Smartists: The Accidentals

Katie Larson and Savannah Buist were just teenagers when they formed the orchestral-pop band The Accidentals, and are no strangers to being successful beyond their years. As minors, Larson and Buist have spent countless hours in the parking lots of the 21+ venues they’re slated to play, waiting with bouncer escorts and pre-show jitters. In fact, the title track of their new EP, “Parking Lot”, draws on this repeated inconvenience of their youth when it came to touring. But as the song refrains, “get me out of this parking lot,” the audience is reminded that Larson and Buist are now of-age and expanding their reach, growing from a popular Traverse City, Michigan band into a national sensation.

At 15 and 16 years-old, Larson and Buist met in their high school orchestra class. Both were a part of an after-school orchestra extracurricular that taught string players Led Zepplin and other pop/rock classics. When their teacher asked for volunteers to represent this “Alternative Styles” group in a school concert, only two people volunteered — Larson and Buist. Within one rehearsal, it became clear that the two were bound to be musical partners.

“Katie came over to my house to rehearse for it and, at the time, I was moving and I had a bunch of stuff lying around, including a guitar case. She said ‘oh, is that a guitar?’ and ran over to pick it up. Katie started playing the ‘We’re Going to be Friends’ by the White Stripes and I started playing with her on ukulele and we were pretty much a band that night,” said Buist.

As their musical partnership solidified, they learned of their similar arts-oriented backgrounds. Katie had committed to cello early on and at fifteen was talented enough to be playing a grade up in orchestra. Savannah had played violin in her family’s band since she was 11. The Accidentals first gig, in fact, was opening for Savannah’s family band. Next they got a gig at a bookstore, which posed a challenge.

“They only allowed original music to be performed. So, we ended up sitting down and writing a ton of new songs. Our first album, ‘Bittersweet,’ is a good representation of what that set list was like. The music was nerdy, a lot like the soundtrack from the movie Juno. From there we kept evolving,” said Buist.

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Proud overachievers who love to learn and sustained 3.9 GPAs throughout high school, Larson and Buist approached a crossroads when it became time to apply for colleges. Would they go to college or hit the ground running on their music?

“We were approached for a production deal at the same time we were auditioning for colleges and Katie had received the presidential scholarship for Berklee College of Music. They were ready to give it to her and to scout a spot for me too, and then we decided to take the production deal and pursue music full-time instead,” said Buist.

Since they made that decision, The Accidentals have been touring full-time, taking their music as seriously as anyone would take a full-time career. But they haven’t lost their love of learning, and in fact, express that education is integral to their creative processes.

“Sav and I are nerds and really passionate about all sorts of thing. Sav is the most giant science nerd I’ve ever met. She is often listening to history and science podcasts to make up for not being in school. Personally, I find that when we aren’t learning about other things, it’s harder to get inspired and to make art. When I was in school, I was taking classes on Russian Lit and World Religion and I started tons and tons of songs because I had all these new ideas running through my head. Education definitely plays a huge part in making art for me,” Larson said.

Larson and Buist are proud to be their nerdy selves, and music has huge tool for fostering self-acceptance for both of them.

“If you’re an introvert and you pursue a career in music you’re going to have to constantly step out of your comfort zone… When we first started performing, we were really shy. We sat on stools and had music stands. We’d do rock-paper-scissors over who would talk to the audience. Now, we rock out a lot more,” said Buist.

Music has forced them to grow as people and share themselves with their audience, confidently. It’s also given them the opportunity to change certain attitudes about teens and young adults in general.

“Sometimes there’s a stereotype against young musicians when you walk into a venue because they expect that you’re going to try to take advantage of the alcohol or that you won’t be respectful to the equipment or of the people who own the venue. Quite frankly, a lot of people our age are like that. We try to go into a venue and do all we can to help out and be respectful and spread some positivity,” Larson said.

Recently, Buist and Larson brought drummer Michael Dause on board. A talented multi-instrumentalist with his own recently-released solo project, Dause brings a much need rhythmic foundation to the songs, allowing Buist and Larson to free up and experiment.

With this band, The Accidentals have been touring non-stop, promoting their new EP, and garnering recognition such as Billboard Magazine’s top breakout artist at SXSW 2015. Now, they’re gearing up to record their next full-length album. At only 20 and 21 years-old, this will be their third full-length release.

As Larson said, “We just strive to set an example with who we are. Trying to show people that you can do what you want at any age, no matter who you are. The obstacles that other people set up are things that you can easily dismiss just by having confidence in yourself.”

For more information about The Accidentals, visit their website and watch their video for “Parking Lot” below!

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