, the pair holed up alone in a room with just two voices and two instruments and cut the seven-song collection live to tape, serving up bare bones renditions of fan favorites, covers, and one new tune entitled “Safe.”

“Musically, it differs from our other studio albums, because it’s just two twins in a room performing on two instruments,” explains Katelyn. “It’s much more raw emotionally and almost vulnerable. It’s nice to hear our growth as a duo and notice our individual grooves. It showcases these songs in a different way than they had been or will be recorded. It’s just a taste of the simplest core of our band: The Shook Twins.”

“It goes back to the very beginning,” adds Laurie. “When we were 18, we started writing songs together, just the two of us. We practiced how to blend our voices and instruments, trying to make our 2 voices and 2 instruments sound like one thing instead of 4 separate pieces. That’s how we started this whole musical life. We wanted to go back to that for a minute and remember.”
The process represents something of a full circle moment for Shook Twins. The group emerged in 2008 with their independent debut You Can Have The Rest followed by Window and 2014’s What We Do—which garnered acclaim from USA Today and more. Organically stirring up a buzz, they engendered fandom in fellow creators such as Langhorne Slim, The Lumineers, Mason Jennings, and iconic best-selling author Neil Gaiman who claimed, “They make music that twines through your soul the way vines cover an abandoned shack in the woods.” Along the way, the full band, including Niko Slice [electric guitar, mandolin, vocals], Barra Brown [drums, vocals, drum pad], and Josh Simon [bass, vocals, electric guitar, synth], has shared bills with everyone from Ryan Adams to The Indigo Girls. Moreover, they graced the stages of High Sierra, Bumbershoot, Hulaween, Floydfest, Summer Camp Music Festival, Oregon County Fair, Fayetteville Roots Festival, Northwest String Summit and many more in addition to performing at Red Rocks alongside Gregory Alan Isakov and Ani DiFranco. Their artful amalgam of folk heart, indie spirit, and alternative energy has effectively captivated fans internationally.
Now, 2 comes to life on the strength of the twins’ own musical union. Penned by a friend named Vance Bergeson, the first single “Mad Scientist” shuffles from rustic instrumentation into cinematic storytelling, weaving together its own mythos.

“Vance is a luthier and a mountain man, and this track is truly his essence,” explains Katelyn. “For some reason, we believed we had something to offer the song as well. We believe it needs to be heard by as many people as possible.”

They strip the What We Do centerpiece “Shake” down to its quaking and quivering acoustic essence. Meanwhile, the 2017 composition “Safe” illuminates their creative strides towards 2018’s forthcoming new full-length, Some Good Lives (recorded with the full band), bridging the past and present with its delicate songcraft and lovelorn lyricism.

“This is a brand new one that we wrote in a cabin by Mt. Hood recently,” explains Laurie. “It’s been a long year of unsure love in my life, so I resonated with the hook that Katelyn started singing while I was eating breakfast. It grew from there as a collaboration.”

As Shook Twins hit the road in support of 2 and ready their next body of work, their bond extends to listeners everywhere.

“I want people to feel like they know us,” concludes Laurie. “I hope it’s like we’re friends, and we’re just hanging out comfortably in our living room together.”

“If you’re a music listener and supporter, you make ALL the different to us,” Katelyn leaves off. “It would be a pretty pointless job, if you weren’t there.”
Venue Information:
Charleston Music Hall
37 John Street
Charleston, South Carolina, 29403
http://charlestonmusichall.com/