In the midst of non-stop touring, on their way to play multiple SXSW appearances in 2020, everything changed for Nashville-based trio The Accidentals. Thrown into the abyss of pandemic uncertainty, they didn’t consign to the nightmare of that initial moment when all forms of normalcy rapidly disappeared. Faced with chaos and turmoil, the trio turned to the art of songwriting, taking their grief and turning it into a beautiful and memorable collection of melodies with a lyrical focus on Americana storytelling. Learning how to navigate not only the trying times, but their own craft as musicians, the band self-produced their EP Time Out (Session 1), released May 7th.
Time Out marks the first opportunity the band has had during their whirlwind career to collaborate with some of their long-time songwriting heroes. Savannah (Sav) Buist and Katie Larson met in their Michigan high school’s orchestra class; when they both volunteered to perform in a club meeting, they knew they’d met their musical matches. As a duo, they released their debut Tangled Red and Blue in 2012, followed by Bittersweet just a year later. But the addition of percussionist Micheal Dause in 2014 brought more vibrancy to The Accidentals’ sound, as heard on 2016’s Parking Lot EP and 2017 LP Odyssey.
The Accidentals had recently relocated to Nashville and were in the midst of co-writing and session work on their next record, Vessel, co-produced by John Congleton and Tucker Martine. Shaken by the sudden onset of lockdown, the group shelved their touring plans and preparations for Vessel. They narrate the unforeseen halt on “Wildfire” with lush, harmonic vocals: “In late September, we’d just moved into town/We were on a mission lost and broke/Just as all the pieces started falling into place/All our plans went up in smoke/Who knew we were drunk on borrowed time?/Waiting on a wildfire.”
Having the rug abruptly pulled out from under them, the group questioned their next steps moving forward and reevaluated ways to sustain their music careers. “It was like starting anew in some ways,” Buist says. “Luckily we had the resources to try and start figuring out live streaming, so that was a huge element of what we did right after the pandemic started.” The group quickly threw together what digital skills and resources they had and put them to use, creating virtual tutorials and workshops with respect to the use of OBS and Streamyard. Swiftly gaining attention from venues such as Club Passim and Bluebird Cafe, Larson and Buist were subsequently connected to a handful of well-respected song-writers, including Kim Richey and Dar Williams.
Club Passim connected the Accidentals with Kim Richey, and “Wildfire” was born out of that first co-writing session. “Once we wrote ‘Wildfire’ we were like, ‘Oh, these are timely songs – maybe we need to keep the collaboration going forward because there’s something really joyful about working for other people, even in an isolated space,’” Buist remembers thinking. From there, the group connected with other artists, such as Maia Sharp (“Might As Well Be Gold”) and Tom Paxton (“Anyway”). In just a few co-writing sessions, an EP began to take shape. Heavily impacted by the weight of 2020, the group focused on those emotions and set aside Vessel. The EP came to represent “a culmination of the different stages of grief that everybody went through over this time,” as Larson describes.
Each track warrants its place on the EP, walking listeners down the emotional path so many experienced during the pandemic. Dar Williams co-write “Night Train” takes a long, hard look at our broken country while poetically searching for ways to fix it. “Anyway” essentially pertains to the struggles with mental health some experienced upon realizing this frightening and anxiety-ridden reality would likely last longer than expected. The hushed lyrics, braided with tranquil harmonies, a weeping violin and folk-style plucking of the guitar, offer an intimate reminder to keep going: “We’re at a point we’ve never been/I can’t say we’ll be okay/Just have to take it day by day.” “Might As Well Be Gold,” inspired by the group’s move to Nashville prior to the pandemic, tries to reframe negative thoughts with a positive outlook, and takes stock of what’s important in times of crisis.
“All Shall Be Well” closes the EP on a lighter note, giving listeners a sense of hope in the midst of the hardship. “That was one of the easiest co-writes we’ve ever done,” says Buist. “It was right before Christmas, before the election, and everybody was so tense. It was just four women ready to take a deep breath.” In collaboration with Mary Gauthier and Jaimee Harris, the songwriters hashed out their thoughts in a stream of consciousness flow. “We were just saying stuff that we were all feeling in the moment,” Buist recalls. “[We were] acknowledging that it’s not a perfect world and that we’ve been through a lot this year. This song is like a bookend to a very long year, saying it’s time to look forward and all is going to be well.”
In retrospect, music served as an important component of coping for the group, noting that their strong friendship pulled everyone through the tough times. “I think being able to create with each other was really therapeutic, and it really helped us hone in on a lot of different skills that we had all been beginning to learn,” Dause says. That included building a makeshift studio in Buist’s house by stacking CD boxes and thumb-tacking blankets to the ceiling; in this little cocoon, the Accidentals self-produced Time Out, and finished up their work on Vessel, intended for release this fall.
The band hopes that the soothing nature of Time Out will help fans heal from this collective trauma and emphasize the idea that no human is alone. “I think one of the best things is just being able to acknowledge that we had this shared experience,” Larson says. “I hope that people can really heal through the music and find at least one song that resonates with where they’re at in the moment. We’re all coming out of this process so differently. We want people to walk away with some aspect of healing.”