For Seven Sky Spillios, life is music. He plays saxophone in eight Seattle-area bands, teaches 20 students a week, and still finds time to work on his own music, which is a dynamic fusion of classical composition and jazz-influenced improvisation and harmony. Not content to simply rest on his own work, he also writes music for other groups — including chamber and jazz ensembles— to perform, living out his belief that music is about connection and communicating where words often fail.
Here's what Seven Sky had to say heading into his Sound Off! 2020 performance, which is set for Saturday, February 29 at the Museum of Pop Culture.
What was your reaction when you found out you'd be part of Sound Off! 2020?
Seven Sky: It was definitely one of bewilderment because I thought there was going to be a genre barrier, because I do weird stuff; I guess saxophone saved my life in that instance — I feel like I'm recording something very different right now. I was actually in the middle of disco band practice when I got the call. I didn't recognize the number, went outside, and it was like, 'oh hey, this is [MoPOP's Manager of Public Engagement] Robert [Rutherford] from Sound Off!' I was holding my breath, and I don't know if he did this with everyone, I'm assuming he did, but he did the thing where he was like, 'hey, we had to make some really difficult decisions.' And I was like, 'Uh oh.' Then he said, 'but you made it!' I was like, 'oh! Yes!' I definitely hadn't been that excited in quite a while.
How would you describe your sound?
Seven Sky: I narrowed it down to three words: neo-classical theater jazz. That's how I describe it. There's a heavy emphasis on instrumentation and soloing, expressing myself that way. The lyrics that I write are very allegorical; is that even a word? Drowned in meaning. I don't expect anyone to even hear what I'm saying half the time, much less understand it, and I'm totally fine with that.
Why do you make music?
Seven Sky: I think all of us starving artists ask that about twice a week. I feel like if you're a musician, you are a musician because you can't see yourself doing anything else, or you want to entertain people. Music is one of those rare things where you can influence other people, influence their actions — like start protests and riots and stuff, that's crazy — and tell stories. It's like the next level up from telling a story. Telling a story can really be thought provoking and everything, but having instruments onto that, having more of a pitch, more of a singing voice behind that, just brings a whole new dimension.
What are you hoping to achieve through your music?
Seven Sky: There's kind of a sense of validation for me personally that comes from like, 'oh, OK, people do want to listen to this kind of weird stuff.' That's a huge thing for me. To be on stage with people that are doing hip hop and rap and even metal, it feels like, 'OK, I am worthy of a similar amount of pop-like attention.' And that's the greatest thing. If I make people think, that's a huge plus. If I make musicians go, 'what is he doing right now?' That's really what I want as well.
If you could describe your sound or your music as an animal, what would it be and why?
Seven Sky: One of my favorite mythical animals is the dragon. So if you could take a dragon and make them wear a fedora and maybe have a saxophone around his neck or something like that — this is a very personalized dragon, it's a very specific animal that I'm describing. But I think dragons are a great embodiment of imagination and they're just so elegant, and I like to think that saxophones are elegant too.