Interview with Steam Powered Giraffe
This time musikgraph.de presents a really special band from the U.S.. As I already told you about Steampunk and Steampunk Music, you’ll now get to know something new again: a Musical Pantomine Group. Steam Powered Giraffe is a band dedicated to entertain their admirers with jokes, music and theater.
Steam Powered Giraffe is a band basically about three steam powered ancient robots build by Colonel Walter in 1896. But see for yourself in this special interview. Enjoy!
musikgraph.de: First of all gentlemen, please tell the readers something about yourself! Who are you and what is your purpose?
Steam Powered Giraffe: We’re three artists from San Diego, California in the United States of America. My name is Bunny Bennett, and I play the robot Rabbit. My brother is David Bennett, and he plays The Spine. The last robot is The Jon, played by our good friend Jonathan Sprague. Together we write all the songs in Steam Powered Giraffe and have collective backgrounds in mime, music, art, and theatre.
As you three are steam powered robots, who are your companions performing with you?
There are two backing instrumentalists right now that join the robots on stage as the jumpsuit-wearing humans. Samuel Luke mainly plays the drums, and Michael Reed plays the piano, vocoder, and electric guitar. But we like to mix things up. Depending on the song, Sam will sometimes play bass, and Michael or Jon will jump on drums from time to time. It’s fun having that flexibility with the band.
Your band is called Steam Powered Giraffe due to the first robot by Colonel Walter which was – of course- a giraffe. What happened to it and why did you chose its name for bandname?
In the fictional backstory, after the giraffe was used in Africa as a war machine, it was retired with the rest of Colonel Walter’s robots to service as an entertainment piece. Of course, there is no physical giraffe in real life – and even if there was, in the story it is the size of at least eight giraffes, making public appearances impractical, even in the fiction.
The band name actually started as a joke between my brother David and I well before the act was even a concept. We were thinking of ridiculously „hip“ album titles that made no sense, and the imagery of a steampunk giraffe walking across the savannah captured our imagination. Later, I started writing lyrics to a song called Brass Goggles that explained the story of this giraffe. Surprisingly, that whole idea was integrated into our group. When we started creating the robot act, that name came back and seemed to fit perfectly. The rest is a lot of reverse engineering with the backstory and name.
I think the name has taken on even more meaning these days. The idea of a Steam Powered Giraffe is something very fantastical and aspiring, and what are we but a bunch of kids with ridiculous dreams? I like to think the group has a message about following your dreams and passions, even if they may be strange or ambitious.
You are singing robots. A fact that is to my mind very stunning, as I did not thought robots would be very convincing in singing. How did your story as a band start?
David and Jon always had an interest in music. They started picking up guitars and writing their own songs early in life. When we met Jon at Grossmont Community College, we became friends right away. We took acting classes together including a mime class taught by Jerry Hager, who had been the local mime Kazoo for twenty six years.
Discovering a passion for the art form of pantomime, the meshing of music and mime only came naturally. We started busking in Balboa Park as singing robots, and by then we had already worked with each other in various projects around town. We have our beginnings before the band in white face mime charity events, children’s camps as pirate and cowboy characters, and practice in a local improve troupe. We played well off of each other, people enjoyed the stick, and apparently they liked the music!
But you are not only singing, you are also an entertaining group! This part of your show is well shown in your live album “Live at the Globe of Yesterday’s Tomorrow” (though it’s not really live but as good as though). What kind of people do you want to attract? Is it only a show for Steampunk interested people or even to children?
When we first started a lot of criticism from other performers was that we didn’t have a niche demographic. The idea of appealing to everyone just didn’t make much sense. We didn’t have a musical style that you could put your finger on, and it was difficult to determine if we were geared more towards kids or adults.
To this day we have not defined that line. We want everyone to take an interest in our act. Whether you’re into Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or Goth, enjoy folk music, psychadelic, or rock- we think we have something for everyone. And we like to keep it that way. Steam Powered Giraffe feels sleek and edgy enough to be cool, but because we don’t focus on adult themes or curse words, we’ve been able to play to audiences ranging from babies to grandmothers, and everyone in between.
Your first album “Album One” contains some of the songs of the live one. But they are not the same versions. These different versions really make you look at the songs in a new light. Do you often play different versions of songs at different shows?
Album One was released in 2009, and the Live Album was released in 2011. In between those years we grew musically and as entertainers. We wanted to showcase that growth before we released our next studio album, The 2-Cent Show. There’s a different energy for live performances that sometimes requires a quicker tempo or a heavier sound. But we don’t try to emulate the studio recordings in our live performances. Sometimes they sound similar and sometimes they can sound vastly different. Clockwork Vaudeville, for example is quite faster and omits a part of one verse in its newer version. A change like that came about simply to cut down time at certain venues. The response was positive, so we kept it upbeat and energized.
You also just released a new video “Honeybee”, which is set at the beach. Why did you choose the sea as background and what’s the story behind that romantic song?
