It's not by accident that Savannah "Sav" Buist, Katie Larson and Michael Dause spend more days on the road than they do in their own Michigan homes. It's by design.
For two young female singer-songwriters who play classical instruments in a folk-rock band with their male drummer, the Accidentals are driven to stay on the highway of life as long as gas supplies don't reach the post-apocalyptic Road Warrior stage.
Already known for their high-energy live show and a willingness to connect with fans through personal tunes, plugged-in social media awareness and an intriguing back story, the Accidentals are going places. If you haven't seen or heard of them by now, keep your eyes on the road.
Calling in late July from -- surprise! -- a hotel room in Wisconsin before moving on to Chicago to add some strings to a track by the Giving Tree Band, then resuming a summertime tour, the Accidentals sounded like seasoned pros discussing the group's dramatic rise. Yet their youthful exuberance was evident as they expressed excitement for the chance to take a plane ride to an upcoming gig -- the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Colorado.
That rare upgrade is out of necessity, of course. Performing in their home state at Festival on the Bay on the night of Aug. 20, these Michiganders will have an early wake-up call the next morning, arrive at Denver International Airport by 9 a.m. (if all goes well) and get whisked to the scenic mountain town of Lyons alongside the St. Vrain River for a noontime performance. Talk about cutting it close.
"In true Accidental fashion," they said with a laugh followed by some sighs. "We definitely wanted to make it happen."
Buist, 21, and Larson, 20, have maturely maintained a frenetic pace since getting "thrown together for a class assignment" for the school orchestra program at Traverse City West Senior High in 2011.
"We ended up playing the White Stripes instead, so we were a band pretty much that night," said Buist, whose literary experience while playing in her family's band was strictly devoted to books until she meet her musical partner.
"Savannah," Larson offered admiringly, "I can just say that she's one of the best writers I've ever met. ... She writes amazing books. And so that's one reason I think her song lyrics are so intelligent is because she comes from that background."
Larson admitted that at the age of 15, "performing was definitely not on my radar. I'm super-thankful that Savannah and I happened to accidentally meet because we're both super-introverted, we're super-nerdy and passionate about music. ...
"We're also really passionate about putting in these weird elements. I played in a jazz band my freshman year. And so I love jazz guitar, those kind of influences. Putting in weird melodies and stuff like that. ... And Savannah helped me break out of my stage-fright shell," she said, laughing.
Both multi-instrumentalists from musically inclined families, Buist focused on the violin and Larson the cello, and they recorded their first album Tangled Red and Blue in 2012, receiving scholarships to attend Interlochen Center for the Arts that same year.
While writing songs for homework, they reached out to a number of producers and got a response from Rob Feaster (Crowded House), who worked on their 2013 release Bittersweet, an infectious 15-song collection made possible by crowd-funding $16,000 in only one week.
"Katie turned 17 in the studio over spring break in the middle of recording Bittersweet," Buist said. "And some of the songs we were finishing up literally on the car ride to Nashville (where it was recorded). So it was crazy but the album overall ended up winning a couple of awards and it was a really organic catalyst for everything that's happened thus far."
Added Larson: "Releasing Bittersweet and playing around our hometown, those are definitely things that helped build our local base. And that was something we worked on really hard for about two or three years."
The sonically diverse Accidentals combine the sweet sisterly harmonies of Sweden's First Aid Kit with classically composed San Fermin, a formidable group of trend-setting rockers based in Brooklyn.
A production deal in 2014, the year Larson graduated from high school, was signed with ILO, the company run by musician Marshall Crenshaw and producer Stewart Lerman, but not before some anxious moments.
Becoming full-time musicians or full-time students were life-altering options for both the violinist and cellist, who had opportunities to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Larson had 24 "absolutely terrifying" hours to decide before turning down a full-ride Presidential scholarship, and doesn't seem to regret her choice.
"I think it's kind of funny because a lot of people who grew up playing music, it's a dream come true to have a production deal and be in a rock band and tour," she said. "But Savannah and I are so passionate about continuing to learn, continuing to grow that it was a hard decision not to go to college when we'd spent our whole life already taking AP classes and the extracurriculars and trying to have a perfect resume for college and studying other things, too. ...
"But ultimately we're having a pretty insane opportunity doing what we're doing. So a production deal is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing and we know that college is always gonna be something that's there for us and something that we can go back to. And honestly, touring full time for two years is one of the craziest learning experiences we can have."
The Accidentals (from left): Katie Larson, Michael Dause and Savannah Buist.
Buist and Larson rounded out the band in 2014, a year after meeting Dause at Michigan's Blissfest, where he performed an open mic show before one of their sets.
