a trail of bizarre and alternative music: the anja mccloskey interview;
I think it says something that, in response to the question I never grow tired of asking, one of the three words that Anja McCloskey uses to describe her music is “different”, especially considering that the first words I used to describe it were “I’m not entirely sure I know what is going on here”. That was meant to be complimentary and was in response to “Italian Song” – the charming video for which is above – rather than some of the more conventional folk-infused cuts on her upcoming debut, An Estimation; but few enough musicians manhandle an accordion with quite so much dexterity these days. You should hear Franz Nicolay’s stage stories about trying to get one of the bloody things fixed (no really, you should – like, maybe tomorrow?).
Promotion begins in earnest for the album this weekend, with a launch show at London’s Hoxton Square Bar on Sunday evening followed by the release of single “Instigate It” next week. In the meantime, here’s what is easily one of my favourite of these quick email chats covering McCloskey’s previous life in various bands, touring bookstores and her sometime alter-ego as a fellow music hack..!
How did you get started writing music and performing?
It took me a long time to feel confident about writing and performing my own music. I’ve always played accordion and piano and was in orchestras, but I didn’t start playing in bands until I started university. My campus was also the music campus, and I accidentally got dragged into it, as I happened to play a fairly niche instrument. It is through having been in bands like The Irrepressibles and Haunted Stereo that I discovered my interest in actually doing my own stuff.
Three words to describe your sound…
Different, dramatic, heartbreaking
What influences you?
I am mainly inspired by the people around me and the stories that pass through my life. My music is definitely a way for me to be cathartic. That doesn’t mean I always deal with personal and true events in my compositions, but I reflect how the things around me, be it books, films, actual events, affect me.
Musically I drag a trail of bizarre and alternative music behind me, which is bound to have influenced me to some extent. Growing up I listened to a lot of accordion music, like Astor Piazzolla and Yann Tiersen, and mostly living in Germany also meant I had to endure a large dose of 80’s pop music… But since I moved to the UK in 2002 I have been absolutely amazed by the breadth of alternative music available and the amount of wonderful small bands that you find in every corner of the country.
I belong to a record label and collective called Sotones Records, where all of the artists work with and support each other. That has been a great influence on me and in a way has also hugely motivated me.
You’ve been involved in music for a while, as part of the band Haunted Stereo – what inspired you to branch out on your own?
Haunted Stereo had been going for some time and we were reaching a stage, where we were gigging too much and the fun just kind of disappeared. We had a lot of ideas, but there were three songwriters in the band and sometimes new suggestions didn’t seem to sit very well with the existing material. I am very organised and like to work hard, and I felt that Haunted Stereo wasn’t taking up enough of my time, and that I wanted to do more. The result was my first EP “Turn, Turn, Turn”, which came out on Sotones Records in 2010. I enjoyed the whole process so much, I just kept going. It is very liberating to do a solo project and to be able to decide on its direction completely. It has also brought some new life back into Haunted Stereo as a result.
A related question: with your first album under your own name due shortly, how does it feel to see your own name on the cover? Are there different pressures having your own name attached to the music?
I am so excited about the album release. It is by far the biggest thing I have done on a musical level and we have all worked very hard to get to this stage. Of course it is daunting having your own name on the release. I always wonder whether it is enough for people to take me seriously. But we have achieved so many things in the last two years under that name, including a tour in the US and in Europe and winning an Emerging Excellence Award from the Musicians Benevolent Fund. I am now getting to a stage where I am starting to believe that we can actually get away with it…
What releases/shows do you have planned at the moment?
My debut album comes out on 3rd September on Sotones Records and we have booked a lot of shows to support the release. We will be gigging for two months straight pretty much. There are some special album launch shows as well, namely Hoxton Square Bar in London (26th August), King Johns Palace in Southampton (7th September), Googies Art Cafe in Folkestone (8th September), Latest Music Bar in Brighton (9th September) and Forte Tea Rooms in Winchester (15th September). We have also just been confirmed to play at Acoustica Festival in Exeter on 14th September.
According to my research (read: Google), earlier this year you went on a short tour performing in book stores. What was that like? How did that come about?
I have always felt that it is easier for me and my band to perform in unusual spaces. Our music is somewhat different and people seem to be able to understand it better, if it is not performed in a conventional setting. For the release of my single “A Kiss” in January this year, we organised a gig in the Amnesty Book Shop in Brighton, together with my label mates Etao Shin. We had such a fantastic time that Etao Shin and I decided to do an entire tour just in bookshops. It was complete madness. We managed to fit both bands, including double bass and drums, into my seven-seater car and just played up and down the country. The only slight downside was that we bought too many books and it became a bit of a space issue in the car…
I believe you’re a sometime music writer too (for one of my favourite websites!). Is there anything you would like to recommend?
I am indeed. I don’t have so much time these days, but I have been writing for a long time for Wears The Trousers, which is a fantastic online magazine for women in music. They also co-presented my single launch at The Slaughtered Lamb in London and are generally lovely people. When I recorded the album I went through a no music phase, but I think I am just starting to get back into it. At the moment I am listening to Shenandoah Davis a lot, and Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet. I am also rediscovering my love for Nina Nastasia right now. And of course I listen very much to my label mates’ releases on Sotones Records. Check out Etao Shin, Calico Cat, Oresteia, Dave Miatt, Lonely Joe Parker, Woven Bird, Johnny5thWheel&thecowards, Fred Kinbom, rude_NHS, Moneytree, Moulettes and Ottersgear.