Sarasvati Bodhisattva (a.k.a. Summer Spillman) Grants an Interview
Sarasvati Bodhisattva is a truly excellent musician that plays and performs at a variety of types of conventions. She recently performed at Marquis of Vaudville’s Clockwork Wonderland and as an opening act for them at Allcon 2011. She also performed at the very first full steampunk convention in Texas down in San Antonio called Aetherfest in April 2011. Now she will be the headliner musical performer for the Difference Engine Summit, Steampunk Murder Mystery Event on June 4th, 2011. http://www.the-difference-engine.info/
I was recently privileged to ask many questions about her style, her influences and her views on the genre.
Ramon Fagan: How would you define your musical style or genre?
Sarasvati Bodhisattva: My style and genre are both eclectic. They say that variety is the spice of life and I wholeheartedly agree. In life as well as music I love creating each day differently. I am a constantly changing being and anyone who listens to me perform live multiple times will see this if they are paying attention to the subtleties in the energy. Each song is its own animal no matter how many times it is played, and no song will ever sound *exactly* the same way twice because the energy present during the song is never exactly the same way twice, even if a musician is singing and playing the same notes every time. Each moment in life is unique and this carries throughout everything we do, even if it is not obvious to us.
RF: What artists do you think most influenced your current style or styles?
SB: Everyone influences my music, whether they are artists, plants, animals, or universal archetypes. As far as human music goes, I love Danny Elfman, Neko Case, Jamie Reeves, The Cure, Interpol, The Demigods, Marquis of Vaudeville, Muse, Nina Simone…too many to list. I feel very lucky that many of my favorite musicians are my friends. Nature plays a HUGE role in influencing my music. If I listen to the plants and animals and as they tell me their stories, they will sing their way into my music. Spider is really, really good at telling stories. Little Miss Muffet would have benefitted from the proverb about having two ears but only one mouth…in other words, not speaking, even internally, but listening and absorbing. Ghosts influence my music as well as time travelers, gurus, shamans, and each and every person I meet as they all have stories to share which, to me anyways, are divine. I have been told that some of my music seems very dark by various people, but this is in fact not the case at all. The darkest music I have played have actually been the rare covers that I play. Just because I sing about a fly or a bat or a spider does not make the music dark. This is all a matter of perspective. To me these creatures are teachers and allies. I shun pesticides like vegans shun bacon.
RF: What instruments do you play, and how do you use them in different types of music?
SB: All instruments are a tool that become an extension of the artist’s soul. I am known for playing the sitar, which I use as a vehicle to transport myself and the listener to a higher frequency of being. I have witnessed many intense moments with this instrument, however those moments are constructed via intensive focus and meditation, not necessarily by the tool itself (sitar). In other words, the levels in frequency can change using any instrument. It’s the musician, not the tool. And yet, the musician IS the tool. Funny how things work!
The vocal chords are an amazing gift. Their sounds can be used for healing and transforming. But again we come to the purpose behind the sound, and the frequency of the musician, who when doing things properly becomes the Tool.
I play the mandolin but usually as accompaniment to other artists such as Blaming Grace, Luna Solarium, The Demigods, Jamie Reeves, and The Pirate Tramp Orchestra. Every now and then I will perform a folk song on mandolin or banjo, but this is a rare event. I like to play the guitar with alot of my songs, but will sometimes adapt the songs with other instruments. I love to have many versions of my songs because I find I learn more about them that way. I also play Piano, Drums, French horn, Trumpet, and various ethnic instruments, such as the churango.
RF: What was your first exposure to steampunk as an actual subculture (as opposed to say steampunk movies or fiction books)?
SB: My first exposure to the culture was June 20th, 2009, when Marquis of Vaudeville did their first show at the Curtain Club. It was a wonderful night and very magical.
RF: When did you first encounter people in steampunk attire that was distinctive enough to really draw attention and what effect did it have on you?
SB: When I first encountered all of the costuming (which was at the 2009 Marquis show) I became captured by the magic of it. My mind shifted to other times and places and reveled in the sense of past and future intertwined into N O W. Which, when you strip away the illusion of our calendars and watches, is a truth in more ways than one.
RF: When were you first exposed to music that you believed was directly linked in some way with the steampunk subculture, and what effect did that have on your own musical styles?
SB: Truly, I owe a lot to Marquis of Vaudeville. My music style is different from theirs in many ways, but they are an enormous inspiration to me. They are the ones who brought me into the steampunk community. I can’t say enough good things about them. Their music is exquisite and they are some of the kindest, most humble crew you will ever meet. I recently completed a collaborative track with Bryan Geddie, their guitarist, and Karen Morales, my percussionist. If you are reading this and you haven’t heard their music, please download immediately.
