Gregory Alan Isakov back in Iowa City

Gregory Alan Isakov

The Englert Theatre — Saturday, June 11 at 8 p.m.

Gregory Alan Isakov Englert Theatre
Singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov plays the Englert Theatre on Saturday, June 11 — photo by Blue Caleel

Singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov is returning to Iowa, back again at the Englert for the first time since his visit in February 2014, and this time he’s bringing a symphony. Isakov’s soft and dreamy indie-folk music is bolstered by layers of classical instruments; his intimate songs were reworked with the Colorado Symphony and now burst with tremendous new energy.

The Ghost Orchestra is accompanying Isakov and his band on this tour in support of his latest record, Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony, released on June 10. This record features songs from Isakov’s previous three albums paired with stunning orchestral scores. We spoke in advance of his upcoming show at the Englert on Saturday, June 11.

Isakov was planning to do just a one-time show collaboration with the Colorado Symphony. He was expecting it to end there. Shocked at what a beautiful musical experience it was, he sent the scores around and did additional shows with the Seattle and Oregon Symphonies. Isakov recorded a few of those and was planning on releasing one of the recordings — until he heard the rehearsal tapes.

They inhabited an “entirely different space” and had a different energy than recordings of shows with audiences, he says. Having fallen in love with the sound of the empty room, Isakov recorded with the Colorado symphony at the Boettcher Concert Hall, the third largest performing arts complex in the United States. He did some overdubbing back at the farm he owns outside of Boulder, Colo. that also serves as home to some of his band-mates and, apparently, to his studio as well.

'Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony' was released today, June 10 -- photo by Blue Caleel
‘Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony’ was released today, June 10 — photo by Blue Caleel
Isakov owns his own small record label, Suitcase Town Music. He says, “It’s the best. I play music because I have to. I run this farm. It allows me this freedom to work my own schedule.” He runs the label with two friends and says that it feels very “DIY and grassroots.” Isakov also has another new record in the works. He has been sketching it out with his band and working it for the last year. They don’t have a release date yet, but it will likely be out in 2017. One of the benefits of running his own small label, he notes, is that he is free from the pressure of outside deadlines.

Isakov is touring currently with the Ghost Orchestra, an eight-piece symphonic ensemble that recently formed. The group came together organically with Isakov calling some friends and visiting others, seeing who might be interested. A couple of musicians from the Colorado Symphony have also signed on for what Isakov calls “a summer of sleeping on the bus.”

Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, Scott O’Neil, along with Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa and Jay Clifford of Jump, Little Children, wrote the orchestral arrangements on the new record. When asked about Hagerman and Clifford’s involvement, Isakov’s tone immediately shifts to one of grateful admiration. He considers DeVotchKa both “generous and kind” in their support and championing of the Denver music scene. Isakov also proclaims that Hagerman is a “genius.” Hagerman and Clifford came on board after Isakov reached out to see if they were interested in collaborating.

When asked about his opening act, spoken-word poet Andrea Gibson, Isakov promptly says that he is “so humbled” to have her tour with him. Isakov has known Gibson for a long time but rarely gets to see her since she’s on the road doing gigs so much (and Isakov does between 60 to 80 shows a year himself). He is excited to get to spend time with her. He calls himself “such a gigantic fan” of her work.

Isakov says that his biggest goal with his music and his performances is “to transport people.” This makes sense, given his own love of traveling and the sense of exploration imbued in his lyrics. He also wants his audiences to “leave inspired.” “Inspired to do what?” I ask. Isakov laughs, and responds: “To do whatever it is that makes them happy.”

After a brief moment’s pause, he adds, “To make art.”

Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony features eleven songs, ten of which are drawn from his previous three albums. “Liars,” a staple of Isakov’s live set for years, and a fan-favorite, makes its first recorded appearance on this album. Isakov says, “‘Liars’ never wanted to live in a record until now.” Fans can also look forward to Isakov and his band working through new material every night of his 2016 tour.

Tickets are $28 and are available online or at the Englert box office.

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