"And we all kind of just became friends because we were all the same age and playing music," said Dause, who hails from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area and already was a "huge fan" of their songs. "We connected like that. And about a year later, I guess I had forgotten to mention that I played the drums. And then they found that out and they were like, 'Well, we're looking for a drummer. Do you want to sit in for like a month and see how it goes this summer?' "
They've been together ever since, recently celebrating their two-year anniversary as a trio. "Now that we have momentum behind it, we're happy to keep doing this for a while," Buist said.
Another milestone will occur March 21, 2017 -- Larson's 21st birthday. For 24 hours, they'll all be the same age. On March 22, Dause, who also plays guitar and writes for his own band that includes Savannah's father Rick Buist on guitar and keyboards, will turn 22.
By then, there's no telling how how many frequent driver miles they'll have on the odometer of their GMC Savana extended cargo van. Sharing the wheel with Amber Buist, Savannah's mother who's also the band's tour manager ("the best driver out of any of us by far," Larson said), and front of house engineer Jeremy Chereskin, the Accidentals figure they'll play about 200 shows in 2016, falling short of last year's record number (around 230).
Yet, they'll have a good reason. In 2016, their contractual obligations to ILO fulfilled, Buist and Larson decided to become free agents again.
Despite already releasing Parking Lot, a seven-song self-produced EP, on June 1, the group plans to head back into the studio in October to record a full-length album that will be out in the first quarter of 2017. "We have 30 to 40 songs that need a home and we have some label interest," said Larson, offering thanks to their management team of Mike Kopp and Sharon Corbitt-House at All Good Factory in Nashville.
Cool, calm, collected and confident, the trio continues to pick up life lessons on the road. For instance, they now know when winter ends, it's time to replace the snow tires on the vehicle they've nicknamed "Black Betty," shown on the Parking Lot cover with the rest of their gear.
After performing at South By Southwest this year, they survived their scariest horror story of the road to date, when "our tire blew off in the middle of the night on a highway with a semi-truck behind us, like going downhill," Larson recalled.
Once a set of all-season tires was installed, the nightmare didn't end, though, according to Buist. On the way back to Michigan, they got caught in a blizzard. "That was probably the worst," she said.
Maybe that's material for a future song by Buist and Larson, who still manage to find time to maintain relationships with boyfriends living in Michigan (videographer) and Arkansas (touring musician), respectively. Meanwhile, Dause is single and available, the laughing ladies claim.
While Buist and Larson generally write separately, all three members have their hands in arranging numbers such as "Michigan and Again," the love note to their home, "The End" (moving on after high school) and "Sixth Street" (about Austin's entertainment district).
These coming-of-age experiences may or may not be as touching as those found in Buist's 250-page yearlong journal that she just finished.
"There's so much to say about touring with people who aren't related to you by blood but become related to you because you're in their space 24/7," Buist said.
When each of them were pressed to come up with a standout moment in their still-budding career, Buist said it's been the "experience of recording Parking Lot" at Blue Rock Studio in Wimberly, Texas.
"This place is like a musician's haven. It's beautiful. It's like basically a nature preserve in the middle of nowhere," added the wildlife lover who "geeked out" by celebrating her 21st birthday watching baby wolves on a tour of Yellowstone National Park this summer.
For Larson, it was the chance with Buist to arrange and compose parts to their beautiful Bittersweet song "Mangrove" for a 72-piece symphony orchestra (including some of their former teachers) in Traverse City. She called it "the most terrifying and amazing experience because it all happened so quickly."
When the band was in Denver recently, one such note arrived from a Michigan man who was missing his wife, a teacher spending time in Colorado getting trained to learn the Montessori method. Dause relayed the message that went something like this:
"Hey, my wife is from Michigan and I haven't seen her for like a month and she's going to your show. I know you're in Colorado but would you play 'Michigan and Again' for her?"
The song written by Buist already "has kind of blown up for us completely unexpectedly," Larson said. "I think that the video blew up and became viral because people were sharing it to everyone who they knew maybe moved out of state and were across the country but had this feeling of homesickness. And so it really connected to people in a way that we didn't expect. And it connected to us, too. The first time I played it, Michael started crying."
They all shared a laugh about that but the two women credited Dause for his cool idea that became a theme in the "Michigan and Again" video. The state signs were shot at every border crossing the band made, whether it was bland Nebraska or colorful Colorado.
No matter where their travels take them, though, Buist, Larson and Dause always cheer whenever they pass the sign heading into Michigan, where supportive family, friends and the original fan base gave them a jump-start.
"We've also been finding homes away from home while we've been touring, which feels really good, too." Larson hastened to add.
If, as the saying goes, the journey is the reward, the Accidentals already have paved their path to success.
Publicity photos by Shervin Lainez. See the video for "Michigan and Again":