What’s In Your Suitcase?: Calliope Musicals

Calliope
Photo by Jerry Sparkman

For the Austin six-piece Calliope Musicals, the word “firefly” has a special significance. It’s one they use often when they’re writing together, and one of the group’s members has an offbeat idea that’s met with resistance. “Firefly” is the group’s internal code for: “Shut up and give it a chance.”

That coded truce is a reflection of the band’s dominant themes: acceptance, friendship, optimism and enthusiasm. Their live performances are like something out of a psychedelic children’s show, full of brightly-colored costumes, bubbles, streamers and outlandish props.

“We naturally thrive on the audience to feed us our energy,” guitarist Chris Webb said. “There are few set things we aim to do in a show. We just try to give out a vibe that makes our audience feed back into us. It’s very much a reciprocal energy.”

The band recently released Time Owes You Nothing, a nostalgic, sweeping first album about making the most of every day.

“The whole year before recording the album was a whirlwind of random decisions that led to us reaching our dreams,” says lead singer Carrie Fussell. “We did things we always wanted to, but didn’t think would happen. And that’s what the album is about—don’t sit around waiting for your dreams to happen for you.”

We asked the band about their suitcase necessities while they prepared for their Electric Forest debut.

Thrifted costumes

Calliope
Photo by Jerry Sparkman

Webb: “I think fashion is about personality and self-expression. It’s like seeing a little part of someone’s personality you don’t know about. We all go to thrift shops and pick out stuff for each other.”

Fussell: “I have these gold sequined hot pants that, in all rules of attractive fashion, I probably shouldn’t be wearing. This girl came up to me and said ‘I never thought I could wear something like that, but after your show, I bought a pair. Seeing you up on stage having so much fun in basically underwear made me feel like I could wear them too.’ It felt great that I inspired someone to wear and be whatever they want.”

Camping gear

Calliope
Photo by Jerry Sparkman

Matt Roth: “We all stay together in one big tent. It’s technically a 10-person tent but it’s very snug in there. It pops up in about one minute, which is very important, because after late shows, we would probably just sleep on the ground if it weren’t that easy. Then we pass around a box of baby wipes and ask ‘who wants a shower?’

Funny Sunglasses

Calliope
Photo by Jerry Sparkman

Fussell: “We all have a bunch of funny sunglasses. We have a thing over our rearview mirror that holds about 15 pairs.”

Andrew: “It doubles as a bread holder. It was a major improvement to our road sandwiches.”

SnakeBear

Calliope
Photo by Jerry Sparkman

Fussell: “We were hiking in Tennessee, and we’re all running and laughing down this mountain joking about seeing a bear, when we nearly run right into this huge rattlesnake. We started joking, ‘At least it wasn’t a bear with snake arms!’”

Webb: “It became mythology. The rest of the trip, every time someone went out to the bathroom, we would yell, ‘Watch out for the snakebears!’”

Fussell: “’Tiny White Moths’ was written about that day. One of our friends did a cool illustration that we put on shirts. Matt’s girlfriend, Thao Phan, sewed a giant eight-foot inflatable version for our shows.”

Alien

Calliope
Photo by Jerry Sparkman

Fussell: “I’m dressed up as an alien in the video for ‘Party Master and the Space Brigade.’ I’ve got a bunch of mylar wrapped around me and I’m holding up lazers. Our friend Jerry Sparkman became our propmaster and took it upon himself to become the alien, so now every show he zips up into this alien suit with laser eyeballs. The mouth even moves to sing the song along with us.”

Cheese Puffs

Fussell: “We have this giant container of orange ear plugs that look just like cheese puffs.”

Matt: “It was a really disappointing realization our first couple of practices, so I bought a real tub of cheese puffs to put next to our tub of ear plugs.”

Webb: “It’s one of the best purchases for a small band. When you’re playing a lot of small venues, the sound can be turned up way too loud and the noise gets old.”

Confetti gun and handmade signs

Calliope
Photo by Jerry Sparkman

Fussell: “We spray-painted a leaf blower and put rainbow duct tape on it to make a confetti gun.”

Webb: “It was a Christmas pageant, and wanted to dress up as elves and shoot fire originally. But we settled for confetti.”

Fussell: “The handmade signs were the start of Jerry being involved. He handed out ‘Enjoy!’ signs that he made on the back of Shiner boxes as a surprise. Everyone loved it—they saw they could be a part of it all.”

—Sarah Karney

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