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Todd View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Glass Hammer Interview 2015
    Posted: April 19 2015 at 01:24

Over twenty years since the release of their first album, veteran symphonic progressive band Glass Hammer has just released The Breaking of the World. The anticipation was high, especially after a string of excellent albums this decade, most recently Ode to Echo just last year. The Breaking of the World has exceeded expectations, many calling it their best work yet--high praise after maintaining such a high standard for so long.

Like every band, early albums reveal various stylistic influences--whereas many bands are never able to move beyond this level, Glass Hammer founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have developed a distinct style which can now only rightly be described as Glass Hammer. Over the course of many years and albums, the lineup has changed, usually from album to album. However, Babb and Schendel have been the linchpins around which the band has crystallized--and in recent years, guitarist Alan Shikoh has become a permanent member as well, his contributions becoming more and more central to the writing process.

Steve Babb graciously agreed to answer some questions about his new album and his band.


LTD: Most of your albums have been concept albums, or at least albums centered lyrically around a particular theme. Does the concept tend to drive the creative process, or does the music come first and is later changed once the concept has been established?

SB: The music for the song “Lirazel” and most of “The Knight of the North” from The Inconsolable Secret album were written before the lyrics or concept had been realized. However, the rest of that album was formed around specific lyrics or sections of the poem we based the story on – The Lay of Lirazel. The more symphonic pieces on that album were driven by the mood we needed to set in order to tell the tale.

Otherwise, it has nearly always been music first. A unifying theme sometimes emerges when we step back and look at individual songs as was the case with Cor Cordium. The more straight-forward concept albums like Lex Rex, Chronometree and Perilous were written music first. I came behind and found a way to tell the story within predetermined phrases and melodies. It is all rather complicated, not easy to pull off, and frequently exhausting to all involved.


LTD: Tell us about the concept behind The Breaking of the World.

SB: The Breaking of the World has some unifying themes, but we all wrote as individuals and each song has its own statement and agenda. There was nothing forced about this album, and no real need to tell a cohesive story. Yet, the title certainly fits the sentiment behind two or three of the songs, and was taken from a lyric in the first track, “Mythopoeia”.

“Maker of myth, shaper of starlight

Into words and thus to worlds

Healer of hearts, night will fall

Though you sing of the coming dawn

For you have seen beyond all sorrow and suffering

In such times we tarry

Till the breaking of the world

When at last the veil is parted”

 

Those were my lyrics. Here’s a quote from “Babylon”. I did the music for that, but Fred penned the lyrics.

 

“Riding in a speeding train

Hell-bent toward the sea

In my mind I’m justified

In my heart I’m free

I never dared to look back at the fire

No return, let it burn!”

 

Here is a snippet from “Haunted”.

 

“Standing in lonely splendor she saw

One sublime who waits for all time

Till the ending of sorrows”

 

We are referring to the end game of the world here, the idea that the machine of the world is running on fumes and propped up on the lies of the self-serving. That can’t last. The system of our world is threatened on a hundred fronts right now. It is all doom and gloom in the news now, with predictions that financial collapse and WWIII are right around the corner. I’m not saying that they are, just that it certainly feels that way to some. We remain Glass Hammer however, the eternal optimists. Even with a title like The Breaking of the World, you will find a lot of hope in our lyrics. Call me old-fashioned or just a romantic, but I believe in happy endings.


LTD: Do you feel that you've broken new ground with this album? How does it differ from the preceding albums?

SB: On the one hand, it seems a musical continuation of Ode To Echo. On the other, I think it is quite a different animal. There were a lot of vocalists on our last album, and it was also a transition album for us as we began to dabble in jazz and fusion a bit. The Breaking of the World eliminated the need for multiple singers as we tightened up to include only the performing members of the band (with the exception of a couple of guests). This album was recorded by the band that had been solid and working together on and off stage for two years, plus the four years we had worked with Alan and the twenty-plus years Fred and I have been working together. This incarnation of Glass Hammer is a solid unit. The mix up of writers helped too. Different pairings of co-writers occurred naturally. Alan took the wheel a lot more on this project, and Carl contributed some fantastic lyrics. It was painstakingly recorded, mixed and mastered. Beyond that, I cannot say just how this album seemed to jell so well. It just happened. Sometimes you strike a chord, as we did with IF. But that album, though a huge success, was not without controversy. The Breaking of the World is poised to be a tremendous hit for Glass Hammer, without the controversy. No one is complaining – yet! This is probably the best received album by fans and critics that we have ever released. I should also add, the band members agree. We are very happy with this project!


LTD: Please describe the tracks and highlight any particular favorites or meaningful passages.

SB: I’m seeing some very thoughtful, very in-depth descriptions of each song showing up in reviews. These writers have done a better job than I can. I will point out a meaningful passage from Part 2 of “Mythopoeia”.

