DJ Simon Jefferson sat down for a over-the-phone interview with Michigan's own, The Accidentals.
Growing up, what was your experience with music? When did you first drift towards the arts?
Katie and I had pretty different experiences growing up with music. My parents met in Nashville. My mom was an r&b singer and my dad was a session piano player for the Grande Ole Opry.
They got married and had me. I kind of grew up in a folk, bluegrass and kind of improvisational jazz.
I learned violin at 11 I was in our public school program, then eventually I met Katie and my whole view on music changed entirely. A total 180.
I grew up in a musical family as well. My dad is a professional classical piano player, he works at an arts school called Interlochen Academy.
Oh yeah, I know of Interlochen.
Yeah! So he does like, composition, and jazz and classical. My mom grew up singing musicals and studying jazz voice and classical voice in college.
When I was in the public school system, I decided to pick up cello. I pursued that, so I took private lessons, played some cello solos and played in orchestra and quartets.
When I was a freshman in high school, I decided I wanted to join our school's jazz band, so on the side I picked up guitar.
I was very shy, and I was writing songs in my room, was not comfortable improvising at all, I was very comfortable reading music off of a page in jazz band and orchestra, and then I met Savannah when I was a sophomore, and we both volunteered for a school assignment to play alternative music for an after school program.
When we tried playing together, she was like, knew how to pick up subtle tunes by ear, and we opened up for her family's band, at this show, called the Tree Huggers, before we were the accidentals. It was kind of like a whole new, sort of, experience.
Yeah, and I remember you talking about that story at the concert. You were doing a quick intro, talking about that time, and especially Interlochen. Growing up I went to a Michigan school as well, and there were always the Interlochen people coming around, trying to get kids to apply and go. It was never a place that I got a chance to go to, Interlochen or the alternative, Blue Lake, and I always wanted to. It was one of those experiences that I wish I would've been able to broaden my horizons in the musicians that I interacted with. I was kind of just kept to my small town.
We're also really lucky, our public program at Traverse City West, our orchestra conductor was really encouraging, in terms of alternative styles, and our school like had electric violin, cello, viola and our music scene in Traverse City is also really encouraging for young musicians. Sav and I would jam with all the local bands playing like, folk music or singer-songwriter music and that was really helpful to get our feet wet.
I still stand by the statement, my favorite thing I've seen you perform was "Taxman" by the Beatles. I was just sitting there listening to the tunes, like cool, cool. And I think a lot of people would talk about your guy's "Tom Sawyer" cover, 'cause that too is very a high feat to be like "We're gonna cover a Rush song!" And both times you bring your own flavor to the song but also nail the cover really well.
It was started as a dare. We were dared to cover it by Keller Williams...
Yeah we were touring with them and, he's actually on our new album, Odyssey. We're good friends with him and we just got off the road playing shows as part of his back up band. But before any of that happened we were touring with his band, KWahtro and he had the drummer Rodney Holmes with him at the time, who was on Santana's record, really renowned drummer. And at the time Michael and I were kind of playing a take on"Tom Sawyer" but we didn't really know the whole song we were just kind of messing around with it. And Rodney heard us, and he came running out and he was like "Keep going!" and he jumped on his trumpet and starting playing with us, but we didn't know the whole song, So he got really upset when he found out we didn't know it. and he was like "You guys better have that worked out next time I see you." So later we went back and worked it out and now we've been playing it ever since thanks to Rodney Holmes.
Me and my band like to clean up "Free Bird" every once in a while just in case, just to keep it in the back pocket. So, if that one guy goes "free bird!" he goes you don't even know what you just asked for man.
So, it's always a good thing to keep those in the back pocket, you know if you look at Odyssey or some of your earlier work, and you look at " Taxman " and "Tom Sawyer," They're polar opposite of each other, but that's the cool thing about music. you guys are able to bridge that gap. And you guys are just like nope that's the Accidentals playing " Tom Sawyer, just the Accidentals playing "Taxman" it's awesome , its awesome.
Talking about new music, you know, Odyssey...First let's talk about the realization that this album is going to be a little bit different than the stuff we were doing previously. Like, "we have a little bit of support on the back end of the music industry, what are we gonna do now?"
Yeah, Odyssey is kind of about like, moving forward. We were in a production deal for a time we actually were stuck the decision between taking a production deal or going to college and it was like a 24 hr decision. Katie had gotten a Presidential scholarship for the Berklee College of Music at the same time we were offered the production deal and we couldn't defer it. So, we only had 24 hours to figure out if we were going to learn to be professional musicians or just be professional musicians.
Oh man that's so great.
yeah it was crazy
yeah and there was lot's of pressure, because we're generally anxious people but we ended up taking the production deal we learned a lot, wrote a lot of songs, but nothing ever really ever came of the recording. The contract became renegotiable and we ended up moving forward and putting out our own music and that's what garnered attraction and interest from Sony Masterworks that's who we signed with in December. We ended up putting out this album about moving forward and being a band and all the craziness that comes, but also the lessons that come from the light slip ups down the road. um and really, I think part of that is being present and um being part of the process. so that's where a-lot of the songs from " Odyessy", and there will be a lot off that at the show.
