Interview - Progressive Newsletter

Progressive Newsletter Nr.31 07/00
excerpts from an interview with Steve Babb (Keyboards, Bass, Vocals)

At least somebody made a progressive concept album about a prog fan and taking things not too seriously. Do you think it was time to put some humor in prog and where did you find the idea for this concept - maybe even some self-experience?

Yes, I think all proggers are guilty of taking their music too seriously. And that's okay, because it's serious music. But every now and then we need to lighten up a bit. The story is based on an actual person that Fred knew in the late 70's. We embellished it quite a bit by adding bits and pieces from our own experiences. The rest is just fantasy.

Do you have sometimes also the feeling, that aliens or forces from outer space speak through your music?

I was briefed on this topic recently by Commander Tom of the Galactic Spaceship CHRONOS. My instructions were to flatly deny the existence of aliens, and to discourage any notion that Glass Hammer is in contact with any 'outside' force. So, keep listening to our music! We promise it's safe! All jokes aside, I really do not believe that aliens visit earth. Beyond that, I have no theories and no opinions on the existence of extra-terrestrials. This album was just for fun!

Now, to a little bit more serious question: you've had two guest musicians contributing to this album, being Arjen Lucassen aka Ayreon and Terry Clouse from Somnambulist. What were the reasons for especially taking these two musicians and in which way could they bring in their own ideas?

Why we used their talents is very simple. Terry is a genius as far as I'm concerned. Arjen is a virtuoso guitarist. That's why we asked them to participate. Both musicians were really free to add their own flavors and ideas to our music. They both stepped into the project after the basic tracks were completed, so they couldn't really contribute in a compositional way. But we gave them a lot of room to flex their musical muscles within the songs. I think they added a lot.

In my opinion "Chronometree" is more bombastic, more in the 70's vein than its predecessors. Do you also think that this album has something special compared to your other albums or is it just a logical continuation of your own musical paths?

Chronometree is not really a continuation of our musical paths. Instead, it was like returning home to our original influences. I've heard that it resembles "Journey of the Dunadan", our first Glass Hammer album. I'm not sure about that, but it does pay homage to the very first albums that Fred and I were influenced by. Fred composed the majority of this album in a very short time. I contributed more lyrics than music. We both tried to keep it very focused on the seventies sound. I think it was an attempt to recapture that old magical feeling from the early days; when music was intense and honestly put forth. Lyrically, Chronometree tries to capture the seriousness that young music listeners of the seventies experienced as they fell into the spell of the music, the words, the emotions, and the mystery of their favorite albums.

A lot of hints and connections to the progressive rock era of the 70's can be found in your music, ELP and Yes being the most obvious. Do you like to be compared to these bands or are you more in search for your own sound?

Those are two of our favorite groups. I do not mind Glass Hammer being compared to these incredible bands. I love it! We've never been labeled as a 'clone' band. We're not attempting to be a 'clone' band. This album was a little different though. However, I still think it sounds like Glass Hammer with some obvious influences thrown in for good measure. Stylistically, we will never escape our roots. There will always be a little 'retrogressive' flashback in our 'progressive' music. If we were to be true to the word 'progressive' in our music, what would that be? Rap mixed with opera, synced with drum loops? Our guitars strung upside down? The piano played while hanging upside down from the ceiling of the studio? Who knows what it means anymore? I recently read an editorial in Progression magazine that complained of too much influence in modern prog by bands like Yes and ELP. But is was Yes that graced the cover of that issue. Thus, I argue that it can't be helped. These giants of early prog influenced all of us to one degree or another. We were trapped in that sound when we were young. We pay homage to it now. We want to hear more of it. So, we make more of it ourselves!

Do you see Glass Hammer more as a project with different guest musicians around a kernel of permanent members or as a band with musicians who have the same equal rights concerning composing and arranging?

