Interview: Happy Accidents

HA1In case anyone is wondering, let’s get this out of the way first: No one in Happy Accidents is a Bob Ross fan. In fact, it wasn’t until a couple years after the band’s formation that the members even learned about the connection between their name and the late painter.

The trio got started in their hometown of Southampton in 2013 and consists of singer and guitarist Rich Mandell, bassist Neil Mandell, and singer and drummer Phoebe Cross. According to Rich, the band began “dabbling in the scene” of Southampton, playing “UK DIY indie-esque stuff,” and eventually “kind of grew out from the community there.”

Eventually, the members moved to London, which is where they’re based now. Their first album, You Might Be Right, came out in 2016, and their second album, Everything But The Here and Now, was released early this year — both were put out by Oxford-based indie label Alcopop! Along the way, Happy Accidents has built up a following in their hometown, in London, and beyond.

“I think starting from scratch in London would have been a lot harder than starting from scratch in Southampton,” Mandell said, noting how beginning in a smaller town gave them the opportunity to grow organically. “And once you meet the right people, and once one of those people hears you, if it’s any good, anyone will have heard it, and then it kind of grows from there.”

In an interview earlier this year, Mandell shared that he and Cross wanted to make another album in 2018. Now that the year is nearly over, he’s confident that it won’t happen, but did note that they are working on new music.

“[A new album won’t come] out this year. Like, I think maybe we were being a bit optimistic,” he laughed. “[But] we started…I now work in a recording studio as an engineer, so it’s a lot more achievable than it’s been because we don’t have to save up crazy amounts of money and allocate time. So we’re trying a thing right now where we’re writing songs, learning songs, and recording songs as we go. We’re not finished with anything yet, but we’re definitely on it.”

And once it’s complete, rest assured it won’t be long before it’s introduced to the world.

“We’re kind of done with waiting three months from finishing a record to releasing it just because of press and stuff,” Mandell said. “The more I do it, the more I realize it doesn’t matter. I just want to give music to people directly, if that makes sense.”

In addition to changing the way they record and release music, the members of Happy Accidents have also made a marked change in the way they write songs. It’s now less of an individual process and more collaborative from the get-go.

“Historically, I guess, I write,” Mandell said. “Pheebs started writing now, and she’s growing more confident in her writing. Recently she’s been bringing way more ideas to the table and [we’re all] kind of just playing with them together. It feels a lot more organic than it ever has. And that’s kind of like the concept of what we wanna do now. It’s just less overthinking everything and more letting things be what they’re gonna be.”

Mandell went on to clarify that the band didn’t overthink things in the sense of second-guessing, but more that there are always so many moving parts to be aware of. As an example, in the past, the band had to be much more prepared and deliberate when recording. But now that Mandell works in a recording studio, it’s not as much of a concern.

“Within the context of booking a chunk of studio time, and having it cost us lots of money, and having to save up for it, we [used to] have to make sure we [were] super prepared before going in,” he explained. “Whereas right now, we don’t have that anymore. It can be freer and more organic. There are no time constraints whatsoever, and it’s just nice.”

Not only has the band’s songwriting dynamic shifted as they’ve grown into themselves and their roles, but the sound has also evolved more. Of course, one of the most noticeable ways is in how Cross contributed more vocally to the second album than the first.

“The first record she had one verse on, and then the next record it’s kind of like 50/50. And I think, I don’t know, I don’t want to speak for her, but I think that’s where our band’s going, just more and more joint efforts,” Mandell said. “I don’t think she ever used to consider herself a singer. She’s like a drummer that occasionally sung harmonies or whatever. And now she’s like, she’s like the frontperson. I mean, she’s in the back but…it feels much less narcissistic (for me) than it ever did before. It feels like a group effort. And it’s also just more inclusive. Like, I feel like the world has enough sad male bands, and I’m glad that at least half our music is not contributing to that.”

This shift in songwriting and sound and the resulting cohesion is something that’s easy to see when the band performs. The chemistry between the three members onstage is apparent. They laugh, they dance, they smile, and the sound is tight. But while it may seem like things are always on the up and up, there’s no denying that it’s a lot of work for everyone to keep the momentum going.

“To be honest, everything’s a bit of a slog,” Mandell said, touching on the challenges of being in an indie band. “Plus, I’m finally in a stage where I really like my job, so when we go away, it makes paying rent harder. Finding time for everything — ’cause honestly, I really like going on tour, but it’s just finding that balance between home and tour — is my current challenge. [I’m] trying to figure out where my priorities lie and how I can make everything work for everyone.”

All that said, all the hard work Happy Accidents has done is paying off.

“When you get a good show, it’s kind of all worth it. We’ve done some shows recently in the UK where it’s like, I’ve felt really ill, and been like ‘Do I really want to drive five hours to the show and then just drive back? Like, is this really what I wanna do?'” Mandell said. “And then we’ll get there, and there are loads of people who know all the words, and everyone’s really chuffed to see us, and we have the best time ever, and it’s like, ‘OK, that’s a rewarding show.’ And it’s too easy to forget that exists sometimes. You know the thing where you get a compliment and it goes straight over your head, but then you get criticism and it’s all you can think about? I think I need to take in the good times a little bit more than I do.”

Happy Accidents has been on the road with Tiny Moving Parts and will tour the UK in November with Hurry. Go see them when you can, and in the meantime, you can listen to a playlist Mandall put together for us featuring five of five of his current favorite songs.