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Glass Hammer

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Steve Babb and Fred Schendel of Glass Hammer from 2019

MSJ:

You guys recently released a new album. What are your thoughts about the process and the result with the whole writing and recording project now in the rear-view mirror?

Steve Babb: Chronomonaut was one of the most effortless albums we’ve done. There were only two of us involved in the decision making and creative process, so that helped a great deal. Probably the toughest thing was sorting out who would sing what, and logistically speaking, it isn’t always easy convey to singers exactly what you’re needing from them. We’ve got a great band though, and our guest players and singers all did a fantastic job.

Fred Schendel: They are surprisingly murky. Things that are completed recede into the dim and distant past pretty much immediately for me.  It was not an unpleasant thing to make.  We had a great group of guests who all brought great talents to the table.  It was a largely grief-free process, and hopefully the next project will be as well. 

MSJ: How would you say it fits within your catalogue?
Steve Babb: That’s hard to say. I know our fans typically rank three of our albums as our best, and I tend to agree with them; The Inconsolable Secret, Lex Rex and Chronometree. I think I partly understand why that is and I’m hoping Chronomonaut will take its place alongside them. The concept is certainly one that prog-rockers will relate too, since it is an album about prog-rockers! That helps of course. It resonates.

Fred Schendel: I think it will be fondly remembered.  Some albums we do are sleepers.  They come out and don't make a big splash but then, sometimes after months or years, they are re-evaluated and found to be meritorious.  This album had a great reception from the start, so it may wind up ranking along Lex Rex and If as being one of the classics. 

MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
Steve Babb: We were once credited for the rebirth of the concept album by a noted critic. We’ve also had fans who have told me that Glass Hammer’s music helps them in their spiritual walk with God. That means a lot.

Fred Schendel: Oh, I don't know.  There have been very nice things said here and there through the years, but I don't memorize them for instant recall.  The thing that sticks in my mind personally isn't technically about the music itself; it's about the production: Three Cheers for the Broken-Hearted is listed on Bob Katz's Honor Roll.  To me that was a big deal.  

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Steve Babb: I wouldn’t care to name anyone, but I have an ax to grind with lazy critics of progressive rock. I’ve read too many Glass Hammer reviews which claimed certain Glass Hammer albums were “clearly influenced by ____” (fill in the blank with some trendy prog act.) The truth, often enough, is that I’ve never heard the band they’re talking about.

Fred Schendel: Hmm.  I hate to go on record with something blatantly antagonistic towards someone else in the industry.  Even if I don't think something has any objective merit I don't like going around saying that, or that they shouldn't follow their artistic impulses the same way we do.  I suppose I'm okay in calling out someone like Chris Tomlin.  Or Hillsong.  I won't write a diatribe here as to why, but people familiar with them and the genre they work in can probably guess what my issues are.  Not only do I find it mediocre but it's something of a lie; a cynical money machine posing as ministry.  I'd be more forgiving if it were at least good.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Steve Babb: I haven’t bought a CD in years. Being a studio producer, I mostly listen to projects we’re working on or trending songs to see how the production is being handled. Recently I’ve been discovering some new and old albums and songs on YouTube. Artists in my playlists include, The Enid, Temples (a modern psychedelic group), The Zombies and a modern Funk project called "Psychic Mirrors." I’ve also been listening to a lot of indie synth players experimenting in Dark Wave or Berlin Style synth tracks.

Fred Schendel: I don't remember the last CD I bought.  I don't seek out music any more.   I listen to the radio, or an mp3 player.  I occasionally go through someone's entire catalog out of curiosity; recently I did Chicago up to the death of Terry Kath, and Living Colour who, it turns out, had a couple good albums in the 2000s I didn't know about.  Ah, so there's your answer, I bought Living Colour.  

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Steve Babb: I’m always reading great books! I’m working through The Never Ending Story which is one of my son’s favorites. Being an avid fan of Napoleonic historical fiction, over the last year I’ve read the entire Nathaniel Drinkwater series, and started the Richard Bolitho series (and made it through book seven thus far – there are about twenty more!) I also read several of Jeremy Bate’s “World’s Scariest Places” horror novels. And…no surprise here, I’m rereading The Lord Of The Rings for about the twentieth time.

