Catching the Wind
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Watching The Accidentals perform is like hitching a ride on a rocket. Savannah Buist and Katie Larson, along with their drummer Michael Dause, have enough energy to make Elon Musk blush. Buist and Larson leap and dance and sink to one or both knees as they play. They thrash at their instruments like angry punks desperate to reach escape velocity. You hope their O-rings hold.
But they are not angry punks. They are young musicians at the start of a promising career. How promising? Billboard Magazine named The Accidentals one of seven breakout bands of SXSW 2015. MyNorth Magazine named them Red Hot Best Michigan Band for the third straight year. Andrew Bird called them “frighteningly good.” Their current album, Bittersweet, led to a recording deal with Marshall Crenshaw and producer Stewart Lerman. They tour constantly playing sold-out shows and festivals across the country. And they are exuberant. Rationally exuberant.
The Accidentals return to C2G Music Hall in Fort Wayne January 6. Their last C2G show was a sell-out. It was also an eye-opener. Rarely does a band with this much raw talent emerge on the scene. Between them, Buist and Larson play some 12 instruments, including violin, bass, cello, guitar, accordion, piano and probably kazoo.
Though mainly known as a folk band, their interests vary widely. Live, they’ll play a delicate, personal song and follow it with a raucous cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” They write their own songs and manage their own affairs. Not bad for two young women barely in their 20s.
Buist and Larson formed The Accidentals about five years ago while both were attending Traverse City West Senior High School and playing in the orchestra, Buist as a 16-year-old Concert Master violinist and Larson as a 15-year-old cellist. They bonded as self-proclaimed orchestra geeks. Their friendship and their band followed them to Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan.
They had other reasons to bond, as well. Both their fathers were professional pianists and their mothers, vocalists. Accordingly, they had wide-ranging tastes in music. Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stephens, St. Vincent, Arcade Fire and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs found space on their playlists next to the Beatles and the Black Keys. They dove into Irish music, and they worked up a cello and violin version of “Minor Swing,” the Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli jazz standard.
“We started the band when we were 15 and 16 years old in high school,” Buist said while on a break at Addiction Studios in Nashville, Tennessee where they were working on the follow-up to Bittersweet. “We kind of got thrown together for a homework assignment and became a band instead.”
That was in 2011. The accidental pairing resulted in an EP called Tangled Red and Blue, which they put out in 2012. Live gigs soon followed. So did fans.
The first year of life found The Accidentals mostly playing around Traverse City, then greater Michigan where they hit the festival circuit and wowed audiences. But soon they swept down and across the Midwest and the rest of the country. Since 2012 they have racked up more than 700 appearances. Songs from Bittersweet, released in 2013, have been picked up for commercials and indie films and arranged for orchestra.
By 2013 they were opening for the likes of Bird, Sixto Rodriguez (Sugar Man), Brandi Carlile, Rusted Root, The Wailers and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A year later they added Michael Dause on drums, vocals and percussion and continued touring with dates supporting Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Keller Williams, Carbon Leaf, JohnnySwim and Darlingside.
While on the road, Larson and Buist have continued working up new material (they have 40-50 songs ready to record), tweaking their stage show and having fun. But they also have begun to comprehend the seriousness of what they are doing. The mental demands of increased popularity and the physical demands of living out of a van crept up on them. But with typical composure, they met those challenges head on.
“The big point is balance, learning to find balance,” Larson said. “A lot of the time we devote to our band, which is also our business. When we’re on the road we’re just trying to take care of ourselves. It’s hard to stay in touch with our family and our loved ones when we’re on the road. It’s hard to find a balance.”
Part of finding that balance includes learning to delegate. They refer to their band as a business and they treat it as such.
“We’re moving into a part of our lives where instead of doing it all ourselves we’re letting other people do it,” Buist said. “We’re delegating to a really solid team of people that we’ve been building over the last five years. And we’re moving into a kind of supervision, which is arguably even harder than doing it yourself.”
The coming year will be big for The Accidentals in several ways: another massive tour of the West Coast with singer-songwriter Martin Sexton, the release of their next album and a huge birthday milestone that will get Larson “out of the parking lot.”
“I turn 21 on March 21,” Larson said.
The shock of success can sometimes break young artists. But for Larson and Buist it has been a blast.
“I don’t think either of us expected as much success in this as we’ve gotten,” Buist said. “In fact, I remember when we were freaking out because we had 40 likes on Facebook, and we just hit 22,000 the other day, so it’s pretty insane. All in a five-year time span. We couldn’t be more excited to be on the journey that we’re on, and we hope to continue it throughout the years.”