QuoteReplyTopic: Glass Hammer Posted: October 03 2010 at 13:28
I guess this American band does not need any introduction. These merchants of good symphonic prog has delivered eleven albums so far.
Their new album If has been well received too and I caught up with Fred & Steve for their story.
Your biography has been covered in your ProgArchives profile so let's bypass the biography details.
Let's therefore start with your new line up and the album If and the return to the more traditional Glass Hammer sound. Please give us the reasons for the line up changes, the If concept and a small run through the album tracks.
Steve: Glass Hammer changes and evolves over time. It's one way of keeping things fresh and hopefully interesting for our fans. Sometimes we force those changes, and sometimes they just happen naturally. In this case, Susie Bogdanowicz was making a big move south of us, making it nearly impossible to collaborate with her on a new album. At the same time we had contacted Jon Davison (former singer of Roundabout and still the bassist for The Skies Cry Mary) about doing some vocal tracks for our remixes of The Inconsolable Secret. He did so well on those tracks and was so easy to work with, we asked him to sign on as the lead vocalist for If. He dove in enthusiastically and has become a great friend and vital member of the band.
While our drums were handled by a local session player, the guitar work was another matter entirely. Alan Shikoh is a local (Tennessee, USA) college student and jazz guitarist. We had recorded him on other projects, but hadn't had the good sense to invite him into Glass Hammer until work on If began. Unbeknownst to us, he was also a prog-head – big fan of seventies prog. He, like Jon, threw himself into the project.
If represents a new chapter in the life of GH, and one that seems to be going over very well with fans.
If isn't a classic concept album, it's very open to interpretation. There are some themes of longing and of searching for one's meaning in the great scheme of things running throughout the lyrics. But the last three songs are tied together with the idea of being lost and trying to find a way home. It's a metaphor for Eden or for Heaven, but also a metaphor for the band trying to find our way back to where it all began for us – in the nostalgia of seventies prog.I think it can work for the listener on that level as well, as many prog fans from our era are always searching for that magic they felt as young music lovers discovering prog for the first time.
It's tough to be brief when describing our songs and albums (as you will note when reading all that follows!), but I will attempt a hasty description of the songs on If. “Beyond, Within”: Hammond organ slams you in the head for the album's opener. This is classic GH and introduces our new singer very early in the piece. “Behold, the Ziddle”: Creepy, quirky track written by Fred with lyrics by Jon, Fred and myself; based on a nightmare my eight year-old son had.
“Grace The Skies”: Something I wrote for pipe organ with some really odd time signatures. It's the shortest piece on the album and has a great acoustic break down near the end with mandolin. “At Last We Are”, another tune I wrote – this one inspired by ELP for one section, then by Camel for the end. Of course it sounds nothing like those groups for the most part, but that's where it started.
“If the Stars”: A fan favorite already. I wrote it knowing it would be compared to Yes, and told Jon and Alan not to hold back when it came to emulating our favorite band. If you like seventies-era Yes – this is the track for you. We are NOT attempting to clone Yes here – merely allow our inspirations free reign in our writing. I think there is a difference, though some would disagree.
“If the Sun”: This is the album's epic at 24 minutes, and is of course the finale. Written by Fred with a couple of my musical ideas thrown in for good measure; lyrics by Jon, Fred and myself. It's another hit with the fans. It also wraps up all the lyrical ideas from the entire album and is probably my favorite Glass Hammer epic next to “Knight of the North” from The Inconsolable Secret.
Since ProgArchives is an archive and not a regular magazine, let's go chronologically through your albums, starting with your brief or long comments on.....
Journey Of The Dunadan from 1993
Steve: Having no idea that a progressive rock revival was about to happen (yet hoping that if it ever did we would be a part of it) we set about to write a rock-opera of sorts, complete with narration and a cast of singers. I had the bright idea to combine 'intelligently' written music (i.e. prog) with fantasy lyrics based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
If we could manage to finish an album and print it (a major undertaking in 1993 for an indie project) then we would market ourselves to Sci-fi conventions and advertise through various fantasy related magazines. Much to our surprise we pulled it off and even ended up with a 15-minute segment on the QVC Shop At Home Network.
