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    Posted: October 25 2005 at 14:26

Prog Archives is proud to bring you the following exclusive interview with Steve Babb and Fred Schendel of Glass Hammer.

P.A.: There appears to be less guitar on The Inconsolable Secret than on  Shadowlands. Was this a conscious decision?

Fred Schendel: Not at first. We were having scheduling conflicts with our guitarist/vocalist, Walter Moore, and trying to apply the time we had with him toward the vocals. At the end, the release date came looming and I played some guitar, but I didn't really want to fill the album up with my guitar playing. In the end, we listened to the album and decided it was working rather well without a whole lot of guitar, so at that point the conscious decision was made to not worry about it.

Steve Babb: We’ve just added a full-time guitarist to our live-lineup – David Walliman from France. We hope to include him on the next studio project, and if that happens we’ll certainly use more guitar and even incorporate it into the compositional phase of the recording.

P.A.: How did the decision to included a cover of Dan Fogelberg's 'Longer'  on Shadowlands come about? It's a great version but not the first tune to spring to mind when ideas of covers come up?

Steve: My wife, Julie, loves early Dan Fogelberg, and she suggested "Longer" once she knew we were planning to do a cover. Fred seemed to jump on the idea and felt he could do something really good with the arrangement.

Fred: The decision to do a cover at came at the end of the recording of Shadowlands. The album was going to be a bit short and no one had any more material, so we decided on the cover. We were looking for a song that had a strong melody and was decidedly not prog, so we could really rework it, in the grand prog cover tradition. Longer fit the bill!

P.A.: Has Rick Wakeman's 1970's work been influential in your music at all?  I detected some nuances. What music (if any) were you listening to  around the time of making the latest album, and who have been the band’s major influences to date?

Fred: Very much so, for me at least. I'm a big fan of all the keyboard players of Yes from Tony Kaye right down through Tom Brislin, even though he never got to record a studio album with the band. Yes is certainly a major influence, but so were all the big original prog bands when I was growing up, as well as The Beatles, America, all kinds of stuff. And lots of classical. I'd say while we were doing this last album I was listening to a lot of very early music, and what I consider really good pop, like Chicago, 10cc and Missing Persons.  And right now I'm listening to early Black Sabbath.  So it's hard to say how much direct impact all this stuff has on our albums.

Steve: I love Wakeman. You’ll hear his influence in some of my synth soloing and pipe organ work. But a good deal of my love for the pipe organ just comes from having been raised as a church musician from a very early age.

While working on The Inconsolable Secret I was listening mostly to Howard Shore’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ soundtracks, and a lot of different albums by Bjork. I think there are some obvious influences and I won’t bother naming them. The less obvious ones may be artists like Bjork, Mike Oldfield, Alan Parsons and Camel.

P.A.: Why did you feel the need to boost The Inconsolable Secret to a double  CD, with a large amount of orchestral instrumentals? How do you respond to (one PA forum member’s) criticism that TIS lacks the focus of "Shadowlands"?

Fred: Well, anyone's opinion is welcome.  I wasn't so sure Shadowlands was particularly focused.  And TIS has a very definite theme, both conceptually and musically.  But it is true that it's expressing two sides of what we're interested in right now, which is rock and orchestral music.  And it did become a double album because of that.  But most people seem to get it, and the rest are invited to enjoy whatever bits of the album they like and discard the rest.

P.A.: What are your tour plans, any plans to play in Europe?

Fred: It's too early to say there are any plans, but there is a strong desire, and several definite possible ways it could happen.  We just have to see what might work best.

Steve: The budget is the thing. If I have to pay to tour Europe, I’d rather do it as a vacation – not as work.

We are truly hoping to visit Europe with Glass Hammer, but there is going to have to be a promoter willing to foot the bill. I hate to be so blunt, but hard-working bands like GH and others have to be compensated for touring. I know very well that other bands are willing to lose money on touring; Glass Hammer isn’t interested in that. We’ve managed to build a substantial following with only a handful of American concerts, and though we want very much to meet the European fans and perform for them, it has to make sense financially.

P.A.: How difficult is it to make what is essentially a cottage industry  such as Glass Hammer durable, and more to the point financially viable?

Steve: Well, not making huge mistakes like booking a twenty city European tour just to satisfy our egos – that is one way to make things less difficult! We’re only playing the shows that put us in front of the largest audiences, and that allows us to pay the musicians in the band. We’re headlining a 1,000 seat hall in November and it is expected to sell out. Then, we’ll be headlining a 1,600 seat hall in January and it is also expected to sell out. But that is only the live aspect of what is essentially a studio group that rarely performs.

