The Accidentals return to Ann Arbor with an all-female covers album

This story is part of a series about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. It is made possible by the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Destination Ann Arbor, Larry and Lucie Nisson, and the University Musical Society.

Midway through a Zoom call with the founding members of the indie folk-rock band The Accidentals, Savannah "Sav" Madigan turns to Katie Larson and says, "You're the only person in my life where if you said, 'This is how things need to be,' I would unequivocally, without argument, be like, 'Cool.'"

"That's the amount of trust that I have," Madigan adds.

That trust has been over a decade in the making – a decade full of challenges and changes. On April 25, The Accidentals will perform a sold-out show at the Ark in Ann Arbor. The show represents a Michigan homecoming for the band, which formed in Traverse City but moved to Nashville in 2019. They'll also play shows in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Petoskey and Traverse City this month in support of their latest album, "Cover Art," which is made up of covers of songs by female artists.
The inspiration for the new album came from a series they’d been performing online during the pandemic, which they called "Play Your Paragon."
"Basically, we would just cover female artists who really inspired us, and it’s sort of grown since then," Madigan says.
"Learning cover tunes was very instrumental to us," Larson adds. "Pun intended."
"Cover Art" includes covers of songs by artists Madigan and Larson grew up listening to, like Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, Norah Jones, and Sheryl Crow, as well as more contemporary artists, like Lianne La Havas and boygenius.
Larson says the opportunity to "pay tribute to those artists" was "very empowering" and "really helped us find some of our [own] identity."
The boygenius cover, "Not Strong Enough," helped the band work through a relatively recent challenge. In 2022, drummer Michael Dause ("who we love dearly," Madigan says) left The Accidentals, leaving an open position.
"Luckily for us, Katelynn Corll joined the band shortly after," Madigan says.
Madigan plays violin, mandolin, guitar, bass, occasional banjo, and vocals; Larson plays cello, electric guitar, and vocals; and Corll handles drums, bass, guitar, and vocals.
"One of the biggest challenges about all the transition we've had this year was trying to recapitulate, like — what's our blend, harmonically?" Madigan says.
That’s where the boygenius cover comes in.
"That song was the biggest testament to how far we've already come just by one year [of] being together," Madigan says.

Recording it helped them iron out how they wanted their new harmonic blend to balance. But both Madigan and Larson have also been looking to boygenius as well as more established female performers not only for creative inspiration but for career guidance. 

"We're not just looking to them because they're women in the industry, but because they're good at what they do," Madigan says.
Madigan says she sees boygenius "paving a way for young women in particular to be on a stage in a way that’s accepted regardless of their gender."
"I'm torn in that it's easy to tokenize based on identity and almost lose the integrity of the music, but it's also a cause for celebration to have women up there on a platform showing that it is possible for women to [make music] as a living," she says.
Larson says Indigo Girls have been a major source of inspiration for "the way that they create community," and adds, "we have always followed Brandi Carlile … not only for her music, which we love, but her career path [and] … raising up other musicians as well."
Listening to Madigan and Larson talk, it’s clear how those influences have begun to pan out. They seem to value the importance of community and collaboration above all else.
Take their writing process, for instance.
"For the most part, the Accidentals’ process has always been: we do a ton of touring, we come home, we individually go to our separate corners and, like, trauma-dump into a journal and then turn that into a song," Madigan says. "Then we come to the three-piece for the arrangement aspect."
But, Madigan adds, back in 2018 they began to get serious about collaborating with other songwriters. That process has already infiltrated their usual songwriting practice.
"We've been lucky enough to write with some amazing artists," Larson says.
Larson compares co-writing sessions to speed dates or first dates "where you know by the end of the date if there’s chemistry or not."
According to Larson and Madigan, only one co-write has ever gone badly; they don’t name the songwriter. As for songwriters they’ve had great chemistry with, Madigan and Larson name the Nashville-based husband-and-wife duo Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman ("When we get with those [two], we're always proud of what we make," Madigan says) and Tom Paxton, whose songs have been recorded by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Dolly Parton, among many others.
Larson and Madigan have a standing Monday co-write with Paxton "that we really adore," Madigan says. "Despite there being 60 years between us, we have similar things to talk about, which shows the beauty of songwriting."
Larson says the duo learned "a really good lesson" from Paxton that was especially poignant since she and Madigan are both "kind of perfectionists."
"You really have to … put on two different hats," Larson says. "… You have to put on just the creativity hat while you're collecting lyrics and ideas, and you have to get this big pot that is just unadulterated, pure creativity. After that, you put on the editing hat, and then you can sort through it and decide what you want to put out there. But you can’t do the first step if you already have your editing hat on — you’re blocked. So that's one thing that actually I've had to learn, is to take off the editor hat."
On her own, Larson says she has a tendency to get lost in metaphor. She says having a co-writer around to pull her back to the emotion of the song has been "really helpful" for her.
Madigan and Larson were in high school when they formed The Accidentals. They’d released their first two albums ("Tangled Red and Blue" and "Bittersweet") by the time they graduated.
From the start, they seemed to complement each other perfectly. Madigan had been performing since she was 12, so she helped Larson get comfortable in a live performance setting. Larson was already playing multiple instruments and writing original songs — something Madigan hadn’t started doing yet.
"We were both getting familiar with those separate worlds and it just became a new world that we both occupied together," Madigan says.
Now, Madigan says, "We're definitely a little more rock and roll than we used to be," though they both find it easier to seek out the through-lines in their catalog than to try to nail down what genre they play. Those through-lines, Larson says, are harmonies — or "equal voices" — and strings. 

"Even if we're doing a rock song, we try to find a way to incorporate the strings, because that's sort of been our origin," she says.
"When we think of success," Madigan says, "our hope is that we have our hands in a lot of different jars without ever getting our arms stuck in any of them. And we've kind of accomplished that. We're side artists, we're session players, we're in a band of all women who play multiple instruments. We write songs with people who inspire us. We engineer records and produce records. We arrange for strings and for orchestras. We do workshops for kids. We have a nonprofit that helps get instruments into their hands. … Those are all things that really inspire us to do this. And to lose any single one of them, I think, would be detrimental to our definition of what success is."
From the outside, The Accidentals’ success — by their own definition or anyone else’s — is more than reason for celebration. It’s also surprisingly moving. Speaking with Madigan and Larson is like getting into a fast car and rolling all the windows down. They’re full of energy and creativity and the wind is blowing in your face and you have to pee, but you don’t want to miss what happens next.
In fact, several things are happening next: after releasing "Cover Art," this fall The Accidentals will release "Time Out 3," the third in a series of EPs of co-writes with many different songwriters. That will be followed by a children’s record co-written with Tom Paxton.
In the meantime, along with all their other projects, the duo has been taking on home studio work, where they record violin and cello tracks that they then email to other artists. According to Larson, they take turns playing and engineering.
"I think we've gotten to the point where we can just read each other's minds," Larson says.
"We call each other out, though, on stuff," Madigan adds. "I’ll be like, ‘Hey, I think you should do this again,’ and there’s no judgment or criticism with that. It’s just like, ‘Hey, I know you. I know that you're capable of doing this again with a little bit more pizzazz,’ and so we push each other."

Although The Accidentals' upcoming Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids shows are sold out, tickets for their other Michigan shows this month are available here.

Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.

Art courtesy of The Accidentals.
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