McCloskey plays accordion back into style

Photo courtesy of Anja McCloskey
Photo courtesy of Anja McCloskey

A Missourian with a British accent is not typically someone you hear much about. But for Anja McCloskey, this unusual characteristic is just one in a long list that defines the singularity of who she is as a musician.

McCloskey, an accordionist and singer-songwriter, is coming to the Circle-A Café Saturday as a part of her second U.S. tour.

The Circle-A Café, 932 E. Chambers St., is just one of many unconventional venues on her tour.

“I love playing unconventional and eclectic venues,” McCloskey said. “I much prefer them to traditional music venues. I just feel that I can relate to an audience better in such places, as I am not that traditional and straightforward myself. I also feel that people tend to be a lot more attentive in unusual spaces and seem to be able to take everything in more.”

McCloskey, who released her first full album in September, describes her sound as “alternative folk” but said she has a hard time pinning down the exact nature of the music.

“I think when people see my instrument, they assume I do traditional music,” McCloskey said. “People ask me, ‘Can you play polka?’ No, I don’t. I guess I play a traditional instrument, but I don’t necessarily play traditional music.”

Though the accordion is McCloskey’s primary instrument and her favorite, she also plays the piano and clarinet.

“I think the accordion is super versatile and really expressive,” McCloskey said. “It can make so many different sounds, and it’s so loud it’s almost like a church organ. When you play it, it is attached to you, and you can put your emotions into it.”

McCloskey will be playing the accordion alone at her show, something she does not do often, as she has a band back in England. McCloskey said she is excited for the intimate and emotional nature that comes with a solo show.

“I’ve reworked my songs a little bit so I can play them by myself,” she said. “I’ve also dug up a lot of old material, because once you have a band, you kind of leave things behind. It’s always really refreshing, as an artist, to sometimes rediscover things.”

When McCloskey plays with her band, the sound includes violins and guitars. McCloskey said with these additional instruments, the dynamics of the show change quite a bit but still retain the eccentric and alternative feel of her music.

“I’ve had people say to me that they’ve quite enjoyed the solo shows, because it’s enabled them to hear the accordion properly,” McCloskey said. “When I play with the band, the accordion parts kind of mingle in with the other parts, and this is an opportunity to see me play my instrument and to be able to hear it properly.”

McCloskey said she loves playing in the U.S. because people are so friendly and receptive. She spends most of her time in England and said she finds English audiences much more reserved.

“If they like you, you get a clap and maybe one person will buy your CD, whereas over here when you play, people get so enthusiastic,” McCloskey said. “I think people over here really appreciate live music and the effort that goes into it.”

McCloskey’s world traveling no doubt had an influence on her personal music style. Born in Missouri to a German mother and American father, she has also lived in Germany and the U.K.

“When I grew up in Germany, everything was kind of 1980s pop music, Madonna-central,” she said. “I discovered new music mainly through late-night MTV and tapes that were handed to me by my friends. When I moved to England, a whole new musical world opened up to me. There were so many independent bands. The campus was full of aspiring musicians, and I kind of got sucked into the middle of that. It really gave me a taste for independent, underground and unsigned music.”

As a child and teenager, McCloskey played in an accordion orchestra that exposed her to the accordion music of Astor Piazzolla and Yann Tiersen, musicians whom McCloskey considers influences.

“(My influences) are just people who showed me you can do something different with the accordion than play just folk tunes,” she said.

McCloskey said she hopes her show will provide students the opportunity to see her classic instrument in a new context.

“Students can come and watch me if they would like to see something that is unusual but emotive, using an instrument that modern music has largely forgotten,” she said.