Fred Schendel: No.  My brain is tired of being challenged by such things.  In keeping with the focus on single artists in music I did recently read five first-person books about KISS; those being the autobiographies by all four original members and Kiss and Sell by their accountant.  I wouldn't say any of them were good, but put together you have an amazing Rashomon-like perspective on the band.  I read non-fiction these days.  The most recent books I really enjoyed were Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording The Beatles by Geoff Emerick, and Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off the Record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton & So Much More by Ken Scott, another famous recording engineer.  I bet you can spot a trend there!

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Steve Babb: I took my family to see a Beatles tribute band called "Rain" and had a fantastic time. That was three years ago!

Fred Schendel: Anderson, Wakeman, Rabin in Atlanta.  I think it was the second show of the tour, before they decided they were also Yes.  There were a few hiccups, but overall they did a great show.  

MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
Steve Babb: Peter Frampton in Birmingham, Alabama. It was the “Comes Alive” tour which I think would have been in 1976. I was 16. I was a huge fan of that album, so this was a big thrill for me.

Fred Schendel: Yes!  Because it was Yes!  I was only 12.  It was the solo album tour.  Talk about frying your fragile brain at a young age.  

MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
Steve Babb: My Behringer Model D and a Doepfer A-160-5 Ratchet Controller Module. The module can be used with a sequencer to make a very odd, quirky effect made famous by Tangerine Dream. Look up “ratcheting” to see what I’m talking about. A good example of the sound can be heard on their album, Stratosfear at the three-minute mark.

Fred Schendel: Yes, the Behringer Model D MiniMoog clone.  Having owned the real thing for over 30 years I can vouch that it's shockingly close, and at an absurd price.  We are starting to build a new little collection of analog gear after getting rid of most of it through the years.  Most instruments I get excited about now are software based; things like uHe's Diva or Omnisphere by Spectrasonics.  I also can't say enough good things about Cantabile, which is by a small one man company called "Topten Software."  It drives my live keyboard rig, and he deserves any plugs I can get out there.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?
Steve Babb: There are a couple of songs by Poppy that I’m pretty fond of. Billie Eilish videos are very cool, and frankly, I don’t even feel guilty about watching them. She’s got some great songs.

Fred Schendel: Oh, I have many.  I like a lot of soft rock, like America and The Carpenters- not the awful stuff that got the radio play, but deep cuts.  For instance, Homecoming by America is generally a great album even though the song most people would know from it is "Ventura Highway," which is probably one of the weakest on it.  I like a lot of 80s synth pop.  I like KC and the Sunshine band.  Almost any genre of music has gems if you dig beneath the surface, I think. 

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Steve Babb: Easy! J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald. Tolkien and Lewis would be geeking out about dining with MacDonald as much as I’d be geeking out about dining with them.

Fred Schendel: That's tough to answer.  I've found that meeting heroes often goes badly, so I'd probably rule that out.  And I don't know that I'd make very interesting or worthy company for the likes of Aristotle or Jesus.  It would be tempting to say, for instance, Bach, but what would we actually talk about?   Would they speak English for the purposes of this hypothetical situation?   I'd probably enjoy talking to Stanislaw Lem, the Polish science-fiction author.  Eating with David Lynch is said to be interesting, and maybe L Ron Hubbard.  I would want to know if he believed any of what he espoused, or if he was one of the greatest scam artists in history.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Steve Babb: I’m loving prime rib lately, but it might be fun to turn the gents on to southern BBQ.

Fred Schendel: Well, I'm guessing burgers because you know David Lynch will want to eat at Bob's Big Boy.  

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Steve Babb: Yes. Thanks to your readers for supporting Glass Hammer projects through the years! 

Fred Schendel: Yes.  There is no such thing as the present.  Anything you perceive as being "in the present" has technically already happened and is actually the past - like this sentence.  

 

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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