Babb, Steve And Fred Schendel (Glass Hammer) (August 2005)

Further On And Farther In With Steve Babb And Fred Schendel - The Inconsolable Truth About Glass Hammer

Glass Hammer (courtesy; Photo by Bart Lindstrom)Meeting challenges is what life is about. For Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, setting high goals and then meeting them is what a life spent as a musician is about. This summer, Glass Hammer, Steve and Fred's band, released its ninth studio recording, The Inconsolable Secret. This double CD album is a bigger canvas than the band has ever attempted to fill before, and Glass Hammer delivers two discs of symphonic progressive rock at its most bombastic and it's most ambitious. We talked recently about this new album and all the secrets it holds for prog fans. Along the way I learned a bit about the principles of Glass Hammer and some of the cast of characters who fill out the sounds that bring the golden age of symphonic progressive rock back to life. We also dis guitar players, spend inordinate amounts of time discussing vintage keyboards, and blab endlessly about our favorite old records and favorite concerts.

Enjoy, but be warned!

Tom Karr: Hi, this is Tom from Progressive World

Steve Babb: Hi Tom, and hello Progressive World. Nice to meet you, or virtually meet you, that is. Fred's just picking up now.

TK: How are you Fred?

Fred Schendel: Hi, I'm just fine.

TK: I just want to begin with some questions on prog philosophy and sociology before we start in on the new album.

SB: Huh? What's prog? No, just kidding.

TK: Okay, how's this for starters: is retro-prog or classic symphonic rock in the style that Glass Hammer plays just a nostalgic exercise, or is the genre capable of moving forward, of making progress and still remaining classic prog?

SB: I'll let you take that one Fred.

Fred Schendel at NEARfest 2003 (photo: Stephanie Sollow)FS: I think it's a little bit of both, but of those options, I would lean towards the second. Certainly there are always new ways to combine the twelve tones we use in our musical system and I always think that we'll never run out of new pieces to compose, new things, and in that sense it's always new and fresh, but yes, it is nostalgic and retroactive to a large degree, and you can't hide that. But I don't think it's gotten to the point yet where it's just a total aping of things gone by.

TK: I don't think the genre went on so long in its golden age as to have exhausted all its potential material. Another thing that has been important to me in symphonic prog, particularly the English stuff, is the element of church music, the choir like voice of the Mellotron, the Hammond organ approximating the church's pipe organ, the fugues and all that. How important has your background in the church been to the music of Glass Hammer?

SB: I was raised in the church and Fred was raised in the church as a church organist and we've carried those influences over. When I was a teenager I discovered rock and as soon as the opportunities to combine some of those influences came, and there were bands like Yes and ELP that were already doing it, but we wanted to do that, too. I think that sometimes the comparisons we get to Yes are really based on our common ancestry, our common inspiration.

TK: Yeah, you get Squire with his background in the choir and Wakeman who sounds like a church organist, though he wasn't??.

Steve Babb at NEARFest 2003 (Photo: Stephanie Sollow)SB: A lot of early keyboard music was church music. That's what we grew up with. That's how we learned to play and a lot of that is carried over to our catalog.

FS: I think that's part of it, too. There are a lot of secondary influences and most of Bach's music was church music, so when you're playing Bach, you may be emulating church music and not knowing it.

TK: Have either of you ever read Edward Macan's book Rocking The Classics?

SB: I haven't.

FS: I've heard of it.

TK: Well, Macan said that you could look at seventies prog as almost a communal religion with the musicians as the high priests, the concert as the liturgy and the music as the transcendent experience. I always thought that was pretty close to the truth, whether we knew it or not. I mean, it seems that prog rock means so much to the people who listen to it, so much more so than other types of music mean to its listeners.

SB: Well, I know it did when I was a teenager. And it was easy to take music that seriously and just immerse yourself in it. It's a little harder at 44 to have that same sort of feeling about it. I think I do when I'm writing it and taking part in it. I don't know so much that I still would when I'm just listening to it. The exception is when I'm listening to those same albums I listened to 25 years ago.

TK: Do you still get the same kind of reaction that you did originally?

SB: Yeah, I still feel the same about it.

TK: You still hear something new every time you listen to, uh, say Close To The Edge?

SB: Absolutely! I don't ever get tired of it.

TK: Do you think that the average prog music fan is more likely to be open to the mystical or divine experiences that music can bring? Or just tell me this: Are we prog fans as intellectual as we like to think we are?

FS: It's like anything else. There's a bell curve, or an average there and some may be and some certainly aren't and everybody's getting different things out of it. Some have taken a very analytical approach to it and aren't really feeling it on an emotional level at all, I think. But I think to a large extent, yeah, prog listeners are more intellectual about the music in terms of actually paying attention to it and not using it as wallpaper. I think it's like classical in that regard.

SB: You've got like, 50 trillion evangelical Christians in this country that take their spiritual life really seriously and they all listen to music that isn't taken very seriously.

TK: Are you talking about pop music in general or are you talking about contemporary Christian music?

SB: Contemporary Christian music, which I think is just a real weak imitation of secular music.

TK: So where do you want to see it go?

SB: Moving more towards the transcendency you see in progressive rock music.

TK: I wouldn't mind that at all.

SB: Don't get me wrong. I don't want to see Christian music become just a big progressive rock movement with Jesus lyrics. But I would like to see the musicians who write for Christian bands to take their craft a little more seriously and drop the pop influences.