Thankfully, Ken Golden from The Laser's Edge found us and exposed Glass Hammer to the burgeoning prog-scene where amazingly, we were embraced whole-hardheartedly.
Journey of the Dunadan is certainly an album that we would have done completely different even a few years after the fact. But it was ultimately the biggest surprise of our musical lives at the time. It was the first project we'd ever been involved with where everything turned out exactly as planned. It has its flaws, but the results of our efforts paid off better than we'd ever hoped.
Fred: Flaws and all it's what paved the way for everything that followed!
Perelandra from 1995
Fred: We got much more focused and our production values went way up. We still had a way to go but we were learning. There are some really classic songs on this album; “Heaven”, “Perelandra”, “Time Marches On”... it's still not perfect but it's easily my favorite of anything we did in the 90's.
Steve: Fred does a great job here as always (I always thought of “Lliusion” as an overlooked GH gem), but I can recall that I really felt as if I was accomplishing what I wanted as a songwriter about this time. The song, “Perelandra” was something I wrote from beginning to end and it still sounds like a million bucks (to me) after all these years. “Heaven” was mostly my invention – and one of my first attempts at combining classical and rock. It was also the first big GH album finale.
On To Evermore from 1998
Fred: Again, some great moments, especially the title track and ‘Junkyard Angels’ for me, but we were having trouble trying to integrate different band members creatively. I think the album also suffered a bit from a slight delusion that there could be a conventionally commercial side to what we were doing. But we also had our first major eipc, ‘Arianna’. So, it was a landmark. There are a lot of people out there who really think this is one of our top albums.
Chronometree from 2000
Fred: A real turning point. It started as my solo album and a real reaction to Evermore. I wanted uncompromising prog. It was about organ, Moog and being a rocking 3 piece band. I'm glad Steve talked me into making it a GH album, because frankly if I had played bass it wouldn't have been very good. Again, the end result became a bit schizophrenic, from a production standpoint it was a tricky one to do but mostly I think it holds up and pointed the direction we wanted to go. I know many people still haven't quite grasped what we liked about Brad Marler, the singer, but if we did it again today we'd still use him.
Steve: I just listened to Chronometree from beginning to end for the first time in several years. When I pull out an older album, I'm always just a little concerned that I'll hear it and go “Oh no! What were we thinking?!!!” But that didn't happen. I came away with the following conclusions – Fred is a monster on the Hammond organ, I can turn virtually any sort of nonsense into a concept album if given the chance, Arjen Luccassen rocks, and last but not least, Brad Marler is misunderstood and fits perfectly with the music. I will add to that (since Fred mentioned it) that my bass playing is also a good match for the music, but should be much louder in the mix!
The storyline deserves some explanation: A bong-smoking teenager in the late seventies thinks his Yes albums are talking to him – specifically by name. The lyrics and album art are communicating the instructions for a time-machine. He convinces his friends to keep him company on the night that the mother-ship is to arrive. They stay up all night long and (big surprise) nothing happens. Time is wasted, not moved forward or backward! Bizarrely enough, it is based in part on a true story. But I think it is a tale that every true prog-head from that era can relate to. We all took our albums very seriously in those days!
The Middle Earth Album from 2001
Fred: This was totally a departure, it was never meant to be lumped into what some might call the Glass Hammer canon. It's fun, it's supposed to be a party album for hobbits and dwarves, coupled with proggy songs appropriate to the tone of Middle-earth but without being full-on symphonic prog. This was probably the time being a fan of ours started to get difficult because you just didn't know what to expect. Every time we make a detour into something fun people worry we're not going back again.
Steve: Having established ourselves within the world of Tolkien fandom with our first album, that sector of our fanbase relentlessly demanded a return to Middle-earth. We delivered. It would later result in our being in a movie (which was never released!), the headliners of King Eomer's Ball in Toronto (attended by 1,000 Tolkien fans in costume!) and last but not least, we were presented with an award for Tolkien-inspired creativity by the Tolkien Society and two of the major actors from the Peter Jackson films. Not too shabby for a prog-band!
Lex Rex from 2002
Fred: One of my absolute favorites. We were very happy when we made it, I think it's some of our best writing. We really figured out how to incorporate a multiple singer approach. My only slight beef was the drums I had to use but all in all I think it sounds great. Although again a lot of people entirely missed the parody in the "narration" (which only happens in three short places) but what do you do? If anyone wants an introduction to the band I feel this is a great one to play them.
