Matt Roth

Psychedelic-rock band Calliope Musicals have been developing their sound and identity since they formed in 2009.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

The members of Austin-based Calliope Musicals haven’t had just one near-death experience on tour — they’ve had multiple.

A rattlesnake nearly bit guitarist Matt Roth on Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains while the rest of the band unknowingly kept hiking. Another time, they walked barefoot around Joshua Tree National Park in California before discovering they shared their campsite with scorpions. And when they drove through inner-city Baltimore, they were almost carjacked.

According to guitarist Chris Webb, the band wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If you don’t almost die on tour, it was a really shitty tour,” Webb said.

The members of the psych-rock band are preparing for another nationwide tour and the release of the album they finished recording in February. The band’s upcoming album is the first time the member have “gotten their feet wet” in the recording studio, because they prefer to focus on live performances.

The band focuses on connections. The members build off each other’s jokes and recount their near-death experiences with enthusiasm, speaking over each other and completing each others’ sentences. But despite the band members’ chemistry, Calliope Musicals wasn’t always comprised of today’s six members.

The band first formed in 2009 when guitarist Matt Roth booked front woman Carrie Fussell to play a show at Pipe’s Plus on the Drag. The pair started writing songs together. They then connected with vibraphone player Craig Finkelstein on Craiglist, and Fussell’s then-boyfriend-now-husband Josh Bickley started playing the drums.

Guitarist Chris Webb and bassist Andrew Vizzone joined Calliope Musicals two years ago. Vizzone said the band’s sound morphed from a folk-vibe to psychadelic party-rock after he and Webb joined the band with electric guitars and bass.

“We were originally thinking Mamas and the Papas — or kind of Peter, Paul and Mary,” Roth said. “But then electric guitars came into the mix.”

Roth said the band members like to collaborate on their songwriting, so the music doesn’t fully conform to one person’s ideas.

“We look at ourselves as all different songwriters, so we try to come together to create something cohesive,” Roth said. “We’re more like, ‘Let’s throw all of our sounds together and try to make something from it.’”

Vizzone said the band members don’t have a definitive way to describe their sound, but Fussell said it’s always “colorful, energetic and fun.”

Calliope Musicals is one of three acts playing Saturday’s Untapped Festival at Carson Creek Ranch alongside Manchester Orchestra and Phosphorescent. Fussell said Calliope Musicals likes playing festivals because they draw a different, more energetic crowd than smaller-venue shows.

“People at festivals have signed up for that experience — they’ve got their ticket, their cooler, their friends — and they picked out their clothes they want to wear,” Fussell said. “People just seem to be really excited about a festival.”

Calliope’s live shows involve a confetti cannon, animal costumes, candles and dancers. Roth said the band members elicit audience participation in all of its shows by having them sing along or come up on stage and dance.

“It’s not just about ‘Here’s the band, here’s the crowd and here’s the barrier in between,’” Roth said. “It’s more about, ‘What can we create in this moment together?’”

After Untapped, Calliope Musicals will promote their album and work on booking their tour. Fussell said the band’s main objective on this tour is to give the audience a good experience.

“I think the most important thing, and one of the things we love most about playing music, is making people feel happy,” Fussell said. “Making them feel good and making them feel empowered.”