Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Language, transportation, communication - this is how Katie, Sav, and Michael, better known as The Accidentals, describe their understanding of music in three words. Together they make a band that was born from friendship, mutual admiration, professionalism, and, of course: a shared love for music.
I only encountered the phenomenal The Accidentals a short time ago, while I was doing research on the bands that were to at SXSW. The list was endless, but nevertheless, they immediately entered my top choices of artists to look into. Reflecting on it, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint at what exactly it was that intrigued me about them - but intrigued I was. Then, I had barely heard their music and done minimal research on them, but today, after talking with Katie, Sav, and Michael, I understood perfectly why I felt that connection. My intuition did not disappoint!
In a very charming talk, we conversed with this power trio, founded in Traverse City, Michigan, about the importance of equality factors within the music world, the evolution of gender within the industry, commitment, and importance that fans have for them and a very important topic today; we talked about the difficult task of surviving the present-day world of quarantine.
What does gender equality mean to everyone within The Accidentals?
Sav: We’ve talked a lot about this, coming up in the scene as a young, female, multi-instrumentalist. Every once in awhile, sexism (or ageism) rears its ugly head. We joke that we are changing the story one club at a time. We have some work yet to do for a gender equality workspace in music. We need to have the same opportunity at radio, the same opportunity to play festivals, women need to represent in the studio as engineers and producers and on predominantly male instruments like electric guitar and drums. Gender equality means being inclusive - hosting a space where anyone can come hang and feel safe, where we are accepting of each other. We carry female tour managers with us so more of them are represented in the music industry. We don’t discriminate between male and female engineers - we have had both in equal measure. Our last female engineer is now running monitors for Lizzo. Our managers, our business manager, our lawyer, and our booking agent are all strong, badass women who changed the story and broke the stereotype. We strive to be more like them every day.
We all see equal rights as a universal issue.
Why is it important to stand up for equal rights? In your opinion, do artists have a special responsibility to fight for this cause?
Katie: There are still a lot of ways that the world is unequal. There are a lot of voices that aren’t being heard. As a band, we all have different political, economic, and religious views but we all see equal rights as a universal issue. Music is an empathetic outlet. Musicians, writers, and performers have a unique power to share stories, hope, struggle, and foster change if we listen and support each other. When we go into schools we try to encourage young women that they can do anything they decide to do - we want to be the example of “see it, believe it, become it”.
How equally do you perceive the whole music world at the moment?
Katie: It’s constantly changing. We are grateful for the women who paved the way for us and we have a lot of hope for future generations. Although there’s a huge gender gap in the tech side of the industry, we’ve visited audio production classes where there are twice as many female students in class now as there were when we were in college. I see a lot changing as people continue to be brave, challenge the old systems, and break traditional gender roles. We have a lot of work to do but in the last couple of years people have been more vocal about the establishment and that is starting to move the needle towards more transparency and accountability.
We are also coming into an era in which we celebrate our LGBTQ+ artists, our diverse and minority artists, and other underrepresented groups within the music industry.
What do you think should change so that we experience equality?
Sav: We have to be united and help each other. I think artists like Brandi Carlile are already changing the conversation. She’s hosted sold-out festivals in Mexico with completely female lineups after an assertion was made in the music industry that women couldn’t sell as many tickets as men. We are also coming into an era in which we celebrate our LGBTQ+ artists, our diverse and minority artists, and other underrepresented groups within the music industry. Promoters keep this in mind as they book their festivals and their venues. Artists with bigger platforms keep this in mind as they search for opening acts and collaborations. It shouldn’t be something that is done as a way to “trend,” but as a way to bring all voices to the conversation that is music.
With happy melodies and catchy songs, since your debut album in 2012, your band created an identity - not only on a musical level but also through your messages, addressing serious issues, such as stereotypes of beauty, or feminism. How do you define feminism, and what's good about it, what's bad about it?
Sav: I define feminism as the belief that everyone should have equal rights and opportunities. There’s a popular misconception that feminism is only about women, and I don’t subscribe to that. It’s not about making anyone better than the other - it’s a means of working as a group to attain equal rights and opportunities for every person, regardless of gender or race or sex.
In your biography, Mike says he met the rest of the band at a festival after seeing them on stage, Mike: Do you remember what that moment was like? What was your first impression after seeing these two empowered ladies?
