Homecoming for Brandon Isaak

When he isn’t making music, Brandon Isaak can often be found working on clay sculptures out of his place in Langley, B.C. He says that’s what’s been keeping him busy during the pandemic, but he’s also made a new record, Modern Primitive, which came out in July. The record was born out of a desire to record with upright bassist, Keith Picot, a collaborator of Isaak’s. 

“We wanted to do a record and we didn’t have long to do it,” says Isaak. “So we just did it live in a day, basically.” 

Isaak considers himself a perfectionist and says he doesn’t like saying things are “good enough” and leaving them, but found himself having to do that with this record because of the time crunch. 

“I would like to spend a year making the record, really,” he says. “But the beauty of this is that it is just live and it is done the way an old record would be done, so it does have a real good mojo to it.”

Despite the compromises he had to make, Isaak is happy with the record and has been pleased to see positive reception flowing in as well, although he admits the amount of it was a bit surprising. 

“It’s getting lots of radio play too,” he says. “It’s exciting.” 

On Modern Primitive, Isaak himself can be heard playing guitar, while simultaneously playing drums with his feet, and singing and playing harmonica. Meanwhile, Picot plays upright bass and does backing vocals. Isaak himself is a seasoned blues artist who plays in all kinds of formations, from a solo artist to a member of his five-piece Saints of Swing all-star group. Because he lives and breathes music, there is never a time when he isn’t working on writing new songs.

“I always have a bunch on the go,” he says. “Right now, I probably have about 30 of what I’d call solid tunes ready to record.”

When it comes time to record a new record, Isaak always finds himself with a large collection of tunes to choose from, and Modern Primitive contains both new songs made specifically for this record, and older ones that hadn’t yet found a home on an album. 

“There’s a bunch of different ways I go about writing a song,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll just sit with my guitar and play it and sing aloud and let my consciousness come straight through. Once in a while, you say a really cool phrase when you’re doing that and write that down.” 

Isaak and Picot recorded the album at the historic Hotel Georgia in Vancouver, where they rented the penthouse suite, in which world-famous musicians such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby were known to stay.

“All these legends have stayed there, and they used to broadcast big band radio live from up there in the ‘40s,” Isaak says. “It’s a pretty magical place to go and record.” 

Isaak will be touring up to the Yukon in support of Modern Primitive to perform at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sept. 25. He’ll also be playing in Atlin, B.C. on Sept. 18. Joining Isaak for these northern shows will be local musicians Lonnie Powell on drums and Robert Bergman on bass. To keep up with Brandon Isaak’s music and touring plans, visit his website at brandonisaak.ca.

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