'The Weatherman': A Rambler's Folky Manifesto Songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov grew up bouncing from city to city, and it shows in his music. He and his band visit Weekend Edition Sunday to perform songs from his latest album.

'The Weatherman': A Rambler's Folky Manifesto

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To be a folk musician these days, there's no requirement that you be some sort of rambling man, a wanderer. But it can't hurt, right?


MARTIN: Gregory Alan Isakov was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He didn't stay there long. He moved to Philadelphia, then moved around the East Coast switching schools every couple years. As an adult, he has moved west and laid down some roots in a remote part of Colorado. But his music is still about wandering.


MARTIN: Gregory Alan Isakov is traveling again on tour. But he's not on his own, he's got accompaniment.

JEB BOWS: Jeb Bows and I am playing the violin today.

PHIL PARKER: Phil Parker and I am playing cello.

STEVE VARNEY: Steve and I'm playing the guitar.

MARTIN: Steve, what's your last name?

VARNEY: Varney.

MARTIN: He and his band mates stopped by her Washington studios to play for us.


MARTIN: That was beautiful.

: Thank you.

MARTIN: It's such a rich arrangement and there's so much texture. When you write a song or when you started doing this, did you always want that fuller feeling with all these strings? I'm looking at a lot of strings right now.

: Yeah, you know, Jeb and Phil and myself have been playing together for like 10 years. And I think I sort of hear them in my mind whenever I'm even making songs.

MARTIN: One of our producers described your music as the feeling of sitting in the bed of a pickup, looking at the stars. I thought that was a nice image.

: Oh.

MARTIN: And made me wonder if there were any pickups or star-filled skies in your childhood.

: Well, there are now for sure. I have '86 Toyota pickup.

MARTIN: Oh, there you go.

: And there are a lot of stars in Colorado. So...

MARTIN: Well, let's get into another song off the album. This is called "Saint Valentine?"

: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Coming in with you or when we get something going?


MARTIN: That was lovely. What is the story of that song?

: Well, that's a hard question, you know, 'cause I think in songs, you know, it's always about, you know, a lot of different places, a lot of different people kind of forming into a kind of one storyline. It's how it happens for me.

MARTIN: Can you tell me the story of a song that came really easily to you?

: You know, a lot of them do. If they don't, I don't trust them as much and a lot of times they don't live as long. You know, like that when we just played happened really fast, as well. And I didn't really know what it was about at first.

MARTIN: Did anything make it onto the album that you were surprised by?

: Well, every record I do, kind of an instance song in the studio.

MARTIN: What does that mean?

: Of a kind of, you know, just a spur of the moment, hit record, and keep it kind of thing.

MARTIN: You write the song in the moment or did you...

: In the moment, yeah.

MARTIN: Wow. You can write a song just on the fly?


MARTIN: 'Cause if I say to you - if you realize this is coming, right?

: They're not very good...

MARTIN: Like, if I say, Greg...

: ...sometimes, you know?

MARTIN: ...can you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Very well, he can do that.

: Well, let's see.

MARTIN: So if I say - so I have to give you like a couple of keywords?

: It helps if it's in the - well, help if it's like in the middle of the night, which is one thing.

MARTIN: It's dark in here.

: That's true...


: ...and way less people around.

MARTIN: Oh, come on.


: I mean like a lot less people.


: There's a lot of people in here.


MARTIN: OK, not a full-fledged song. Can you write me just - can you just - what's the hook that's in your head right now? What's the lyric that's coming to mind right now, as I torture you through this interview?


: (Singing) Oh, now I'm out of tune.



MARTIN: I'll take it. That was beautiful and under pressure.

: Yeah, I mean, you know, you get like a little spark and then it kind of just - and a lot of times I'll stop right here, right? Like when I get to the NPR part and then I'll put it away, and then maybe I'll try it again like tomorrow and it'll finish itself. And that's the idea. So sort of just like a muscle.

MARTIN: OK. Well, with that how about you guys plays out on something?

: Sure.

MARTIN: The album is called "The Weatherman." Gregory Alan Isakov and his band mates joined us in our studios here in Washington, D.C.

Greg, thank you so much. And thanks to you, guys.

: Oh, thanks for having us.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Thank you. It's been great.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Yeah, thanks.

MARTIN: This is "Living Proof."


MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from and NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.


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