TK: Maybe take their cues from someplace different?

SB: Take them from something higher. I mean, they complain about the cultural war. I go to church and I hear it. But we have no culture to replace it with, nothing to counter it.

TK: That's a good point.

SB: So I think we have to develop something artistically as Christian musicians, and as Christians, that's what Glass Hammer offers.

TK: So you're offering one vision of what could be done. Not a model for everyone, but just one possible path.

SB: Yeah, just one possible avenue. And I want to qualify that. We don't consider ourselves a Christian band. There are some Christians in this band making music and we do take it seriously, but we're Glass Hammer and this is about symphonic progressive rock, first and foremost.

TK: I think your way is an honest way of approaching faith through your music. You've got your subtext in the lyrics, but you do what you do, and you are who you are, with no pretense, no attempt to hide it.

SB: Well, I don't make any distinction between my spiritual life and my other life. I don't have a Christian band on the side and a non-Christian band, so to me it's all the same life.

TK: Let's talk about something that I guess is an obvious point, but could the resurgence in progressive rock have happened, could a band like Glass Hammer have even existed without the Internet? Isn't it the biggest single reason that we're all able to form this community and find each other?

SB: Well, we started just a little before it became easy to use, or user friendly. So we would have existed, at least for a moment. I think it was about the time the Internet exploded.

Glass Hammer - Journey To The DunadanFS: I remember back, right about the time we were about to release that first album [Journey To The Dunadan, 1994], having an advertisement for Mosaic, which eventually became Netscape Explorer, and looking at it and thinking, they said that this will help you reach bunches of people, so you put up this thing called a web page? And we're trying to wrap our heads around it, you know? There's this thing and it sits there and people will come and look at it? It's not a bulletin board so....

TK: People are just going to come here and stare at this stuff?

FS: Yeah. So I thought that this is cool, or whatever. And probably six months later the Internet was starting to become a big thing, not just for email. Web pages were starting to be a viable way for people to get information, and web browsers like Internet Explorer hit, and there it was. I remember that it wasn't immediately intuitive. It seemed kind of like, well, I guess that would be cool, and Amazon hadn't quite happened yet and I don't think we ever realized what it was going to turn into.

TK: Glass Hammer has made pretty good use of the Internet. You have one of the better band sites and pretty much anything that your fans want is addressed there. I wonder, how many countries have you shipped product to?

SB: The strange ones would be places like Turkey and Israel. They have really opened up. But pretty much anywhere in the civilized world, all over, from New Zealand to all the western European countries, to the eastern European countries. Russia is pretty much a dead zone. Certainly China is a dead zone, but a lot of product goes to Japan.

FS: We ship anything to Albania?

SB: No, nothing to Albania, and South America is very difficult. The potential for mail theft is very high there.

TK: But South America is a huge market for prog.

SB: Yeah, they love prog. I just don't know how they get it. I've talked to some big labels that just flat won't ship there. So I don't know how it gets there. But the Internet has just opened thing up for us, and I'd also say that multi-track recording became affordable for the small project bands and those two things together made it possible to do an album and advertise it with the same kind of impact that a major label, well, not quite, but almost.

Glass Hammer - The Inconsolable SecretTK: I don't see any difference in a Glass Hammer release and one that comes out on Sony or BMG, for instance. It really is possible to do everything the majors do, only on a smaller scale. So, Fred, what do you say we talk about your new album for a bit? On "The Knights" disc you've got a lot of lengthy arppegiated passages on the organ. How much did you use Pro Tools or the like? Or did you play through all the sections?

FS: Yeah, it's all played. We always try to write things using the computers, it's just easier. I can sit down and work out parts, trying them with different keyboards and I usually sketch out a drum part and stuff like that and send it off to Matt [Mendians]. In the past, sometimes, some of that sequenced stuff might have gone ahead and made its way into the final product, but in this case I was real adamant, especially having Matt there as the drummer, that everything had to be tracked to him, so even if we had wanted to there wouldn't have been chance of leaving any of the sequenced stuff in there. It all had to be re-done.

TK: This is the first studio release in some time where you guys haven't had to play the drums and percussion. Was it hard to let someone else take over such an important role?

Glass Hammer - On To EvermoreFS: Walter Moore played some drums for On To Evermore [1997]. We were actually trying to do the same thing we're doing now with Matt. It just didn't really work out as well.

SB: If Matt had come along sooner it would have been done sooner.

FS: We were just waiting for someone to come along, someone with the right feel. I never wanted to be the drummer, really. It's like Ian Anderson said something when the Stormwatch album came out and they had that tragedy when John Glascock, the bass player, died of a heart attack... Ian Anderson wound up playing bass on that album and somebody asked him about it and he said, well, I think I did okay, but if he had to audition for the band, he wouldn't have gotten the gig. You know, I loved doing it, but I like the feel with Matt a lot better. Just having another person and different ideas, and he brings a different sound and that's real beneficial I think. We knew immediately after recording the live album that we were going to do the next album with him.

TK: I was going to ask you about that. I thought it was obvious after the NEARfest appearance that you should continue on with that same line up if at all possible. Steve, tell me what qualms, if any, you had about starting out the story with "once upon a time"?

FS: It's not so much that it starts out with "once upon a time" as it is that it's then followed by "there were four knights and a king." I thought, well...okay.

