Taking Meaningful Stories On Tour With The Accidentals + Sawyer Fredericks

Michigan-based Roots-influenced Indie band The Accidentals spent much of the past year and a half making new music, having started on an album before the pandemic, and quickly picking up the pieces to work in a home studio with the luxury of time on their side. The result is the album Vessel, which arrived on October 1st. Another exciting development for the band has been heading out on a substantial tour to launch the album, co-headlined by friend and fellow Roots artist Sawyer Fredericks. Fredericks is touring in support of his 2020 album, Flowers For You, which has been waiting for a proper live launch.

The Accidentals, made up of Savannah Buist, Katie Larson and Michael Dause, and fellow tour mate Sawyer Fredericks, all joined Wildfire to talk about their latest albums and their current tour just before hitting the road!

Hannah Means-Shannon: I’m talking to you at the time of the big tour launching for the release of the album Vessel for The Accidentals, and I know that Sawyer is touring in support of his most recent album, Flowers for You.

Savannah Buist: Yes, we’ve actually been on the road for a couple of four day stints, but this will be our first huge tour since 2019. We’re really looking forward to playing music together and it’s so exciting to be able to get back to it.

HMS: It’s exciting for fans, too. How are you deciding what you are going to be playing? I know that for some of the shows, Sawyer will be solo, but also have a band later. Will that affect your choices of what you play?

Sawyer Fredericks: When I do solo sets, I usually freeform it at the venue, but it’s definitely going to change things. I probably won’t be playing as many riffy songs, since they will be joining me at the Chicago show. Once they get out, it’ll be a little more Rock. Or I’ll just be presenting songs differently.

Sav: We’re actually playing all of our album, which we’re really excited about. We have a friend, Patty PerShayla, of Patty PerShayla and The Mayhaps, who will be joining us for the entire Vessel run. She’ll be helping fill out the sound with electric guitar, electric bass, electric mandolin, and ukulele. We’ve spent several months rehearsing to work up these songs.

Katie Larson: We’re trying to stay true to the album Vessel where there are going to be a couple more intimate, stripped-down moments, but there’s going to be a lot of Rock influence and a really cool stage show with solos back and forth. We’re going to be doing a little bit of everything the whole tour.

Sawyer Fredericks and Bandmates, Photo Credit to Holly Tutor

HMS: Has having this much time between big tours given you more time to think about how you want to present a live show?

Michael Dause: I think that’s true both instrumentally and visually, too. We’re going to have some backdrops going on for the tour. We have a lighting designer coming to do a light show for the tour. We’ll be staying true to some of the arrangements that we did for the album, having had some time in the past year to work on the details of that record. It’s been really fun adding an extra person, too, to help fill out that sound and energize that set. Some of the songs we’ll be playing for the first time.

HMS: There are a lot of instruments on Vessel, so it makes sense that it took some thought to get that into a live set. Can you tell me about your experiences recording and producing your most recent albums and whether that showed developments on your previous recording experiences?

Sawyer: I would say that this album has definitely been different than my previous ones. It is more Rock oriented, but I feel that it’s drawing on my Blues influences. It really showcases my bandmembers more, including their talent and their solos. On the album, we tried to make it sound the way that we play those songs live.

Sav: We actually had the opportunity to play on Sawyer’s record, too.

HMS: Yes, on “Lies You Tell” and “Days Go By”, right?

Sav: We had to take a train to upstate New York to do that, which was exciting.

Katie: What was interesting for us is that a lot of that session for those songs was to tape.

HMS: That is awesome!

Sawyer: My entire album was done to tape, I forgot to mention that. I recorded the album at Dreamland Recording Studios and they had a whole tape machine set up, analog. It went pretty smoothly. You just have 8 tracks, but the catch is that you can’t edit anything.

HMS: You get some serious geek points for that. That’s incredible.

Sav: That’s very different from our experience on Vessel, since we started with with two Producers, and we went back to work with them, and then Covid hit. So we ended up setting up a home studio in Michigan. It was great, but the flipside of that is that we had the ability to go back and tweak, and again, and again, a hundred times in a row.

