GLASS HAMMER Steve Babb & Fred Schendel

Journey of the Dunadan

Steve: Journey of the Dunadan actually started as an instrumental with two songs (Nimrodel and Ride of the Rohirrim) that were originally about the battle of Waterloo! After we heard the final mixes we got to thinking that maybe we should do what we really wanted to, and make a huge prog-concept album. We knew we wanted it to include a battle, and the biggest one we could think of was Tolkien’s War of the Ring.
It was a magical time, though we were a bit clumsy with our writing and production, I still have fond memories of the entire process. We just did the very best job we could with the equipment we had. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work to make Journey, and the payoff came when we sold so many copies so fast. It really put us on the map.

Fred: It's an album that I love and hate at this point. It got us started which is great, and I think we both wrote great stuff on it, as well as some cheesy stuff. It was a real do it yourself production- it was done with next to no equipment in a living room! So actually, the results are fairly impressive on a certain level. We had thought of redoing the album recently, trying to highlight what we feel are its good points but doing it the way we would if we had written it today- but the exploits of George Lucas trying continually to remake the original Star Wars movies made us realize that it's better to live with your past than try and rewrite it. Many people really like this album just the way it is. I personally haven't heard it in a long time though, and I think it's better that way!

Live & Revived

Steve: I remember writing and recording all of the music to “Throw It Away” during a blizzard. My wife and were snowed in, and nearly the entire city of Chattanooga was without power. Our electricity stayed on however, and I used the time to create some music.

Fred: It's really the second album but it was released third, because we found that prog had a market and that's really what we wanted to do. L & R was a collection of songs, some of them rather commercial. I actually like them a lot, though hearing it now the production sounds very sequenced and our vocals weren't so great! There are probably a couple songs on here worth a remake. Of course, you also get the "live" parts. We wanted to do a live album from our show at Progscape in Baltimore in 1995. Unfortunately, the tapes were lost, destroyed- something happened, I forget what. We had been rehearsing in the studio and recorded it, and it was essentially the same as what we did in Baltimore, there just wasn't an audience. So, we released that. I think the songs from Journey sound terrific, especially with guitar.


Steve: This was the album that really got people talking about Glass Hammer as a group with real potential. The production was magic. Perelandra has some of the best sounding music we’ve ever done.
I remember that the lyrics to Heaven were written a couple of years before. Fred recalled them first, and reminded me that I’d written them. He suggested I use them as a way to jump start the music for Heaven. I knew I wanted that song to be a real climax to the album, and it took a lot of praying to come up with the music. We’ve just redone this on our live album and DVD. And truthfully, I prefer the newer versions.
Perelandra also has my favorite version of “The Way To Her Heart”.
One other memory – I spent two hours cutting grass outside our studio while Fred worked on a new song. When I got through and came in to check on him, he presented me with Felix the Cat – the whole thing! Only the bass was missing (and waiting for me). That’s how fast he works!

Fred: So, the second project we had been working on went on the shelf and we did the first album I was really happy with and still enjoy- Perelandra. It was definitely the first milestone of our career; sort of our "Yes Album". If we had dropped the ball we would not have got another chance from most of the people out there. Luckily, it was very well received. Our production got a lot better, we started doing some longer songs, the GH approach to vocals started to fall into place. Time Marches On became a staple of our earlier live shows, and Heaven still ranks with a lot of fans (and us) as one of our best pieces. This album laid the foundation for what was to follow.

On To Evermore

Fred: On To Evermore has some great songs like the title cut and Junkyard Angels. And, we also did our first big epic, Arianna. I think it's a good piece of writing. Ultimately, in the history of GH it seems to fall through the cracks. Oh well!

Steve: We were labeled ‘Neo-prog’ after this album. I have to admit that I don’t much care for ‘neo-prog’ music or bands. I always felt we were more of a traditional symphonic-prog group (if labels really matter), and I hoped we’d get the chance to prove it.
“Junkyard Angel” is one of my favorite GH tunes, and Fred’s lyrics were really put together well on this one. I loved writing and doing the keyboards for “Twilight on Longview”, which is a very ambient piece. I wish we could do more songs like that one, but we’d probably be labeled ‘Ambient’!