I own Arion Records, and together with Fred I own and operate Sound Resources, the studio where we record. We contract our own promotions company, cut our own distribution deals, handle all the publishing and administration, deal directly with Apple’s iTunes division (an opportunity that we’re currently expanding to include other groups like Salem Hill, and labels like Musea Records) and Amazon.com, coordinate promotion with our fans, ship our own product - in other words Glass Hammer is handled in-house. We’re free to choose our own destiny, make our own mistakes and reap the rewards of our successes. We have a dedicated staff and team of supporters that do much of the work mind you, but it is our operation. The work is difficult and often challenging, like anything else in life that is worth doing, but it is also enjoyable and very rewarding.

P.A.: Following on from the previous question, has it always been a conscious decision to keep the band small with a number of floating  members or is the current line-up the definitive one. For example the progression to use acoustic drums, was that funded by growing success  or by a decision regarding production values?

Fred: Well, we simply do what is expedient for us at any given time.  Sometimes people leave because they are not really contributing anything interesting to the mix anymore, sometimes it's because they have other desires and career paths to follow.  We don't expect everyone to carry the same commitment level to GH that Steve and I do because we're the writers and the producers; it's really our vehicle in a very Steely Dan sort of way.  But at this point it has evolved into a group of people that we're very comfortable with and I hope will stay together for a while.  So it's definitive in that sense. 

We got away from acoustic drums because it's a long nerve-wracking process to make them sound good, but Matt Mendians has no interest in playing an e-drum kit, so we went back to acoustics for that reason.   And we have been drifting back more towards a purely vintage sound with each album- I find myself using less synthesizer every time, it seems.  So it fits that progression.

Steve: It has always been a duo and a group of very supportive and loyal friends that are willing to follow us. We have that core group (Matt and Susie for instance), and they are given a lot of creative room in the studio and in rehearsal. We’re not a couple of jerks and they don’t see us as dictators – at least I hope not. But when it comes to the writing and the concepts, we really take the reins in our own hands. Fortunately for us, the rest of the group seems to enjoy working with us.

P.A.: Which band member (or members) is the sword and sorcery fanatic and  is it a crucial element of your sound?

Fred: Well, I enjoy the genre immensely, but I never found a need to express it through the band.  Steve usually ends up determining what the albums are about.

Steve: Fred and I both read a lot of fantasy growing up. I tend to read very little of it now. I read mostly historical fiction by authors like Bernard Cornwell. But here’s the thing: I enjoy (and must have some need for) expressing myself artistically through allegory and fantasy.

My reading habits in my mid- to late-teens were consumed by writers like Tolkien, Lewis, Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lovecraft. About the same time I was exposed to Yes and ELP. I must associate the music and the literature in a nostalgic sort of way. Prog and fantasy just seem to make a perfect marriage for me.

You must remember, we began our career by doing a Tolkien-themed album. We were marketing it to the fans of fantasy literature. That was the plan. We had no idea that anyone was doing prog. We wanted to introduce prog to an audience we thought might be warm to the idea of intelligently performed epic-style tracks. It worked, and in the world of fantasy fandom, swords and sorcery are still cliché, but also essential.

I know that for some prog fans, the fantasy elements of our music are cliché and tiresome. I don’t really care. Gee, aren’t Hammond solos and long ‘epic tracks’ cliché too? That never stopped us. So, while some may grow tired of the swords and the chivalry, we have many fans who demand it. We must cater to them, and I for one don’t mind a bit.

P.A.: How did your involvement with Roger Dean come about? Did you actually work with him on the sleeve, or did he simply submit the finished  product? How much information did he have about the album before he  started work on it?

Steve: We share the same promotions manager, Ed Prasek of Step Seven, with Roger and Jon Anderson. That’s how we made the connection.

Roger worked with the album title and the concept in the early stages, but ultimately went his own direction. And that was fine with us. He gave us several sketches to look at, so we had a certain amount of control in the process. We picked the sketch, then, he went to work on the final painting.

It was a tremendous honor to work with him, and he is a joy to know.

P.A.: Before its demise, you made a lot of your music available on (the old) MP3.COM. You also make a lot of MP3’s available for download on your own site. Do you feel making tracks or extracts from your albums freely available for download contributes positively to the success of the band? Would you be happy for selected tracks from your albums to be made available by sites such as Prog Archives?

