According to their fictional backstory: "Created in 1896 by Colonel P. A. Walter I, the Steam Powered Giraffe robots still run off their original steam-powered engines and artificial intelligence. But you'll find no generic boilers or clockwork brains in these robots! How their steam-driven power supplies and antique Cylindrical Canister Pin AI functions is a secret that Colonel Walter took to the grave. None of his admirers, sons, grandsons, or other relatives could ever completely crack the mechanics, and those who have tried ultimately met disastrous outcomes."
"Today the robots are all refurbished with better plating, rubber buffers, and hydraulic tubing. New parts have replaced any old ones that have worn and torn over the centuries, but the robots all retain their original chassis and are vintage relics of unmatched engineering."
In reality, the band was created by identical twins David Michael Bennett (who plays The Spine) and Isabella “Bunny” Bennett (as Rabbit). Bunny, like her character, has over the course of the band's career transitioned from male to female. “We’re a musical pantomime troupe,” says “Bunny. “Most know us as ‘those singing robots.’ We’re trained in movement, music, and visual design. It’s a meshing of different art forms. Four-part harmonies and robot popping and locking may seem like a terrible idea, but that’s probably why it works so well.”
The group released a debut album in 2009. Other releases include a live album in 2011, the 2 Cent Show in 2012, and MK III in 2013, as well as several concert CDs and videos. The sound is a blend of electronic, pop, disco, and musical comedy, with songs such as “I’ll Rust with You,” “Wired Wrong,” “Ghost Grinder,” and “Roller Skate King.”
Popular covers include Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," Rihanna's "Diamonds," and Icona Pop's "I Love It." Their mostly acoustic 2014 version of Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" marks the debut of Rabbit's female incarnation.
The other robots have been played by Erin Burke (aka Upgrade), Jon Sprague (aka The Jon), and Sam Luke (Hatchworth, who started as a human drummer before replacing The Jon). Various non-robots often accompany them, including Matt Smith (drummer), with Steve Negrete serving as Sound Designer and Michael Philip Reed as Musical Director.
“Every performance is pretty fun,” says Bunny. “The audiences are always having a good time, even if there's some technical mishaps. That's just the nature of the show. Hopefully the audience doesn't see any of the problems we may encounter behind-the-scenes working with venues or tech. However, I will say our best shows are definitely in San Diego. We have our own high-end sound gear, projection work, lighting effects, stuff that we can't always get when we travel out of state. Those elements really make for a memorable experience. And we work with some really sharp local talent.”
Around 2012, live performances began to include two more players, the white skinned and blue-haired Walter Girls, who went from manning the merch table to becoming the robots' caretakers on stage.
The band has performed at large events such as San Diego's Comic-Con International, the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, the San Diego Zoo, the Wild Animal Park, and Legoland California.
In 2014, they produced the soundtrack to the SteamWorld Heist videogame, as well as appearing in the game scenario itself. In 2016, they released an official single for the videogame Battleborn. The band has also published a web comic and a card game based on characters from their fictional history.
There's also a SPG comic book. Says Bunny, “Sam actually storyboards it all out from our script, and I come in and do the line work. We have another hired colorist to do her thing, and we even use a custom made font for dialog. It's a bit Frankensteined together.”
“I like the idea that Steam Powered Giraffe is much more than a band...there’s all these little alcoves you can explore. Lore, characters, stories — however far the audience is willing to go.”
The Vice Quadrant: A Space Opera, released in 2015, is a 2-disc space opera concept album containing 28 tracks. It was the first full SPG album recorded strictly as a trio.
2017 saw the siblings joined by a new third robot, Bryan Barbarin (the Routine) and his character Zero, with whom both had been in a college improv troupe. That trio had performed in college theater productions, and did a touring children’s show under the direction of Jerry Hager (Kazoo the Mime of Seaport Village fame). Barbarin joined the Bennetts, alongside white skinned and blue-haired Walter Girls ballet dancers/Walter Workers Chelsea and Camille Penyak.
Their 10th Anniversary Concert on On January 27, 2018 featured every member from the band's history, including all five former members: robots The Jon, Upgrade and Hatchworth, and humans Michael Philip Reed and Matthew Smith. It was later released as a live concert film on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital video.
In early 2020, it was announced that Michael Philip Reed , who'd been with the group off and on, had left the band due to report of inappropriate behavior with fans. Reed was also edited out of the group's newest music videos, with public explanations and apologies from the band posted online with the revised versions.
Their sixth studio album 1896, its title referencing the supposed year of their characters’ robotic creation by Colonel P. A. Walter I, debuted in Autumn 2020. The first single “Hot On the Trail” came with a theatrical mimed video on YouTube, while “Bad Days on the Horizon” is an unexpected cowboy crooner. The single “Olly & the Equinox Band” features a Saturday morning cartoon-style alter-ego version of the group, and a video was produced for their acoustic rendition of “Hot On the Trail.”
Around the time of the album debut, they were mentioned in the new, rebooted Animaniacs, season 1, episode 3, with Pinky pondering what would a Steam Powered Giraffe would eat.