It was a helluva introduction.
I was scheduled to review a Keller Williams KWatro date when an unknown opening band took the stage. It was The Accidentals, three musicians who didn’t look old enough to legally drink in the Beachland Ballroom (and at the time they weren’t).
The art pop trio’s hourlong set of originals and a Rush cover impressed from beginning to end. That happened to be the same reaction when Keller saw the band members perform, which led to his invitation to support him on a selection of gigs. He even joined them onstage for “KW,” a song they wrote in his honor.
Move the calendar forward 18 months and “KW” (with Keller guesting on the track) appears on The Accidentals major label debut Odyssey; the result of five years playing at house parties, music conventions, festivals, radio stations and fine-tuning their future while waiting in parking lots before shows (that pesky under-21 years old thing).
Formed in Traverse City, Michigan in 2012, The Accidentals began as a duo by high school orchestra members Savannah Buist (vocals, guitar and violin) and Katie Larson (vocals, guitar and cello). After meeting fan Michael Dause at folk and roots-oriented Blissfest, they eventually enlisted him as a fulltime member on drums and percussion.
The addition of a solid rhythmic foundation freed up arrangements for Buist and Larson to develop their vocal harmonies and woodshed in public their blend of folk, pop, jazz, bluegrass, rock and classical.
An early homemade release that Buist wants to forget plus an album (“The Silence”) and EP (“Parking Lot”) precede their signing to Sony Masterworks label.
Odyssey sounds like a group with its creative potential becoming realized. Co-produced and engineered Jason Lehning (Mat Kearney, Guster, Alison Krauss), it evokes his past work as well as subtle nods to Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and Indigo Girls.
“It’s really been a gratifying experience to have it out,” said Larson. “We’ve been working on the songs for a long time, and the recording process was really incredible. Now, we finally have physical copies. At the last three shows we’ve been selling them. So, it’s been really exciting to have it out.”
I spoke to the threesome during their short tour of Canada.
JPG: When I mention that the album reminds me of artists such as Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, I imagine they’re on your radar as far as people you’ve listened to and people who inspired you.
SB: Oh, yes. Joni Mitchell’s album Blue made the Top Female Album by NPR) recently. I listen to a lot of that, too. That’s what sounds great.
KL: I’m really interested in that folk rock fusion. Before I met Savannah and before we started writing songs, she was writing novels. So, she has really beautiful stories, descriptive lyrics. I’m more into cool, strange chord progressions and arrangements. It’s cool to go in that genre-less direction and mess around with every song. That’s kind of what we’ve been pursuing. We love Joni, and we love artists like Jack White, Keller and Andrew Bird.
SB: Katie’s lyrics are also pretty abstract. It’s been nice to try to fuse together our strengths. We tend to the opposite of each other in most respects (Katie laughs) as far as music is concerned, so having multiple different styles and genres on the album increases versatility that we play off of very well.
JPG: How did things change with the addition of percussion by Michael? What do you bring to the proceedings, Michael?
KL: Three’s a charm. (laughs)
SB: (laughs) He brings the good luck.
MD: It’s been very very fun because Katie and Savannah will come to band rehearsal with pretty much fully-formed songs, and I get to play with the songs and be like, “What if we did this kind of rhythm in this section or move this around and do hits on the end of this?” I feel like I add the little embellishments at least in the arrangements.
SB: Michael is also kind of the backbone, too. We started out as a duo. It was kind of hard because one of us would always have to cover the rhythm and the other person could be more of the color instrument. Now, we can both be color instruments and Michael will always be covering the spine. It’s really nice.
JPG: Before I listened to the album, I watched your video for “Parking Lot” and was surprised to see you playing a drum kit. When I saw you open for Keller you were playing a cajon (a wooden percussion instrument that’s shaped like a box) and making great use of it.
MD: We’re traveling with a real drum kit and the cajon. When we did the album, we did pretty much all of it on a full drum kit. So, it was cool to now be able to play that live. When do a smaller show, like house concerts or a listening room type thing, I’ll still bring out the cajon kit when I need to be a little less rocking.
SB: Yeah, we did it last night because there were too many stairs. (all 3 laugh)
JPG: You co-produced Odyssey with Jason Lehning (Guster, Mat Kearney, Alison Krauss) who also engineered the album. How did you convince the record company to let you do that?
KL: Signing to a label, we put a lot of thought and a lot of time into it. We had the chance to sit down with Chuck Mitchell [Senior Vice President] at Sony Masterworks. He saw what we’d been doing and all the work we’d been putting in during the last few years with our current management and our whole team. He really believed in the direction that we were going. He believed in our music.
We knew what we wanted to do with this record. A lot of the songs we’ve been playing live and hashing out for four years. Some of the songs are brand new. It really helped to have the ability to co-produce with Jason because we knew what direction we wanted to take a lot of stuff. It also helped to be flexible and mess around a little bit with song structures and bringing in a bunch of special guests. That process was really fun to be collaborative.
We brought in Jenny Conlee of the Decemberists. We stalked her at a music festival in Colorado (slight laugh) and then sent her an email, “We’re recording. Would like to come out?” She flew all the way from Portland to Asheville, North Carolina and we hung out with her. She recorded with us for the weekend. Our album is pretty piano and organ heavy compared to our live show. So, we’ve been bringing out an auxiliary keyboard player, Jake Allen, to join us for the entire three-month fall tour.
JPG: How odd is that for the three of you to have someone else onstage as well as travelling with you?
SB: He’s got his own solo project, too. So, we’ll probably end up losing him. (laughs) He does a lot of different stuff. He helped mix part of our record. He’s also a Photoshop genius and is a multi-instrumentalist as well.
It is nice to have somebody on the road who is covering all the parts that we don’t have enough hands for. He opens up the show. He used to tour with Andy McKee. So, he has that flamenco, non-traditional guitar style of playing. It’s been really interesting to learn from him. I’ve actually picked up a lot of tricks in that direction and so has Michael. It’s been interesting having somebody else on the road. And I think we’ll always have that collaborative nature.
Of course, it will be the core three of us but we’ll always be trying new things and branching out. We started out collaboratively in our hometown and we want to carry that with us everywhere we go.
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