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Progressive Rock Interviews

Glass Hammer

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Steve Babb of Glass Hammer from 2007
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Can you catch the readers up a bit on the history of Glass Hammer?
Steve Babb: Fred and I started recording in 92, something we’d been hoping to do since the late 80’s. Over time, we built a live band to handle concerts – though we rarely played. Glass Hammer has more-or-less existed in three phases. Early (with Michelle Young, David Carter and Walter Moore) - that phase took up much of the 90’s. Next comes the NEARfest era where we put together a unit just for NEARfest 03 after not playing live for 5 years. Walter remained along with new drummer Matt Mendians and Eric Parker on acoustic guitar. The famous GH Girls came along here too, with Susie Bogdanowicz, Flo Paris and Bethany Warren. The latest incarnation of GH began around 2 years ago with the addition of the Adonia String Trio, Carl Groves taking over vocals upon Walter’s departure, and David Wallimann taking over the electric guitar.
GH still remains something that is primarily Fred and myself, along with some very gifted friends who contribute their much-needed talents to our albums.

As to our albums….these are usually concept albums covering a broad range of topics from comical Alien encounters to a Roman Centurion’s quest; from a cursed Princess to a tragic Everest expedition (as with our latest – Culture of Ascent).
MSJ: Your new disc opens with Yes’ “South Side of the Sky.” That song is about mountain climbers caught on the face of the rock. That’s also the concept of the CD. Was that the reason for the inclusion or was there more involved?
Steve Babb: Glass Hammer forum friends requested the song for our live show last fall. We learned it and used it as an encore. It seemed a waste not to put in on the new album, especially since the theme fit the album and Jon Anderson was willing to lay a track or two down for us.
MSJ: How did you hook up with Jon Anderson to get him to guest on the disc and how was that collaboration?
Steve Babb: We began working with him last year on two of his songs. During that period, I was invited out to his house and studio where we talked more about music and collaborating. I wrote “Life By Light” hoping he’d contribute and I told him so. He didn’t agree right off the bat, but eventually he began to send me ideas. Most of it was done by email and a couple of phone calls. He pulled it off in one day, and we were more than happy with the results. We’re hoping to work more with him in the future.
MSJ: Are there musicians you’d like to play with in the future?
Steve Babb: I’m lucky to be surrounded by talented musicians. Jon was probably the one singer that I’ve always hoped to work with. Beyond that, I’m content to work with my friends and don’t really aspire to go beyond that circle. There are a few singers we record here at our studio that I’d love to write for, and perhaps develop projects around. If there’s time, maybe that could happen one day.
MSJ: I know a lot of musicians hate to have their music categorized, but how would you describe it?
Steve Babb: Melodic-symphonic-progressive rock with occasional classical or Celtic overtones, and heavily influenced by our favorite bands of the 70’s. (i.e. Rush, Yes, ELP, Kansas, Tull, Camel and others.) I don’t hate categorizing GH – it’s necessary if you want people to know about the band, and we do.
MSJ: Who do you see as your influences (both personally and as a band)?
Steve Babb: Lyrically, the writings of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien have been a huge influence. Others include Lord Dunsany, Lovecraft, George Macdonald, the Norse sagas and lots and lots of Victorian era Romantic poetry. The art of the Pre-Raphaelites, the Christian Bible (namely the books of Job and The Psalms) – there are many other influences, too numerous to name.

Musically, Yes, Rush, Camel, Bjork, Mew, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and the work of many hymnists including Martin Luther. I’m all over the map. Those are just the things I enjoy that have influenced Glass Hammer. I listen to all kinds of music; read all manner of literature.
MSJ: What’s ahead for you?
Steve Babb: There a DVD of last year’s concert that has been edited – except for the audio. That will take some time to complete, but that’s the next project. It’s a big concert with two choirs – over 150 singers as with the Belmont DVD.

We’ve packed a lot of Glass Hammer music into the last four years, and creatively we need a break. So I don’t expect to start a new album anytime soon. The holidays are coming, and its time to concentrate on families, promote Culture of Ascent, and recharge for the future.
MSJ: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It’s been said by the major labels that it’s essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales – would you agree?
Steve Babb: Our sales have increased over the last few years, but then we’ve been growing somewhat in popularity. I’m a big fan of iTunes and legal downloading. Illegal downloading is stealing, and of course it hits the majors hard. And no matter what you think of the major labels, they own the rights (in most cases) to the music. If musicians would quit signing ridiculous contracts with these companies, that would stop. But I think we’re quickly coming to the end of an era, and the music business we’ve all grown up with is about to change radically or die. There will still be music, but I for one am not going to perform, write, produce, record and generally throw my life, family and friends into a process that takes a year (to start and complete an album) – only to have my work stolen. I will quit and go into another field. I’ll have to!

Some musicians don’t care – good for them. But I think it’s a disgrace to be a fan of a group, and take food off their table at the same time.
MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Steve Babb: In our case, we do that for them. We only do a couple of shows now and then, and it really hasn’t come up. I think I’d still rather handle the recording to ensure what people are hearing is something worth hearing. As for other bands – that’s up to them. I like to hear professionally recorded albums, not bootlegs. I can’t imagine why people are interested in such things.
MSJ: Do you think modern technology has kept mankind from dreaming and imagining?
Steve Babb: It's easier now to not pay attention to the imagination. TV and movies seem to do our dreaming for us. That's why I read a lot and have such an interest in the visual arts. Certain films are good. Television, though a great time killer, can also be a mind killer.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
Steve Babb: The last CD was The Fellowship of The Ring Box Set with a 5.1 DVD mix of the soundtrack. I do a lot of downloading (legal) and my favorites of late have been Mew and Dungen. I’m also a big Hooverphonic fan. I never listen to the new prog bands, and when I do listen to prog it’s my favorite albums from the 70’s. Going For The One has always been my favorite. I listen to that and Olias of Sunhillow fairly often.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Steve Babb: GH members made a road trip recently to hear Carl Groves with Salem Hill just outside of Nashville. That was maybe four weeks ago. Before that, it had been years! I’m more of a movie-goer than a concert-goer. I also have to protect my ears since mixing and production is a big part of my life.
MSJ: hat has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Steve Babb: That’s easy. It happened in 86 with a heavy metal band complete with costumes, big-hair and makeup. We were in a club in Norfolk, VA and it was my turn to sneak out on stage and work the fogger before the intro-tape rolled. The intro was “Ride of the Valkyries” – very “metal” and very “pretentious.” I fogged up the stage so well that I couldn’t see the wedge monitors on the front edge of the stage, and as I made my way off stage to join the band in the dressing room, my foot landed on the wedge. This had the effect of catapulting me into the front row and a table full of fans. Broken glass, pitchers of beer, all went flying as I hit the floor. People were over me, helping me up as the intro tape started. I had no recourse but to run back to the band (who had no idea what had just happened) then turn right around and go right back on stage to open the set with some Iron Maiden. I was humiliated (the whole club saw it happen) and in a great deal of pain. It's funny now, but when it happened, it really sucked!
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to get out there?
Steve Babb: As always, we’ve tried to make the best album possible with Culture of Ascent. And as always we’ve tried new things and raised the bar on our production and songwriting. I’m happy to have more guitar on this release, and overall we’re very happy with it. Please have your readers check us out at www.glasshammer.com where they can check out samples from the album. Thanks!
 
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