Carrie Fussell fronts the psychedelic pop collective Calliope Musicals, whose mind-bending, multi-dimensional live shows have garnered a cultlike devotion from fans throughout Texas and beyond. Hailed by NPR as a “perennial SXSW favorite,” the group’s foot-stomping, avant-garde anthems, alongside their trademark blast of interactive secondhand glam, have made them standouts amongst their Austin peers. Fussell sums up the group (and perhaps all of human existence?) like this: “We came from space. We’re all going to die.”
1. What gets your motor running, artistically?
Traveling. When I’m able to go around and see new places, each place kind of turns me into a different version of myself. I feel like in my day-to-day life, when I get in my space, I get really familiarized with all the parts of myself that are active in my life, and so when I’m traveling I just find that different parts of me are activated. So I feel really creative when we’re on tour.
2. Tell us about a work of art you feel is woefully misunderstood or underappreciated.
Lately I’ve been extremely into Laurie Anderson’s album Big Science. It’s an insane work of art, just like her. She’s an experimental artist, technically, but that record has so many hits and so many hooks that I just can’t believe more people aren’t obsessed with Laurie Anderson. She changed my life, within just seconds of hearing that album—the beginning of the album—I knew that I was going to be listening to it for the rest of my life. And I didn’t have any context for her! It was one of those random things the Spotify algorithm just slipped up and introduced me to, and I immediately fell in love.
3. Your shows are famous for being really invigorating and exciting. How do you maintain all that energy?
It just kind of happens. I don’t really feel like I’m acting or anything, or doing anything on purpose. It’s just kind of what happens and what comes out. I think I do have a little bit of nervous energy. When I get nervous, I just talk and talk and talk, and stuff kind of bubbles out of me. I guess I get lucky when I do shows that it’s the kind of stuff people are down to party with.
4. How, how do you think living in Austin informs your music?
Austin is really a live music city. You know, there’s a lot of cities where there’s tons of musicians and they don’t play gigs the way we do in Austin. And it’s been interesting with the pandemic, not playing gigs and recording an album and having the live audience participation element gone, that’s been really interesting shift. We’ve really adapted in a lot of ways to fit that. But I think being such a live music space, a lot of the bands in Austin end up writing and evolving their songwriting through the live process, so I think that’s definitely a special element.
5. Who would you say are your biggest influences?
Sparks is a huge influence for us. Saint Vincent has been an influence on me, on my guitar playing. Laurie Anderson has been huge cause that’s pretty much all I listen to. (Laughs) Those are them, those are the folks.
6. Where do you see the Austin music scene heading?
I’m definitely seeing the theatrical art element more. Performance art bands are having a moment right now, which I really enjoy. I think there’s something about us having been cooped up for so long, we’re just so ready to put on special shows—and by “we” I mean the music community. I feel like, creatively, Austin has been such a blues city and, like, a rock and roll, classic-rock kind of base. But I think we’re getting weirder and weirder.
7. How do you take your whiskey?
I like it on the rocks, with a little splash of water.