Contributed by Sullivan Dildine, AMF Intern
The bones of what would become Calliope Musicals first came together in 2009 when Matt Roth booked Carrie Fussell to play at Pie’s Plus on the Drag. The pair began writing songs together and soon after enlisted Craig Finkelstein to play the vibraphone after finding him on Craigslist. Once Carrie’s then-boyfriend-now-husband Josh Bickley started playing drums, Calliope Musicals was a full-fledged folk quartet. “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.” In 2013 guitarist Chris Webb and bassist Andrew Vizzone joined the crew and changed the trajectory of the band forever. The folk started to turn dancier and more experimental, shifting and morphing into the beautiful, genre-defying mutant of a musical collective we know and love today. “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 Musical’s new album, Color/Sweat, is just that: colorful, energetic, and most of all, fun. The LP opens with “Fear This Body” a powerful march characterized by a huge climax of wailing guitars ripping to the potent, bellowing, chant “I will not fear this body, I will not doubt its power.” The energy of the crescendo is carried straight into “Color/Sweat” where a snare roll straight out of Nirvana’s “Breed” lifts the vibe into orbit where we can dance with aliens. The ultra-effective ear worm sounds like the collaboration between The B-52s and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs we didn’t know we needed. “That’s Why We Dance” seems to be the thesis statement of the album, incorporating all of the elements Calliope Musicals have proven to be masters of. A super hooky keyboard lick serves as the frame for a sing-along vocal melody in the verse that builds into an emotional call to love in the chorus. A rhythm change signals the last act as prominent harmonies bring the experience to a head, the song ends with a final plea from Carrie to “keep livin’ in the romance”. Where “That’s Why We Dance” feels like the perfect culmination of the ideas established on Color/Sweat, “Cosmic Poison Arrow” is a beautifully quirky outlier that sticks out in all the right ways. New Wave is new again here with a daring spoken verse layered over a piano chord progression that sounds like it would be heard in the background at a circus. The boisterous chorus eventually winds into a psychedelic jam that reveals a new layer with each return listening. Color/Sweat sounds like the labor of love it is, almost every song on it is strong enough to be a stand-alone release and the only problem with it is how hard it will be to top.
On their process of creating this album Carrie Fussell said: “We had so much fun making this album, and we took a very “yes, and” approach to making it. If someone had an idea, we fearlessly went in that direction and found a way to make it happen. Our producer, Frenchie Smith, is a huge influence, and his adventurous spirit made it easy to explore. We definitely used production to try and transport listeners to our show and the little planet we create there. Time Owes You Nothing was definitely created to be separate of our live shows and be a stand alone record, but we had so much fun finding ways to use sound to guide peoples’ imaginations visually.” When asked what comes next for Calliope Musicals, Carrie was rightfully excited. “Fun! Adventure at every turn! Currently recording new music in between tours!”