Michael: After seeing them for the first time, I immediately bought every CD they had. I remember watching their set and saying, “I’ve got to meet them before the end of the festival.” When I finally got the chance to say hi, it was a short but funny exchange that led to us becoming friends over the course of the next year. I was pretty nervous to join the band, but since I was already a fan, I knew all the songs - so there wasn’t too much of a hurdle there.
We’ve learned you can find inspiration everywhere.
What inspires you?
Katie: For most of my life I’ve felt like an observer. When I was a kid, books and documentaries were my windows to the outside world. I remember getting engulfed in a story and feeling like my heart was on fire like I wanted to create something. One of the first songs I ever wrote was based on a book I found in my high school library called Enlightened Sexism. Being able to tour as a band for the last 6 years has introduced us to a lot more inspiration. We’ll stay at people’s homes and get a glimpse of their life story, or stop at art museums and write a song based on what we see. We also go to schools or workshops and teach songwriting - we’ve learned you can find inspiration everywhere.
Can you tell us something about your composing process?
Sav: This is a good question! The composting process changes all the time. It used to be that Katie and I would write songs individually, usually, once we’re home processing the last tour. We write about things we care about, things we notice or see - telling our own stories, or someone else’s stories. Recently, we got part-time places in Nashville. When we’re not touring, we do co-write with amazing writers like Maia Sharp and Beth Nielsen Chapman. It’s taught us how to think more outward rather than inward and opened the door for us to write with each other. As a result, we’ve come to each other with half-written songs and finished writing them together. Usually, this involves thesaurus.com, rhymezone.com, and a google doc shared with everyone, with all the bad lines highlighted in red. Haha.
As far as writing for orchestras - we do a lot of performances with orchestras. Oftentimes, we’ll take one of our original songs and write out parts for 70-100 piece orchestras to take and be able to play with us. We simplify or complicate the parts depending on the level of expertise, and then use Finale or Sibelius to write out the parts. It’s cool because it helps take our orchestral background to another level.
“The Accidentals Live” has incredible covers of artists like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Sarah Jaffe. How was the decision to choose those songs?
Katie: When Sav and I first met, we were SUPER introverted but bonded over the random indie rock and folk bands we listened to. Some of our first gigs were playing bars or farmer's markets up to 4 hours long, so we learned lots of covers until we had enough originals. Some of those covers have been in our sets for years. “Where is My Mind” by the Pixies was one we played every time we were on a major stage at a music festival and wanted to get the crowd to sing along. Sarah Jaffe is another good example, no matter if we’re playing a theatre a rock club, or an old swimming pool, we soundcheck our vocal levels by singing one of her songs. Last year we made the live album to reflect some of those songs we’d been playing for years, but that hadn’t found a home until now.
Which female musicians have most inspired and influenced you?
Sav: We actually have a YouTube series called #PlayYourParagon where every Wednesday, we put out a cover of a female artist who has inspired us. So far we’ve covered Bonnie Raitt, Ani Difranco, Brandi Carlile, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Big Thief, Jade Bird, Boygenius, Stevie Nicks, Diana Ross, and more. Check out our Youtube Channel.
What are the biggest challenges in your daily lives?
Sav: This is the part where I scream into the void, “TIME MANAGEMENTTT.” Haha. In school, the joke is you only pick two out of three concepts: good grades, social life, and sleep. Each week, we perform a balancing act of social life, handling the business, being accountable to our creativity, touring, and staying healthy. I’m not sure we’ve ever let ourselves just pick “two” of those - we’re the crazy people who take it all on. But we are learning, every day, that what takes the MOST precedence is staying healthy. It may not seem like it, but with this schedule, it’s one of the hardest things to do. So if we get to a point where we can’t handle the rest of it, we’ve learned to ask for what we need - even if it’s hard, even if you could “totally handle it” by yourself. Asking for what you need from others and delegating not only builds relationships and trust, but they give you a chance to check in on yourself and make sure your mental, emotional, and physical health is good.
You started making music at a very young age, basically, music seems to be in your DNA, and we know that Katie is also a "culinary artist". Did you ever have a plan B if you hadn't been a musician?
Katie: First off- I LOVE being called a culinary artist, but that might be too much credit haha. I try to document our travels through photos when we’re on the road, highlighting our experiences through the lens of what we eat. Some days we could be quickly making peanut butter and potato chip sandwiches before we rush onstage, and other days we could be cooking a homemade feast with a family who’s hosting us. There’s a story behind each meal. You can find those photos on my Instagram food blog @katie.eats.food. Before I started playing music I wanted to be a filmmaker, so in a way; I get to combine a lot of my passions through our band. We all are lucky to have been raised in musical households and have families who are very supportive of what we do.
