An Interview with Sepiachord

Last week, I posted a review of the recently released A Sepiachord Passport. I received the album through the generosity of Veronique Chevalier, Mr. Jordan Bodewell, and the people at Projekt Records, and was so impressed by the compilation that I determined to sit down with Mr. Jordan Bodewell, the founder and lead contact for Sepiachord. He’s the self-proclaimed Captain of the Sepiachord Chronohopper and  the creator of the Sepiachord.com and Victorianadventureenthusiast.com websites.

Trial By Steam: Please tell me a bit about your musical background, education, and influences.

Mr Bodewell: I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t music in my life.

When I was very young (in a long-lost, unloved era called “the 70s”) my parents owned a bar in rural Wisconsin. I loved the jukebox and was constantly getting people to give me change so I could play songs by Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and George Jones.

We went to lots of weddings when I was a kid (bar owners were popular folks) and every wedding had a polka band (I wouldn’t attend a wedding with DJ until 1986 and I was honestly confused by the fact that there wasn’t a polka band performing). My old man made these odd rhythm instruments called “humstrums” (or “stump fiddles”) for polka players, sometimes he’d even join in when they played. My earliest memories are of falling asleep at the rural wedding halls as old people polka’d & waltzed the night away.

My exposure to rock/pop music was essentially nil. The only exception is the occasional weird song that I would hear my high school aged brother play on his stereo. The music was so strange it would freak me out… years later I would find out these bands were primarily Pink Floyd, the Doors and Led Zeppelin. I have every intense memories of the songs “One of These Days” by Pink Floyd and “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors because they sounded so alien, so creepy.

Later in the decade, during grade school, I gravitated towards what my Mom called “the wrong crowed” and encountered Alice Cooper & Kiss. What “nice, normal. everyday” people I knew called “Satan music”.

Eventually one of my other brothers went off to college in the early 80s and he would come back home with 45s by Blondie and the Specials. In addition 1980 saw the release of the “Flash Gordon” film that I went to see for my birthday… I ran around singing the Queen performed theme song until my parents ordered me to shut up. Still I was a maladjusted rural kid playing D&D, so I quickly found myself with the longhairs listening to Sabbath, AC/DC and Judas Priest. In time another group of “the wrong crowd” re-introduced me 60s rock like Pink Floyd, The Who and (especially) the Doors.

But… I had cousins who lived in Milwaukee WI, in a tough part of the city. And the bands that they liked… The Misfits? The Clash? Dead Kennedys? It was like metal but scarier in a very different way. The mix cassette my cousin made for me changed my life.

1984 I was fourteen, starting high school and would go to my first DIY punk shows. By the end of the year I would go from being jumped by rednecks for having longhair and wearing Twisted Sister tshirts to being jumped by rednecks for having very short hair and wearing Black Flag tshirts. These were my “good old days”.

*BUT* the thing about punk was that it helped me realize that music wasn’t a destination it was a journey. That my love of music would be an eternal exploration… punk and its “fuck you I’m capable of doing anything I want with or with out you” attitude lead me to discover noise rock, new wave, college rock, rockabilly, speed metal, goth, 70s glam, 60s garage rock, ska, hip-hop, jazz, surf, underground/alt rock, funk and eventually right back to my youth with country, blues, bluegrass, zydeco, western swing and, yes, even polka…. all kinds of “Americana”.

Eventually I reached a point where I could give lectures to college kids on the history of punk, metal and ska.

But most of this time I was really just a consumer of music: I bought records & zines, went to shows owned more band tshirts than I could count…. but I never felt like I was giving anything back to something that gave so much to me.

In 1999 I moved back to Seattle and was spending my time at the goth/industrial clubs and going to punk shows. But simultaneously I was still very much into RPGs, roleplaying games. I had been interested in what folks were by then calling “steampunk” since I was very young and I saw the films “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. In my teens I encountered “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” TV series starring Jeremy Brett and the RPG “Space 1889” which lead me to reading the works of Wells, Verne as well as Doyle’s “Professor Challenger” stories.

