Interview Steve Babb and Fred Schendel (Glass Hammer):

“We remain fans of seventies prog rock, and will probably always be influenced by the albums from that era”

(February 2013, text by Martien Koolen, edited by Peter Willemsen)

If (2010, see review) and Cor Cordium (2011, see review) were really great albums by the progressive rock musicians of Glass Hammer. Their new album is called Perilous (see review). And again this new CD got great reviews, although I personally liked the above-mentioned albums better. Nevertheless, the release of Perilous is a great moment to talk again with Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, the two core members of the band.

You named the new album Perilous; could you please explain that title to our Dutch readers?

Steve Babb: “Life is perilous. The times we live in are perilous. Our new album is about facing our mortality, and the dangerous things we must confront as our lives play out. I lost a good friend this year
Steve Babb Fred Schendel
from cancer, and my wife lost her mom after a long illness. While watching these things happen, along with a number of other tragedies this year, led me to the idea for the title and the concept.”

So Perilous is a concept album. Why did you choose for a concept album? It's rather 'old- fashioned' and so seventies.

Fred Schendel: “Our band is based around being old-fashioned and seventies, so that's really not a problem.”
Steve: “Glass Hammer has been doing concept albums since 1993. Not all of our albums are concepts of course, but many of them are. Our audience has come to expect that from us and we love telling a good story, or trying to at least. It was Big Bang Magazine that credited us with 'the rebirth of the concept album' many years ago. And since that rebirth there have been dozens of progressive rock concept albums released. We remain fans of seventies prog rock, and will probably always be influenced by the albums from that era.”

Who came up with the idea of a concept album?

Steve: “Fred wanted to compose this album as one piece of music divided in sections instead of individual songs. It made sense to have one idea or story expressed in the lyrics too.”

Where did you get the inspiration for this concept album?

Steve: “I spent a lot of time with the friend I mentioned earlier. He was diagnosed with liver cancer and only had a short time to live. So we talked a lot about the good times we'd shared, about regrets, about fear and about death. We talked about heaven too. I was writing the lyrics for Perilous during the last two or three weeks of his life. He knew I was basing much of the work on his own experiences. But it was about how I was facing and dealing with his death as well. It's a very tender subject to most people, but it has to be faced. I think much of our audience, like myself, are in their middle ages. It occurred to me that many of us are losing family and friends at this point in our lives, and that Glass Hammer might address these feelings through lyrics.”

Could you please elaborate about the concept or is it 'just' about life and death? Do you believe in an afterlife and are you in some way religious?

Steve: “Yes, it's about life and death. The album cover features a couple of the main metaphors, namely the gate keeper who is Time, and a sinister looking cemetery gate which represents crossing over into our middle ages and into 'The Perilous Realm' where we'll have to face fear, the loss of family and friends, and ultimately death. I'm a Christian, so yes I believe that our souls are eternal and that heaven is the ultimate and eternal home of believers. Through the years Glass Hammer songs have addressed this belief in songs like Heaven, When We Were Young, Having Caught A Glimpse and If The Sun.”

The mastering of the album was done by Bob Katz. Why did you pick him for the job?

Fred: “Because we have used him in the past and the albums he mastered for us are significantly better sounding than the ones he didn't. He has a similar aural philosophy to our own. He gets a punchy sound, but never at the expense of dynamic range.”

Why did you use vocal choirs and lots of classical instruments?

Fred: “Again, it's somewhat traditional for us. We have always liked the sound of church music, choirs and pipe organs. For several albums and concert DVDs, a live string trio was an integral part of our sound. Since we dropped that for the previous two albums I think we both thought this would be a good project to return to using some acoustic instruments like oboe and recorder instead of a synthesizer in places.”

Are you planning to play the entire album as one piece on stage?

Fred: “At some point I would say that's a must. Yet I don't know when or where that will happen though.”

