With a musical upbringing, a blue-collar work ethic and an insatiable appetite for knowledge and development, The Accidentals’ rise to success has been anything but.
The Michigan-based trio, which defies categorization by expounding on an orchestral foundation with a variety of genres and instruments, will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Chandelier Lobby of the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre in support of their major label debut, “Odyssey.”
The group dates back to 2012 and was born out of the friendship and musical partnership of songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Savannah “Sav” Buist, 22, and Katie Larson, 22. The duo brought in drummer Michael Dause, 22, in 2014, and The Accidentals’ young career already includes over 1,000 live performances and touring alongside acts like Martin Sexton, Brandi Carlile, Andrew Bird, The Wailers and Joan Baez.
Both having professional pianists for fathers and vocalists for mothers, Buist and Larson bonded in high school over shared influences in classical music, jazz, bluegrass, country, alternative rock and more obscure genres.
“I started playing violin when I was about 11,” Buist said in a recent phone interview. “Our public school programs in northern Michigan are great at introducing music at an early age. I was in our high school orchestra program, which is where I met Katie. When I met Katie, I learned songwriting was an option and playing multiple instruments was an option.”
Larson’s first instrument was cello. She said she grew up attending band and orchestra concerts, and she formed a band in public school, which she credits with having a “heavy influence” on her unique arrangements and approaches to songwriting.
During an Accidentals performance, Buist and Larson will play violin, cello, acoustic and electric guitars, stand-up and electric bass, mandolin and banjo.
“Our public high school music teacher encouraged us to do something outside of the box with strings,” Larson said. “We started playing with alternative styles, and it’s a mishmash of influences (that contributes to) our current style.”
“Odyssey” features compositions that touch on everything from folk to alternative and indie rock to jazz to symphonic Americana, but none of the numbers on the album can be easily defined.
“Our goal from the beginning has been diversity in instrumentation but also in genre,” Buist said. “We expand in a lot of different directions, but we never let them define what we are. It’s been fun having musical ADD … without letting it drown out our focus.”
While the group’s ability to perform with multiple instruments and test the boundaries of musicality is advanced beyond their years, they embrace their talents with humility.
“I think that violin and cello have been close to our hearts,” Larson said. “It’s what we got started on before we started out. We’re definitely our own worst critics. We don’t think we have perfect technique. Whenever we go see another concert and see another artist perform, we go, ‘Oh my gosh, we have so much we can improve on. We’re always hoping to add more (instrumentation) while fine-tuning our craft on our original instruments.”
Dause, who has seen the pair evolve since joining them on tour and in the studio, offered a perspective on their sonic development in terms of the effects equipment they use.
“(The other day) we were looking through old amps and pedals … and we found the old Zoom pedals Sav and Katie used to use,” Dause said. “Nowadays, both Katie and Sav have giant pedal boards. When I came on board, they were using these little DI (direct input) pedal units. Compared to where our rigs are now, I thought it was cool.”
The band’s work has garnered attention from peers, which is evident in their album cut “KW,” a song named for and collaborated on by jam-scene heavyweight and one-man-band Keller Williams. The tune captures the essence of Williams’ signature acoustic dance music with its progressive soul-funk laced with bluegrass twang.
“We first met Keller two or three years ago at a music festival,” Larson said. “His drummer, Rodney Holmes, jumped on stage and started jamming with us. Keller asked us if we wanted to jump on at the end of his set. That’s how it started with Michael, me and Sav adding instrumentation on his song. I played strings on one of his brand new albums that just came out, ‘Sync.’ In turn, we asked him if he’d play guitar tracks on ‘KW.’ He sent a bunch of tracks to us, and when we heard them, we did our happy dance. It was like, ‘It’s all coming full circle.’”
Buist and Larson, Buist explained, write songs individually as a means of processing the events in their lives, but their stories combine to document their experience as a group.
“A lot of my songs are narrative,” Buist said. “I grew up writing novels and short stories, and I incorporated that love into songwriting. Katie’s songs are poetic and abstract. They remind me of impressionistic art. What that comes together into is (‘Odyssey’). It tells the story of us as a band. Overcoming ageism. Overcoming sexism. Just overcoming on this journey we’re on. We’re trying to create a human connection that inspires healing and also inspires growth.”
And a big part of that growth, for The Accidentals, is a desire to further their knowledge and experience while they’re out touring 250 days a year.
“We, all three of us, are nerds,” Buist said. “We came from a background where we were workaholics as far as education. We keep our heads on our goals and keep moving forward. We try to incorporate learning into what we do. We call it a college education on steroids.”