Wonderful, wonderful yeah.
I like how you talk about being present that is such a big thing, not just in travelling on the road with your band, but with everything in life. Everything you do in life, is your life. Every moment you're living is a new scene of it and so if you're not present there, you're going to miss so many things because you are wishing for things in the future or because you were hoping you were somewhere else you missed
Yeah we all kinda keep our own renditions of journals on the road, and Local Spins just put out our tour diary that we kept of the past 40 days for a good representation of what tour can be. We tend to keep track of what happens day by day because if you don't, you miss out on a lot of the interesting people you meet and amazing places you go so you get to experience. even the bad days are interesting in themselves. If you don't keep track of it, ya know what are you doing it for.
While we’re talking about touring, can we get one funny day on tour when you think back to those pre- Odyssey tours? What was the funnest memory?
Like the tour we just went on or just pre-Odyssey?
Let's do one of each, one from this tour and one pre-Odyssey tour.
Ummm, well on one of the pre-Odyssey tours- I'm trying to think like, I don't know if this is the best story, but one that I think about is when I tried to take a plate of hummus outside... we were at this venue, we weren't all 21 yet, which happened a lot. we weren't actually allowed to be in the venue because we weren't all 21. I went to the van which we actually used as a dressing room and we turned the light on and read our books. We sat next to the venue and we could hear the opening band going on inside. Now were all over 21 and our tours have changed a little bit. We learned a lot like on the road but this last tour was still really crazy.
Don’t forget, at that last venue Katie wasn't allowed to bring her hummus plate outside. Like, they made a hummus plate and everything and when they found out we weren't 21 they were like "No, you can't take that with you.” So we had to sit out in the van thinking about the hummus plate.
But you’re the band! Come on!
This is more of a joke
So the last Odyssey tour we had some really funny experiences and stories. There's just so many of them. I think my first favorite one is actually one of the breakdowns we had. w e bro down on Vail Pass it’s in Colorado on your way to Denver, about 90 minutes away. We had driven from SLC all the way to 90 minutes from Denver when we heard this gurgling noise in our engine. The fact that we had already broken down like 6 times at this point. We were like “Alright, yeah we know what’s happening let’s pull over and let the engine cool down. We’ve been traversing mountains for hours and hours.” So we go up and over and we stop and pull over. Unfortunately Betty has a custom computer system that someone had already installed when it gurgles like that the computer shuts down the whole car and drains our whole battery. On top of the Pass, with no hazards, no lights, in the dark, at like 2 in the morning, 90 minutes from Denver, with semi trucks flying past us at 70 miles per hour. We’re at 10,000 feet alt. There's nothing, we can’t go anywhere, we can’t even let people know we’re there, it’s pitch black outside. We’re like okay this is a new level of scary. So, we ended up calling the cops we had a policeman show up and turn on his lights so nobody would hit us. We ended up giving him a CD he became an instant fan it was hilarious.
Boom! got him!
We called a tow truck and he put our van on his flat bed, our trailer on his hitch, and squeezed six of us into his tow cab. Five of us are sitting in the bench seat, he’s driving and somebody else is sitting in the front with him. 5 of us on a bench holding all our stuff for 90 minutes to Denver is a different way to tour, I can say that much. Down a mountain passes too!
Little bit more close quarters.
It was a lot, but its still funny when I think of it now, it wasn’t funny back then but...
Those situations never are, but its funny, the album is titled Odyssey and when I think “odyssey” I think of, you know the famous work by Homer The Odyssey, and that definitely sounds like something that would happen to the main character of The Odyssey, ya know? It’s like “I was trying to get home but right before I made it to my island, my ship broke down and well, I’m boned.”
You know, we were thinking about calling our album something else that doesn’t incur that, cuz we’re called “The Accidentals,” ya know accidents happen. Then we thought Oh maybe we should call ourselves The Intentionals and then we call our album “Odyssey”.
(laughing) To be fair, Homer snagged that name so long ago, we didn’t even have a chance. That was over 2,000 years ago and he was like “this, this is it, sorry guys, everybody else. Nobody else gets to have a journey story, cuz I started it.”
He’s The Beatles of writing.
True, true very original.
Alright a couple of extra questions. Just some fluff stuff, ya know.
Favorite band? I know that's a hard one.
Hmm well we all listen to a lot of acoustic but right now my favorite has to be Radiohead which has been on constantly, and I also love Queen, Katie?
We just finished up some extra shows with Keller Williams, so I’ve been listening to his new album and catalog Martin Sexton as well is one of our other idols that we’ve gotten to tour with on the road, learn a lot from
Did he live up to the hype? Did you have any hero worship problems going on where they turned out to be not what you expect or were they like super cool?
No, actually Martin and Keller are both like the sweetest, kindest, most talented people we’ve ever met theyre really awesome. In fact we’ve met a lot of amazing artists who are genuinely kind people and we’ve worked with a lot of them on our new album. For instance, Jenny Conlee from the Decemberists came and hung out with us for a few days. Turns out she’s just a nerd that likes cat videos, just like us.