SB: The only problem I had with it was when Fred mentioned it to me. It's a fairy tale, you know? I know that it's viewed by some at least, as a prog cliché. And I know that Glass Hammer is certainly the poster child for, for uh...

TK: Annoying medievalism?

SB: Yeah, annoying medievalism. Okay, I'd go with that. It speaks to a lot of people. It doesn't speak to some. When I look for inspiration and for things to write about I end up writing about the things I read, so that's what comes out. I'm still a product of the seventies and all the hobbits and elves that have attached themselves to me over the years.

TK: So Steve, what is a progressive band supposed to sing about?

SB: I can only tell you what this band is supposed to sing about. I know that as a listener I thoroughly enjoy the lyrics of Jon Anderson, for instance. I don't claim to understand them, but I enjoy them. I don't see anyone that's capable of writing poetry like him though.

TK: So is there something to be said for vagueness?

SB: There's something to be said for beautifully worded vagueness, yeah. And once again, I don't have that talent to do that.

TK: Yeah, there is something about them, they mean something, but they are so wide open to individual interpretation that you can easily project whatever meaning on them that you were already pre-disposed to have and it will fit perfectly.

SB: Well, I can tell you for one that, and I won't go into too much detail about it, but the album really isn't about a knight and a king and a princess.

TK: No, get out! Really?

SB: Nope. That's the secret. So it's pretty doggone vague. It just depends on if you view it from the surface, or whether you care to go any deeper with it. It's an allegory. So just to sum it up, I don't feel any embarrassment about it at all. There are fifty million fantasy novelists out there making a living doing it, and a handful of prog people who like to listen to it and sing it.

TK: Well, it must have given you some pause, because you put that little musical aside in "The Knight Of The North," where you guys shift into a Gentle Giant like passage. Your lyrics there bring up all these other questions and I thought that was pretty bold.

SB: Well, I knew there would be questions, and I've read some of them already. I've seen some complete mis-interpretations of what I was attempting to say with it. And I know that people probably get tired of my rambling.

TK: Well, I've got my theory and I'm probably wrong, too. I thought that the knight of the north was Lucifer, the king was God and the maiden represents mankind. So, ah, ... that's what I thought anyway.

SB: See? It was vague and you were able to apply your own meaning to it.

TK: Right, and my opinion and four bucks will buy you a cup of coffee. Let's talk a little bit about the making of this music. Fred, I want to ask you something. There is a ton of organ work on this album and I want to know what you used. A real B-3, a C-3, what?

FS: We've got a Hammond in the basement that we've used on the earlier albums and I've actually replaced it now with a software plug-in called the B-4 organ, but it still goes through a Leslie. But it's pretty much a dead on perfect emulation of a Hammond organ and it's much more flexible than the real thing.

TK: That's software huh? Fooled me.

FS: It's a software modeled Hammond going through a Leslie cabinet and that little extra bit of sound comes from the fact that it's still going through a real, physical rotating cabinet and being miked up. But the basic tone generator is not an actual organ. It's made by a company called Native Instruments.

TK: Okay, I know them. They make a full on B-3 clone with the furniture and everything, don't they?

FS: Yeah, and it's infinitely more variable than the real thing. For certain fat sounding, just dirty, overdrive organ I'll still use the real thing, but a lot of it is the NI through the Leslie cabinet.

TK: So did you use the NI for the pipe organ on "Long And Long Ago" and "Having Caught A Glimpse" on the second disc?

FS: No, that was a real pipe organ.

SB: We've got three churches that we work with here in town, so I don't remember quite where that was done, but First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga and there are two others in town and we shuttle around from one to the other.

TK: Fred, I saw you playing one of your solos from... "A Maker Of Crowns," I think it was, and you were doing it on a Mini-Moog. What other keyboards did you use as lead instruments in these sessions?

FS: It's the Moog, the Mini-Moog and the Yamaha CS5 that Steve has traditionally used down through the years. There are probably a couple of solos that were played using some other modules or something like that, I forget what, but a lot of it is the Mini-Moog. That is, when it's feeling healthy and wants to be good. It's hard to keep it alive these days.

TK: I've heard that you like to sit at the keyboard and improvise to come up with song ideas.

FS: Yeah, usually.

TK: A lot of "The Knight Of The North" seems to be the work of a keyboardist just left to pursue his hearts desire, a keyboardist set free, so to speak. There is an awful lot of really outstanding, over-the-top playing on that track. Can you tell me something about the writing and recording of that piece?

FS: Actually it started out with ideas from another piece that I'd written a couple of years ago, another kind of twenty minute epic thing that sort of happened between albums. I don't remember which two. And we just never really got around to recording it.

Glass Hammer - ChronomatreeSB: It was after Chronomatree [2000].

FS: Okay, so after Chronomatree. There were some sections of it that I thought weren't really all that great, so I wound up taking the opening section, and the opening of "The Knight Of The North" was from that piece. We kept that, but then it went off into a completely different thing and we pretty much started re-writing the whole piece from there on out. That Gentle Giant-y part that you brought up earlier, that was also part of it, and it kind of came out the same way, but we re-did the rest of it. I don't know, it's one of those things, kind of like writing a book in a way. Maybe you have a vague outline, but in this case we really didn't. You'd just kind of write a section of it and you'd sort of let it lead you into the next part. Sometimes this approach works and sometimes it really, really doesn't work. This time it seems like it worked.