In 1999 and 2000 I was trying to set up a steampunk RPG group when my author friend, Matthew Simmons, and I were talking what might qualify as “steampunk music”. If industrial=cyberpunk what would we play as the soundtrack for a steampunk game?

We imagined something like Victorian industrial where we would sample old gramophone records, telegraph beeps and steam-driven calliopes. We even got as far has getting instructions on how to make a telegraph system… in the end, though, it was an unrealized project. It’s also important to note that Matthew was the same person who, years earlier when we worked at the same record store, had introduced me to to Tom Waits.

I was soon djing punk, new wave and rockabilly at the local spooky clubs. I was struck by one thing: goths loved Nick Cave but, for the most part, didn’t like Tom Waits. This made no sense to me, couldn’t they see that Cave had a lot more in common with Waits than he did with Switchblade Symphony or Wumpscut?

Also at the same time another friend, Greg Adair, was performing with Seattle’s amazing Circus Contraption. Their mix of weird circus and evil cabaret was just stunning and I was constantly talking them up to folks. Greg also introduced me to one of the greatest bands of all time: The Tiger Lillies. To me the Tiger Lillies were a surreal crossroads of polka, The Doors, punk and Alice Cooper. After a fashion, a synthesis of my musical life. I fell deeply in love with them.

I began to dawn on me that Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Circus Contraption, The Tiger Lillies might just be “steampunk” music. That, like steampunk books & games, these musicians took pre-modern elements and turned them around to make something new and wonderful.

Still I didn’t do anything but talk about it.

And, as you  can see I LOVE to talk about music. Those who knew me personally were encouraging me to do a website or something about music, I assume to get me to shut up about it in everyday conversation.

The problem was I had NO idea what kind of music I would talk about. Punk didn’t need me. and much of the new goth/industrial/ebm music wasn’t getting me all fired up.  Then in 2003 I stumbled upon The Dresden Dolls.

I heard “Girl Anachronism” on the radio and the DJ compared them to Rasputina. I knew only two things about Rasputina: they had done something to do with Marilyn Manson and that my girlfriend loved them so… I picked up the “Dresden Dolls” CD and hit a bit of pay-dirt. Shortly thereafter my girlfriend, Jennifer, took me to see Rasputina in concert. I was completely FLOORED by their performance and, perhaps most importantly, the audience.

Instead of a bunch of jaded punks standing around with their arms folded drinking Pabst or a slew of middle aged goths the crowd was made of of young, energetic, artistic people, mostly women. I thought to myself “This is where it’s at. This is so *alive*.”

Yet when I talked to folks at these shows few, if any of them, were familiar with Tom Waits or Nick Cave much less more obscure acts like Circus Contraption or the Tiger Lillies. But I had a couple of strong conclusions: that well know “goth” musician Voltaire had a lot more in common with these groups than with what was being spun at most goth clubs and that anybody going to see the Dresden Dolls should also be checking out The World/Inferno Friendship Society and Gogol Bordello.

So I did more talking. I thought that somebody should be pointing these commonalities out to people. That somebody should be out there revealing that there’s a secret genre of related musicians. Based on the audiences at Rasputina and Dresden Dolls shows I assumed that the person doing it should be somebody young and female. The last thing this genre needed was some over-the-hill-punk guy in the forefront.

To put it simply people got sick of me talking about it and told me straight out: “YOU do it. You’re excited about it, you have the passion and the knowledge YOU do it.” and that if I didn’t do it “in time some fool from the mainstream is going to come along and get it all wrong”.

I wasn’t convinced and copped out by saying that I couldn’t do anything without a good name, an evocative name, a name that wasn’t going to be confused with another genre.

So I turned the hunt for a good name into an intellectual game to play with myself and the other eventual Sepiachord insiders; Jennifer, Marcy, Matthew. We went through a lot of discussion and I eventually thought I had one that I loved, that “fit”… but I was still too unsure to use it.

