Home by Hovercraft Explains How They Came To Write a Time-Travelling Musical.
Home by Hovercraft is a local music act that defies categorization and has begun turning heads around town over the last year or so. Rightfully so: The group is a theatrical one, combining folk, rock and classical influences into a singular sonic stew.
But make no mistake: This outfit is hardly a streamlined one.
Led by husband-and-wife duo Seth (tuba, vocals) and Shawn Magill (piano), the band has the uncanny ability to push the creative envelope without branching into totally inaccessible territory. Still, they do get pretty “out there.” An example? Well, Seth’s sister Abbey Magill, who dances Irish Step, performs as a member of Home by Hovercraft’s rhythm section.
And now the band’s preparing to unveil another interesting trick: After a successful stage reading last November of a musical they’d penned called On The Eve, Home by Hovercraft is bringing their musical to the stage with some help from director Jeffery Schmidt and fellow writer Kitchen Dog Company member Michael Frederico.
The show, we’ll admit, is billed somewhat vaguely as telling the almost true story of Marie Antoinette, the first hot air balloon and a would-be hero with a super cool gun of some kind. It’s also a rock musical, and it debuted last night at Fair Park’s Magnolia Lounge.
Confused? Don’t be.
Now that the production is up and running (it will do so through December 15) we caught up with the Magills and Frederico to get this whole thing sorted out.
I know you guys all had preexisting relationships with one another, but what’s the story with this whole project?
Michael Frederico: Seth and I have known each other I think literally for more than half our lives at this point. We were 18 when we became friends. And what was weird was we were always living in different places; when I was in Chicago, they were here and then New York, and when I was in Austin y’all were here and then you moved to Austin and I moved up here. But we would always see each other at Christmas — like at parties or whatever and just hang out. Then, four years ago we were at a Christmas party just all hanging out outside on the porch and they started talking about an idea that had.
They said they wanted to do a show about the first hot air balloon. And that’s kind of where it started. It was just strange because it was like, “OK, cool. That sounds awesome. See you in a year.” But each time we saw each other, we kept talking about it. Then we finally — about two years ago — ended up all being here and said, “You know what? Let’s sit down and figure out how we can really do that.”
Shawn Magill: And in the meantime, since that first discussion, Seth and I started really picking up the band activity and writing a lot of songs with Home by Hovercraft. In talking about the story, they just started to seem like they kind of fit together and so we started thinking “Well, maybe it should be a musical.”
Originally, it was going to be a musical with the actual band Home By Hovercraft playing on stage with Seth singing all the songs — kind of separated from the story and then the songs kind of started interweaving with the plot. And then we kind of went, “Well, we maybe want that character to sing that song.” So most of the songs are actually not sung by Seth.
Michael: Yeah, and we had gone through different ideas. Like, at one point, we had thought about a children’s show.
Seth Magill: Yeah, I remember that text. Michael was like, “Does that have to be a children’s show?”
Michael: I was working on something and I was like, “This is inappropriate for children.” So, it kind of started to change and we’d get together and talk about ideas and story. Sometimes, I would write to a song that I wanted to use and then sometimes I would write a scene and they would figure out musically what was needed. So it was a cool process.
Seth: Sometimes you’d leave our house and we’d get an email at like three in the morning.
Michael: I don’t sleep much.
Seth: Yeah, but there would be three badass scenes for us to read!
You guys kind of touched on it, but what’s the format that we’re looking at here? Is it an opera or is there dialogue interspersed?
Michael: There’s a lot of dialogue.
Seth: It’s a play with music.
The music we’re going to hear in this show. Is it music that had already been written or did you write original songs to go with the story or both?
Michael: I knew a lot of their stuff pretty well, but I was just listening to them rehearse, just hanging out at their place or whatever, and this was early on —
Shawn: This was the first rehearsal with Abbey!
Michael: Yes, it was. And I just had this scene and I was like, “Can I use this for this scene?” So, I kind of wrote a scene to the song. And then other times we’d be like, “We need something here.” And they would go write a new song.
Abby is a big part of your band’s live show. Is she involved in this? Will we get to see her during the play?
Shawn: Yes, she is! In fact, she is plus one.
Michael: Yeah, we’ve got two! When I started writing this script, she was very much in my mind, so I sort of created a character for her in a way that makes sense for her to be a part of this world. She’s sort of the revolution or the voice of the oppressed. The dancing and the marching that they do is a huge part of the show because I did not want to loose that. I mean, watching her rehearse with you guys inspired the first thing I wrote.
So she’s remained a really central part of all of this?
Michael: I think [director] Jeff [Schmidt] even saw more for her to do, so she’s become a bigger part of this, which is awesome.
Talk a little bit about the plot. Well, as much as you can.
Michael: I used to be a copywriter so I always try to think of things in terms of advertising so we always say it’s the story of Marie Antoinette and the first time-traveling hot air balloon.
Right, that’s the soundbite version?
Michael: Right. It sort of has a play within a play aspect to it. So, it’s a group of performers telling this story of Marie Antoinette and this time-traveling hot air balloon, and they believe that it might be the last time that they get to tell the story, so they decide that they want to tell it the right way. Now, they’ve been forced by the powers that be to tell it a very specific way that kind of demonizes a lot of the female characters and things, so there’s kind of a mini-revolt that happens in this theater company to sort of take back their story. Did that make any sense?
Sure. I mean, the play-withing-a-play part, at least.
Michael: The idea was that it allowed us to sort of mish-mash time periods and history.
Shawn: Just things that we were intrigued by and maybe just wanted to explore a little bit more. We had a lot of fun Half Price Book trips where we’d be like, “Let’s go look up History of Flight!” And we would go find every book on the history of flight.
Kind of like a scavenger hunt almost?
Shawn: It was a total scavenger hunt!
Michael: It also forced us to make actors play a ton of roles in a really short period of time, which is fun to watch.
Let’s talk about your cast and the people working with you.
Michael: I just think we got really, really lucky. Just from friends and people we’ve worked with. I mean, I think we have some of the best actors in this city.
Seth: We were just happy that they even decided to just do the read-through.
Michael: We did a reading last year and so many of them agreed to do it. It was awesome, but it was like a four-day commitment. When were talking about doing it for real, we were just like, “Man, there’s no way we’re going to be able to get them to come back,” and we got almost everyone back. Then we got a gentleman by the name of Jeffery Schmidt to direct.
Shawn: Originally, he just wanted to be billed as “The gene slicer.” Now he’s gene splicer and director.
Michael: Yeah, originally he was going to help with some design stuff and sort of consult on some things, but the more we talked about it with him, the more we were like, “Man, do you think he would want to do it?” And we didn’t think that he would just because he’s really busy. But he did, and it’s been one of the best and luckiest things that could have happened. He has helped us tighten up the script, and what he’s doing with the space is great.
What about that moment when you have to hand what you’ve been working on to somebody else and see it through their eyes?
Shawn: I would say we’ve definitely allowed that process to change it for the better, and I think there’s a lot we probably still haven’t let go of — in a good way.
So no dramatic stories of him wanting to cut things and fights ensuing or that kind of stuff?
Shawn: No, no.
Seth: No. If anything we’ve been more the progenitors of cutting.
On The Eve runs through December 15 at the Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park.