I walked into the bar of the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel not knowing a thing about the Accidentals.
What I caught was the official South By Southwest showcase from a pair of “orc dorks” playing pop songs on electric and acoustic guitar, electric cello and violin while the third member of the group supplied hand percussion from a box on which he was sitting.
Pop might not be the best way to describe the Accidentals music. But neither is indie folk, the tag most commonly put on the group’s music. Sure, there’s some folk in the sound and some pop, but there’s some rock, some classical and even a hint of jazz here and there.
“We like to call it genre blending,” said Savannah Buist, one of the “orc dorks.” “You can’t really put us in one genre.”
The other half of the original Accidentals duo is Katie Larson, who met Buist in high school in Traverse City, Michigan, in 2011, when Larson was 15, and Buist was 16.
“She was a year ahead of me,” Larson said as the band’s van rolled through some mountains on the way to a show in Arizona. “I knew who she was. But we didn’t really know each other until we got put together on a project in orchestra. … The project was stringed instruments playing different styles from orchestra. That’s what we’ve tried to keep going forward. We’re still branching off from that.”
In fact, the duo spent much of their first night together playing the White Stripes -- not exactly orchestral music. The band’s list of covers that it will play in its show is even more eclectic, including songs by the Pixies, Arcade Fire, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Doris Day, the Beatles, St. Vincent and Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.
The duo come by their musical mix naturally. Buist’s father is a country music pianist, and she grew up around her parents’ folk band. Larson’s parents are classical musicians.
Since they formed the Accidentals, they have played hundreds of shows, expanding from Michigan to national tours, including the one that will bring them to Vega Tuesday. And they don’t just play covers.
The Accidentals have released two albums, scored a pair of indie movies and are at work on record number three with the great songwriter Marshall Crenshaw.
The duo, who added percussionist Michael Dause last year, make their music together on guitar, bass, cello, violin, mandolin, accordion, kazoo and saw. But they write their songs separately, at least when it comes to melody and lyrics.
“My songs tend to be more storytelling,” Buist said. “Katie’s songs are more poetic.”
The Accidentals, who played 10 shows in Austin during the mid-March week of SXSW, were tabbed by Billboard magazine as one of 7 SXSW “breakout acts.” Based on what I saw for 45 minutes in Stephen F.’s Bar, they earned that designation.
And, yes, for those who have may have guessed as much, the name the Accidentals comes from the musical term -- the duo really are orchestra dorks.
An accidental is a note that doesn’t fit with the scale or key of a composition but sounds right away. “That’s us,” Buist said.