You have a new album out very soon in Ode to Echo. Can you tell me about how the album came together, and about working with multiple vocalists on it?
Steve Babb: I think this may be our 14th studio album. It’s getting hard to keep count! We began work on Ode to Echo shortly after the Cruise to the Edge shows last year. It being our 20th anniversary as a recording band, we thought it would be cool to have fun with this one and bring back some voices from the past. Carl Groves fronted the band on stage last year, so he was a clear choice to handle the lion’s share of the lead vocals. Of course Jon Davison sings a good deal as well. Susie Bogdanowicz returned after a three album hiatus, and she’ll also be joining the live band for The Moody Blues Cruise in April and The Terra Incognita Festival in Quebec this May of this year. Walter Moore and Michelle Young were valuable GH members and singers in the 90’s – Walter fronted the band for our NEARfest performance and the Lex Live DVD. They’re both back too!
Some of the singers worked here at our studio with us, others we recorded in different studios in Florida, California and in Nashville, TN.
Essentially, this album began the way most do. Fred [Schendel], Alan [Shikoh] and I worked on ideas which developed into songs; then we worked with the singers.
Ode to Echo was a beast to mix. But I couldn’t ask for a greater group of people to work with!
Now that Yes has become Jon Davison's priority, what has it meant for Glass Hammer to work around those commitments? Has Jon joining Yes brought Glass Hammer more attention?
The priority for all the members of Glass Hammer, including Carl, Susie and Jon is to make music. We do that under the Glass Hammer name, and sometimes we do that within the context of the music of another band. The way I see it, that’s a good thing. The priority never changes for members of this band. For example, Fred and I are currently producing and arranging for at least seven different artists as well as playing for a number of projects and albums. Carl Groves remains the leader and creative spark behind Salem Hill. Jon sings and is now writing for a version of an older prog group from the seventies. That Glass Hammer gets to spread its influence into numerous bands and directions is a win-win for us and the fans. We’ve not had to work around anyone actually. Of course, Jon wasn’t allowed to perform live with us last year – which was unfortunate, but that took one phone call to Carl to fix. Fred and I continue to work and Glass Hammer continues to thrive. Other bands play no part in the momentum we’ve established for our creative output. That’s just not going to happen.
As for the attention, Jon has always acted as a Glass Hammer ambassador to Yes-fans since he joined their operation. Basically, you have the singer for Glass Hammer on stage in front of thousands of prog-fans whenever they’re on tour. The vibe we get from Yes-fans is very positive. I know Yes catch a lot of grief from one faction or another – so maybe we’re getting the best of that deal. Either way, free promotion is not a bad thing.
Can we go back to your previous album, Perilous? Can you talk through the writing of that album?
Perilous was written by Fred, Alan and myself. We collaborated with Jon on all the vocal ideas of course, and he did a fantastic job of interpreting those ideas. We wrote songs, as usual – music first, then vocal melodies, then lyrics. We did this knowing that the entire thing had to work as one enormous (epic) idea. It is, essentially, one piece of music. I penned all of the lyrics, which were based on the notion of coming to grips with mortality in middle age. I knew most of our fans could relate to this – being of about the same age as myself.
A very good friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer just before we began writing the album. Lyrics were based, to a certain extent, on conversations he and I had about his fears and his faith. He knew I was writing lyrics about this, and gave his blessing before succumbing to cancer just before we finished the album.
Life is Perilous. We live in Perilous times. It sounds like a downer for a group who is known for its optimism. Yet that is where I’m at right now as a lyricist. Life can take nasty turns as well as good ones, and where I once kept my ‘feelings’ private about such things, I am now more vocal.
Ode to Echo is largely about malignant narcissism and its dangers. See what I mean? Maybe we’ll get to talk more about that later.
You and Fred are active online. How do you find interacting with your fans (or, indeed, detractors) in this way?
Some of our dearest fans and friends will occasionally voice a negative critique of one of our albums or maybe have a problem with the direction we’ve taken the band at one point or another. That’s cool. I like to know what they’re thinking and I don’t count them among the ‘haters’.
I’ll read a nasty post or a bad review every
now and then, and I’ll try to be objective about it and see if there is
anything to learn from it.
Fortunately, most of what I read is very positive and exceedingly friendly. Many of our fans become cherished friends over the years. For me, it’s a completely positive experiences. I encourage them to email or post to our Facebook page – whatever they’re thinking. We’re grateful for them. I can’t say that enough!
Online, you've mentioned Glass Hammer being involved in the Sonic Realities project. Can you say anything more about this? Is this original music or a cover?
Dave Kerzner of Sonic Realities asked us to join the Neil Peart project. [More about Sonic Realities here - Henry] Fred composed most of the music for this track, and I did the lyrics. Alan added a good deal too. Carl Groves is singing this one. We were given many of Peart’s tracks to choose from, then asked to write music to his drumming and to incorporate his ideas into the Glass Hammer sound. It is unavoidable that we don’t sound a little like Rush on this, but I think it has mostly succeeded. We just wrapped up this song, which for now at least is called “Impulse”.
Lots of fun! Rush was and remains a huge influence on Glass Hammer.