Fred: I do think that making MP3's available is a great promotional tool- the only problem being it's extraordinarily hard to represent us with a couple of isolated tracks.  I'm always worried that we're not getting our sound across that way very well.  But I do think it's a good thing if kept in check and people aren't downloading entire albums for free.

Steve: We have pulled the free tracks from our own site, and only offer mp3 samples. But those samples include every song that we ever recorded. I don’t mind Prog Archives having the tracks they have, and we might consider adding another in the future.

But as Fred mentioned, it’s nearly impossible to sum up GH with a single track. I mean, if you had to pick one track that summed up The Inconsolable Secret, I’m not sure which one it would be. And if, for instance, it was the twenty-five minute long Knight of the North, well, we’d be giving away half an album.

To me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a band with songs as diverse as ours are to promote themselves with one track. So, while free mp3s are a great promotional tool for some groups, they probably don’t do much for us. Though admittedly, we’ve drawn many fans through those mp3s.

P.A.: There has been a lot of debate on our website about the various sub- genres of Progressive rock. How would YOU classify the music of Glass  Hammer (neo-prog, symphonic prog, etc) ? Are you happy to be known as  a Progressive rock band?

Fred: We're definitely fine being labeled prog, and to be described as having a classic prog sound.  It bothers us not at all that our sound isn't progressive in the literal sense of the word.  As for sub-genre, symphonic suits me find.  The term "neo" is actually probably technically accurate but it's become a bit of a dirty word used to describe bands that sound a lot like the slower bits of Genesis and, while melodic, maybe not quite as intricate or developed in the art of thematic writing as we like to think of ourselves as being.  So we cringe a bit if we get called a neo band. 

Steve: I’m not a big fan of the neo bands, and I know that certain Glass Hammer albums have sometimes been labeled neo – like "On To Evermore" for instance. I, like Fred, cringe when that label is attached to GH. I think we’re a symphonic-progressive rock group. That tag is fine with me.

P.A.: What does the future hold for Glass Hammer? Would you intend to explore new directions, or will future albums be made with a view to continuing to please current fans of the band? Would you be prepared to turn your back on progressive rock (as bands such as Genesis and Yes were accused of) in order to secure commercial success?

Fred: Well, I can't imagine doing the latter.  If anything, we can sell out quite well in our personal lives without it affecting Glass Hammer at all.  Our hearts are in this and we have no intention of quitting. 

It must also be said that we make albums primarily to please ourselves, which I think you really have to do to make art that will connect with people. They have to sense there is commitment in it.  So, hopefully, what we like will continue to be what our fans like.  We didn't consult a focus group before we put the classical music on The Inconsolable Secret.  That's what we wanted to do.  But we will always be a prog rock band and I can't imagine we will ever shift too far from the basic sound we have right now. 

P.A.: One of our members described Glass Hammer as "happy musicians, excellent musical exchange, no egos and yes...cute girls". Is this a reasonable description of the band?

Fred: Sure, I like that!  Nothing to be ashamed of there. 

Steve: A symphonic-progressive rock group with Classical and Celtic tendencies; a love for allegory and fantasy based lyrics, and with cute girls. How’s that?

Yes, we’re happy. I hope we show that we have chemistry, and we do try to behave like normal folks and not like rock stars or prog-snobs. And by the way, those girls are not just cute, they’re very talented ladies and dear friends of ours.

P.A.: Several of our members have posted messages in our forum asking which  Glass Hammer album is the best place to start with the band. Which album would you say represents the band best, and which is the one  which has pleased you most?

Fred: That's a tough question- they tend to all be so different, while yet still being us.  We're always happiest with the most recent, and I think it's the best articulation of what we've always hoped we could achieve, so that would be my answer.  But Lex Rex and Chronometree would both be fine.  Even Perelandra.  But if I could only save one of our albums from ceasing to exist it would easily be The Inconsolable Secret.

P.A.: Most if not all of your albums are concept albums. Is it taken as read within the band that your albums will always have a concept, or does it just work out that way?

Fred: Well, I think now it's expected of us.  Shadowlands was a bit of a break, and there may be others but I think we've just cast ourselves as a concept album band, much like the Moody Blue in their heyday.  So expect more, I think.

Steve: I felt silly trying to ‘top’ the concept of Lex Rex with yet another concept album. So, we took a break on Shadowlands. I may feel silly trying to ‘top’ The Inconsolable Secret too. We shall see.

I do enjoy working on concepts and our fans seem to enjoy them too. To me, it’s like the difference between short stories and full-length novels broken into chapters. I always enjoy the epic novel over a short story. In fact, I don’t read short stories at all!

