This is an interview from Colossus, the Finnish Prog Music Association, with Glass Hammer's founders, Steve Babb and Fred Schendel.
Q: Can you tell our readers something about the history of Glass Hammer. When and how did you get the idea to put Glass Hammer together? How has the lineup of Glass Hammer changed during the bands existence? When did you record your first album?
FRED: Glass Hammer grew directly out of a realization that our respective attempts at succeeding in the "commercial" areas of music weren't getting anywhere. Steve and I met in 1988 working at a music store (the same one that David Carter, our guitarist, now owns). We had done some electronic music on the side while we each pursued a major label deal. When both our deals fell apart we said, "Heck, if we're going to be broke, let's be broke doing something fun." So we made "Journey Of The Dunadan", and of course, that was a success!!
STEVE: The lineup of the band has always included Fred and myself. Beyond that we have many friends who have added vocals and instrument tracks depending on their availability and their respective interests in our music. Early on, Michelle Young was very involved with us. She provided back up vocals for the albums, plus vocals for the live show. Walter Moore didn't record with us on the first album, but was there as our drummer for the very first live show. David Carter has only missed recording on the latest album, but has been with us since the beginning. David and I shared bands together as far back as 1980. Walter and Fred have worked together off and on since around 1984. Terry Clouse played some bass with us on the first album, then went on to form his own group Somnambulist (Laser's Edge). He returned to play guitar on Chronometree. Brad Marler is the most recent addition. He is the lead vocalist for Chronometree. The 'basic' lineup is Fred, David, Walter and myself. Who is involved on a given album is really just a matter of timing.
Q: The living for a progressive rock band was not so easy during the 90's. How did you manage to make four CDs and survive to the new millennium? Was it difficult to get your first CD published? How is that your first album was a concept album - not such a common form in the 90's?
FRED: We didn't know there were prog record labels when we did "Journey" so we assumed we were going to be doing it ourselves. We created the label and while the CD was at the pressing plant someone heard it and called Ken Golden (of Laser's Edge). He called us and bought 500 copies, and we hadn't even got it back yet! He's been invaluable in helping us hook up with various distributors. "Journey" did well enough to help us build a professional studio which has kept us eating while we put money from albums sales into each successive album.
STEVE: For the recording of 'Journey', we had no backing outside of that provided by my very patient wife! She purchased our speakers for mixing, and an 8 track analog deck. I had no idea where we'd find the funding to release the album. At the last moment, our mixing guru Harry (Horashio) Hubbard came through with the money. He helped a lot in the early years, especially in getting the studio together. Since then, we've made a living recording other progressive bands, music for TV and radio commercials, and a million other projects.
On the subject of concept albums, we've noticed there have been many of them since we did Journey! We'll humbly take the credit for the concept album revival! It was an odd choice, but we felt like going out on a limb. We had no idea that anyone would ever buy the first copy. So, we did it mainly to please ourselves. That's often how the best music is made.
Q: How is the music of Glass Hammer composed? Do all band members take part in the making of the songs and how do you get the ideas for the songs and the lyrics?
FRED: Steve and I are the primary writers; GH is really our vehicle. Walter and David write great stuff but I think they want to do solo albums!! Both Steve and I write music and lyrics but lately I've been doing mainly music and Steve lyrics. It just depends on who has an idea; nothing's defined. I usually get ideas from sitting at a keyboard and improvising- which is a rare thing these days; we're so busy. Actually, we've been very prolific this year. We have two more albums in production!
STEVE: Brad Marler wrote "Perfect Carousel" on Chronometree. David, Walter, Fred and I collaborated on "The Conflict" which appeared on 'On To Evermore'. Otherwise, it has all been written by Fred and I. Ideas are not always easy to come by. Writing for a concept album means that at one level or another, each song must relate to the next. This is restricting in a way. However, I enjoy writing in the grand style. The bigger the better. A reoccurring theme for Glass Hammer has always involved a conflict between good and evil. I have very specific notions about the topic, so lyrics normally come easy. I enjoy spinning a good yarn as well, and we're doing a lot of that for our next project. I don't easily write about personal subjects like love or pain. I don't care to write about life experiences. I like to think that lyrics should either entertain, or get a point across.
Q: How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard any of your releases? In your opinion, how has Glass Hammer's music changed during the bands existence?
FRED: In general, I would say old-school prog with classic influences and lots of vocals. But one thing about us; we don't like to do the same thing twice in a row. "Chronometree" was our version of a tribute album. We're currently doing an album of medieval style music which has both proggy and Celtic aspects, and then we'll release another big prog album.
