The accordion usually brings to mind old-fashioned folk music, washed-up buskers, and grandpa with his red suspenders-all things well past their expiration date. It doesn't connote an eclectic and upcoming rock/Tex-Mex/polka/country/jazz/blues/Zydeco band. Well, now it does.
Copper Box, a husband-and-wife leading duo backed by Drummer Jason Van Ryzin and Bassist Kevin Junemann, carves out a unique sound by exposing the accordion to an array of musical styles.
Danny Jerabek and his wife, Michelle, founded Copper Box in 2002 soon after they were married. The name Copper Box comes from copper's ability to conduct electricity, as music does for them, and the alternative word for the accordion, button-box.
Both from musical families in the same small Wisconsin farming community, Danny and Michelle grew up proficient in numerous instruments.
"The question wasn't if you were going to join the school band, but which instrument you were going to play," Michelle said.
In Copper Box, the couple covers vocals and everything besides drums and bass-boasting skills on the accordion, keys, cornet, saxophone, guitar, flute, washboard, etc.
Danny-the band's skilled, self-taught accordionist-received his first accordion at the age of nine and played traditional Czech and German tunes at his grandpa's request. His passion for the instrument developed after he listened to Mexican accordion players, like Steve "Esteban" Jordan, who exposed him to the instrument's true potential.
Copper Box's aim is to realize this potential and "evolve the accordion into different styles of music," pushing it outside of the instrument's typical genre-polka. The band's distinctive and eclectic sound has developed as its members have expanded their musical repertoire, listening to ‘70s rock, Aretha Franklin, Little Feet, Los Lobos, Texas Tornados, and the father of Zydeco-Clifton Chenier.
The Tejano, Chicano rock, and Zydeco sounds of the band's musical inspirations have filtered into its music and led to fun, one-of-a-kind songs like "The Pink Floyd Polka."
However, not everyone was receptive to Copper Box's hip new take on the accordion at first.
"Starting out, it was hard to get booked at a rock or music club," Michelle said. "The accordion was like a curse."
But through persistence and a positive attitude, the band has surmounted the opposition and won over fans, who often remark, "I don't normally like the accordion, but you guys play it cool."
"Now the accordion works for us, makes us different than every other band," Michelle said.
Copper Box performs more than 140 shows per year nationwide at everything from Oktoberfests to music festivals to community concerts. The band's latest album, In the Summertime, was nominated for Best Contemporary Polka CD of 2009 by the Polka America Corporation.
In the future, the band hopes to continue playing in different venues and developing audiences around the country, in addition to evolving its sound. The Tejano and Chicano flavor of the music has especially piqued the interest of the Hispanic population, so Danny and Michelle hope to pen more songs in Spanish.
To check out Copper Box's modern take on the accordion, drop by Bell's Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo on March 4 and see why this instrument is not just for grandpas.