“I saw the light undimmed in ancient glory

Refracting it, it birthed in me a story

I wrote of kings and queens

I wrote of things unseen

Of castles never dreamed

Whose towers ever gleamed

For that is where my heart led me

And ever just ahead I saw that brilliant star

It whispered through the night

Its secrets, pulsing bright

Telling me of tales which were my own

 

The more I wrote, the more the star would show me

The more I wrote, the less the world could know me

It laughs but I care not

I wrought what I would wrought

The world soon lost its hold on me

Some could hear, some could see

For those I would persist

Stand proudly in their midst

The world will pass away

And all its thoughts are dust”

 

We came up with a great melody for this and it’s a cool spot for Carl to shine as a vocalist. There is a poem called “Mythopoeia” which was written by J.R.R. Tolkien to C.S.Lewis which can be found online. This is a beautiful poem, which, when I read it, seemed to sum up everything I had ever attempted as a lyricist. The whole song is a tribute to that poem.

Another bit of trivia: “Haunted” was based on a real event, something that happened only last summer. My wife, son and I were exploring a trail just off the road in a lonely place called Roaring Forks in the Smokey Mountains. We came upon a man-made rock wall, truly in the middle of nowhere. My son hopped on top to see if he could find out exactly what it was and found a plaque. After reading it, we realized it was the grave of an infant. It had the saddest poem written on it, and though I didn’t write it down and can’t remember it now, it really moved me. The grave wasn’t that old, maybe thirty years. As I imagined the parents coming to this lonely place, and how they must have felt as they drove away, the idea for “Haunted” was born. It is written from the perspective of an angel which watches over the place. Sometimes you come upon places like that, which leave a lasting impression. I have Cherokee and Scottish blood in my veins, which tie me to the Appalachian Mountains in a profound way. My Scottish ancestors were poets, and occasionally driven to write of dreary, forlorn things. It can’t be helped!


LTD: The longest track, "Third Floor," covers a lot of ground compositionally. What was it like writing that piece?

SB: There is nothing about this song that is dreary or forlorn. The band played in Quebec City last year and stayed on the third floor of a very nice hotel with an elevator which would announce your floor in a sexy French female voice. On the last night of our stay, all four male members of the band professed their secret crush on the elevator. Alan had recorded it on his iPhone and you can hear the sound of his ride from the lobby to the third floor on the track. We were all sleep deprived when we admitted this foolishness to each other, having stayed up the entire night in order to catch our flights out. We laughed and joked about making the idea into a song. You have to be careful what you joke about in Glass Hammer, for these odd ideas frequently come to pass. Alan wrote much of the music along with Fred. Fred, of course, came up with the insanity of the lyrics. When we played this song live for the first time and it was a crowd favorite. The fans of the album seem to gravitate toward it as well. Inspiration is found in some strange places.


LTD: "Bandwagon" seems to have a distinct Kansas feel, particularly with the great violin work of Steve Unruh. Was this a conscious decision?

SB: Fred wrote the music for Bandwagon, and I can tell you that if he was attempting to channel anyone, it was Gentle Giant. Steve did a fantastic job and we are hoping to work with him again one day. We have had the good fortune to work with two members of Kansas in the past, and I really love that sound, but I think we were going for something different here. I didn’t write it, so I don’t mind saying it is one of my favorite tracks on the album.


LTD: Glass Hammer has historically been centered around Babb and Schendel. You've added guitarist Alan Shikoh as a permanent member. How did that come about? How does Alan fit within the creative process?

Steve: Well, you have the “old guys” as Fred and I are known within the band, and you have Alan. He is only 26 years-old and apparently does not mind hanging out with guys who are older than his dad. He has inspiration from places we cannot go (as old guys), and a passion for music that only happens when you are young. We like how he pushes us. He’s bursting with ideas, enough to keep Glass Hammer busy for years. Bottom line, he didn’t join the band to change us. He joined to add to what we do. He understands us, respects us and cares very much about preserving the spirit of Glass Hammer. Each year, since the recording of If, he has stepped up his game more and more.

As to how it all came about, it was through our studio work in the local area, in much the same way we found Susie and Aaron. We knew he was capable, and once we found out he was interested it became more or less official.


LTD: You've worked with several vocalists, Carl Groves from Salem Hill on this album--for the first time since The Culture of Ascent in 2007. How far into the songwriting do you know who will be singing with you, and how does that change the songwriting? Also please comment on Susie and her contributions.

SB: Carl did most of the vocals on Ode To Echo as well. We knew from the start that Susie would sing “Haunted”, and the “voice of the elevator” on “Third Floor”. We knew up front that Carl would sing the rest. Since the band plays live more often than in the past, there is no need or reason to work with other vocalists. Carl had just finished recording his vocal tracks for the new Salem Hill album when he started recording The Breaking of the World. He was warmed up and ready to go. It shows, and I think this is his best work. It is my hope that he continues to front Glass Hammer as we all get along very well. His voice doesn’t remind me of any other current prog singer, neither does Susie’s for that matter. That is refreshing to me as a listener, and vital to having our own unique sound as a group. 

Susie lives in Florida now, and the rest of the band is in Chattanooga or nearby Nashville. Her involvement is limited for now due to the distance and family obligations. But she will be joining us for RoSfest 2015 and she is always happy to work with us.


LTD: How has the creative process evolved for you over the years?

