Interview - Progressive Newsletter

(Progressive Newsletter Nr.42 12/02)
excerpts from an interview with Steve Babb (Keyboards, Bass, Vocals)

This time you left the shores of Middle-earth and developed a concept of the ancient Rome. How did this idea evolve and in which way did the concept influence the musical interpretation?

I'll answer the last part first. The concept never influenced the music. The story line is always secondary in importance to the music - although this story seems to overwhelm the music in places, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. All of the music was written first, and even placed in the order it appears on the album before the lyrics were considered. It was my task to adapt the lyrics and the story to fit the music. As for how it evolved, I am a big fan of heroic fantasy and historic fiction. About three years ago I read all of the David Gemmel "Legend" series. That was the first of many inspirations for this album. Also coming into play were three novels of ancient Greece by Steven Pressfield. I was also moved by films like "Braveheart", "Gladiator", "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "Ben Hur". The writings of C. S. Lewis have an impact on most of my writing, and the Bible is also an influence. Even my own 'quest for glory' provided some insight into the main characters development.

Your last progressive rock album "Chronometree" was written and recorded in a very fast way in contrast to "Lex Rex" which took months to be completed. Were both very different ways, the best working ways for those special albums or do you like to experiment with different ways of creating an album?

It all comes together by accident or by divine intervention! We've never successfully planned out our approach to an album, even though it is in my nature to do just that. Being a student of military history, I tend to view each album as a grand campaign. I need maps and plans and goals and strategy - I like to control it all like a general. But music doesn't work that way! Sometimes in the middle of a production it feels like I've created a huge mess that will never sort itself out. But 'somehow' we scale the fortress wall - or fire enough volleys at it - and the album - which has come to be viewed as an enemy by this point - is at last subdued! We are beaten, bruised, and scarred; but somehow victorious. Sounds rather dramatic, but Fred would agree. By the end of every album we've ever done - we find ourselves hating the entire thing! We mix and we mix and then we remix and then we remix, and then sometimes we start over. It gets tiresome! We don't want to hear it anymore! But that sort of loathing is the very thing that propels us forward to new musical conquests. I am going to 'try' not to approach the next album that way. We're going to take a couple of days this week and do some writing. We'll probably do that as often as we can, until we have the material we're looking for. We know that we have the sound we're after now - "Lex Rex" is the formula so to speak. So maybe we want have to plan it all - maybe it will just come.

Numerous vocal sessions were recorded this time for mult-layered vocal arrangements. How difficult was it to reach the aim of your vocal approach / idea, which you had in mind for this album?

Once we determined that Fred and I would be doing the majority of the vocals it all came fairly easy. We tried two different singers on "Heroes and dragons" for instance, and even though they both blew us away as soloists, we knew that it wasn't what we were after. Fred sang it with the emotion - if not the skill - that the song needed. Emotion was the key - not ability. Same thing on "Tales of the Great Wars" and "One King". There is a mix - in the vault - where the female vocal tracks dominate the male. Susie Bogdanowicz is an incredible singer - but ultimately we viewed the whole album and Glass Hammer itself, as a male fronted sound. Even Susie agreed. Fred and I don't claim to be great singers, but we are the only ones who know what we're after, and the only ones who will devote themselves to the hours and hours it takes to get it right.

Glass Hammer is known for it's obvious roots in 70s progressive rock, "Lex Rex" being another fine example for this. Do you feel a kind of pressure of giving the fans exactly the music they want or do you record and compose totally freely with no-one in mind, just following your musical way right from the heart?

Yes and no. 'No', because if we felt totally enslaved to our fans we would never do the crazy things like we did with "The Middle-earth" Album. Dwarven drinking songs and Victorian opera aren't the things that most progressive rock fans are looking for in an album. And yet, many of them truly enjoyed it. We might even do another "live from The Prancing Pony" album some day. 'Yes', because we don't want to disappoint anyone. We like our fans. We want Glass Hammer to reach a bigger audience - and that's done by pleasing people. We have to deliver a certain level of excitement each and every time we do an album. We have to outdo the last effort. That's pressure. Especially now. Because nearly everyone seems to be knocked over by "Lex Rex" - how do you follow that? I listen to it and wonder - "What happens if we can't do this again?" But we will. And the good news is this: fans like the style and the essence of "Lex Rex", and so do we. We have found the elusive 'sound' that we were after all along - and fortunately our audience agrees. So we'll at least approach the next album in the same way. Not a departure of styles, but a follow-up. If it leads us in new directions, so be it. But we'll start from "Lex Rex" and move forward.