TK: It has to have a certain flow to it. I tend to like bands that can actually play through their changes, where the whole band and the drummer can play through the meter shifts, not where things come to a halt, cue sound effects, new section begins in a different tempo and meter. Truthfully, you do both approaches well on this song and elsewhere on this release and I'm glad it worked out well this time.

FS: We've got another piece that is going to be coming out, I guess, pretty soon. It's the Homer project that Musea is doing. Have you heard about that?

TK: No, I haven't heard about it yet. What's the story?

FS: Musea and ...

SB: Colossus magazine.

Excerpt of artwork by Stefano Scagni (see full image at Colossus' site)FS: Yeah, Musea and Colossus are doing a project where they've got nine bands interpreting The Odyssey. Each band is taking a chapter, each writing a twenty minute piece, so there are three CDs, each with three songs on it and it's just this massive, massive, huge thing and we contributed a piece for that, and in terms of being another epic and having to get all those transitions right, I think that one actually came out pretty well, too.

TK: What's it called?

FS: What did we end up calling this piece?

SB: "In The Court Of Alcinouse."

TK: When does it come out?

SB: They tell me it's going to be September.

TK: Do you know any of the other bands on it?

FS: Nathan Mahl is on it. We're the two North American bands on it. Everybody else is from Europe and South America. I can't think of any right now, there's a couple of well known bands and some more obscure ones.

[Nexus (Argentina), XII Alfonso (France), Simon Says (Sweden), C.A.P. (Italy), Tempano (Venezuela), Minimum Vital (France) and Aether (Brazil) - ed.]

TK: I'm looking forward to hearing that. It sounds interesting.

FS: The only downer was that at some point we, and some of the other bands, got the idea that maybe someone could try to compose some sort of thematic thread that all the bands could use to try and hold this nine piece madness together.

TK: You want to make the difficult impossible, do you?

FS: That never happened, but...

SB: Nexus is on this, CAP, Tempano, Minimum Vital, Aether, some really, really cool bands.

TK: Where can we get a copy of this when it's done?

SB: You can get it from our website.

Flo, Bethany and Susie (courtesy; Photo by Brian D. Tirpak)TK: Steve, you wrote a lot of music for the ladies to sing. What rhythmic and textural considerations go through your mind when you're writing for Susie [Bogdanowicz] or Flo [Paris] or Bethany [Warren]?

SB: I wrote "Lirazel," for instance, knowing there would be a girl, and knowing it had to be in a certain key, and knowing that it had to sound like something a fair maiden would sing. I wrote that, and with each of the singers that did a solo, they were all consulted beforehand and were allowed the opportunity to work through it and suggest changes, so it was designed to fit their voices in each instance and that was the case for Walter as well.

TK: So is that the extent of Walter or Matt's or Susie's role in shaping the final shape of the music?

SB: The singers are usually given a guideline and then encouraged to interpret that however they will, and they're given, in most cases on this album, and that wasn't always the case, but on this album they were given several weeks to prepare. I took ideas up to Walter that Fred and I had both worked on, and he lives a pretty good distance from us so it's not always easy to work one on one with him, but I drove up and spent the afternoon with him and worked on vocal ideas. I had him sing to me and listened to his voice and how it worked with the music and then we gave him time to work on it and know it. When they come in as singers, pretty much anything that they come up with that sound cool, we keep that. We encourage them to do their own thing.

TK: I can't swear to have memorized every second of this music yet, but there isn't any rhythm guitar on this album is there? Apart from a few passages by Eric Parker on his acoustic, that is. This is about the most keyboard dominated album Glass Hammer has made since the first two, isn't it? Like On To Evermore and Chronomatree, there was a lot of guitar on the other albums.

FS: Yeah, and it wasn't an entirely conscious decision. It was sort of a situation of timing and the people available to play the guitar, and we had kept Walter very focused on his vocals and the singing. The amount of time that he was available to come down and work was limited and we had set ourselves a release date on this that we were not going to miss. It was kind of getting down to the line and we were looking around saying, there still isn't really any guitar. Walter was just very busy and we kind of solved the problem by getting David Carter to come in and play on a song, and that's great, but he wasn't available to do a whole lot more. So I sat down and played guitar on "A Maker Of Crowns" and on a couple of other key places where we felt we had to have some guitar, but once we stepped back from the project and really looked at it, we just felt it didn't really need it. We don't need to beat ourselves over the head with it, it seems like its fine.

TK: On the whole, the music still sounds full, but it really does stand out when you hear Eric coming in with some chord work or some finger picking. You think, wait a second, I haven't heard any of this in a while.

FS: There were a couple places where, in our heads, we were thinking there were going to be solos and lots of things happening, but once we stepped back, we thought that those passages can breathe, they can sort of groove without it. We really don't have to cram in a bunch of stuff, let's leave it a little sparser, and we just went with that.

Glass Hammer - Lex RexTK: Was that in any way a reaction to what happened with Lex Rex? You put out this album with endless layers of keys and guitars and vocals and then, oh no! We have to play this stuff live! That was in your mind when you started writing this stuff wasn't it?

FS: Oh yeah, definitely.

SB: I think we wrote this thinking, knowing that we were going to play it live.

FS: Yeah, the only thing that's going to kill us is all the orchestral stuff, obviously. Other than that, arrangement wise, it'll be easy to pull off. We just have to find a way around all the strings and such on some of the pieces. And at least for one show, we'll have our string trio playing.

