GHfan.net: So now that we've heard the samples of the album, there seems to be a lot of tension, mystery, glory, and enchantment. Can you give us a little information on the backstory that's going on here?
Steve: If we’re speaking of the concept, The Inconsolable Secret is a musical story and soundtrack to a poem (The Lay of Lirazel by yours truly) inspired by a painting (The Lady of Shallot by John W. Waterhouse), that was inspired by a poem (The Lady of Shallot by Alfred Lord Tennyson), that was inspired by an Arthurian legend ( the Lady Elaine). That’s how it started.
I pretty much scrapped most of the original story and built my own world, made up characters, developed a plot, and convinced Fred to let me write all the lyrics! Then I wrote “The Lay of Lirazel”, which is a 19,000 word poem. The album became the sound track to that poem.
If Glass Hammer fans will take the time to read The Lay of Lirazel (included on the enhanced cd) they’ll have no problem understanding the album. Some will just enjoy the music, and that’s fine.
As for the story itself, Disc One tells the tale of an evil Knight and his rebellion against his King, and his ultimate banishment. Disc Two is the story of his revenge, carried out by his capture of the King’s daughter. I won’t give away more.
But to go a bit deeper, the title “The Inconsolable Secret” comes from a quote by C. S. Lewis. “I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence.”
Lewis, Tolkien and others (myself included) felt that God hid the greatest myth “the one that came true”, in the great man-made myths and stories. That’s how it worked for me when I learned the story of the Lady of Shallot. I seemed to glimpse a bigger story so I told it. I think you’ll see in my own story, that an even greater story is hinted at.
But you have heard musical samples on our website, and the music has its own back story. Fred and I have been dabbling in classical music all our lives. In the last two years we’ve even had the opportunity to record full orchestras and choirs. We saw that we might very well be able to do something really big using those elements, something most bands would never have the chance to do. But as much as we wanted to sound ‘big’, we also wished to do something less pretentious. We wanted two completely different things.
We wanted to do two albums a stripped-down, rough-edged prog album; and a fully orchestrated symphonic album that combined band, orchestra and choir. The answer for us was to do both albums at once. Disc One is mostly the stripped down band with a growing presence of the symphonic near the end. Disc Two is the symphonic disc with only a little of the stripped-down band showing itself now and then. It worked well with the storyline too. Disc One is the ‘manly’ disc about the Knights and battles. Disc Two is about ‘the lady’. We’ve even named both discs “The Knights”, and “The Lady”.
GHfan.net: Your lyrics have always been well-written and thought-provoking, but what made you decide to write an epic poem? Have you ever tried anything like this before?
Steve: I have written poetry (attempted to at least) since I was 17. I got more serious about it in my 20’s.
I sort of ‘found myself’ in lyric writing though. That happened in my 20’s. The style was mostly metal, and involved tales of doom and battle. The Wyzards album we released a few years ago contains many of these lyrics.
Lex Rex was sort of a turning point for me, in that the lyrics and story were very well received.
A lot of people place no importance on lyrics. I hear that all the time. I think it’s because most lyrics really say nothing at all people quit reading them. But as an artist, I have one chance every year or so, to say something that matters to me. I just cannot waste the opportunity. Chronometree was very hard for me on that level, because it told such an idiotic story (though a true one). It almost told no story at all, but Fred relented in the end and allowed me to present it as a solid concept. (Fred and I are equal partners in GH. I don’t draft a concept without his approval.)
Well, I knew I wanted to tell a big story in a big way. I had read some literature in the last 2 years that pushed me towards this, or at least gave me the mental fuel to attempt it. I also knew that I’d never actually write something of the magnitude of “The Lay of Lirazel” unless I was somehow forced say by a very real deadline and commitment. So, I announced the project publicly then set out to actually make it happen. I wanted it to be a challenge to songwriters (especially Christian writers). Who says music has to be so one-dimensional. Why can’t it involve deeper thought, more work? Why can’t it offer something more to an audience?
Of course, breaking your wrist and hand gives you a little extra time for heavy thinking. That happened last November and the poem started shortly after that as I recall.
I aimed for 12,000 words and ended up with around 19,000 words. A few people have read it already (band members and close friends) and are saying very nice things about it. I’m hopeful it will be well received.
The actual album-lyrics (based on the poem) came easy this time, Lex Rex was very difficult. I hope it’s an upward trend!
GHfan.net: Would you ever consider writing a work of literature by itself? Or do you find that there is something more meaningful about expressing the story through words and through music?
Steve: I have every intention of working “The Lay of Lirazel” and the ideas that came from it into a full novel or series. I may need some sort of ‘official announcement’ to drive me to actually do this of course - and this isn’t it!