There is an 'official band' consisting of Fred, Walter Moore, David Carter and myself. However, Fred and I have always written the majority of the material. We also reserve the right to invite whoever we want to perform on the album. David is very busy in his business. He just bought a music store. Walter runs another studio and engineers for a big country music act. So, they've both been busy and we gave them a break on Chronometree. Between the band members, we own and operate two recording studios, and a retail music store! We love it. But the real Glass Hammer started with just Fred and myself. We're the guys who spend hours and hours writing and producing the tracks. Walter and David have always been very understanding and very happy to contribute. We love what they do and we're all very close, having known and worked with each other for many years. Brad is a recent addition who contributed vocals on Chronometree in Walter's absence. He'll probably be back to do more in the future, but we'll wait and see what happens.

Looking back to the four Glass Hammer studio albums, what do they mean to you one by one?

"Journey of the Dunadan" was a triumph of will. Back in 1992, we had only an 8-track analog recorder, a tiny mixer, some great speakers, and my apartment living room to use as a studio. We had no money to release the album. We knew of no one that would even want to hear it outside of ourselves. As it turned out, an old friend and recording mentor - Horatio - came through with the money at the last minute. It sold thousands of copies and gained us national and international exposure. Fred and I were elated as we'd both just lost huge recording deals in the pop and country categories. Doing what we'd wanted to do most of all is the only thing that ever really paid off for us. We'd spent years doing music 'the right way'. Doing a quirky prog album like Journey was the last thing we thought we should do, but the only thing we really wanted at the time. Journey opened lots of doors to us, and made all the other albums possible. Musically and artistically there is much we'd have done differently had the circumstances been different. But, they weren't, so we didn't! "Perelandra" was the purest joy for me. The sound was better, the ideas more cohesive, and the spiritual meaning behind the album was one that I simply had to put on tape. It's an album about forgiveness, and ultimately about Christ. It's a fantasy to be sure, but the influence behind it was very real to me, and still is. Musically and artistically? Well, I'd still change some things. Hindsight is always 20/20. "On To Evermore" is the most difficult to comment on. It was a long time in the making and represented ideas that stretched out over a three year period. I don't like to do albums that way, but we had too many distractions. There was a possible 'album deal' with a large company that kept things on hold. We produced the Volare album the year it was released. Our side project TMA-2 got in the way a bit too. So did the Wyzards album. Musically, it was probably the best played of the three. Our song writing skill was honed quite a bit too. It's not my favorite album, but we're all still very proud of it.

There are also several side projects related to Glass Hammer, for example Wyzards, TMA-2 or the solo albums from Tracy Cloud and Michelle Young. Can you tell me a little more about them and their connections to the music of Glass Hammer?

Tracy wrote her own music. Fred arranged it. We both performed most of the music on the album. Tracy sang back up on Perelandra and On To Evermore. There's the connection. Michelle worked with us on our first and second album. She also performed with us. We later produced her first album. Wyzards was a band that I shared with David in the early 80's. Recording the music was something we always wanted to do. We may yet do another more modern version of Wyzards someday. TMA-2? Well, the first album had many references to Perelandra within it. However, musically it is a lot different. I love to record ambient albums, and even some dance tracks from time to time. You can't do that on a prog album! So we experimented with TMA-2 for a while. There might be more some day. However, Glass Hammer is what we're trying to stay focused on. It's the best we've ever done and we owe it to ourselves to continue. I'm not sure how long it will last, but as long as there are musicians willing to contribute I'll keep it going. Fred and I have a million ideas. If the time was available we'd probably release six GH albums every year!

What's the difference between the studio recordings and Glass Hammer playing live? Do you improvise or rearrange parts of the songs or just try to play the songs like they were recorded in the studio?

We improvise, we rearrange, we jam! We rock! We're one of the best live bands in the progressive world. I can say that with all sincerity. I don't mean to be arrogant, but we're all top rate players. We all began as live musicians and later made the transformation to the studio. We spent years on the road doing four shows a night, six nights a week. We've played in nearly every circumstance imaginable. Live is where we're probably at our very best.

A final word?

Fred, myself, and all of the contributing players work very hard to bring prog fans an exciting listening experience. If you're reading this and never heard the music of Glass Hammer, I encourage you to pick up the latest album. You'll laugh! You'll rock! You'll think it was a long lost piece of progressive history! You may even hear secret voices from space telling you how great Glass Hammer is!

© Progressive Newsletter 2000