An Interview with Strangers by Accident (EP release 12/2, ONCE Somerville)

Boston based indie rock meets Americana band Strangers by Accident celebrate the release of their new EP this week at ONCE in Somerville (December 2nd). The band picks and chooses influences ranging from the rock inspirations of Aerosmith and The Pixies to up and coming artists they frequent the shows of and share bills with like Honeysuckle and The Ballroom Thieves. Creating a tapestry that sits somewhere between the canyons of rock n’ roll and American folk/roots.

The first single of that new EP is defined by a slap-back electric guitar, driving harmonies and subtly sweet vocals…the rest of the record delves into some pretty rocking places as well, but you all need to get to the release show, pick up a copy and hear that for yourselves.

We caught up with Amy and Brian of the band to talk a bit about the new project, the show and how they see the community around them as they sit somewhere between the rock and roots realm.

 RLR: Who does the majority of the writing in the band? What does your writing process look like? Say you have a day to write, how does that pan out? Or, are you a “collect and compile” type of writer?

Brian: I write a lot on the go, maybe too much. I’m constantly making memos in my phone for lyrics, melodies, ideas, and then for example, this fall, I’m trying to finish a recorded demo every Tuesday night. I’ve got journals and pads all over the place but mostly I write songs on envelopes and scrap paper, old student essays and post-its.

I send Amy so many shitty demos of new songs that she must get sick of it. But some of our best songs, like ‘Portland,’ have come from her going through old pieces and then choosing what parts resonated. I had long abandoned the chorus of ‘Portland’ as an idea, but then she salvaged it, and we built the song around that.

If I have a few hours to write, I’m either going to the newest idea I’m most excited about, or I’m sitting down with the acoustic, having a beer, and trying not to think. If I’m lucky, an idea will kind of just arrive. I often have two songs I’m working on simultaneously and I go back and forth, over and over, which helps because if I get stuck with one, I’ll flip to the other.

Amy: Brian! I probably have hundreds of his demos/fragments in my phone.  He’ll kick start our songs and I’ll let him know what deeply resonates with me- then we’ll usually have a session around that song/piece where we’ll work to finish it.  When we get the time to write together, we’ll usually pick one of the many developing songs or fragments he started and we’ll focus on further developing it.  We’ll work on the structure, possibly add some new parts, and then record a demo on our phones to sit with and further critique later on. 

If I have time to myself to write, the process varies.  Some days I’m pulled to write, a melody is repeating in my head or I wake up with it and have to see it through.  Other days I’ll sit down with a blank slate and try to channel an emotion to motivate me.  If I get really stuck, I’ll go to Brian’s backlog of songs and usually find a piece that resonates with me and work at finishing it or writing the next piece.

RLR: How about, the bones are in place. How do you bring it to the band to flesh out?

Brian: So, for example, with ‘Reckless,’ which is on this new EP, I got the bones down on a trip to the Caribbean, using Garageband piano on my phone. I had a bunch of lyrics, and the form of the song. I sent Amy a demo, and then I think I played it for Justin and Heidi, and they liked it, so we started just jamming on it. I knew I wanted a guitar part after the first verse, which I described as like Skynrd’s ‘Tuesday’s Gone,’ which is funny because on the EP, it’s now a piano part.

For ‘Dealer,’ I had written an early version as this mournful acoustic song, but Amy and I played it once with electric guitar and distortion, almost as a joke, and we loved it. But generally, I’m sending the demo to Amy first to see what she thinks, and if she has ideas for harmonies or wants to write other parts. Ideally, then the two of us record something, and bring it to Justin and Heidi.

Amy: We’re still fine-tuning this process, having grown to four of us in the past year. Brian and I used to spend a lot of time fine-tuning songs, and now we often experiment with bringing unfinished tunes to Heidi and Justin and seeing if they put a new spin on it or have ideas on where to go next.  But more often than not, the structure of the song is 90% there before we start envisioning where to bring it next and what instrumentation to back it up.  Both Justin and Heidi play multiple instruments, so it’s fun to see what they hear and where they bring the material next. 

RLR: The band seems to be pretty keen on harmony driven arrangements, lending to a somewhat pop driven indie folk vibe. Harmonies can be something that artists within a band either toil over for years to get right or they come right out and make themselves known. For you all, what was the situation around developing and implementing them into your music?