Like on "Chronometree" you added some guest musicians, this time especially on guitar. In which way did the different players contribute?

Truthfully, we do this just for the fun of it. We like or admire other players and we want them to have fun with us - we want to include them in the process. It is done more for our benefit than for the benefit of the music. I think Fred is a fantastic guitarist - as well as keyboardist - and there was nothing added by the other players that he couldn't have done himself. They're all terrific too of course, but they really don't get a fair shot with Glass Hammer. We basically have a 'hole' in the music that needs filled with a guitar solo. "Hey, lets call 'so and so'. He'd sound good here." And if 'so and so' does end up sounding good - we keep the track. Otherwise, Fred does it himself.

You recently released "This way to Evermore", a one hour long Glass Hammer video. Can you tell me a little bit more about it and are additionally plans to release it on DVD?

It is a GH fan video. If you're not already into Glass Hammer, you wouldn't appreciate it. There is a lot of 'bootleg' quality tape, and some low budget concept video. There's live footage, studio session video, two unreleased tracks - the kind of stuff a die-hard fan likes. We don't play live very often, and so many of our fans have never seen us do anything. We had some decent video, and the ability to add some additional 'decent' video - it seemed a waste not to use it. But there are no plans for a DVD release of "This way to Evermore". We might do a DVD in the future. I'd like to, as long as the project doesn't get in the way of making albums. It would be easy to get distracted and forget our actual job - making music.

Also "David and Goliath - The Musical", packed with music, drama and original sound effects has been released recently, but not under the name Glass Hammer. Can you also tell a little bit more about this album, most of all about the music and contents / story of this CD?

"David and Goliath" is the retelling of the Old Testament Bible story of the shepherd and the giant. The style is similar to "Prince of Egypt" - its for kids or for families. And even though we don't use the name Glass Hammer - it is obviously us. It's a concept album for the little ones. It gets very big at times, musically speaking. There's even some prog in the mix if you know what to listen for. It's one of the coolest things we've ever done - and I hope it catches on.

Are there plans for another musical return to Middle-Earth and record another "The Lord of The Rings" inspired album yet or has this chapter finally closed for you?

It will never be over for me. We might not actually do another album - but I'll never rule it out. For instance, we've been invited to play "The Lord of The Rings" Oscar party in Hollywood next year, and "The Return Of The King" premiere in Toronto in December of 2003. 'If' we do these shows we're going to need additional material. And if we go to the trouble of writing that material, we may as well record it and release it. I have a real urge to write some "Silmarillion" inspired epics, and we may even do that on the next GH album. I just reread it, and Fred is reading it now. There are big stories within that novel that would adapt well to a "Lex Rex" sound. But I also really liked doing the silly pub songs on "The Middle-earth" Album. I love listening to them, and still laugh every time I hear the dwarves and hobbits bickering and singing along in the background. It was a blast to make that album.

Even though you had chances to sign to some record companies you stayed truly independent over all the years with all its advantages and disadvantages. You still feel comfortable with this decision?

Every single time that I entertain offers from record companies - all of our work begins to go astray. We modify our sound, we change directions just a bit - all to please a group of people who I don't even know, and probably wouldn't like much if I did. Musically, I grew up in the 80's. Everything was about 'getting the deal', 'getting signed' or 'making it big'. But it was all a lie. Even so - even knowing that - it is hard to resist the temptation of signing to a 'big label'. Now Glass Hammer isn't VH1 or MTV material - we all know that. Major labels would be insane to sign a group like us. However, there are big prog labels that can do a lot in the way of promotion that we can't. Some of them have offered us deals, while some of them seem blissfully unaware that we exist at all. I tend to think that if we remain independent, and keep putting out great albums, word will spread.

© Progressive Newsletter 2002