TK: So that will be The Adonia String Trio. Listen, is that really an orchestra on this project or is that the Adonia String Trio overdubbed a thousand times?

FS: It's actually a symphony. We've done a lot of it.

SB: We work with a lot of church recordings and we have access to the local groups that form for these recordings.

TK: How many players did you have in the group?

SB: Never more than, oh, probably thirty.

FS: We recorded that in sections and we also did a lot of fixing things, sweetening things up with the Adonia girls. They're very well represented on this album.

TK: Let's talk about your cover art for a second. How did the relationship with Roger Dean happen? When did you contact him for the first time about doing the art for The Inconsolable Secret?

SB: Probably last fall. We have a promotions company that works for Glass Hammer and also for Roger and for Jon Anderson, so it's kind of a small group and they put us together. We had met Roger on a couple of occasions in the past but this was the first time we've ever had a chance to work with him. So it was a third party that put the idea together and presented it to him and then we began to work together.

TK: And I can assume that he didn't hear the music before creating the art? He usually doesn't.

SB: He was aware of the album title and the idea behind the story, and he actually opted to try and do something that was more descriptive of the band name, Glass Hammer, than anything having to do with the concept or the music, but he did inevitably name the piece The Inconsolable Secret.

TK: Cover art from Roger Dean often marks the most notable work from some bands I could name. Have you talked to Roger about doing the art for the next album as well?

SB: No, and it may come up in the future. Obviously, Fred and I would love to work with him again if he has the time to do it. We're not going to disturb him yet with this idea, but maybe in a few months time when we're starting in on the next project we should probably ask him.

TK: No doubt about that one. Fred, you've spent some time using vintage keyboards, live and in the studio. We're talking about the Mellotron, the Mini-Moog and the B-3, mainly. You could get all of those and more out of one digital keyboard, so why would anyone put up with all this fussy old gear? Is there really a difference?

FS: It certainly makes a difference in the studio where it's going to be documented and it's going to be around for years and years. I think it makes perfect sense to deal with the foibles and the hassles and problems of the analog gear when you can't find any better way of doing it. Like in the case of the organ, I'll go with whatever gives me the most options, but if it does end up being the analog gear like the Mini-Moog, well then I'm all for it. Now, going out and playing live is completely different situation. You know out there, reliability trumps sound quality. I want to get the most authentic sound I can, but I have to have something that I know is going to perform when I reach up to play it. I get a little nervous taking a Mini-Moog out on stage these days. There was a time when you didn't have any choice, but now I'll find a keyboard that sounds good enough so that I don't cringe when I hear it. But digital gear has come a long way in the last three or four years. They've got stuff now that will do an extremely good job, but in the studio, like I said, I think it's worth going the extra mile and trying to get the best sound you possibly can, and even then, you can still tell. You know, a real "golden ears" kind of person can still tell if you're playing the real deal or not. The only exception to this is the Mellotron. We have access to a real Mellotron, but it's an enormous pain.

TK: What do you use to emulate the Mellotron, for your string and choral voices?

FS: A couple of different things. Mainly I use the Roland vintage synth unit that they quit producing four years ago, five years ago. It's got a really, really nice Mellotron sound to it. The only thing that would ever give it away is that they looped the sounds, so you have to be careful not to hold them down forever. But on the whole I think it has a really good Mellotron sound, that's what I use live.

TK: What length sample was on the real Mellotron, eight seconds?

FS: It was eight or nine seconds. We have another Mellotron sample that we use and I'm actually kind of fascinated by some of the Mellotron purists that freak out about using a sample of a Mellotron. It's all samples. It was an analog sampler to begin with. So now we use a recording of the recording but, somehow, that's not real. I don't get it. Now I do understand if the purists want to get fussy about the keyboard sounds that come in the Korg and the Roland units where they've kind of looped them and messed them up. It's hasn't quite got the character of the real thing, but once again, it is a real major hassle to get the real thing functioning well enough to get it on tape. We did use it for the Somnambulist albums and that was a whole adventure in itself, just getting the thing to play.

TK: You know, I talked to Rick Wakeman about this and it seems to me that he would rather have his kneecaps broken than to deal with using a Mellotron or a B-3 in the studio.

FS: The B-3, I'll do that, but as for the Mellotron, I feel like there are perfectly viable alternatives available in the world today.

TK: What kind of fan response are you starting to get with the new release? I looked in on the Glass Hammer forum the other day, and I was impressed by the loyalty and love that you get from your listeners.

SB: One of them got to play on the album, too.

TK: Tell me about that. Who is it?

SB: Stephanie Rumpza, who has been a fan, and who has been emailing me since she was, I think, in the sixth grade.

TK: She wrote the Latin lyrics for the last part of "The Knight Of The North," didn't she?

FS: Yeah, and she played recorder on the album.

SB: And she sang, too. So see, if you bug us for long enough we eventually put you to work. We involved her father, too; he did some work on the scores for the choir and they've been close friends for years but it all started as fan mail.

TK: You hear people describe your extended musical network as the Glass Hammer family. Funnily enough, if you look at the album credits for this and a few other Glass Hammer releases you do find a lot of what appears to be married couples, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters.

SB: There's Tom Hammett and Emily Hammett, a father and daughter, and there's Susie and Bethany, who are sisters. My wife is my counterpoint here at the record label, so it's not entirely a mom and pop business, but yeah, it kinda is.

