Q&A with Traverse City’s The Accidentals

The Accidentals, a Traverse City based musical duo (recently made trio!) is made up of three multi-instrumentalists musicians, Katie Larson, Savannah Buist and drummer Michael Dause. Savannah and Katie met in 2011 at high school and soon after, The Accidentals were born.

Since then they have written and recorded two albums, opened for artists like Andrew Bird, toured, scored three films and played at South by Southwest where Billboard named them one of the “7 Breakout Acts.” MyNorth’s Eliza Foster talked with Savannah and Katie who covered everything from the origin of The Accidentals to what’s new for 2015. Read on for the interview.

Why are you called “The Accidentals”?

Sav: It’s kind of a funny story, since we actually met totally by accident.  We were the only two people in our high school orchestra to volunteer to play for an after-school meeting, so Katie came over to rehearse at my house, and we ended up playing the White Stripes instead.  We were a band that night.

Katie: In high school Savannah and I were total music theory nerds. Our name “The Accidentals” is a play on words off of a musical symbol called an accidental (like a sharp, flat or natural sign). In a piece of music, an accidental is a note that doesn’t belong in the key signature, but sounds good and adds some funkiness. We feel like our music doesn’t belong in any specific genre, we try to incorporate different styles and make something special.

How long have you guys been together? What has been the biggest change you have undergone as a band and musicians since then?

Sav: Katie and I have been a band for around three years now. I’d say that the biggest change is that we’re constantly changing. ]We learn from fellow musicians here in Michigan, who came around us and supported us when we first decided to pursue music.  Our sound is always evolving thanks to the slew of genres that our friends offer, such as Blake Elliot’s fifties swing-rock, E Minor’s eerily soothing lullabies, Josh Davis’ edgy folk, The Crane Wives and Appleseed Collective’s rock-your-socks-off live performances, and many more. There’s too many amazing Michigan bands to encapsulate in one article. You could probably write a book about it. We’re honored to say that we’ve learned from a lot of them.

Katie: Looking back at the past 3 years, we have taken so many baby steps that have led us to where we are right now. Some of the baby steps include graduating from high school, opening for our musical heroes, adding Michael to the band, and creating our Accidental team including our producers, lawyer, management consulting team, and booking agency. Every show and every person we add to our “Famgrove” (our fan/family) affects our band.

You recently came back from SXSW where Billboard named you as one of the 7 Breakout Acts, congrats! How did the festival go? Were you expecting such big recognition? How do you describe your music to people?

Sav: Honestly, when I first saw the Billboard article featuring us, I figured someone had photoshopped us in there as a joke. We’ve never been to Austin TX before, so we weren’t expecting many people to know who we were. Luckily, we brought with us an amazing group of people who we like to call our “Accidental Power Rangers.” This includes Val Haller of Valslist.com, an amazing woman in charge of a mobile app made specifically to create awesome playlists of music that appeal to everyone you can think of. She has done wonders to break us into the Chicago scene. Also with us was Cindy Lange, a great booking agent from Boston who helped spread our name at SXSW. Amanda Slaybaugh, our booking agent at Fleming Artists, camped out in our apartment and we bonded over hot sauce. Legendary songwriter Marshall Crenshaw and Grammy award winning producer Stewart Lerman also came to help us out, as they are helping us record our next four albums in NYC. Our sound is always evolving these days, especially with the development of new songwriting material. Recently, reviews called it “genre-bending.” We like that, because it doesn’t confine us to one space- we like to explore.

Katie: SXSW was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. There were concerts, films, conferences, networking events, panels, gear expos- it’s impossible to see it all. We did catch a few of our favorites (Son Lux, Brandi Carlile, Courtney Barnett), and ended up with tons of new bands to follow. Our placement category at SXSW was “singer-songwriter”, but I prefer to call us Folk/rock/bluegrass/funk/gypsy/jazz/hip hop classical fusion. 🙂

Do you write all of your own music? What are some of the song influences?

Sav: We write all of our own music.  Songwriting is a pretty variable process for us.  When I first met Katie, she had been writing songs for a while, whereas I had never written one before- so writing songs was a totally new learning curve for me.  My influences come from the scientifically-minded violin virtuoso Andrew Bird, old Death Cab for Cutie albums, legendary female rockers Neko Case and Ani DiFranco, and books on my bookshelf, which tend to have insanely cool messages and sentences that I like to play around with and toss in the songwriting salad.