Steve: I concur – its a great starting place for getting into GH. There is something magical on Lex Rex that I can't quite put my finger on. But the material, the harmonies and the storyline work together to create something wonderful – at least for me! The success of the album was instant and resulted in our being invited to NEARfest 2003. As an indie-band (and I mean TRULY indie – no label, no help outside of our own studio based operation) it is a struggle to make enough noise within the prog-world to be noticed. NEARfest did that for us, as well as re-establishing GH as a live act – which consequently grew larger and larger. And all of that must be attributed to Lex Rex.
Shadowlands from 2004
Fred: Well, we wanted a definite NON-concept album for a change. It was tough doing a follow-up to Lex Rex.
Steve: Shadowlands is definitely a favorite with fans. “Run Lisette” was a unique song and a stand out for me. It combines really intense counterpoint pipe organ and vocal lines carried out by at least six vocalists. The girls really start to shine here – and this was also our first use of real strings. No regrets!
The Inconsolable Secret from 2005
Fred: Oh boy- this was such a huge undertaking, it almost crushed us. From a composing standpoint it's certainly the most ambitious thing we've attempted. We were very adamant that we actually wrote and orchestrated the orchestra parts ourselves; there's no outside orchestrator involved. In a lot of cases Steve and I played a lot of it too, to either fatten up the real players or to replace what we thought wasn't up to par. Even though on the whole we love the album and ever considered it unfinished when we released it, we also didn't really think it was an entirely accurate reflection of our original intent in some respects, and that's why we have plans to offer an alternate version next year.
Steve: Without a doubt, our most controversial and most successful release to date. It was our attempt to be truly progressive; not in style necessarily, but to push the symphonic style to its breaking point. It went over more than a few heads, but the album was composed in layers – combining art (by Roger Dean), poetry (a 19,000 word poem by yours truly), lyrics which were adapted from the poem, an epic storyline and music featuring themes or motifs.
It inevitably led to 3 concerts where we were backed by 120 member college choirs and our string trio. Fans flew in from as far as Japan and Alaska. Glass Hammer became an enormously unwieldy organization of band members, arrangers, conductors, sponsors and staff. We knew we had made something we couldn't top, but that didn't matter. So when you can grow no larger yet wish to continue – just get smaller. Which leads us to the next album.
Culture Of Ascent from 2007
Fred: We took advantage of the players in the band with more of a metal leaning, that being Matt Mendians (drums) and David Wallimann (guitar) to try our hand at something a little heavier while hopefully keeping the standard GH sound. Steve and I both listen to a lot of heavier music, but it's mostly old school 70's, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Rush, that sort of thing. It's also the only album (for now) that Carl Groves was involved in and he did a great job. It's another little cul-de-sac in GH history.
Steve: There was just no way to top The Inconsolable Secret, so we didn't try. We just wanted to make a really good prog album and I think we did that. It didn't hurt that Jon Anderson had taken note of us and agreed to add some backing vocals in places. To add to my own glory and in keeping with being a consummate name-dropper – I was even invited to his home and studio where he made me tea and cookies, sang for me, regaled me with stories of the recording of Going For The One , and gave me pointers on song-writing. Fred and I also got to collaborate with him on two of his own songs.
Susie Bogdanowicz really stepped out front on this album with our version of “South Side of the Sky”. Working with Carl Groves was a great experience too, and one I hope to repeat one day.
And Three Cheers for the Broken-Hearted from 2009. Why did you go down this rather pop/rock route on this album ?
Fred: Well, if you go back to our earliest albums we always wanted to try and write concise songs. We love people like Todd Rundgren that can write amazing short, self-contained songs. And Steve came up with a couple good ones, and I did, and we decided to do an album of that sort of thing. We needed a break from BIG. It was amazingly fun to make. I think the album has a good vibe, because there were only three people involved and no one was rocking the boat. Again, people were horrified that we were abandoning symph-prog but I think in time, or at least, I hope, that they'll come to appreciate it for what it is. I really like it, I think we finally achieved what we couldn't on the early albums.