TK: One of your family members who seems to have come and gone without much fanfare is Brad Marler, who sang the lead vocals on Chronomatree. Unlike some people apparently, I loved his voice.

SB: We continually hear from people who love him.

TK: I prefer either someone with a crisp, bell like tone, like Walter or a voice with a bit of quirkiness to it, a voice like Brad's.

SB: Well, Chronomatree, the way it was done, pleased us immensely, and I wouldn't change it if I could. It certainly wasn't an album that we could picture Walter singing. The reaction to Brad was pretty fierce though.

TK: Have you started thinking about the next project yet?

SB: Not at all. Whatever creative time we have now is spent trying to put some keyboards together, keep the band together and get some rehearsals going for a show in November. We're pretty busy.

TK: Tell me about that. It's a program called Past Watchful Dragons at Belmont College in Nashville, right? How did you come to be involved in that conference?

SB: A lot of fans of ours in the scholastic circles, especially those at Belmont, know that there's a connection in some of our lyrics to C.S. Lewis's writings. They approached us about a year ago and asked us to play at this big conference they were going to have, and of course this is all because The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is coming out in a theatrical release in December. Belmont is a very well respected music college here in the heart of music city and we thought it was a great opportunity to go there and play in a state of the art hall. The band Salem Hill, they live here in Nashville, so it was easy to pull them in to this with us, and then later that evening the Lord Of The Rings Symphony will be presented by the Nashville Symphony and Choir. So it's another big night of elves and hobbits.

FS: We should be able to get a DVD out of this.

SB: Yeah, were shooting this event.

Glass Hammer - Lex LiveFS: It should be a nice counterpart to the other DVD. [Lex Live]. This will be in a bigger hall, over two thousand seats, a bigger environment with a bigger light show, or a light show anyway.

SB: The full band from NEARfest, plus Carl Groves is going to sit in with us and play, the Adonia String Trio, and a one hundred and twenty member choir.

TK: A hundred and twenty? What was it at NEARfest? Eighteen, twenty voices?

SB: Something like that. And it worked so well the first time.

TK: Oh yeah, no problem at all.

SB: Well, they'll just have to remember to turn the mikes on this time.

TK: What material are you working up from The Inconsolable Secret to play at this show?

SB: Well, "The Knight Of The North" will be the big centerpiece of the show. We'll have some music from Perlandra that we haven't played in years, were going to do a couple of tracks from Lex Rex, and then a good majority of it will be from The Inconsolable Secret. We won't touch any of the purely symphonic pieces but the more rocking pieces and some of the ballads, we'll probably be doing them.

TK: Will all the girls be there?

SB: Yes. Well let me clarify that, one was in a car wreck the night before last and...

TK: Who? Is she okay?

SB: That was Flo. They put her together with pins. She's got a broken arm. She's in the hospital, and this is after being diagnosed last week with mono and some pretty severe liver problems. She's going to try everything she can to recuperate and be there, and Susie had her baby last night and she's still planning on being with us, so if the girls are all in shape they'll be there with us.

TK: So if you can get the whole band there and healthy enough to play, it will be a minor miracle, then.

SB: Yeah, it always is. We set out with The Inconsolable Secret to make an album that was impossible for us to make. We didn't have an orchestra, we didn't have a choir, and we don't know Latin.

FS: It was a real experiment to record an orchestra, not only just recording an orchestra, but recording it to get that big sound, that Hollywood sound. I was pretty amazed when it all worked.

SB: And then to do the next concert. The same thing, let's do something we probably can't do and something we would surely never want to do again. Let's drag out the string trio, all the singers we can possibly put together and have them with us and? we'll get there, we'll be okay.

TK: Let me get up on my soapbox for a moment, can I? I want to see Glass Hammer live out on the West Coast at a festival (CalProg, BajaProg) or something. What can your fans do to try and make that happen?

SB: Just contact those festivals. I've expressed an interest several times, I get emails about this from fans and I can only tell them to contact the festivals because we would consider anything they want to say to us. We just haven't been asked; so you know, we've got an airport here and we're ready to go.

TK: I want to ask you both about some influences, the bands that Glass Hammer is always compared to, whether rightly or wrongly, okay? Would you give me some idea of what you think they have meant to Glass Hammer or to you just personally? The first would be Yes.

SB: Well, they were probably the first progressive rock band, outside of Rush, who some people wouldn't consider a progressive rock band, they were my first exposure to the genre.

TK: When did you hear prog for the first time? How old were you?

SB: Seventeen, it was late for me.

TK: How about you Fred?

FS: Initially, of course, there was a lot of classical in the house and I grew up listening to that, and then there was The Beatles, they were the first pop band, and then Jethro Tull was actually the first, umm, "different" rock music that I started to get into. My sister brought home A Passion Play and I remember her listening to it and thinking, wow, that's unbelievable, what is that? It took a couple more years and then I got heavily into Yes and they became one of my favorite bands. The big thing about Yes, other than Jon Anderson's voice, was that they're probably the best writers of epic length pieces. You know, as composers, what they come up with thematically, the way they work all that together as a whole, you know, I don't think anybody writes large, grand scale pieces in the rock genre as well as they do. Just the colors they get, the interplay between the guitar and the keyboards, you know I tended to see them as this big keyboard band, in a way. I guess that's because I'm a keyboard player, but Steve Howe really dominates that band to a large degree.