SB: It changes a little now and then. Essentially, it is the same. It comes in a rapid burst a few weeks or months after wrapping up an album. Practically all of the music will be written in three or four weeks. That’s the fun part. Then the real work of refining, editing, co-writing, lyric writing, recording, mixing and remixing (and remixing and remixing) begins. One day we begin to write, you blink and there is an entire album of material. It feels like magic sometimes.

Of course, we bounce ideas off each other and encourage each other along the way. Usually one member, either Fred, Alan or myself will champion an idea and the rest will contribute and help where needed. We love creating. We are already talking about doing something huge and epic, like The Inconsolable Secret again. Though we can’t say for sure. One day one of us will present the first idea, and then the thing just takes off. At least I hope it does! That is how it has worked in the past.


LTD: Years ago Fred mentioned that The Inconsolable Secret was his favorite GH album. Is this still true?

SB: I checked in with Fred on this and he’s now torn between Perilous and The Breaking of the World.


LTD: In a previous interview, when questioned about the band's approach toward reflecting their faith in their lyrics, you said that GH is the "Narnia of prog." Can you elaborate on that, and to what extent do you feel that's true with this album?

SB: I was probably referring to one album only, which was The Inconsolable Secret. It is a Christian allegory, no less than The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a Christian allegory. Yet non-Christians can enjoy both as merely stories if they wish. We do not beat people in the head with our beliefs. Everyone has a world-view. We have a Christian world-view, and it will be reflected in much of what we write. I have never felt called (as some would say) to speak too much of Christ in my lyrics, though I will gladly speak of him to anyone personally. I do refer to God and to Heaven a lot in lyrics, sometimes directly or sometimes via metaphors. There are better ways to evangelize the message of Christ than through the lyrics of this particular band. If I tried to force what I believe to be the truth about who exactly he is into my songs, it would come off exactly like that, forced and insincere. It just isn’t, at present, my calling as a songwriter. Yet, I have always felt led to sing about the hope of Christians, and of the echoes of Eden from our past.

The opening track of The Breaking Of The World, “Mythopoeia” credits God as the author of artistic creativity. Later in the album you will come upon “North Wind” which is me engaging in a rant against winter and cold, bitter winds. In actuality, it is thinly veiled metaphors for how the bad times in life can at times serve to make us long for Heaven. “Haunted” has already been described, but there is faith present even in this gloomy tune in the form of a prayer.

“Watch over me

Send me an angel

To keep me safe

Wolves ever prowl

Just beyond vision

Beyond the stillness

Beyond our longing”

 

 

LTD: Please share something about the beautiful artwork of the new album.

SB: Michal Xaay Loranc, who also designed Ode To Echo, did all the art and layout for The Breaking Of The World. He designed many of the elements on our website as well. Michal is very talented as you can see. Much of the work is hand-drawn. I give him the basic idea for the album cover, a handful of lyrics and the title, of course; then we stand back and let him work. We made it a goal to deliver an audiophile quality album with The Breaking Of The World, and it needed a cover that would make it really stand out. Everyone involved in this project put their all into it, including our artist. We hope everyone enjoys what we’ve come up with!

--------------------

Thanks to Steve Babb and the band for participating, and thanks for the wonderful new album! Please visit the following links below, including the band's website (where you will find links to more reviews and interviews, as well as to the band's store where you can buy a copy of the new album!), the band's PA front page, and the PA interviews they've done over the years. And if you're in the area, the band will be playing RoSFest this May. 

 

Todd Dudley


Glass Hammer website

Glass Hammer PA front page

PA Interview 2005

PA Interview 2010

PA Interview 2014




Edited by Todd - April 19 2015 at 01:28
"I have seen the broken sky turn blue."



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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 19 2015 at 09:32
Todd, nice one buddy!!  Clap

This is one of those popular prog bands I've never taken the time to check out.....I will have to change that some day. 
"Have you ever seen a squonk's tears? Well, look at mine
The people on the street have all seen better times"
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 19 2015 at 09:42
Nice work Todd Thumbs Up Will have to check out the new album.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 19 2015 at 09:47
Well done, Todd, and you got wonderful responses from the band!

So many great albums from this band, one of the finest proudly symphonic modern groups!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 19 2015 at 09:49
What's a good title for a noob to start with?
"Have you ever seen a squonk's tears? Well, look at mine
The people on the street have all seen better times"
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 19 2015 at 09:57
^ I really like Perilous Jim. as good a place to start as any I'd say. New ones getting great reviews though.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 19 2015 at 12:19
Great job Todd on the interview! Clap  A band that I enjoy and follow quite a bit.  Love the story behind "Haunted" with the lone grave.  Laughed out loud on how they developed a song about a fascination with the female elevator voice LOL.

I was planning on getting "Ode to Echo" next but now I think I will get the newest one now...


Originally posted by Finnforest Finnforest wrote:

What's a good title for a noob to start with?

Jim, I only have about a third of their albums, but the first one I got and still enjoy is Lex Rex of their earlier era and might be a good place to start.  I think it is where they started to gel and develop their "sound".  They have had various singers and styles later on that are also very good.  I think the best of the Jon Davison vocal era is "Perilous".

I know Michael  (and others) are quite familiar with GH and may have a better place to start with them.
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