I loved the albums Cor Cordium and If, but I'm a bit disappointed with Perilous mainly due to the boring song In That Lonely Place. It sounds like a track from a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I can't understand why you put that song on the album. Would you please explain, or do I just have bad taste?

Steve: “I'm amazed that a six-minute track could ruin a sixty-minute long album for you! In That Lonely Place is one of the most popular tracks on the album, especially with our female listeners. Perhaps if you took the time to read the lyrics you'll notice the female character they frequently refer to. Once you grasp the concept I think you'll see why the song is necessary for the album to make any sense at all. I like much of Andrew Lloyd Webber's work, but have only ever seen Glass Hammer compared to him by people who don't understand the prog genre. I'm not sure about your taste, as you clearly like some of our other work.”
Fred: “Well, you certainly have an utter lack of tact. Maybe it's a language thing? We put the song there because we feel it's integral to the flow and structure of the piece that's Perilous as a whole and if you aren't seeing it in context yet then, yes, it's your problem. Give it time. For me it's not too different from a song like Through A Glass Darkly from The Inconsolable Secret. It's a chance to reflect and to be more melodic.”

I do understand the lyrics, but I feel the song is musically boring and predictable. So, it's not a language thing and the song certainly doesn't ruin the entire album for me either...

Steve: “At least your interview won't be boring or predictable. Sorry you don't like this tune though. We let our fans know about this question on our Facebook page. We got some hilarious responses!”

Well, I would like to read these hilarious responses!

Steve: “Check out the post of the 27th of December and you'll see them.”

My favourite tracks are The Sunset Gate, Beyond They Dwell, They Cast Their Spell and Toward Home We Fled, which ones are yours and why?

Fred: “I can't really separate any parts from the whole. For me it's one piece to be heard from beginning to end. I do like the Toward Home section, because we got to jam a little on the end.”

Glass Hammer

When will Glass Hammer be playing in the Netherlands?

Fred: “Whenever we can set up a deal! Soon, I hope. We've always wanted to visit your country. One of our favourite fans lives there!” 
Steve: “We're talking more and more about coming to Europe and we would certainly want to make a stop in the Netherlands if it can be arranged.”

Do you have any plans for another DVD?

Steve: “We have done three DVDs in the past. I doubt we will film another one in the near future, but perhaps one day.”

What album influenced you most and why?

Fred: “I can't narrow it down to just one album.”
Steve: “Going For The One from Yes was always a big album for me. I loved the use of the pipe organ, choir and melodic bass on that album. But it has been years since I have had a chance to listen to it in its entirety.”

How did you get into progressive rock?

Fred: “Largely as a progression from listening to The Beatles as a little kid and probably more specifically because my older sister bought A Passion Play from Jethro Tull and it had a huge effect on me.”
Steve: “I discovered Rush first when I was sixteen. Then a couple of friends introduced me to ELP and Yes. Later another friend turned me on to bands like Camel and Fireballet. I have loved the prog genre for many years!”

Do you have any other comments for our readers?

Steve: “Our next big project is the re-release of The Inconsolable Secret. The original discs will be included, along with a bonus disc of remixes featuring Jon Davison, Kamran Alan Shikoh, Johnny Bruhns of Circa: and many others. Fans should look for that to appear in the spring of 2013. Also, we're hoping to meet a lot of new fans on the Cruise To The Edge where we'll appear along with Yes, Tangerine Dream, UK and many other bands.”

Thank you for your answers and your time.

Steve and Fred: “You're welcome!”

More info about Glass Hammer on the Internet:
       Glass Hammer Website
       MySpace (samples)
       review album 'Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted' (2009)
       review album 'IF' (2010)
       review album 'Cor Cordium' (2011)
       review album 'Perilous' (2012)
       review DVD 'Live at Belmont' (2006)
       review DVD 'Live at The Tivoli' (2008)
       Interview Glass Hammer (January 2011, about album release 'IF')

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