TK: You're correct in that observation, did you know? One time I counted all the solos by Rick Wakeman in his entire catalog with Yes and there are about fifteen or twenty featured keyboard solos in the whole catalog and there were about fifteen guitar solos on just the first album Steve did with Yes.

SB: When we were compared to Yes, well for years I agreed. But when I went back and listened closely I just don't see it. I really don't. Two keyboard players write for this band and we write, pretty much, always on keyboards.

TK: Let's talk about an influence from a more keyboard dominated band then. What about ELP?

FS: Well, I'm a huge, huge fan of the Hammond organ sound, obviously. That's the first keyboard I ever owned, a Hammond M-3 organ, and just the sound that Emerson got out of his organ was like nothing else anywhere. The amount of technical ability he had was... Well, when I was a kid I was taking classical piano lessons, and I was pretty good, and I could recognize that this guy was just a monster player, especially his left hand. His left hand was probably better than ninety percent of other keyboard player's right hands.

TK: Just curious, can you play the left hand line from the opening of "Tarkus"?

FS: I can play both parts, but I have a real rough time playing them at the same time. You know, right now I'm kind of rigorously trying to re-train myself to get some of that back, because I haven't practiced like I should have for the last fifteen years. As a matter of fact, I've rededicated myself to learning scales and the basics, and I hope that when we do these shows it will be apparent.

TK: I think it already shows in your solo work from the new album. That alone is enough for me.

FS: Cool, thanks.

TK: Why is it so hard to get someone to just sit at the organ and solo endlessly? People just won't do it.

FS: Part of it is that if you do it then you're going to get compared to Keith Emerson. You just have to bite the bullet and figure, well, I'm going to get the comparison and there's nothing wrong with that, you just have to do it. So it's like the "Tarkus" section of the album when you get to that part of "The Knight Of The North," and I'll just happily point that out. You know, here comes "Tarkus," what are you going to say?

TK: My point of view is this, it hasn't been done so many times that I can't hear it done well again and enjoy it immensely, you know?

SB: That's what I think, too, of all the criticism we get for the steel guitar and the pipe organ. How many times did they really do that? I think we've already passed them up. Just because something was done once thirty years ago is no reason not to do it again, expand on it and do it some more. How many rock bands use the combination of guitar, bass and drums. Is anything you do just derivative if you use guitar, bass and drums?

FS: How many bands use the same Bo Diddley licks or blues progressions?

TK: Ninety nine percent of rock is just some guitarist playing the same junk over and over again and no one savages them about it, do they?

FS: You just try to present things in a fresh new setting and you do the best you can.

TK: Can each of you tell me about an influence you have in your writing that wouldn't be readily apparent. Something that would make a Glass Hammer fan go "huh?"

SB: I'll give you one for me on this new album, that isn't obvious unless you really think about it, and that's Björk. The combination of girl's choir, harps and string ensembles were very much a factor in writing "Lirazel." So I've immersed myself in Björk this year.

TK: See, and I was thinking that song was showing a Loreena McKennit kind of sound.

SB: Nope, not really so much. But that would be my odd one.

TK: How about you Fred?

FS: I can't think of anything off the wall that would actually be audible on the new album. You know, I like The Ohio Players, I like seventies funk bands. And you don't really hear much evidence of that.

TK: No, I don't hear any booty shaking going on at all.

FS: No, we've never found a way to integrate that into the band.

SB: We were Judas Priest fans. Did you know, the only concert I ever attended with Fred, other than Yes concerts, was Kiss? We have some rather odd influences, truthfully.

FS: You know, I like those awful, soft rock bands from California, like America.

TK: Well, you guys both spent some time as metal heads, didn't you?

SB: Yeah, I did.

FS: I was never a metal head, particularly.

SB: From nineteen, through my early twenties, I was in a kind of Rush meets Kiss band called the Wyzards.

TK: So do you think the influence of metal on progressive rock has been positive or negative?

SB: It's been positive in terms that it has kept the business alive and thriving. I don't listen to it though. My days of enjoying screaming guitars, if you can't tell by listening to this album, are over. You can quote me on this, I put up with guitar players for years. I think that Glass Hammer is a total reaction to that, it's like, okay guys, I think the keyboard players have something to say, too. I mean, we were told, we were advised to go more towards metal. But at the point that I heard that I'm in my thirties, my mid thirties, and I'm tired of it. Look, I loved metal for some time and if you listen to it and like it that's great.

FS: The level of musicianship is usually very high, you have to respect that. But on a personal level, I couldn't make fun of anyone for listening to it. If people are into it, then they shouldn't be any more embarrassed about it then we are of our hobbits and elves.

TK: Any list of the top modern prog releases would be sure to have one or two Glass Hammer albums on it. What would you say are some of the other great releases or great bands of modern progressive rock?

FS: Honestly, I'd have to sit down and think about it. I haven't been listening to a lot of modern stuff. It's not that I don't like it, it's kind of a matter of time and a certain inertia on, I think, both of our parts. We're not as hungry as we were when we were kids to seek out new music. I think we both tend to listen to old stuff, and newer albums cross our paths, but I hesitate to name them because there's a lot of good stuff out there that we haven't heard and we'll be stepping on those toes by not mentioning them.

TK: Tell me about your favorite old albums to listen to then. What are a few of your favorite classic prog albums?

Yes - Going For The OneSB: I'd say Going For The One, for the music on it.