Michael: We needed some restraint.

Sav: We ended up limiting ourselves to five. It was called the “Five Take Method” and then stop trying to make it perfect.

HMS: This conversation is common among musicians, about how awesome and how dangerous it is to have your own studio space. Because you can edit endlessly and go in quest of perfection.

Sav: We definitely had times where we’d record songs seven to nine times and continue to make changes. But the difference was, on past albums, we’d never had this kind of time. Most of the time, we’d go into a studio and have three days to get three songs done, then we’d go back on tour the day after. This was a totally different experience to have eight months to do everything right.

HMS: Did you have to learn new technology to use a home studio?

Sav: Definitely. But we all have some audio tech background. Mike and I went to school for it. I’ve been setting up shows for ten years, so I’ve learned a lot along the way. But we still had to learn a lot and all three of us engineered this record. We learned a lot of mic techniques and Mike did a lot of mixing.

Michael: The mixing was definitely a big learning curve this year, but something I’ve been really enjoying and getting nutty about it. We’ve been learning the different micing techniques and learning to use the space that we had. The space we had wasn’t necessarily the “ideal studio” but we made as many adjustments as we could to the space that we had. We tacked blankets to the ceiling and made partitions.

HMS: That’s all very Punk! Hanging blankets is a classic move. I wanted to highlight the release of the single and video for “Cityview” from Vessel. This song is a little different from the others on the album because it tells so many stories. How did you choose which stories to include? Were there more that came up?

Sav: Actually, it was very hard to stop writing verses for this song. You know how Leonard Cohen has a million verses for Hallelujah and he had to pick and choose? I feel like I could have done that with this one, but it’s because you find so many stories on the road that just don’t get told that often. People just come up to you and start talking to you, and you just have to write it down on a sticky note on your phone or in a little Moleskin journal that you have. Also, a lot of it came about from the musicians I was around at the time.

I was at Folk Alliance and they were doing interview with Ani Difranco by Ann Powers, and of course I went because I’m a huge fan. At one point, Ani answered a question off the cuff and said, “Beyond the eyes, and the trains, and the angels….” That was just out of her brain! I whipped out my phone and wrote it down as fast as I could. That ended up becoming the chorus of the song.

Then I had this chorus around, but the last catalyst that launched this song into fruition was a livestream that we did with Anna Tivel, who’s an amazing storyteller and multi-instrumentalist. She constantly writes stories from other peoples’ perspectives and getting outside of her own personal narrative, and I really wanted to give that a shot. It’s really thanks to her that this song is out there.

HMS: I know that it’s difficult to tell stories briefly in a way that that conveys emotion, and that song really does a great job of that. How did you conceive of the video for this song? It seems pretty complicated to set up and get right, especially during Covid.

Sav: The community really came around this video and made it happen, so thanks to the Northern Michigan community that’s constantly willing to drop everything and help this band. Also, the acting for it was really hard, because we’re so used to hiding behind our instruments. It was hard to tap back into what the song is really about, and it’s about the hardest stories to tell. It was a difficult video in many ways, but I’m so glad it’s out.

HMS: There’s a little bit of overlap here between what we’re talking about with “Cityview” and with Sawyer’s song “Born” and the video that was released for it. I was very interested by the little stories that were included. Especially the more generational stuff.

Sawyer: I actually really enjoyed creating that video with Jenny He. We actually had a whole bunch of relatives come in to play different parts. At the ending scene, it’s my aunt, so we had a lot of friends and family come in. Each story in the video is interesting, but what I loved about Jenny’s vision is that she wanted to do it all in one shot. We went through it a whole bunch of times, but there were times when there were people who were on camera who shouldn’t be on camera. There were some technical things that went on with that video that were difficult, but I really enjoyed it.

HMS: It seems so natural, so great job on that.

