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Michigan's Accidentals arrive at their major label moment

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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It’s been a unique kind of odyssey for the Accidentals on the way to their new — and first major-label — album, “Odyssey.”

The youthful Traverse City trio of self-confessed “music nerds” has spent the past five years — since its members were still in high school, in fact — building an audience with an old-school, “in the van” aesthetic. With seemingly nonstop touring and releasing music and lifestyle products independently, the Accidentals won a following one fan at a time at national festivals such as South By Southwest. The result is a deal with Sony MasterWorks and the “Odyssey” album, which comes out Friday, Aug. 18, with Yahoo Music dubbing the group one of the Top 10 Bands to Watch in 2017.

“Honestly, things kind of happened organically since we started the band,” says the group’s Savannah Buist, 22, who began playing with fellow singer and multi-instrumentalist Katie Larson in 2012. (Percussionist Michael Dause, 22, joined during 2014.) “We’ve had the right opportunities come up, but I don’t think any of us expected this to happen.”

Larson, 21, adds that, “I think five years ago I thought I’d be in college at this point, doing who knows what — not standing on a stage playing music in front of people. That would have terrified me five years ago. It still terrifies me, actually.”

The Accidentals had national opportunities before now. In 2015 the group worked with Marshall Crenshaw and producer Stewart Lerman, an arrangement that provided valuable experience if not long-term association. The eclectic MasterWorks, however — with a roster that includes Yo Yo Ma and Branford Marsalis, among others — seemed like a good fit for the group’s rootsy, genre-unspecific blend of rock, folk, bluegrass, jazz and classical styles.

“Sony MasterWorks is definitely the nerdy branch of Sony,” says Buist, who wrote nine of the 13 tracks on “Odyssey.”

“We feel like we’re the nerdiest ones on there, but it’s a good dynamic, It’s a lot of people who are really geeky and musical and do a lot of genre-blending, which is really cool. It’s exciting to share the roster with them but really terrifying to share the roster with them.”

The Accidentals recorded “Odyssey” at studios in Nashville, Brooklyn and Asheville, N.C., with co-producer Jason Lehning. The set mixes new songs with material the Accidentals — which also includes new adjunct member Jake Allen on keyboards and guitar — have been playing live for years but never recorded.

“With this album we’ve really had a chance to sit on the songs for years — two, three, even four years,” says Larson, who wrote “Odyssey’s” other four tracks. “We’ve been hashing them out live, so we knew them so well by the time we were in the studio we had the best versions together we could.”

“Odyssey” also features a number of guests, including Kaki King, Keller Williams on the improvised track “KW,” Jenny Conlee of the Decemberists, Buist’s father, Rick, on piano and members of Carbon Leaf, Lily & Madeleine and Jack White’s band.

“I think we really appreciated that opportunity, just because it helped open up some of the arrangements for the new songs,” Larson explains. “For a lot of these songs we’ve heard the way they are for a long time, so it was cool to get someone else’s ideas on there, especially to work with artists we love.

“The whole goal for this album is exploring different genres and morphing genres and combining genres and making something ... undefinable.”

That’s what the Accidentals have always done, of course, and will continue doing as the group hits the road in earnest to support “Odyssey” around the country and, likely, abroad in the coming months. “It sets up all these expectations and goals,” Larson notes, but the group considers itself up for the challenge.

“This whole album is about this odyssey,” Buist explains. “Every single day we get up and move forward with baby steps, and we’re not afraid to talk about these things — being afraid of change, finding balance in our lives and learning to be present.

“That’s where the line ‘I’m not weak’ (in the title track) comes from; We don’t do this in absence of fear, but in spite of it.”

• If you go: The Accidentals’ next metro-area performance will be Oct. 29 at Saint Andrews Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit. Tickets are $20 and $29.50, and tickets for the original Aug. 17 show will be honored. Call 313-961-8961 or visit saintandrewsdetroit.com.

Web Site: www.saintandrewsdetroit.com

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