Then I ran into another friend at a party Jillian (now of Gothic Charm School fame). She asked me what I was up to… I described the whole musical journey and thought process. She looked at me and said “I know exactly what you’re talking about.” and she DID. Jilli understood. Then I told her the name I had for all of it. She loved it.

The next business day I was on the phone with Jennifer (who works as a graphic designer and web site builder) and told her that I *though* I might just, maybe have the name. She asked me what it was.

“Sepiachord” I said. “Spell it”. I did.

“Ok” she said “gotta run for now.” She called me back 15 minutes later “Well you better start creating content because you know own sepiachord.com.”

That was over four years ago…

What exactly is Sepiachord?

Mr B: Sepiachord itself is a genre of music that we describe like this:

“Sepiachord is the “genre that doesn’t exist”.

It is to music what “steampunk” is to literature and cinema: something that looks back to the past to comment on the present while looking sideways at the future. A cubist aural experience.

As goth & glam are the bastards of David Bowie, Sepiachord is the made from the genetic material sown by Tom Waits.

Sepiachord is assembled like a clockwork orchestra, from such elements of music
 Sinister Circus, Cabaret Macabre, Chamber Pop, Organic Goth, Celtic/Gypsy Punk, Mutant Americana, Ghost Town Country

It is the music our grandparents or great-grandparents would have listened to, if they were as off-set as we are.”

When it comes to Sepiachord.com the best thing to compare it to is music zine. We do interviews, record/cd reviews, show reviews, post photo essays and the like. The intent was for it to be a music portal for fans to find bands, for bands to find fans and for bands to find out that they weren’t alone, that there were other weird bands out there that they could work with to build a web of performers. To me Sepiachord.com succeeded the first time a musician informed that they met with other folks they created music with through Sepiachord.

We’ve been called “The Rolling Stone of Steampunk” but I really think we’re closer to a “Maximum Rock and Roll of Steampunk”.

Still I didn’t think anybody was really interested in what we were doing until I got the first CD in the mail that was sent to us for review (as opposed to us reviewing things that we had purchased). So a big nod of thanks to Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys for helping me realize that I wasn’t nuts.

The goal of Sepiachord was not to have anything to sell. We didn’t want volks to think that they had to buy something to be involved. But we’d be places handing out free stickers and pins to people and they all wanted to get there hands on a CD so they could have a palpable *something* to help them connect. At the same time musicians were asking us to put a CD out to help build this community.

We caved.

At first we put out a free comp CD (“The Sepiachord Field Guide Vol I”) that we made by hand & just gave away (Jennifer designed the packaging and assembled them all herself, our cohort Chris Roy did the remixing and I did the organization & producing). We quickly realized that we couldn’t keep up with demand and that burning of 200+ cds was killing my computer. We had to do one that we had to sell if we wanted to make people happy. That lead to “The Sepiachord Companion” which was released via Devil’s Ruin Records.

Now we’ve just released “A Sepiachord Passport” on seminal indie label Projekt Records.

What benefits come from being a part of Sepiachord for Steampunk musicians?

Mr B: Personally I feel all we give them is unmitigated enthusiasm. I hope that the goodly amount of traffic that sepiachord.com gets provides exposure to talented artists. I have had some musicians tell me that they wouldn’t be where they are without our coverage, but I think that these bands are great and earned all of their attention themselves.

Many Steampunks are very pro-DIY. Where does Sepiachord fall in the DIY spectrum?

Mr B: Proudly DIY. We never thought we’d get anything out of this but personal satisfaction, and we get that in spades! 🙂 The website costs me money to maintain, unless we start putting ads on the site or money magically falls from the sky Sepiachord.com will be something I pay to love.

When it comes to the bands, just browse through the reviews we’ve done: the vast majority release their music themselves or on tiny little labels. We like bands that are hungry, that grab the world by the reins and aren’t waiting for some mythical Mr Big to come along and say “You, you are validated.”.

How did you become so involved in the Seattle Steampunk music scene?