FS: I'd say pretty much all the Yes albums starting with Going For The One and then going back to the beginning. I listen to those from time to time. And In A Glass House by Gentle Giant, that's one I pull out on a fairly regular basis.

TK: You originally gravitated towards Jethro Tull early on, right?

FS: I don't listen to them as much, but I still love that band.

SB: And I didn't listen to Genesis when they were around in the mid seventies. I just really discovered them in the nineties. I just never picked up on them.

Genesis - A Trick Of The TailFS: It'll probably destroy some credibility, but probably, if at any given time I were to pull out a Genesis album to listen to, it would probably be A Trick Of The Tail. I do like to listen to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, but I really like both the four piece albums a lot.

TK: A Trick Of The Tale and Wind And Wuthering are both really nice albums.

FS: Although Wind And Wuthering has a bit of syrup on it, the good parts are really, really good. And to kind of get back to ELP, who we were talking about earlier, they're a love-hate kind of band for me now as I get older. I think Keith is an incredible writer and there is some great stuff on Brain Salad Surgery and especially Trilogy and Tarkus.

TK: Yeah, stuff like "The Endless Enigma" is brilliant.

FS: But the bad taste factor can get high.

TK: Are you talking about stuff like "Jeremy Bender" or "Nut Rocker"?

FS: No. Strangely enough, I don't care for what they've done with some of the classical stuff like Pictures At An Exhibition, for instance. But they've written a lot of great original music.

SB: I just picked up the Brain Salad Surgery DVD audio. That's a recent purchase for me.

FS: And there's Eddie Jobson and UK. I've pulled out both the UK albums, not the live one, but the two studio albums recently. Eddie is actually a fairly big influence for me.

TK: I was hoping to hear you mention Jobson. You sound a great deal like him at times.

FS: Matter of fact, that piano solo off the Green album, the Zinc album? I've been re-learning it and I might even try and slip it into the live set if they'll let me. It's from the eighties and it's a little dated sounding, but it's an Eddie Jobson solo album, but he gave it a faux band name, Zinc, and Gary Green plays on it.

TK: Gary Green, the guitarist from Gentle Giant?

FS: Yeah. He was the only "name" person; I don't recognize anyone else that played on it.

TK: I worshipped Jobson. I always say the U.K's Danger Money is my favorite ELP album.

FS: Yeah, it is. Actually, it's funny, the first time I saw them, they were an opening act for Jethro Tull.

TK: I saw that tour, too. 1979.

FS: Yeah, I'd never heard of them and then they walked out on stage and I thought, good lord, it's another ELP. ELP had just broken up and I thought, okay, here you go, here's the next keyboard-based power trio.

TK: Jobson is Keith Emerson with some restraint.

FS: Yeah, exactly. That's what it is.

TK: And John Wetton is a better Greg Lake. I always thought his voice was a bit better, he has a richer sound.

FS: And he had a nastier bass tone.

TK: They were an awesome band live. Jethro Tull always seemed to bring someone really interesting with them on tour, like The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Uriah Heep, Camel, Carmen, which is where they got John Glascock, who you mentioned earlier. But, hey, I'm leading you pretty far away from Glass Hammer. We're about out of time and I wanted to ask you about Audio 111, your recording studio. Tell us about that business, tell us what you guys really do to make a living, okay?

SB: We have a recording studio and we divide our time between Glass Hammer and a number of other clients, that could be anything from a mall chain that has fifty malls and wants a series of commercials done, or it could be a gospel singer who needs an album recorded. So it's a working recording and production studio.

TK: And do your clients get the benefit of the two of you for their dollar? Do you write the jingles that go along with it?

SB: Yeah. And you should hear some of the influences that creep in there.

TK: Now that's something I'd like to hear. I don't know if I'd want to pay for it, but I'd sure listen to it.

SB: I wouldn't mind putting some of them out there. I think it would be pretty funny.

FS: I don't want to be associated with it. But the Brittany Spears one is the one I'd like to track down.

SB: Yeah, that's Steve, Fred and Susie doing Brittany Spears.

FS: We did a knock off for a mall.

Well, at this point everything dissolved into fits of laughter, giggling and snorting, followed by some unseemly silliness and then some general banalities before we all parted. Once again, I find that working musicians are some of the most open and honest people you could ever run into. I also find that if one is not careful, one will forget the point of an interview when talking with Steve and Fred and just start blabbing with them as if they were old friends.

You have my apologies; but remember, I warned you.

[The Past Watchful Dragons performance is on November 5, 2005, Massey Performing Arts Center, Belmont University, Nashville, TN-ed.]

Journey To The Dunadan (1994)
Perelandra (1996)
Live And Revived (1997)
On To Evermore (1997)
Chronometree (2000)
The Middle Earth Album (2001)
Lex Rex (2002)
Shadowlands (2004)
Live At NEARFest (2004)
The Inconsolable Secret (2005)
The Compilations (2006)
Culture Of Ascent (2007)
Three Cheers For The Broken-hearted (2009)
If (2010)
One (via GH only) (2010)
Cor Cordium (2011)
Perilous (2012)
The Inconsolable Secret - Deluxe Edition (2013)
Ode To Echo (2014)
The Breaking Of The World (2015)
Double Live (2015)

Lex Live (2004) (DVD)
Live At Belmont (2006) (DVD)
Live At The Tivoli (2008) (DVD)

Added: August 23rd 2005
Interviewer: Tom Karr

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Language: english

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