I’m curious to see if I could pull it off. I’m no Oxford professor like Tolkien or Lewis, but I do have the unusual angle of being a musician and lyric writer.
But I refuse to do anything unless I know it has a chance of being read. I’m not going to waste it. I have a serious dread of facing the ‘publishing industry’ Christian or otherwise.
In the Christian music industry, you’re asked to “dumb down” your music to fit the audience. That’s insulting to the writers and the audience (if the audience knew of this I can only assume they’d be insulted). If it works that way in Christian publishing I’d want nothing to do with it. And if I’m writing a Christian allegory (which I think it may well be), then where else do I go with it? I’ll eventually explore the idea, and I’ll remain hopeful that Christian book publishers aren’t as pathetically simple-minded as their musical counterparts.
There’s always self-publishing. But at this point in my life, I’m not sure I’m willing to take that challenge on.
That’s all the negative stuff though. On the positive side, I’ve got a story to tell a very, very big one!
GHfan.net: The Inconsolable Secret seems to be a sort of work far over and above the ordinary concept album, a synthesis of two sophisticated art forms, literature and music. Has anything like this ever been tried before? What inspired you to do it yourselves?
Steve: I stated earlier that I wished to challenge Christian songwriters. I’m working with a few others on a proposed-movement (revolution?) called Reclaim The Music. It’s in its infancy but essentially, it seeks or will seek to free Christian writers from the current box that the CCM industry has created.
Being so outspoken on Christian music, I thought it best to do something really big before I opened my mouth any more. The Inconsolable Secret is the result. Fred has his own reasons mind you, but I think he’s into the Reclaim idea too.
But here is the disclaimer. I just said this somewhere on the Glass Hammer forum. GH is the “Narnia of prog”. If you’re a Christian, you’ll probably see a Christian world-view in the story and lyrics of The Inconsolable Secret”. If you’re not a Christian you’ll see a tale of Knights and battles.
This isn’t a gospel album, nor is it Christian rock. It’s a symphonic-prog album that tells a story. I love to tell heroic stories with music. If I’d been a Viking, they’d have made me a skald!
Has it been done before? Probably by Viking skalds!
GHfan.net: Though not necessarily true of prog fans, a lot of people out there seem to think that music is purely for entertainment purposes, but especially in your later albums you show a lot of depth and intelligence that goes far beyond the limits of merely entertaining. How do you as an artist view the purpose of music? What do you understand as a successful album?
Steve: I have no problem with ‘depthless’ music, or at least its right to exist or the rights of others to enjoy it. Something I hope to address through Reclaim the Music is that there is room for all manner of art and music, but that a corporate-imposed style (pop, rap, etc) seems to block out the possibility of creating real art, or deeper music. For one, they dictate a hip style to the church and aggressively market to sell that style as something pleasing to God. Second, the young Christian musicians that would like to succeed and be enjoyed by multitudes (no bad thing) have no option than to join the industry and compose what it dictates.
I for one enjoy a lot of different styles of music. When it comes to composing it, I have always chosen a particular type, namely, symphonic-progressive. I don’t wish for all the musicians in the world to compose symphonic-progressive rock, but I do wish the Christian musicians and writers would look for more sophisticated ways to express themselves. How much Jesus-pop do we need?
Christians rave on and on about the culture war, yet offer no culture as an alternative. Their music-industry merely copycats the incredibly simplistic music of their secular counterparts, alters the lyric style a bit, then packages it with the same sex appeal and slick style that the secular companies do. Of course, one reason for the continuation of the practice is that the Christian record companies were all bought up by the secular industry.
The purpose of Christian music should be to glorify God not line the pockets of hi-level execs and stock holders. And yet I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be music for Christians that is produced purely for entertainment. I am saying that the current corporate model is completely incapable of producing something with any real depth.
Reclaim the Music will not seek to change the industry from the inside, nor will it attempt to set up some elitist club of prog-rock Christians who put forth Jesus-prog as a CCM alternative. (There are two C-Prog albums on the market, and they were done with the best of intentions.)
Reclaim will however, aggressively work to deprive the industry of its future artists and audience, then set the artists free to fulfill their true visions. Stay tuned for details on how that will happen!
Now, on to the last part of your question.
A successful Glass Hammer album must pay for itself and provide enough income to record the next. It must out-peform its predecessor in sales and in appeal. Our fanbase must grow. For me, what I write and contribute to an album must have meaning and depth, and it must in some way glorify the Creator or, at the very least, cause Him no shame or insult.
Just to have recorded The Inconsolable Secret, to hear it finished and to know that Fred and I probably came closer to achieving something we’d always wanted than ever before well its already a huge success.
We are about to send it out into the world now, and we’ll see what other kinds of success it yields. I’m hoping for a big hit, but we’ll just have to wait and see!