Steam Powered Giraffe Robot Band Interview
Bunny Bennett of Steam Powered Giraffe prepares for the release of this singing robot band’s latest album, MK III. Attune your ears to the grinding gears…
Spectacular steampunk-infused visuals, memorable and vibrant characters, dazzling mime and gorgeous harmonies are just some of the reasons why you should be checking out Steam Powered Giraffe. The three singing robots have wowed audiences across America with songs about sea adventurers, cowboy heroes and lost loves, and now The Spine, Rabbit and Hatchworth (and GG the giraffe) are gearing up to release their third studio album, MK III. We caught up with the Bunny Bennett, the performer behind Rabbit, to find out just what Steam Powered Giraffe is all about.
From L-R in photo: Hatchworth, The Spine, Rabbit (who took part in the interview) and GG the Giraffe.
Where did the idea for a robot band come from?
We took a mime class which was hosted by Jerry Hager, who was the Seaport Village mime in San Diego for 26 years – it was an elective class, as we were theatre majors – and we found that we had a knack for mime. And when we saw him do the robot at his shows and in class, we were really impressed and thought, “we want to do that”. And we were pretty good at it. So we started thinking that maybe we could busk at Balboa park, which is our local park and museum here in San Diego.
We’d started doing stuff for the college – we’d done children’s touring shows, we’d done a lot of theatre, and then in the mime programme we were able to do “silent auctions” where we were whiteface mimes, walking around and doing shtick. So we had a lot of training in our college days, and we even ran an improv troupe, so we took all of those skills and went out on the streets and decided to do the robot. Then my brother (David Michael Bennett, the performer behind The Spine) came up with the idea that we should take a guitar and maybe play a song if people put money into the hat. So that’s how it all started.
Why “Steam Powered Giraffe”?
The simple story is that my brother was really into giraffes and I was into steampunk. It was actually a joke to begin with – “what would be a really silly band name?” Then we used it as a fake band name for a music video that we made, and it turned out that it was pretty catchy. So we stuck it with the robots and reverse-engineered a backstory around that.
You play Rabbit in the band, right? How would you describe him?
He’s the malfunctioning robot, and he’s also the least upgraded, which I think go hand-in-hand. He’s Victorian, and he’s kind of stutter-y and a little creepy, but he would never hurt anyone. I guess you could say he’s the wacky, crazy one, but I think all of the robots are kind of weird.
Would you say that you share any similarities with Rabbit as a character?
Oh, yeah. I think that there’s definitely a comfort zone that we crawled into with our robot personalities, because it was so intense. You go with what you’re comfortable with, just because it’s kind of scary to go out there and perform these robotic movements while in makeup. So you just play an exaggerated version of yourself to begin with.
You seem to cover a wide range of genres musically. How would you describe your sound?
I’d definitely suggest that we’re a rock band, with a bit of a folk twinge. I guess it’s easier to say what our inspirations are. We listen to a lot of The Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra and Queen. We can do any genre, and we mix that harmony aspect into everything we create, which gives us our signature sound.
Moving onto your new album, MK III – how is it pronounced, “em-kay-three” or “mark three”?
It is actually “mark three”.
Okay. It seems as though you’ve been working almost constantly to finish MK III. How does it feel to have finally completed it?
It feels really good. Definitely, it’s a big relief. It was a long time coming.
What can we expect from this album?
I think it’s a lot of the same stuff that people have come to like, but we’re also going into some new directions that I think people are really going to have fun with.
Aside from MK III, do you have any other upcoming plans that you can talk about?
Yeah, we’re about to launch our new webcomic, which is the continuing adventures of the robots when they’re not playing music. So that’s pretty fun, and you can check it out on our website in the next couple of weeks and follow us and our adventures.
A big part of the whole Steam Powered Giraffe experience seems to be the shows. Which show has been your favourite so far?
I think that every time we do a show we try to improve it, so they progressively get better. But I think each show has its own unique charm. I guess you could talk about venues; I think the best venue was a little theatre that seated 800 a couple of years ago. Any time we do the act in a proscenium arch theatre it just feels so right, and we don’t often get to do that. That’s an old memory, and I don’t think it was the best show necessarily, but it definitely felt the best. It felt really good.
As you get bigger and gain more fans, could you see yourselves performing in arenas or other large-scale venues?
Definitely. The show is getting bigger, and we’re adding projections, effects, lighting, all that jazz. We definitely want to make it big and theatrical. I don’t think there’s any limit to how big we could do it, or how small.
In a perfect world, what would you have in mind for arena-sized shows?
It’d be cool to have a chorus line of dancers, some silly stuff like that. There are a lot of cool ideas that we just can’t do because we don’t have enough people. One weird idea we had was Santa Claus fighting Dracula across the stage, just for no reason. Just really weird stuff that we can’t do because the amount of energy that it would take to do the choreography would not be worth the pay-off. And we don’t have the money to pay the people to do that. (laughs) I guess the obvious would be a giant giraffe, a giant puppet behind us that moves. But I don’t know.
Where would you ideally like to see yourselves in ten years’ time?
I’d hope we’re touring in some big venues. I’d also like to see us maybe have a cartoon, maybe a movie. That might be sweet.
And finally: try and convince the readers to check out Steam Powered Giraffe in exactly ten words.
“Oh my gosh, we are totally robots that sing, dude.”
Pick up the new album:
Steam Powered Giraffe’s newest album, MK III, will be released on 3rd December. You can buy it from the band’s official website, www.steampoweredgiraffe.com, and from any digital music distribution websites. For more information, please check out the band’s official website and their Tumblr page, officialsteampoweredgiraffe.tumblr.com.