Glass Hammer: Retro Prog On Highest Level

DURP - eZine from the progressive ocean

Interview

What about the influence of other artists to you?

(Fred) Well, no one can create in a vacuum. I think in addition to obvious musical influences a musician can be influenced by art, books, even philosophy. Our music is a result of a total world-view that's been building up through the years. As far as specific musical influences that can be heard I, at least, have many that aren't so obvious but still shape the way I approach music such as, say, Todd Rundgren or Parliament. The latest album, "Chronometree" is a rather blatant reference to bands that inspired us to play prog, with Yes, ELP and Genesis being the most obvious.

How does the songwriting work in the band?

(Fred) It depends. Lately I've been writing a lot of music and Steve writing most if not all the lyrics, but sometimes it's the other way or sometimes we write pieces by ourselves. It just depends on who has an idea.

What about the contact to Arjen Lucassen? How would you describe his influences? Or was he "only" a guest worker who had do to his job?

(Fred) Well he was a very special guest and we were amazed to get him. He approached us; I don't think we would have bothered approaching him because we wouldn't have expected him to do it. We sent him completed sections of music and he dubbed some solos on to them. He would have been way to busy to do any more than that; he cut all his parts in one afternoon.

What about the never ending "Retro-Prog" discussion? Lots of people say, how can it be progressive rock if people only copying seventies style?

(Fred) Well, we're getting into the whole "prog as a label" vs. "progressive as an accurate description" debate there. I think most people have settled into using the term "prog" as a category describing music with a certain feel that is, for the most part retro or dated which then gets broken down into subcategories like "symphonic" or "neo". It's the same way classical people use terms like "romantic" or "impressionist". At this point I think music that is truly revolutionary or ground-breaking has a new term of ist own to use. And how much of that is there, really? Even supposedly very avant-garde musical experiments can be traced back to something that was first done in the fifties or before, which dates it more than "retro" prog!!! Even hip-hop, the last big music revolution, has been around for 20 or more years now.

How would you describe the development between the new record and the records before?

(Fred) It's an anti-development, in a way. We wanted it to sound like an earlier record that we might have done, rather than a new one!! I think it's a step forward though in terms of having a cohesive sound, which has been the case for us in the past. Its well produced in a "retro" kind of way. The next album is going to keep that aspect of a tight, cohesive band sound but return to a more modern production and style.

What about the fact that a lot of people mean a good prog song must be an long track?

(Fred) Well, good prog can be short and bad prog can certainly be long! But I think it's because prog fans want thematic development, they want variety and interesting explorations of theme and sound and that's more likely to occur in a longer track. A properly done long track indicates a certain amount of virtuosity in writing and that's what their hoping for!!

Progfans are ignorant and narrow-minded. They live in the past and don't care about the meaning of the word progress. (comment?)

(Fred) Hmmmm... some fans are narrow minded. I don't think many are ignorant. Some are concerned about nothing but "progress" and some want no part of it. It's a very diverse group held together by the desire for music that is out of the mainstream and I think "neoprog" fans should stop "bashing the "RIO" fans who should stop bashing the Spock's Beard fans.

What does the name of the band mean?

(Steve) Fred and I have both been in numerous bands who for one reason or another found themselves in need of a new name. It is never a pretty site. First, a list of good names usually emerges only to be followed by a list of equally good objections to why they shouldn't be used. The situation usually devolves into total chaos. We didn't want that. So, one day while looking through a book that listed several works of science-fiction, I came across a book titled Glass Hammer. I mentioned it to Fred as a possible name. Fred said "Sounds good", and we left it at that! The name represents an object of force, that at the same time is fragile and beautiful. Of course it also represents an object of complete uselessness. Perhaps either description suits us!

What about the cover artwork for the new record?

(Steve) Bruce Huffman is an artist that I found on the internet. He did a custom design for us that was based on a previous work. The tree at the center of the the piece is in essence the "Chronometree". We've heard lots of positive feedback about the cover.

Any contacts to Germany?

(Steve) If by contacts you mean record companies, then no. We do have fan mail from Germany and we have an exclusive European, Japanese and American distribution agreement. For Europe this is Distribee in The Netherlands, that's a division of Bee & Bee Records. They are also doing our promotion and marketing very well! In Germany Chronometree is available at Empire and Tempus Fugit.

What about the decision to move from "serious" to more funny themes?

(Steve) Well, the music is still treated in the same fashion. However, the concept for this album is kind of silly. We all take our prog too seriously. Prog fans really are guilty of this. But imagine how seriously the average prog musician takes his music. We spend months and months working on this music. At the end of a project, it is very hard to enjoy the music at all! So, we did an album about a guy named Tom who really goes over board with his love for prog. He begins to hear voices in the music that speak directly too him. We've known people like that. I hope that prog fans will enjoy the album, but I hope they'll be able to laugh a little at themselves. There's a little bit of "Tom" in all of us.