"They take care of us. They make it possible for us to tour".
the band about their fans.
The contact and the connection that the band has with the fans is the perfect union of music. How important is it for The Accidentals?
Katie: We grew up in a music community in Northern Michigan that was all about collaboration and supporting each other. We became friends with people who came to our concerts, fellow musicians, concert promoters, videographers and practically shook every person’s hand who liked our Facebook page. Music is our way of connecting with people, so we write and perform with that in mind. Last month we did a series of shows where we played 16 new songs and chose small shows with a core base to “poll” the audience on which 11 songs we should record for our new album this fall. We started a Fanclub on Patreon and have been doing things like live streams, online tour blogs, and a book club to get to know our fans better. They take care of us. They make it possible for us to tour. They put us up, feed us, support us - every time our van broke down, our trailer was stolen, or we got stuck on the road, they showed up. They sent us cookies or gas cards and funded our album and recovery. We are really grateful for that kind of community.
The reality that the world is living these days is a real challenge for all of us, and above all, disconcerting not only for the entertainment industry but also in other areas. The band launched a great initiative through Patreon to benefit many people. Could you tell us a little bit about it?
Katie: Patreon is a game-changer. It’s a platform for fans to support creators and in return. they get an inside look at the creative process and new content all the time. It’s also a place where we can be accountable for our own creativity. There is nothing like a commitment to get you creating. We started a page on Patreon just over a year ago, every month we post a new calendar of activities, we host exclusive live streams from shows, share a weekly #TUESDAYtourblog, have an interactive book club, do monthly AMA’s, merch raffles, etc. We ask our patrons for advice to decide what cover songs we should choose, photos we should use, etc. It’s become a tight-knit community. The support from our Patreon’s is what is keeping up going right now and allowing us to give back. It’s a total win/win.
How do you deal with the current situation as artists?
Sav: It’s hard. We canceled almost 40k of revenue in two months after making an album and not touring for two months. We were counting on March and April to get us back in the safe zone financially. That is this business though. It’s all the extremes. We’ve never done this to make money. We all live really frugal and do what we love. Moving our release dates and the plans around them was an inconvenience but we have faith that it will work out the way it’s meant to - we are due for a break. We’re hosting some live streams for online audiences and working on collaborating with other artists - those who use live streaming and Patreon, and those who are just now exploring those options - as a way to lift each other up in this time.
How can you as an artist make the best of these times of social distancing?
Katie: In a fast-paced world it can be hard to make time to get focused. We spent such a long time dealing with crisis after crisis on the road that we didn’t take much time to write or even be alone. We plan to use this unexpected time to focus in on the new album we’ll be releasing this fall. We want it to be our strongest and most intentional material to date. We still have a lot of work to finish. We are creating our own videos, art direction, and producing some of the tunes.
What recommendations do you have for artists who, above all, have not yet achieved such a high awareness level in order to survive the crisis period as well as possible?
Sav: I’m not sure if I would give too much credit to our “awareness levels” - I run into cabinet doors and trees and all kinds of stuff, haha. As far as advice for other artists goes, we’ve been hosting Livestream discussions with Patreon; with digital consultants like Jay Gilbert of Label Logic; with other artists; and with our management to talk about exactly this kind of thing. We’ve learned a lot, too, and will continue to learn a lot. But the big things are:
Cross collaborate with other artists. Post about each other’s live streams and share each other's Patreon pages. Write together via skype or zoom.
Stay active on socials. Come up with a consistent post every day like our “One riff a day for She Shreds” or weekly cover video. Grow base.
Set up a Patreon. Do it at your comfort level. Start small and build it over time, whatever feels comfortable.
Livestream in a way that lets people pay for tickets or donate, be it Facebook Live, StageIt (which has a ticket pre-pay function), or YouTube Live through OBS. There are lots of YouTube videos explaining how to set these things up - I’ve been watching them during the quarantine. Haha.
Write some instrumental music and upload small sound clips for extra cash.
Do you have any advice or recommendations for the new generation of musicians?
Katie: Don’t let fear or uncertainty hold you back from making music. We need it now more than ever.
The Accidentals is a band in which the sound identity reflects perfectly the musical abilities of each one and in which the ideals of each member, reflect why this union, why they deserve the love of their fans, and why they are a band to be admired.