Mr B: For awhile I was DJing and putting on punk shows (both all ages & at a local spooky music club Mercury). I loved it but burned out and sort-a promised myself that I wouldn’t get involved in live music again. It’s hard. It’s a JOB. I focused more on my DJing…

I was tired of spinning 80s music & punk at Mercury so I decided that I’d go for it and hosted a couple of Sepiachord/Dark Cabaret/Sinister Circus/Steampunk themed nights. They made me very happy and are, as far as I know, the first “steampunk” music events in Seattle.

I had booked several bands by local musician Andrew Chapman (The If/Then Statement, The Keeper) and we had spun some punk and metal night together. In turn he got me a gig spinning at the Tin Hat in Ballard(Sepiachord secret: the very first Sepiachord DJ set I ever spun was at the Tin Hat for Pabst swilling hipsters not at Mercury for Black Orchid drinking elder goths. It was well received, turns out they like both Nick Cave & Tom Waits). It had, by this time, become clear that we needed to put out a Sepiachord CD but had no money for the project. Andrew was involved with a couple of punk/metal comps. When I told him I didn’t know what do to he called me an idiot.

I have learned to pay attention when people call me an idiot.

He told me: “Put on live shows as benefits for the CD. People like you. They will come. Bands like you. They will play. I like you. I’ll get you a venue”.

I caved and found myself booking my first show in awhile.

By this time a local Seattle band was already putting on Steampunk live music events: Abney Park was out & proud as a steampunk band and they were kind enough to invite Sepiachord to “vend” at their shows. So at least I knew that there were some people willing to go to live steampunk music events in the area.

I had planned the first event to happen on my birthday, but thanks to a blizzard hitting Seattle the show was bumped to February 13th, thus I titled it “A Clock Work Heart”. Nathaniel Johnstone, Blackbird Orchestra and Toy-Box Trio played. Way more people showed up than I expected. I got all teary eyed. Much love to the Seattle Steampunks for coming out to Georgetown for this show.

More benefits & shows just for fun followed.

And somewhere in the middle of all this I was drafted by Steamcon to run their live music.

So I booked and ran the Cabaret at the first Steamcon and stage managed the main-stage concert with Abney Park, Vernian Process and Unwoman. It was a phenomenal con.

TbS: What will your role be during the upcoming Steamcon II?

Mr B: Non-stop live music organizer.

Steamcon II will have Cabaret performances on Friday afternoon and evening, all day Saturday and early Sunday. I’ll be band wrangling that whole time and it’s a stunning line-up! In addition you can also find me running the new main-stage concert with local heroes Bakelite 78, ghostly rockers Ghoultown and the return of Abney Park.

eep. When I type it all out it sounds a bit daunting. Can’t wait!

How should musicians go about contacting someone at Sepiachord regarding their music?

Mr B: Drop me a line a sepiachord at yahoo dot com or pop a package in the mail and send it to:

Sepiachord

c/o Jordan Block

12329 Roosevelt Way NE Apt D206

Seattle WA 98125

Anything else you’d like to add?

Mr B: Just a big ol’ heart felt thank you to every band that’s contacted us, every aficionado who’s checked out our site or Myspace/Facebook/Twitter and every kind person who’s encouraged us on the way.

Finally: if you have a music review, interview or photo essay that needs a home and you think would fit with Sepiachord.com please drop us a line, we’d love the help!

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6 comments on “An Interview with Sepiachord

  1. Larry says:

    What a fascinating interview. Thank you so much posting this.

  2. Nathaniel Johnstone says:

    So much ❤ for Sepiachord!

  3. Rafael Fabre says:

    Excellent work, madam – kudos on your interviews!

  4. Josh says:

    Hey Jordan,

    Awesome interview. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years already! I’m honored to have been featured on your site so early on, and it’s been great having another crew to champion Steampunk up North. Here’s to many more years!

    Cheers,
    Josh

  5. […] I was at Steamcon II, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Jordan Bodewell of Sepiachord in person who I interviewed the month previous. When he wasn’t overwhelmingly […]

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