Who would’ve thunk! People love cats!
I know! It’s cool to meet people, to meet other musicians who can not only breathe life into some of what you’re doing, and also bring their own ideas to the table and are also genuinely kind people.
And it’s been really fun touring with those people. I feel like the list goes on and on as far as our favorite bands are concerned, because of it has to do with personal connection as well as music, so it’s hard
Yeah, and especially those people that have such a positive influence on your life, it's hard to look at other people, that maybe, you still have those... The Beatles, for example, none of us have met- Imean have you met The Beatles? Just a quick question
Say that again?
Have you met the Beatles?
Alright so none of us have met the Beatles, so we all have that idea of the four guys and what they could be like, but once you humanize them by meeting them in person, you know talking to them, realizing their just a human like you and that they choose to be a nice human like you all choose to be, it’s definitely rewarding in seeing other people who do what you do but also choose to be awesome people. ‘Cause there are some people in the music industry that choose not to be awesome people.
Oh yeah, definitely that’s so true.
Okay, one more. Favorite time wasting game or activity while on the road. You know you have 12 hours to kill on this road trip, what are we doing?
Tell them about the uh Coin flip game.
So here we’re playing a D&D campaign right now, it only happens in the van, its called Betty Quest, ‘cause our van is called Black Betty, and it's a coin toss game.
So uh he’ gots this app on his phone, and if we attempt to do anything he’ll flip a coin to see if it happens, but already we’ve created some very interesting characters and stories and we’re on an epic quest right now
We’re on a mission to find the ruler of the Underworld and help save this city. Um and were all kind of trained music characters, we’re about half way through the quest
Are you kidding me we’re about 25% in, Larson, so we still have 75% questing to go.
That’s gotta be one of the best group activities to do on the road is play some good old fashioned like penny D&D, just easy something to do, coin flip. Alright here we go, that’s really awesome
Yeah it’s my first time so ya know I’m learning
You’re actually, you’re doing really great right now Katie.
You’re really tanking the team for us.
Everybody in the band is multi-instrumentalist, yeah?
So, have you ever done a show where maybe you play each others parts, or anything like that?
No, we kind of stick to what's comfortable on most of our songs, but we have done things every once in awhile where we completely the instrumentation for a night. I remember when time we did a cover of “All About That Bass” and all three of us, Michael and Katie and I, all played basses. And it was hilarious to say the least.
On our last show... we did a west coast run for like 40 days and on the very last show, on the very last song before we flew home for our release show, Savannah’s violin string breaks and she’s like whatever i’ll just pick up and acoustic guitar.
She's like ah I’ll go back to the violin
Like nbd, I just understand music this well.
I like how casually you’re describing this too, because I was having a total panic attack. I was like freaking out.
(Laughter) That’s just good showmanship
Well it’s good to have... I think of music theory sometimes as a really good tool to have in your back pocket. Like knowing what the chord structure is and knowing the chord progressions is really helpful for soloing and for understanding like if, in an emergency, which happens a lot, you can pick up another instrument and know where you are on it.
It’s good to have.
It’s that ability to, you know, improv and theatre. You know, ‘cause I don’t know if you’ve ever done musicals but in musicals, a show never goes how it’s supposed to be planned I know I’ve had my share...when I was in high school I did a lot of theatre where you just have something like, “well that line wasn’t supposed to happen until five minutes from now let’s fill in the blanks, shall we.” It’s that total ability to play off what you were doing like, “it’s casual, I’m a pro. I did my homework so I know what’s going on.” That’s really cool.
Well it's more awesome that you were able to hold your cool so now somebody thinks you’re such a G.
I’m definitely not an actor so I’m pretty sure everybody knew I was panicked. I think it takes more ability to be calm and composed while coming up with a back up plan. So musical theatre, cheers to that man.
I miss musical theatre, that was probably my favorite time in high school.
Mike was actually in musical theatre as well, our drummer.
Yeah? I figured with a voice like that he had to be.
Oh yeah and michael can probably do a great impression of any of our voices. He can usually do the highest harmony in the band. He did acapella choir singing and musical theatre.
So he’s definitely a useful pickup for the team. Glad we fantasy draft him.
(Laughter) Yeah right. Our dungeon master.
One last thing that always blew me away about you guys, you guys had a sound guy at the Lowell show that had a mobile rig, and he was just walking around the crowd doing your sound. I didn’t know it was your guys’ sound guy that you bring with you or if it was the sound guy that came with the event.
What was the show?
It was the Lowell show at the Lowell Riverside...thing.
Yes. That’s Evan
Yeah. That’s just a sweet setup and he was a really cool guy. He actually let me check it out for a quick second ‘cause I study a little bit of audio engineering in school-
So did I! Yay!
Yeah I’m at Western right now doing a little bit of the Multimedia Arts and Technology stuff and its really fun.
Yeah! That was the first time I ever saw a mobile rig. I was like, “Man, Accidentals they got the tech.”
Actually yes we do and now we upgraded all of our tour at the beginning of the year, so