If it feels right to attempt another concept album (when we actually get to work on the next one), we’ll do it. If not, we won’t try to force it.

P.A.: You are clearly happy to talk about your religious beliefs. Many reviewers criticize albums such as "Testimony" by Neal Morse as being  too overtly religious, to the point where the message is a  distraction from the music. Do you feel that such criticism is justified? If so, where do Glass Hammer draw the line when it comes to including religious messages and references in your music?

Fred: Well, Neal has a strong conviction to speak that way through his music at this point, and if he feels that way, he should.  People can take it or leave it, but that's part of his art right now.  I listen to all sorts of music I don't agree with a word of because it would just be too limiting not to; I can detach from that aspect of it.  But anyone who listens to Neal has to make that choice as to whether they are comfortable with his overt lyrics.  We sort of take the approach that we aren't going to hide what we think, but for us we feel we can talk about things that are important to us without being ungainly about it, or too distracting, as you put it.  We're out to make entertainment, not preach through music.

Steve: I make no distinction between my religion and my day to day life. It is all one to me. I am a Christian. And that doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than anyone else – it’s just who I am. And being a Christian means (to me) that I should take my ‘art’ seriously and that I should prayerfully consider the direction I go with my music and lyrics.

Christians often say they felt ‘led’ toward one decision or toward one direction or another. What they mean is that God is pushing them toward something. Some artists have chosen to label themselves Christian for marketing reasons while some avoid that label like the plague and for similar reasons. Some,honestly feel led to present themselves that way. I can’t answer for any of them.

For me, I have never felt led to perform Christian music within the framework of Glass Hammer. So, you will never hear us singing "Jesus" lyrics like the CCM bands do. We’re subtle. We’re the Narnia of prog. Is it a fantasy about a "lion a witch and a wardrobe", or is it really allegory? It’s up to you. Same with Glass Hammer – is The Inconsolable Secret about an evil knight and a cursed princess – or something more?

That’s the kind of thing I feel led to do – write allegory. But if the day comes that I feel God wants me to write Christian music exclusively, how do I refuse? And if I obey, how can this Christian’s art be ‘too overtly religious’?

I hope that everyone who likes symphonic-prog will enjoy GH. It is not my intention to alienate anyone. They’re all welcome. Do our lyrics make you cringe? I’m told by many that no one reads lyrics anymore anyway! Listen to Glass Hammer because you like the Moog solos and the Hammond organ. Listen because you like our songwriting. I think there is plenty here for any fan of symphonic-prog to relate to!

 

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

Thanks are due to:

  • Ed Prasek for facilitating this interview
  • Prog Archives members Yanns, Arcer, and Man Overboard for contributing questions
  • And of course to Steve and Fred for the interview!Clap

Glass Hammer's official website - http://www.glasshammer.com

 



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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 26 2005 at 09:01
Just to confirm this thread is now open for comments.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2005 at 11:31

Just a quick note of thanks to the guys from GH and those who made the interview possible. It's a good read, of course, massively helped by my insightful, probing questions

Good to know that they've added a guitar player - I love the stuff GH do but just felt Inconsolable Secret sounded like it could do with the fattening presence of some rhythm guitar in parts.

That's a minor complaint, however. GH are one of my current must listens and it's cool to get an insight into how they approach what they do.

Top marks!

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2005 at 13:34
I too thoroughly enjoyed the interviewed. A great read to be sure. Steve and
Fred provided great insight into the the band and the values the band holds
near and dear. Best of all, the interview has really strong questions ... not a
mere bunch of fluff stuff.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2005 at 13:57
Excellent interview, very in-depth answers to some burning questions I had.  Much appreciation to the interviewees and interviewer, and to ProgArchives as well 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 31 2005 at 00:07
Great stuff guys!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 08 2005 at 12:18
Great Interview you guys made...
Glass Hammer is a great band that i foud...if it wasn't for you i could never weard about them...and of course about other great Progressive bands all over the world. So thank you for this.
Keep up the good work

I'm a progressive music fan and "we" need to know more about these great bands that are somehow hidden in the world music panorama, to show among our friends and all the world...if you know what i mean...

P.S. - Hope you do more interviews with other bands hehe...

The minstrel

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 08 2005 at 14:21
Watch this space!Wink
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 09 2005 at 21:14
An inciteful interview. Very well done to the Interviewer and kudos to GH for allowing the interview to take place. GH is one of my very fav bands. Hope to hear more from them

"Music is the Wine that fills the cup of Silence"
- Robert Fripp


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