Katie: Savannah and I never settle with just one style, sometimes we feel like jamming out, sometimes we want to express a feeling, sometimes we wanna slow things down and go back to our orchestra violin/cello roots. I try to write what I want to play. I love listening to the honest jam packed lyrics of anti-folk artists like Kimya Dawson and Jeffrey Lewis. I also love artists who are really wild and passionate onstage, like Jack White, St Vincent, and Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

What’s a favorite memory from your time as The Accidentals?

Sav: There’s a lot of them, but one of my favorite memories is when we were able to play a benefit for a no-kill animal shelter. The event was called Hero Dogs and was put on by the Noah Project. They basically highlighted a bunch of canines who had done fantastic feats for society and gave out cool awards. There was a taco buffet, a cake with a picture of us printed on it, and I won an entire bucket of movies and popcorn at the silent auction. Overall, 10/10, would do again. Another time, we played at a place called The Pool in South Bend, IN which is basically a swimming pool that’s been drained and turned into an apartment/venue filled with couches, blankets, and fluffy pillows. We were able to spend the night there after the show, and we got to watch movies on a giant projector screen. It was awesome.

Katie: I’m gonna comment on Savannah’s memory at the Pool in South Bend. I remember that night because Savannah and our manager made a midnight run to Taco Bell to buy food for everyone (we were traveling with a big group of fellow female Michigan musicians and we toured as “Girls with Guitars”). Our manager Amber told the person at the drive through that she wanted to order one of everything off the dollar menu, and the person at Taco Bell thought Amber was pranking them, so she called the cops and Amber refused to leave until we got our tacos. A lot of our favorite memories include tacos….

Personally, one of my favorite memories was playing our own arrangements of our songs with the Civic String orchestra ensemble in Traverse City. My younger sister Zoe plays viola in the ensemble, so it was an awesome experience playing a show with her.

Rumor has it you’re going to release a new album this year… what else do you have planned for 2015? Any plans to take your act across the pond?

Sav: In 2015, this summer we are playing some of the most amazing festivals in the US. Summercamp, Summerfest, Electric Forest, Blissfest, Buttermilk…etc.  We will get to share the stage with people we have geeked out over forever. We will tour the East Coast in July with a label showcase in NY, the West Coast all the way to Portland in October. The South in September. The current roadmap has us signing a label deal, management, and synch licensing by the end of the year. I know, it’s a big road. Our FAMbase has taught us to believe it can happen.
Maybe we will sneak in a visit to Europe but likely that will be for next year. 🙂

Katie: It’s true, we’ve been working hard to make an awesome album with producer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw and recording engineer Stewart Lerman! We’re so excited to show everybody what we’ve been working on. In January we took a big step by signing with a booking agency called Fleming Artists. They are amazing and making our dream of a national tour come true. So far we have played on the East Coast and we’re playing on the West Coast this spring. We’ve been trying to get to Europe for years, hopefully soon!

Where do you see The Accidentals in 5 years?

Sav: We’re “go-with-the-flow” people. We never set out to be famous, we just want to create, play and share good music and to enjoy the journey and this time in our lives. In this business five years is a blink of an eye and a lifetime. We are certain that we will always be playing/writing music no matter where life takes us and we want to learn as much as we can in the time we have together.

I will tell you a secret.  I’ve always been intrigued by film scoring, astrophysics, and biology, so I’m hoping to pursue those things in the distant future. Katie hopes to travel the world a little bit, doing cool projects like farming in Spain and building houses in Haiti. She’s also interested in film and documentary work. Michael, our drummer (who has a background in audio technology at Belmont University in Nashville, TN) wants to set up his own recording studio, adorably named “Argyle Studios.”

The idea is to find a healthy balance of all these things.

Katie: Three years ago I was in high school and I had never played my music in front of anyone, I didn’t know Savannah, I had horrible stage fright, and I was just starting to learn how to express myself and play my instrument. So many things have changed in that time, I can’t even imagine what we’ll be doing in five years.

Any other thoughts?

Sav: I’d just like to point out that our bio, which we first created in September of 2011 when we first started The Accidentals Facebook page, has not changed in three years. Here is what it says: “We are Music Nerds. We are like a small gang with fingerless gloves, converse, leather jackets, and a Uke. We are available for any gigs that serve food.”

Some things aren’t likely to change.

Check the Accidentals out on their website and like them on Facebook to see the latest updates!

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