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On The String: The Intentionality Of The Accidentals

The Accidentals

When folks like me advocate for more fine arts education and exposure in public schools, success stories like The Accidentals are part of the agenda. This ultra-creative, musically daring trio from Traverse City, MI was born when two teenage students volunteered for a string ensemble, met one another and became, as they put it, musical soulmates. That’s why Katie Larson and Sav Buist and I spend so much time in Episode 205 of The String talking about high school.

“Our public high school had an orchestra program, which in itself is kind of a rarity these days,” says Larson in the interview. “And then our orchestra teacher was like, y'all should try playing electric instruments, which is also sort of rare. She brought a duo called the Moxie Strings to our class and was like, check out what these women can do with their instruments. And, you know, it got me inspired to pick up electric cello and experiment with that. We just had so much support.”

While Buist (which rhymes with heist by the way), remembers staying after school to stretch what she knew about the violin. “There was an alternative styles for strings club that would buy Led Zeppelin arrangements online, and then we'd get together and we'd cover songs by them or Coldplay. From there, we kind of made the jump to playing shows together.”

The multi-instrumental duo became a trio in 2014 when they met drummer Michael Dause, rounding out the group’s exceptionally rich and syncopated rhythmic sensibility. The Accidentals grabbed my attention from their earliest singles and the EP Parking Lot, which packs bowed and plucked strings, fuzz-toned electric guitars, deft harmonies and tricky beats all together like the overloaded tour van depicted on the cover. The band garnered enough attention with its chest-thumping live shows to land a major label deal on Sony for its album debut Odyssey in 2017, though that relationship didn’t last. That’s okay because their 2021 album Vessel is, by their account and mine, the best set they’ve assembled.

The title track, built around a pretty word that can mean a vehicle for transport or a container for something special, had been in the band’s repertoire for about five years, looking for the right home on record but a staple of their live shows, Larson said. Because its refrain “we’ll get to where we want to be” was a comforting mantra amid the grind of playing 250 dates a year and the joyful exhaustion of tending closely to their growing fan base. The song and the album are about perspective, the ladies said, embodied physically by the crafty album art.

“You can see it's kind of this plane,” says Buist. “But if you look closer, it's a plane made out of all this garbage essentially. But the garbage all has meaning. You see the hubcaps from when our van was totaled in a car accident. You see our (violin and cello) bows. You see marigolds and broken guitar strings.” It’s a fascinating piece of collage art that echoes the wildly eclectic influences the Accidentals have folded into their sound. “When you get a bird's eye view of something, you may have this idea of what you think it is. But when you zoom in, it takes on a totally different meaning. So yeah, so that was our vision. And we hope we got it. But we're so proud of this record. I mean, this is a long time coming.”

There’s a lot more here, including Katie and Sav’s recent adventures co-writing with star songwriters, from Kim Richey to Tom Paxton, which led to their other recent recordings, EPs titled Time Out #1 and #2. And also we touch on the nonprofit organization they’ve launched helping artists put on the kinds of workshops in schools that inspired them to launch out into sophisticated music and a touring life.

The Accidentals

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst.