I fell in love with the Glass Hammer, american band featuring Prog Music. I came to them casually, listening to a piece of YES, with Jon Davison as a vocalist, and I started to explore their amazing world. To satisfy my curiosity, I asked to Steve Babb, co-founder and bassist of the band, to answer a few questions.
Savona, Italy, October 6, 2014
I have been in Tennessee, I was in Beal Street and I visited the house of Elvis, but nowhere I felt the smell of Prog: how is born your passion for this kind of music?
Tennessee is famous for the Blues, Rock, Country and Bluegrass music. The important thing is, Tennessee is well known for music! Prog Rock might not be so noticeable here, but Salem Hill is from Tennessee as is Neal Morse and Glass Hammer. Adrian Belew lives in Nashville. There are more prog artists here than you would realize. Though the audience for prog is usually found elsewhere in the country.
I was exposed to progressive rock after discovering Rush in the late seventies which led to some friends giving me copies of ELP and Kansas albums. I later discovered Camel, Genesis and UK. I've always loved this genre!
I came to you for a combination, watching a movie by Jon Davison on stage with YES, and through his story I found the Glass Hammer: how it has evolved over the years the line up and what is the current situation?
It started as a studio project for Fred Schendel and myself, which led to us needing other musicians for our live band. We run a recording studio full time, so there were always people around who became interested in joining us for a year or sometimes several years. As those people move on to other projects or family commitments, we adapt with new musicians. Right now we have a very solid group with Aaron Raulston on drums, Kamran Alan Shikoh on guitar, with Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanowicz handling the vocals.
The Glass Hammer were born over 20 years ago and during this long period they have recorded a large number of albums: what kind of link exist between the first, "Journey of the Dunadan" and the last, "Ode to Echo"?
Fred Schendel and I have always been a part of this, and our writing is the constant thread that runs through each album. We have also always enjoyed telling stories with our music, and that has been the case on the majority of our albums or individual songs. We have certainly learned a lot since that first album, and hopefully have improved at our craft over the last 20 years.
What happens when the Glass Hammer go up on a stage?
It is really a different group on stage. We don't perform often, but truly enjoy doing that as much as possible. The music has a completely different energy live that is seldom captured on our albums. If you heard us live you might say we played much more aggressively and had an energy to our performance that you might not have expected. Fans always tell us that we appear to be having a lot of fun on stage, and we can tend to be a little goofy – in the same way Rush seems to be these days. We have a blast on stage and love to interact with each other and the audience.
Listening to your music, I had the impression of suddenly finding myself in my teens, finding the indelible marks of some of my favorite bands (YES, ELP, Gentle Giant) combined with something original, which I call the brand of Glass Hammer: how and how much you have been influenced by the musicians of the past, some still at work?
We do reference this band or that band when writing music for our albums, usually bands from 35 or 40 years ago who have long since abandoned their love for progressive rock. We have never tried to be truly progressive, as our love for the genre is rooted in the seventies – so we are more retro than progressive. That being said, we have managed to develop a very distinctive Glass Hammer sound that I think prog fans around the world instantly recognize. We would never be mistaken for another group. I'm very glad you noticed our “brand”!
What do you think about the state of the music - between talent and businnes - in your country?
We are in the music business here, producing artists and songwriters. This being the case, I rarely have the time to listen to much beyond the projects we are working on. I think for the most part, the business of music is in a dismal state here and elsewhere. There is a lot of great talent everywhere I look, but most artists have no idea how to promote their music – so it gets lost in all the noise. If you can write and record a brilliant album but lack the ability to promote it, well, it will go nowhere and your efforts are wasted. That is true everywhere I imagine.
Where do you get inspiration for the lyrics of your album? Can be considered conceptual?
Sometimes there is a point I wish to make, so I develop a storyline or a theme for some of an album's songs, and sometimes for the entire album. “Culture Of Ascent” used the metaphor of mountain climbing to represent spiritual ascension and the search for Heaven on earth – with the final realization being that it exists elsewhere and cannot be found here. “IF” was much the same, especially the song “If The Sun”. In this case many of the lyrics and musical themes were suggesting a “singer” who was calling us home. Of course, the singer was God. “Perilous” was written during and after my experience with a friend who died from cancer. We dealt with his fears and ultimately his making his peace with God. All of that, sadness and joy, went into the lyrics of “Perilous”. “Ode To Echo” was about the danger of narcissism and a warning about psychopaths, and was written after my family had been victimized by one of these monsters. The new album we are currently working on has a lot of different ideas going on and each song has its own source of inspiration. Fans are going to really love this one, which is scheduled for spring 2015.
I know about your collaboration with Jon Anderson: what kind of contact exists between you and the "world YES"?
Yes fans have always been very supportive of Glass Hammer and we hear from them all the time. Yes sells our CDs at their concerts. I spent some time with Roger Dean last spring and he is always a gentleman. Beyond that there is no contact between Glass Hammer and Yes, other than the relationship with have with Jon Davison.
There is a small chance to see you in Italy in the future?
If there is a prog festival with a budget to bring Glass Hammer over – we will come! I did get an invitation from one promoter this year, but the budget simply did not exist that would permit flying the group over. So if you know of a festival – let them know you would love to see Glass Hammer in Italy. I have always maintained that if I come to Europe and have to pay for it myself, then I will be doing it as a vacation! We will bring Glass Hammer to Europe one day, but only when the fans demand it and the promoters are willing to pay for it. We would draw a HUGE audience there, of that I am certain.
Is it possible reveal something about your future projects?
As I said, we are hard at work on a new album. Some albums we have done have been real turning points for us. “Chronometree”, “Lex Rex”, “The Inconsolable Secret” and “IF” would be examples of those. I predict the new album will be our most popular yet. Something has happened with the songwriting and the level of musicianship I cannot quite explain yet. Suffice it to say it will be fan favorite. Hopefully we will have a title for it soon and will start talking about it a lot more!
Ode To Echo Trailer
Featuring co-founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel joined by guitarist Kamran Shikoh, drummer Aaron Raulston, vocalist Jon Davison and fan-favorites Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanowicz. The fourteenth studio album by America's top-prog group also features cameo.