Though widely known throughout Austin for their high-energy performances, Calliope Musicals are no strangers to the festival circuit and touring lifestyle as well. They recently completed their 6th tour across the U.S. in October 2015 and have traveled all over the United States and Canada to perform at a variety of festivals. The list includes Austin City Limits, UTOPiAfest, Wakarusa, Joshua Tree Music Festival, Backwoods Music Festival, Evolve Festival, Center of the Universe, Untapped Festival, Higher Grounds Music Festival, Red White and Blue Ball, and Head for the Hills.
While the band describes their style as psychedelic party folk, the actual sound—a harmonious blend of drums, guitar, bass, a hybrid instrument known as a xylosynth and Fussell’s powerful voice—is hard to define and varies substantially by song. What is consistent, however, is the element of storytelling that courses through every track in the Calliope catalogue.
“Our music centers around a certain energy more than a certain style,” the perpetually barefoot Fussell says. “We’ll do rock, then dance-y disco, then some slow sit-down [songs]. At the end of the day, it feels like the music revolves around imagination and adventure more than it does a specific type of music.”
That imagination and sense of adventure has been a source of inspiration for the band and beautifully translates through every track, regardless of its melodic variety. For example, “Echo of the Whoos,” the second track off of their freEP, was one of the first songs that the band’s current lineup tackled. Fussell had written the lyrics and vocal melody quite some time before the band picked it up, and the “Whoos” were added after she brought it to the whole band as a response to their instrumental collaboration. Fussell explains, “I was inspired by Studio 54; the nostalgia that my generation has for that period of time, and the way that we sometimes blame our current decade for our inability to cut loose and have fun. Almost as though there was never a better time or place to feel good and be yourself as New York in the 70’s. We wanted a song that created movement in our crowd, and the hook “you can do it, too” is so encouraging. People have this idea that only really famously fabulous people can have their dream life, and it just isn’t true! Good times are for everybody. The verse lyrics nod to very exclusive experiences, whereas the chorus is this wildly romantic encouragement against exclusivity.”
But lyrics and sound aside, perhaps the most captivating aspects of the group’s show are the integration of props and their focus on crowd involvement. During most performances, beaming audience members can be found swaying with sparklers, bouncing with balloons, and singing along while waving cardboard signs hand-crafted from Shiner Bock boxes—all handed out by animal-costume-attired friends of the band. NPR Music’s “All Songs Considered” may have said it best: “Who brings a confetti cannon to a fun fight? Calliope Musicals does.”
“The vibe we want to create is the feeling that the audience is part of the creative process and part of the performance,” says Fussell. “I think we always just hope that people leave our show feeling empowered and inspired—like they can do anything.”
The six-piece group makes it incredibly difficult to try to maintain a straight face at one of their performances. Their live show is an auditory, visual and genuinely transcendent experience filled with confetti, glitter bubbles, laughter and everything in between. Their shows are playful, bright and are altogether lusciously uplifting.
Their group synergy adds up to more than six musicians playing with loving skill and telling their story of loving art, loving each other and loving their collective vision. The collaborative, familial nature of their performances and music came naturally from their work with Circus on the Moon, the local collective they helped start. They’re seeking and promoting the genuine freedom that comes from making music on their own terms. Calliope Musicals has only begun their imminent climb to super stardom.