“Talk about your amps! Talk about all the bands you’re in!”
A Swallow Hill Music staffer playfully needled Aaron McCloskey to brag on himself, even just a little, one recent afternoon.
Aaron just smiled and gave her a look of understated mortification. Only when asked a specific question about guitar amplifiers did he come alive, losing himself in his answer.
From storied New England towns, to West Texas, to the Mile High City in boom times. It all sounds like something out of a folk song rather than stops on Aaron’s journey through music.
“It was a really hard interview to dress for,” he says of his interview to teach guitar at Swallow Hill Music in 2007. He knew it was a laid-back environment, but he he didn’t want to look like he took that for granted.
Whatever he wore, he got the gig, making him a Swallow Hill Music staple ever since – teaching guitar, banjo and the occasional ensemble.
He thinks for a moment about coming up on nine years of teaching. “That’s crazy. The entire administration’s turned over.” He also remembers a crew of “long timers” when he joined the instructor ranks who have since moved on.
For someone whose life is focused on music, his start might be familiar to more than one of his students.
Aaron played piano as a kid. “I just hated that thing,” he says, particularly the lessons, and he didn’t always want to practice. Despite his struggles his mom made him commit.
Those childhood frustrations helped shape his teaching philosophy.
“My only goal for kids is that it’s fun,” he says of lessons. And while he wants kids to progress, he understands there is so much competing for their time – school, soccer, other activities – kids won’t come back to anything, music included, if it isn’t fun.
The same applies for adults. People come back if it’s fun.
He left the piano and playing music behind when he was thirteen and didn’t pick it up again until college. The summer after his freshman year at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, he took up the guitar.
“I’d watch the Red Sox game every night and play guitar,” he recalls. Unlike the piano lessons of his youth, he was invested in figuring out the six-string. “The learning process, that was the exciting part.”
As he immersed himself, all the hours of playing didn’t feel like practice. By the end of college he had a feeling music was going to be a big part of his future.
At the time more formal musical instruction beckoned, and he found it in West Texas.
Levelland, Texas, home to South Plains College, sits roughly between Lubbock and the New Mexico border. He enrolled to study bluegrass. He recalls times of “gritty mud flying,“ and chuckles in noting the Levelland founders didn’t embellish anything when naming the town.
The experience and the environment stuck with him. “You better close your windows when that old West Texas wind blows…” Aaron sings on aka Laser Bunny’s latest album. The line is from the Carr-penned “Windy Days, Dusty Skies.”
aka Laser Bunny is just one of Aaron’s many musical projects. He starts to rattle off the bands and he plays in – Safe Boating Is No Accident, Western Skyline, Wood Belly – and adds to the list various “bluegrass sounding” projects. He plays about four to five shows a month, eight to twelve in the summer.
Teaching allows him the financial stability to be able to choose his projects. He’s gotten to the point with music where he can join groups that allow him to stretch out creatively, where the “focus is being a band and not just getting gigs.”
“I’ve been looking for that type of project for years,” he says. That several of them opened up representing a diversity of genres speaks to his ability as a musician.
To an outsider, it might seem like enough music to keep anybody’s hands full, but what about those guitar amps?
“I think about amplifiers a lot,” he says, before murmuring something about an “obsession.”
It started several years ago with some old Magnatone amplifiers he found for sale at an audio shop. Their owner didn’t want to split up a set of two-watt practice amps, so Aaron bought the pair. The amps had their original wiring and needed some safety upgrades, so he enlisted the help of a friend who suggested Aaron buy a kit to build his own amp to learn the ins and outs of repairing his new finds.
As with learning the guitar, he became engrossed with building amps. He started convincing his friends and fellow musicians he could make their amps under his McClostone Amplifiers label.
Overall he’s built more than two dozen, including the 15 watt amp he uses in Safe Boating Is No Accident. “They sound awesome,” he says with pride, “and it’s really fun.”
Through his teaching, bands, and amps – and all the relationships and experiences that go along with them – Aaron calls himself “Incredibly fortunate” to have a life in music.
“Music provides for all that,” he surmises of the life he’s created. “That wasn’t the plan, just sort of happened.”