RF: What percentage of your music do you consider to be steampunk related?
SB: I suppose about 80% could be considered steampunk related, and this would likely be due to the fact that I am a Storyteller and love to tell Stories, especially when they have actually happened right before my eyes.
RF: How would you define or describe what aspects of music, wardrobe, instruments (acoustic versus electric for instance), styles, and lyrics, make you think “steampunk” when you see another band perform or when looking back at your own performances?
SB: The costumes certainly play their role, but when I think of steampunk music, I think of Stories. I think of music that will take you into another world altogether. Ethnic instruments are widely appreciated in steampunk music. A percussionist I work with has all kinds of interesting tools she uses in her percussive ensemble.
RF: While many bands have clearly stated that they do not want any rigid definition for steampunk Music, your personal opinions about this topic are still of great interest to your fans. Has your own definition of what is “steampunk Music” changed over time, and if so how?
SB: Steampunk music is music that makes magic. My definitions of steampunk music changes with my levels of awareness. As I travel deeper and deeper into the white rabbit’s wormhole, I understand the stories from a different level altogether. The stories have meaning, and just like you would learn something new from a sacred text the more you examined it (and sometimes the less you examine it), the meaning of the stories grow deeper into a Universal understanding. Glean what you will of these stories…they are no less important or pertinent than the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, or even the Bible in some cases, though many may (or may not) disagree with me.
RF: Can you talk a little about the difference in general musical tastes among members of the band and how this works together to make your unique sound?
SB: So far, what I have done with other musicians in my sets has been the result of backwards engineering. I want a certain sound for certain shows, and sometimes I will use many musicians and sometimes will perform solo. I suppose at some point my nature of going with the flow will take me right into a more stable performance crew, with a different name.
RF: The following questions will related more to steampunk community where you live and perform, your own style of interacting with them, and how this affects you as a group. First off, do you use any sort of steampunk character personae that affects your choice of clothing and self expression at performances?
BF: I am Sarasvati Bodhisattva. Teacher, Music-Maker, Entrancer, Scientist, and Awakener. What she wears depends on what articles of attire find their way to her. There’s that backwards engineering thing again.
RF: Are you involved in local steampunk events?
BF: I performed with Marquis of Vaudville at a private concert and again as an opening act for them at Allcon 2011. Additionally I performed at Clockwork Wonderland 2011, Carnivale of Creatures, and at the Aetherfest (first ever for Texas) steampunk convention in April 2011. I will also be the Headliner musical performer for the Difference Engine Summit, Steampunk Murder Mystery Event on June 4th, 2011. http://www.the-difference-engine.info/
RF: Do you always perform musically, or do you sometimes interact there in other ways?
BF: Sometimes I dance during my sets. I have been belly dancing for over ten years now, and integrate other styles of dance into my Egyptian belly dance background. I am also a merchant, though when performing there is not a lot of time for me to interact with the public as much as I would like.
RF: What sort of public performance art, classes, or other activities have you not done so far, but that you would like to try in the future?
BF: There are so many…and many of my plans I prefer to keep secret, lol. I would admit however, to a wish to be an avid hoop dancer.
RF: What aspects of the various activities you, or affiliated support crew, do publically, other than music of course, do you enjoy most. Examples could include demonstrating steampunk fashion, modeling, posing for pictures, spontaneous character acting, rehearsed character skits, answering general questions about steampunk lifestyle, teaching classes and/or holding panels, or vending goods, fashions, weapons, goggles or other things you or your crew have made?
BF: Right now I’ve been creating steampunk art. I recently fell through the floor of an old 1800′s house floor digging up steampunk supplies. Now I have some interesting scars on my leg, but also a story to go with them.
My family has been in the franchise business for a long time. I am developing a concept for a steampunk-related Franchise…which to my knowledge would be the first steampunk franchise in history. More info here: http://thealexandrianmarket.webs.com
RF: How much difficulty do you face getting event organizers to understand the needs of performers for adequate compensation for time, travel, lodgings, and wardrobe costs?
BF: I have learned to be flexible in all situations and to live in the moment. If something doesn’t go the way I would prefer, I trust that there is some sort of reason for it, even if I may not yet be aware of it.
RF: Is there anything else you would like to add about any aspect of steampunk performance art or about steampunk as a lifestyle?
BF: I love steampunk because I feel that there is an element in it that teaches sustainability. Turning trash into treasure. Creating exquisite beauty while keeping things out of the landfills. Landfills and trash should not really exist…what a silly human invention.