Is there a most important event in the history of the band?

(Steve) There are a few defining moments. In short, when my wife laid down the money so that Fred and I could have a great set of speakers to mix with. That was in 1992. Then, my old friend and engineering guru Horatio came through with enough money to put out our first disk in 1993. The next event came in 1994 when my wife and I bought our first house. On the property we also have an additional building that was turned into a recording studio where Fred and I now make a living. This was also done with the help of Horatio, and also my father-in-law who helped with the electrical end. A lot of wonderful people have helped us with our vision. We needed a 'break' and several people came through for us.

How important is religion and your faith for your life and your work as an artist!

(Steve) Upon my realization of God's love for me (and for anyone who will acknowledge Him through faith), He became the most important part of my life. As far as music is concerned, God states that He has surrounded Himself with musicians who fill the heavenly realms with musical glory. I like to attempt to show a glimpse of what this must be like in some of the music that I create. And in doing so, if listeners care to catch a glimpse of His glory in my attempts, then I will be satisfied.

What about your success in different countries?

(Steve) It accounts for about half of our sales. Just ten years ago this would have been nearly impossible for an independent band, but thanks to the internet and to the prog fan magazines, it is possible now. Hopefully one day we'll actually tour Europe or Japan.

Are you satisfied with your career so far?

(Steve) When I look back at my life, I can't help but be amazed that I've managed to survive playing music since I was a child. I've had a life full of music. I feel very fortunate and very blessed. That's how I feel on one level. On another level, I'll never be satisfied until Glass Hammer is selling 40,000 units of every album we do. We are not affiliated with a large record company and frankly I'm not sure we ever will be. I have an independent streak in me that I intend to keep. It's funny that what started out as in independent revival of prog a number of years ago, has since become a profit making venture by a handful of record companies. You sign with the right one and suddenly your 'big' in the prog scene. But we're okay for now. We've done better than I ever expected. So, we're going to push on until we've reached as many potential fans as possible.

Where did you get your inspiration?

(Steve) Musically I think both Fred and I were heavily influenced by church music. We were both church musicians at an early age. I was a pianist and Fred played the pipe organ. Not at the same church mind you, but we were both kids when we were chosen to be church musicians. Bands like Yes, ELP, Camel, Utopia, Rush, and Jethro Tull pulled us into prog. Movies provide a lot of inspiration. 2001, Excalibur, Fire Walks With Me (The Twin Peaks Movie), and many others come to mind. Novels like Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings, and C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy have all contributed to inspire us to compose.

What is the reason that progressive rock in the seventies went so well and now we have only a small scene without attention of most of the media?

(Steve) I was a teenager during the seventies. Even then there was a lack of interest on the part of the media. I didn't discover prog until it was almost over. Some friends turned me on to it or I'd never have heard it at all. I remember hearing Lucky Man and Round About on the radio. I also remember hearing some Tull. But otherwise, radio was more interested in The Bay City Rollers and The Bee Gee's. I think a lot of it is perception. Sure, some groups were 'big', but most never had a chance. We tend to remember the 'good ole days' of prog as if it were Camelot. However, the only difference was that a few groups had real mass appeal. The rest languished in obscurity. In today's music, sex and controversy sell. There is no sex in prog, and there is no controversy. For the most part modern prog is rehashed music from the seventies, with a lot of overblown vocals. The song writing usually isn't very good. I suppose if a young group wrote and recorded a modern day Round About it probably could be a hit. But that band and that hit have yet to materialize. So in my opinion 'most' contemporary prog doesn't really deserve any more attention that it gets right now. If for some reason the corporate music world did manage to understand what we're doing, and some lucky prog group did write a hit that resulted in album sales and wide distribution, there would be a huge rush by many prog groups to write more hits and the whole thing would become commercial and thus no longer would it be prog! It would crash quickly and we'd all be the worse for it. Leave it just the way it is!

Is it more difficult to write an 15 minute epic than an three minute radio hit?

(Steve) I've written a lot of dance music, and some of it (that I did with Fred under the name TMA-2) actually charted on college radio here in the states. The song that charted number one in some markets took all of 2 hours to compose and record. We're currently working on a twenty-two minute prog track that will probably take around twenty hours or more to record. So prog is very hard to do. Charting isn't so hard, but charting doesn't necessarily mean you have a hit. That is up to the 'powers that be.' College kids loved our tracks enough to make them number one, but the big record companies weren't impressed enough to give us the distribution and promotion that is needed to really score a hit. So, having never written a three minute radio hit, I'd have to say it is easier to write a long prog tune. Prog comes natural to me and Fred for the most part. I'd love to write something commercial with wide appeal, but those cheesy melodies just don't happen easy for me! When on that rare occasion we write something that might be a hit, we don't have the connections to pull it off. You could write a million hits and without interest from a major label you're just wasting time! I think we'll stick with prog. That's where we're the happiest.


© 09/2000 Renald Mienert
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