If there was ever an overstated comment about Michigan-based three piece The Accidentals, it’s that they’re so young. String instrumentalists Savannah Buist and Katie Larson started the group when they were in high school, adding drummer Michael Dause three years later. Five years after the band’s formation, Buist, Larson and Dause are still fresh in age, and still struggling with the pangs of stage fright that come with their shy natures. But the multi-instrumentalists have certainly gained a ripened talent and comfort in their craft despite their youth, a point they’re likely to prove at Swallow Hill Music in Denver on June 25.
Self-proclaimed introverts, Buist and Larson began making twangy, lilting, poetic music in their high school orchestra program. The two admit their friendship arose largely because of their tendency toward overachieving.
“We were total nerds about our orchestra program so we would stay after school for this club called the alternative styles group,” Buist says. “We would just come together after school and play Led Zeppelin and Coldplay and MGMT on our string instruments.”
When a teacher asked the class for volunteers to represent the group in an upcoming performance, only two hands raised: Buist’s and Larson’s.
Buist recalls meeting Larson at her house to practice for the event, where Larson picked up a guitar from the living room floor and began strumming purposefully.
“I went and grabbed the ukulele and we started playing ‘We Are Going to be Friends’ by The White Stripes. We’ve been a band since that night,” Buist says.
The two founding members and Dause, who joined the group three years later, all hail from musical families — both Buist and Larson have pianists fathers and vocalist mothers, while Dause’s mother is a classical singer. They all agree that this was important in their upbringing, but deny their backgrounds had much of a hand in their decisions to make a career of music. Rather, the three claim their success was the result of incredibly hard work and a nurturing family and community setting.
“My parents always said that I should at least try an instrument,” Buist says. “Like, go at least pick something up and see if you like it. I think that having that free will in my childhood encouraged me to go into music, but we each found our own ways and voices within our careers. We all decided what it is we wanted to do, we tried it and we found ourselves in that.”
Dause’s musical background was similarly relaxed — no Joe Jacksons, forced performances or finger wagging whatsoever. Their choice to forgo higher education in exchange for tours and recording was fully their own.
“When I was 4, I was on a little league T-ball, team and I just played in the dirt the whole time,” Dause says. “My parents said, ‘OK, well he’s not doing sports.’ I still applaud my parents for allowing a 4-year-old to have a drum set in their house.”
But solid support from their families doesn’t imply an effortless jump to success. It took long hours and estrangement from the common high school experience.
“I don’t think that I’ve experienced anything as difficult in my whole life as junior year of high school,” Larson admits. Everyone laughs, but the word “sacrifice” starts to come up frequently after this.
“We had a whole year where we were going from 8 to 5 to school every day,” Buist says. “Then we would go play a gig after school and then we would go home and do homework. On our spring breaks and prom nights and vacations we would drive across the country to get to a studio and record our albums.”
“There are tons of small sacrifices every day,” Larson adds. “There are only so many hours in a day and when you’re working for yourself you don’t end after your 9 to 5. There’s always something more to do.”
They don’t dance around the fact that there was a cost for what they all agree is also a gift. Resolute academics who pride themselves on 3.9 GPAs, which they maintained throughout those high school days, they all put college on hold in order to pursue music full-time.
“That was probably the biggest sacrifice of our whole career so far,” Buist says. “All of the people around us, all of our friends, are all going to college. Nobody is doing what we’re doing right now and that can be really hard and really alienating.”
But music is a choice that The Accidentals continue to make, taking the isolation and long hours in the studio over prom nights and college parties. And maybe that’s OK. Maybe a “normal” youth wouldn’t quite fit these three, who seem to have been born musicians.
“I don’t think normal people are musicians,” Buist says. “I think we’re all really weird and messed up for sure.”