STEVE: We've moved further and further away from sequencing, though it is still the easiest way for me to demo a song. We've also moved back and forth between writing on guitar and keyboards. At first, it was all keys. Guitars have freed the writing up a lot. Of course, that is to Fred's credit as I don't play guitar! But as for our choice of writing style, we're really all over the map. We are currently bouncing the idea around that we'll eventually do an operetta in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan. I plan to write as long as I'm able, and the style is sure to change and develop as the years go by. But, for those who haven't heard us at all ... we're influenced heavily by the classic prog sounds of the seventies. We always put our very best effort into each album we do. We strive to make albums that people will enjoy. We try to create a complete listening experience with each project. People that enjoy Glass Hammer tell us that they play our discs over and over again. They can 'see' the story as it is played out in music. That's what we're after. Great prog in the classic tradition, but with a few new twists!
Q: The music of Glass Hammer changed somewhat to a more radio-friendly direction with the album "On To Evermore" and again back to more progressive realms with the newest album "Chronometree". Why did this happen?
FRED: We just do what we want to at the moment. I wrote most of the stuff for "Chronometree" as a solo album but we decided to make it a band album. In the future I think we'll do even more esoteric prog alongside the "accessible" prog.
STEVE: Try explaining to a radio programmer that On To Evermore is 'radio friendly'! We are often considered accessible because at the core of most of Glass Hammer's music, you'll find a song. It's not just jamming, or playing riffs, or showing off. We're songwriters. There's melody, harmony, verses and choruses. You can even sing a long with most of it. In that respect, we're 'main stream' proggers. Yes and ELP wrote songs. So did Tull and Camel. So do we. The style is 'progressive', but it is still just basic song writing.
The new album was darker, and less 'friendly' overall. The lyrics go where there is room for them. It just happened that way. The music was very overpowering, and I like that a lot. We'll probably do it again in a similar fashion one day. But on every GH disc you'll find the 'radio friendly' song or two. But that's only really true in a perfect world where GH is welcome on the radio. It is not a perfect world. We're not usually to be found on radio. Only prog radio is friendly to us, and we try to be the same to them.
Q: What about the live gigs of Glass Hammer? Is there many opportunities to play live? How is the usual live show of Glass Hammer?
FRED: We haven't played in a couple years and we want to get out after these next releases and do more. Usually there's only about 5 shows a year we can play an original set at; the big prog festivals (Progfest, Progday, Nearfest; etc.) We've been talking about going out to local clubs and playing a "classic rock from the 70's) format show to have fun and stay tight as a band. GH shows are usually pretty high energy- as long as they're indoors! I'd love to play "Chronometree" live.
STEVE: We're too busy to consider playing live most of the time. Hopefully it will happen again. If it does, BE THERE! We rock! We're all players from the 80's. We toured and played hundreds of shows from 1985 to 1990. I lived in motels and never saw home for months at a time. I did this with David Carter. The time we put into it pays off in our new shows. We never forgot how to entertain. I'm not saying that to sound egotistical, it's just a fact. We 'paid our dues' so to speak.
It is very hard to justify taking time off from recording, to drive for fourteen hours and play one show. The time spent rehearsing could be spent writing and recording new material. That's what I'd rather do.
I did just hear that we're being considered for the 2001 NearFest line-up. If selected, we're going to do a HUGE show. If another good opportunity presents itself, we'll jump. Until then, we'll just keep cranking out albums.
Q: What are your plans for the future? Will you be making same kind of music as before or is there some changes to be expected? When are you planning to release a new CD?
FRED: The great thing about the way this band is set up is that it leaves us fairly free of having to plan! The main thing is we want to release albums faster than every 3 years. If we can finish them, we will have three albums out this year, or at least very early into next year, each having a very different feel to it.
STEVE: Expect the unexpected. There's really no telling where we'll go with this. I count myself fortunate that we've lasted as long as we have. However, I truly believe the best is yet to come. We've got a Celtic \ Folk \ Prog album tentatively titled "Live From Middle Earth" that will have some proggers gnashing there teeth as yet another Lord Of The Rings album makes its way to the shelves! Our own GH fans are going to love it though. It was done mainly for them, and for any fan of Tolkien. We're actually recording it in such a way that you'll hear dwarves and hobbits singing along as we perform in a 'real' pub in Middle Earth called 'The Prancing Pony'. Preposterous! Exactly! Entertaining? Of course!
'Faith and Reason' is the next HUGE prog release for us. We've worked on it forever! Big songs, big solos, big themes ... in other words, "Glass Hammer"!