After more than a decade of attending SXSW and looking for the next best thing, it gets more and more troubling to try and find the ‘next big thing.’ But, like with all good things, the answer is usually staring you in the face. And our answer has been sitting on a shelf, waiting for us to say something, to find the right way to tell the world what we’d discovered, since September of last year, when we walked into 3ten to investigate a name we’d heard before and a band we’d seen before. We walked in, wanting to see what a Wednesday might hold. What we found was far more than we could have expected.
They’re much too old to be this young. Introverts, all, they cut wildly loose around one another. They’re clearly a family. And they adopt everyone in the green room. All of the talk is living room stories and tales of one another and one-upsman-ship and laughter. It is both warm and infectious.
And it’s a stark contrast to the spoiled environment they perform for. Their opening act filled a near-empty room with sounds that could have torn down rafters at the Opry, and the audience didn’t grow by more than a few persons, until the set was done and it was back to the peace of a slow night. It would be daunting for anyone to think they could draw a great show from this setting.
Yet, here they are. They are defiant, young – they are all just recently legally allowed to attend all SXSW shows, powerful, and undaunted.
And, with SXSW not just on the horizon, but staring us down like a locomotive’s headlight, we wanted to tell you the band to see – our ‘can’t miss’ pick for SXSW 2018 –is not a corporate-sponsored ‘A-Lister’ at the top of their career with a billion fans, world-wide.
The band you want to see is The Accidentals. Because, like with Adele, Amy Winehouse, Feist, M.I.A. and Katy Perry, you’re going to want to say you saw them “before they were everywhere.”
To explain why, you have to think of ‘overnight success’ as a long and grinding (not just winding) road. The Accidentals first crossed our radar back in 2015, as they, mere teenagers, were developing their sound. They had a hook and an accessible image and demeanor. Their talent was overtly clear. But they were young, and their sound wasn’t perhaps lost, amid the hundreds of SXSW bands that take over the city, but they were still finding their stride.
My, how things have changed.
They’re way more talented than this venue or this crowd. The banter you hear on stage, while the height of their extroversion, is so profoundly compelling, one is prompted to consider it as genuine. And maybe it is. But, if so, it’s taxing them to be so.
“We decompress once the load out’s over,” explains Savannah Buist, one of the two powerhouse female voices in the band. “First you’ve got to talk to people and clean up all your stuff, make sure everything’s clean. And then, when we go back – we’re all introverts – so, usually, I’ll read a book or write something down or listen to a podcast. In the van, that’s pretty much all you can do.”
She’s not kidding. It takes a little while for them to accept the device recording them at play, rather than playing. And, more than once, each member – Savannah; Katie Larson, the other sledgehammer vocalist: and Michael Dause, responsible for percussion, rhythm section, and ‘other musical duties as assigned’ – explains just how introverted they all are.
“It takes a lot of energy,” Katies elaborates, “because we all want to be focused on putting on our professional hat as soon as we walk into the venue. We try to be as professional as possible to all of the staff and the engineers and everyone working there. It’s a lot of extrovert energy spent by the end of the night.”
Their ability to find melodies, lyrics and rhythms to weave with relative ease is not – pardon the pun – an accident. Prodigies of music from an early age, Savannah and Katie met in high school, where they pooled their gifts to craft a makeshift band that won them attention from and acceptance into the singer-songwriter major at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, where talents like Josh Groban, Norah Jones, and Sufjan Stevens went before them. And their name isn’t a reference to the happenstance that united Savannah and Katie, it’s a musical term.
Dause joined the band shortly after, and that took them to 2015, when they hit the SXSW stages for the first time.
We’ve been trying to put a finger on it since we heard them that fateful year, but it proved somewhat daunting. They don’t fit into a folk or rock genre. They just make compelling music, and have improved their sound 100-fold in the three years since they arrived.
The best way to say it is that, if the Dixie Chicks left a hole in music – both on the pop and folk side – the Accidentals are here to fill it with both talent and energy. Their harmonies are as good as the Erwin sisters’ lilting is, and the hook for their songs comes in harder than Natalie Maines.
These are bold words, but the way they comport themselves already belies that they’re destined to live up to and beyond them.
“When you’re a young band,” Savannah muses, “I think you really have to work to garner mutual respect when you first walk into a room, because there’s a stereotype that comes with being a young band and the idea of professionalism and how much of that is true. I think that’s what we’re trying to redefine and change the story with is we walk in and try to be as professional as possible. Make sure everything is clean, make sure you’re communicating with people.”
They aren’t playing around. They’re intentional about what they’re doing and where they want to go, and that means that they’re constantly refining a sound, which explains the quantum leap from 2015 to 2018, where SXSW finds them today.
“We’re not perfectionists, we’re overachievers, “ Katie offers. “We’re our own worst critic, most of the time. We’re always looking to improve. It helps that we’ve had the opportunity to be on tour with other artists the last couple of years, so we simultaneously look at other artists and it’s inspiring and defeating. ‘Wow, I really need to go practice!’”
It’s the verve and energy of youth, but directed at a singular thought – ‘we want to get better at our craft.’ But it isn’t all maturity and discipline, despite what gets put on stage and into the studio. After all, if youth is the fountain of energy, then it’s also a tidal pool for frivolity.
“We speak in pop culture references most of the time,” Savannah admits. She’s soon validated by a smattering of them, after which Michael offers a blunt confession.
“Most of it’s just Spongebob quotes, Rick and Morty quotes,” he says.
“No, that’s you, Michael,” Savannah responds.
And it is with all this charm and talent that they will take the stage for yet another SXSW that sees them improving and growing, being more charming and engaging that any band their age has any right to be. But, even still, at the core of it all is a heart that won’t quit exploring or expressing; and that, more than anything, is what makes their music so great.
“It’s so funny, when I get home sometimes I like, just find I’m crying for no reason,” Savannah explains. “My dad will be like, ‘Are you ok!?’ I’m like, yeah, ‘I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m just leaking emotions.’ Because I haven’t had time to let go of it, so I’m just leaking in this really pathetic manner, but you know. It’s what you do.”
A more perfect picture of what it means to a band on the rise, performing at SXSW doesn’t exist. Leaking emotions over a willing audience sounds exactly like what the conference was crafted to be. And, at the middle of it all will be Savannah, Katie and Michael, getting better with each day, working toward the day when they’ll be called the “overnight success” SXSW loves to produce.
Truth be told, even after over a decade looking for musical diamonds in the rough, it’s hard to know when you’re gambling on a longshot or when you’re betting on a sure thing that only you know about.
But if we were gambling, we’d bet a lot on The Accidentals. And you should, too.
[Note: If our words weren’t enough, here is a video of the band from that September concert at Austin’s 3TEN that left us – and an audience bigger than when they began their set – speechless.]