We chose the beach because many love songs are shot at the beach, and we wanted to be cliché. The location is pretty, but pretty normal for a generic music video. It’s the robots being in such a normal place that makes it stand out I think. It’s interesting because it’s just odd seeing them on a beach setting as if they were a human band. Clearly they’re these metal abominations twitching with hydraulics and steam, but we didn’t make that the focus. Clearly that’s what people notice though.
Honeybee was a song I wrote for an ex-girlfriend. And though there’s emotion attached to it that hopefully comes across, I think the tune is the important part. I could be singing about rollerskates and ice cream. As long as we do that haunting „Beeeeeeeeeeee“ it’s going to make you cry.
Also you just announced your second album “The 2 ₵ show”. Is there an underlying backstory or just an ordinary compilation? Will there be all your additional songs in it and even other “live” parts from your show?
The 2-Cent Show is our second studio album, and like everything we do, there is an underlying story. The idea behind this album is that it’s sort of a road trip across American fantasy. There’s a lot of tall tales and mystical elements. We have songs about cowboys, WWII pilots, and voodoo, with a blend of southern folk, funk, psychadelic, pop, and dark cabaret.
Some of the newer songs from our live performances finally make an appearance in this album, like „Honeybee,“ „Ju Ju Magic,“ and even the more obscure „Scary World.“ But there’s a ton of new content you’ll have to wait to hear!
Did you consider making a DVD?
Actually we’ve been asked by many people if we could do a DVD, and we’ve been working on one for quite some time now. It’s due to be released in just a few months! We’ll have more details on our website very soon!
Are you inspired by other artists and if yes, by whom?
There’s a lot of obvious ones I think, such as The Beatles, Queen, The Band, and ELO. We all share a common interest in classic rock and good harmonies. Other influences of ours range from Amanda Palmer, The Tiny, Danny Elfman, Roy Orbison, to even Michael Jackson.
You really developed detailed characters for the robots and on your website one can even read a fake history. Are these robots more or less another site of yourself? I really admire your pantomiming skills while singing, there must be real hard work behind it!
I think like any characters, the robots are extensions of the actors‘ own personalities. The complexity of the act has made us default into our comfort zones, so it’s easy to see if you got to know us as people that these characters are just big exaggerations of us. Though I have been told I’m a lot shyer when I’m not portraying Rabbit!
What is your own favourite song?
I love them all in their own respect. Being in the studio at the time of this interview though, I have to say a lot of our new, unreleased stuff I’m really digging. We have a song called „The Suspender Man“ that is just too fun to sing.
There is also a comic about the robots, what’s the story behind it and does it tell some new aspects about the robots?
Yes, that’s exactly why we wanted to do a comic for the band. We have a lot of ambitious ideas that can’t be realized in the real world yet, and the comic lets people take a look at the vision as a whole. Rather than it being about the robots performing, it’s all about what goes on behind the scenes when they’re not playing. It turns out there’s a lot of strange stuff that goes on in their inventor’s manor besides wise cracking robots, and we’d love to keep expanding on that fictional universe!
Do you want or even plan to come to play in Europe or even Germany? What are your plans for the future?
I know I’m speaking for the entire group when I say we’d love to get to Europe and Germany. I think we have even more potential outside the USA, but only time will tell! Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to eventually perform outside of America, so keep your fingers crossed!
If you are not performing or practicing, what do you do to relax?
Currently our commitments to the band take up a lot of our free time, so we relax the best way we can…with other forms of entertainment!Many of our members are big gamers. We do a lot of multiplayer video games to offset the stresses of the work, and that’s a lot of fun. Our Sound Engineer also hosts a semi-weekly DnD session consisting of a few close friends and members of the band.
Personally, I’m a big film fan and love going out to the movie theatre when I can.
You call your band “Steam Powered”, what is the crucial element which makes something Steampunk? Costumes, Lyrics, stories?
What makes something Steampunk isn’t something I can judge. For our band it was never something we thought about. Steampunk, like Futurism, Art Deco, or modern Goth is just an artistic style- an expression of creativity. We use all of the above and more to tell the story of the robots, and there is a heavy Steampunk influence in their backstory. They were built in 1896 and have been around performing since then. Some of them went through upgrades over the years and some of them (like Rabbit) are still vintage Victorian.I couldn’t tell you where in the process we get our Steampunk, but I think drawing from the history of the robots imbues the act with the flavor without any effort. What comes out in costuming, makeup, and lyrics isn’t forced. That’s probably what makes us so versatile and not-so-easy-to put into a niche.
Last but not least, an advice to our readers:
The only advice I feel I can give is advice I was given by our mime mentor Jerry Hager. I’ve lived by it and put my faith in it. Find your passion and live it. It doesn’t matter if it’s art or not. You could get your kicks from auto repair, being a doctor, or a legal consultant. What gives you happiness and fullfilment is what you need more of in your life. Find a way to work it in and share it with people.