If you ask pompadour-haired, Roy-Orbison-inspired crooner Chris Isaak what's different about his world at age 55 — with 14 albums, nine film roles, and even his own Chris Isaak Show TV sitcom to his credit — he'll just shrug in his usual droll, offhanded way and reply: Not much.
"It's fascinating to me when there are musicians whose stuff I love, but in later life they'll say, 'Well, I have a family, and I enjoy skiing, and I'm raising roses now,'" he notes. "And I go 'Really? Well, what about the music?' And they go 'Oh, that? I still do the hit songs when I go out on tour, but that's it.' But me, I spend so much time still doing music, that's my entire day."
On the day of our interview, Isaak was up until 4 a.m. strumming new chord progressions on his guitar. In a few minutes, he'll head out to band practice in anticipation of his traditional summer tour.
Meanwhile, in whatever down time he's been able to grab over the past two years, he's been piecing together a Sun Records-themed new album (working title: Lucky Old Sun, or possibly Beyond the Sun), which will be devoted to rockabilly covers and originals.
"You would think, at some point, that music wouldn't be what I was interested in," says the renaissance man whose retro pen-and-ink drawings have adorned his last two releases, Mr. Lucky and Live at the Fillmore.
"If you would've looked at how I spent my time when I was 23, and how I spend it now, it's about the same thing," Isaak says. "I get up, I eat a bowl of cereal, and I've got rock 'n roll music playing all damned day. I'm either playing it or listening to it or thinking about it, and the only time I take off is when I go, 'I have stuff to do today.' But even then, it's like, 'I have to go pick up my Echoplex from the repair shop.' Or 'I ordered new flat-wound strings, and I'm gonna go get 'em.'
But I love this. And I never was married to a supermodel, and I never did have a drug habit, so I still have my original dime." He pauses, before adding, "But money's not the reason I do this."
In fact, Isaak still lives in the same humble cottage he's owned for years out in San Francisco's Richmond District, a few blocks from his beloved ocean, where he continues to surf as often as possible. He's still linked to his longtime label Warner Bros., even though he's also launched his own imprint, Wicked Game Records, named for his signature hit.
Which brings up the subject of songwriting. "There are people I know who go, 'Yeah, I've got a guitar, but I just haven't been inspired,'" he sniffs. "Well, nothing ever happens if you just wait — so I write a lot, and I think that helps your batting average.
"I may not be as talented as some other people," he concludes, "but that doesn't mean that I can't work harder. And sometimes, if you work hard enough, things actually do get better."