Steve: Getting even smaller here – but it was a relief. Susie was a hit with the fans, even those who didn't approve of our sudden shift away from symphonic prog.
You are also referring to a lost album from 1994 on your first live album Live And Revived. Please expand more on the lost album.
Fred: It was our follow up to Journey, and when that album did well and we found out there was a real audience for prog we realized that trying to do an album of sort of Asia-style prog-ish pop would be a mistake. We did Perelandra instead, which was a wise choice. Then we played live at ProgScape in '95 and would have loved to release that as a live album but we didn't have the tapes. We did have rehearsal recordings of the same performances and so Live And Revived became some of the Journey material performed with a live drummer (much better, the way to go if you want to hear that stuff IMO) and those songs we had put on the shelf. We figured it was safe to release it once we had Perelandra out there.
How is your creative process from coming up with a theme/riff/idea to you get it down onto an album ?
Fred: Steve and I will get our ideas down in demo form, and then we'll pass it on to each other and we'll tweak and try new things. When we like it we pass that on to the other people we plan to have play on it, let them work with it, then we figure out what we like and what we need to change and we record an official version. That's usually the process.
I understand from a previous interview that your blood freeze to ice every time the phrase “neo prog” is being used on Glass Hammer, but you are content with the symphonic prog/rock label. Is this the most fitting label on your music ?
Fred: Well, we think it is. The whole label thing gets very dense and contentious, and it's probably more for listeners to work out and not us. But generally the label "neo" seems to get applied to bands we don't like very much, and "symph" to bands we do, so we want to be lumped in with them.
Steve: I'm not inspired by neo and I don't listen to it. I don't hate it, but am indifferent to it. No surprise I would want to label GH as symphonic-prog and not neo.
How is your gigs situation ? What is your schedule and plans for this year and next year ?
Steve: Everyone involved (our new lineup) is very into the idea of playing live – perhaps by spring of 2011. We've just been called by a festival outside of the US and will need to make a decision very soon whether or not we are truly up for the task. I'd like to start work on a new album, and playing live and rehearsing consumes so much time that it is nearly impossible to do both. Still, we want to meet our fans and would love to perform If on stage.
What is your experience with the music industry and the new internet music scene ?
Steve: Things are definitely changing, though I honestly cannot tell where they are headed or if the changes are good or bad. Piracy is killing a lot of bands, and certainly quells the passion for shelling out the kind of money it takes to release and promote an album that people are only going to steal. That being said, prog distributors and a loyal (and honest) fan base provide just enough support to keep the genre alive. Our sales are up again this year, and If is doing great! That is due in large part to websites like progarchives.com and internet prog distributors.
Also on the upside, Facebook has been a tremendous help for Glass Hammer this year. It may be old hat in another year or so, but for now social networking is a boon for bands that need to promote.
As far as the actual industry is concerned (to answer the first part of your question last), I'm as out of touch with it as it seems to be with music listeners. In my opinion, Indie is where it’s at.
You also run an online shop with a lot of goodies in addition to the Glass Hammer albums. Is music you main income or do you have normal dull jobs ?
Steve: Fred and I run a recording studio full time. We haven't had real jobs since 1994! Lucky fellows! We produce albums for other artists, and are doing post audio production for our third MTV reality series. We stay very busy. My wife runs the office for us, and handles most of the business of our record label (Sound Resources / Arion Records). Glasshammer.com has also started selling rare prog albums and imports, as well as eighteen Glass Hammer albums and DVDs. We have more cool releases coming in the near future.
There has been some member changes in Glass Hammer during the years. What are the ex Glass Hammer members up to these days ?
Fred: Well, Michelle Young teaches voice, does solo work and is involved in projects in Europe, Matt Mendians is doing session work, David Wallimann is teaching guitar online and working on a new solo album, Carl Groves is about to release a new Salem Hill album, Susie Bogdanowicz is being a Mom in Florida, Walter Moore is gigging around the southern US, those are some things I know off the top of my head!
To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview ?
Steve: I'd like to thank our fans for supporting us through the many changes and experiments thought the years. If is the next phase for us, and much like Lex Rex did for us several years ago – seems to be taking off in a huge way. Please drop by our website at here, or sign up for our Facebook group where we drop in every day to meet fans and make friends. And....thanks for doing the interview!
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