Sawyer: I felt very comfortable since we recorded it at my family farm. The whole idea of the video is that I’m getting older. The song “Born” is about how, when I got into the music industry, I was at a very young age, and my mom kind of protected me from a lot of things. Then, as I was getting older, I realized that I wanted to take more of that stuff on. The video is kind of a reenactment of me moving away from the farm and taking on more adult responsibilities. And my mom kind of letting me go through those struggles.

HMS: That “letting” part is interesting because parents want to protect kids from everything. I’m so excited that was actually your farm at the end! That reveal is amazing. I heard some comments about the album Vessel that drew attention to the fact that it was more electronic and more Pop, but it seems to me that’s not a totally new direction for The Accidentals. It seems more like a build up, but did you consciously step further that way this time?

Katie: I think you’re right on. We were always playing with electric guitars and basses before we even had a percussionist or a drummer. That’s a really odd formation, but we’ve always been really interested in pulling from different genres. I think a lot of that is how we grew up with interest in different genres and having a lot of support in our educational systems here in Northern Michigan. Sav and I felt free to pick up orchestra, play violin or cello, and play different styles. But with Vessel, we really wanted to incorporate a couple of different influences and make it a little more cohesive.

So instead of the album having the Folk song, the Rock song, the Blues song, we really wanted to hone in on ten years as a band. What do we sound like? We drew influences referencing some Nickel Creek vocal harmonies. We were referencing some Brandi Carlile production, especially with her drum tones and electric guitars. Also, a lot of Phoebe Bridgers and Indie Folk Rock. Rob Moose’s string arrangements, too, in the way he’s minimal. Those were all things we tried to bring into our home studio sessions.

Sav: I will say that there are some songs on the record that just don’t have an acoustic guitar, and that’s pretty new for us. On Odyssey, you can hear an acoustic guitar on every song, but on this album, you can hear things we’ve been playing with for a long time. We’ve been doing live shows with a full electric sound and then the studio album tends to be more dialed back. But we really wanted to encapsulate the live show with this one.

HMS: Some of the ideas on Vessel turn on mental health issues, and also perhaps on empathy and support. Were you aware of wanting to lean in that direction starting out?

Sav: Back in October of 2019, a friend of mine passed away suddenly, having committed suicide. He was a childhood friend of mine and that was really hard to process. It felt like a piece of my childhood was gone, and he wasn’t around to talk about it. It was too late. A lot of the parts of this record that are about mental health and about grief are about processing that incident.

There was a time after that where I really couldn’t write a single thing down for a long time. I thought there was something wrong with me. We’ve all been treating music like therapy in some ways. When we write, we tend to process whatever we’re feeling through writing. When I finally did write about it, it happened in songs like “Cityview” and “Go Getter”, where I’m trying to say the things that I never got to say, that I should have said a long time ago.

There are lines in those songs, specifically, encouraging people to know that life will teach you how to live it, you just have to keep living it. You have to keep moving through. There are ways to cope. It’s also a way of recognizing that there should be support groups around people. It’s hard to talk about these things, but I’m hoping that songs like this will keep the conversation going around mental health and making sure that this doesn’t happen again.

HMS: Unfortunately, in some ways, this is so relevant right now with mental health issues being exacerbated by the global situation. I really appreciate you all allowing yourselves to talk about it, and also I appreciate you releasing music right now that can reach people in such a meaningful way.

Thanks to The Accidentals and Sawyer Fredericks for hanging out with Wildfire! Catch them on the following tour dates:

10/16 Daryl’s House  – Pawling, NY
10/17 Club Passim – Boston, MA                                                 
10/20  City Winery Loft – New York, NY                           
10/21 Gateway City Arts – Holyoke, MA 
10/22 The Linda – Albany, NY                                                 
10/23 Jonathon’s – Ogunquit, ME                                                          
10/24 Voices Cafe – Westport CT      
10/26 Ardmore Music Hall – Philadelphia, PA  
10/27 Ramshead Tavern – Annapolis, MD                                            
10/28 City Winery Main Room – Washington DC            
10/30 Evening Muse – Charlotte, NC                     
10/31 City Winery Main Room – Atlanta, GA         
11/3   City Winery Main Room – Nashville, TN