Brian: We started as a folk-duo, playing acoustic originals, covering Nirvana, and totally intent on harmonies. When I put an ad on Craiglist I referenced female / male harmonies, and we worked hard on that for pretty much a year. Amy is amazingly adept at writing interesting harmonies that really transform the song into something much better, really elevate it, so I was beyond lucky to find her. When we added Justin as a guitarist and vocalist in 2016, we started working on three-part harmonies, too, and now that’s an added dynamic. I don’t see as pop-driven, though; that’s interesting. Especially in terms of the music that inspires us.

Amy: What drew me to working with Brian was that he always saw this project with harmonies as the focus.  Writing harmonies has always been something I find myself doing naturally, thanks to my Dad who often sang harmonies to songs on the radio instead of the melody, so it was always in my ear growing up.  I was so excited when we added Justin, because I already had three part harmonies in my head for our old material and couldn’t wait to implement them! He’s got a great ear and can easily pick up harmonies as well, so it’s really been fun developing our new songs with him.  My two favorite songs on the upcoming EP, ‘Portland’ and ‘Reckless,’ are predominantly due to him adding that third voice.

RLR: When you were working on this new record, did you use any sort of reference albums for mixing or writing? What was spinning when you were writing the tunes, on the way to the studio, dialing in tones?

Brian: For our first EP, we referenced Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, and I think we referenced him at the start of this project, too, for that low-fi sound. But then also talked a lot about Big Thief’s first album, Masterpiece, and early Springsteen and Van Morrison. Houndmouth has been a big influence for us, sonically and otherwise. During the recording process, I was listening to the band Caamp, Dan Auerbach’s new album, The National, and also a lot of Deer Tick, so much so that our producer, Devon Dawson, referenced their new double-album Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 in the mixing process.

RLR: Community is and always kind of has been the point of RLR… So what is the community like where you all call home musically speaking and what does it mean to you as artists and just people?

Brian: Amy and I played our first gig at the Burren Tuesday Open Mic in 2015 or so, and I remember being blown away by the community aesthetic that night; really creative and enthusiastic. Since then, even though all of us seem to be constantly on the move, we’ve felt a really awesome sense of support – whether it’s been local media, like Scout Cambridge or Music Box Pete, or playing gigs at Harvard and MIT, or playing with local bands like the Solars and Atlas Lab at our last gig at Lizard.

Amy: Both Brian and I didn’t grow up in the area- and when we met we didn’t really know too many people in the city. The open-mic nights at the Burren opened us to a great group of people/talented musicians who we ultimately had the pleasure of booking our first ever gigs with.  We’ve played many community gigs which are some of my favorites, such as Somerville ArtBeat Festival, MIT, and Harvard Farmer’s Markets, and even one at Google Cambridge.  It’s really cool because before I was out there gigging the places that became our stage were favorites of mine to walk around and soak in as a “local.”

RLR: From said community, what are you digging lately from your peers and fellow songwriters?

Brian: The Silks, The Solars, Atlas Lab, Ballroom Thieves.

Amy: All of the above.  Also really digging Julie Rhodes and Mnemonist.

RLR: You guys have a release show on the horizon. Why at ONCE? Do you have any sort of special connection that room?

Brian: Yes, this Saturday 12/2!! I saw the Futurebirds, from Georgia, there, and the room has a great vibe. We definitely have a connection to Somerville – that’s where I’ve spent a lot of my time this year, and we’ve played some awesome gigs there, including Porchfest this summer. Feels like a home away from home, and I’ve been writing a lot there too.

Amy: Somerville/Cambridge is where it all started for us with open-mic nights, and that’s definitely where our home base is.  I’ve frequented some awesome events they put on in the ONCE space and I love what they do for the community of Somerville, from great shows to really cool flea markets and community gatherings.  We were hoping to play a room we never played before for our release, while staying in our community, and are so excited to play there.

RLR: So…what comes next?

Brian: We play the Bitter End, NYC, for a second EP Release next weekend, 12/9, and we’re pumped to see our NYC friends – we love playing the Bitter End. Then we’re going to take some time off to write, and we’ll be back at O’Brien’s with Gentle Temper and the Solars on 1/24/18!

Amy: Planning our March tour!  We’ll be hitting the road in early/mid March, heading southward to promote the new album.