Fred: This album was a huge turning point. It started out as a solo project. I had just gotten back into a really good organ sound after years of using a digital synth to make that sound. A Hammond that I had actually owned years ago was lent back to me and I wrote half that album in two days while Steve went to Florida. I just wanted to do no compromise prog. I guarded it jealously for a while but Steve really dug it and we made it a GH album in the end, which worked out great. Since the album was inspired by that Keith Emerson organ sound the music had an ELP flavor that couldn't be overlooked. Instead of trying to hide it we added more overt references to classic prog and made it a "tribute" album of sorts, coming up with the "Tom" concept to give it a framework that let us reference all these bands while not just being (hopefully) completely derivative. Also to give the album a completely new feel from our previous work we used a singer we had never worked with before. The decision proved controversial, but I stand by it. I think Brad Marhler adds to the retro feel of the piece. Also, he was one of the only people to contribute songs besides Steve and I in the history of GH- he wrote Perfect Carousel, and that turned out to be one of the most popular songs on the album. Chronometree gave us back a lot of credibility with the prog audience at large.

Steve: Lest Fred hogs all the glory to himself and Brad, I wrote “Chronos Deliverer” for this album. That song and Brad’s turned out to be the favorites on the album by most of the reviewers and fans. But to his credit, this album features some of the greatest Hammond chops since the albums of the seventies, and that’s all Fred! Our new live album and DVD will feature “Chronotheme” and “Chronos Deliverer”.

Middle Earth Album

Fred: Meanwhile, we had a chance to do, as Monty Python would say, something completely different. Fans of JOTD had suggested in the past that an album in the style of The Ballad Of Balin Longbeard” would be something they would like to hear, and it's a project that we thought would be a fun diversion. Plus, we learned that Peter Jackson was making LOTR into a movie. It seemed like a good time to do it, so we did! It was great fun and a chance to explore something different musically. We had to market it carefully so prog fans wouldn't think we were abandoning them. TMEA has a great fan following all its own- we even did a live show in Toronto at the Gathering Of The Fellowship last year of just that music. It's a fun sideline for us.

Steve: Proggers may have heard this album and thought we’d lost our minds. But that Toronto show was proof to me that we had an audience for the ‘other side of Glass Hammer”. One thousand fans in costume watched a one-time performance of Glass Hammer (also in costume) doing our Celtic tunes about axe-wielding Dwarves, Elven princesses, and blood-thirsty Trolls. There were teen-age girls singing along to every song (they knew the lyrics) and scores of young maidens dancing to our ballads. Guys dressed up in armor climbed on stage and sang along with us while waving their battle axes in the air. All this while children dressed up as hobbits danced arm in arm below us. It was magic! It made doing the album worthwhile.

Lex Rex

Fred: Of course, back in the prog world we had to try and top Chronometree. Apparently we got lucky and did it. Lex Rex is where all the experiments of previous years came together and we made an album that just worked on every level. The concept was great, the songs were inspired, the playing was good- not that we don't always feel that there's room for improvement, but on this one we were pretty pleased with ourselves. And the result was a big critical and fan success. We just got lucky, what else can I say! Overnight success after only 9 years!!

Steve: I’ll never forget that on the very day I was writing the music for “When We Were Young”, my wife Julie came into the studio to tell me that she was carrying our first child. Wow! Jon-Michael was born nine months later. But I think you can tell from the end of that song, that I was feeling pretty good when I wrote it.
This was an important album for me. Lex Rex was the album that got us an invitation to NEARfest 2003, and got Fred and I to put together the best band we’ve ever played in. I’ve spent MANY hours editing video and live material from the past year, and I’ve gotten to know this piece of music better than most people ever will or would care to! I am very accustomed to hearing the live version of Lex Rex now, and I predict people will prefer it over the studio version once it is released. We’ll see.


Fred: So then what do you do to follow up your most popular album- repeat it or try something new? We actually tried to do both with Shadowlands: keep it somewhat familiar to Lex Rex, but not make it a copy, and it seemed to work. Again I think our production improved on this album, and we're starting to get more ambitious in our use of strings, real pipe organs and the like, all of which will pay off on future projects. I think in the future, looking back on GH history Shadowlands will be seen as a solid follow-up to LR which paved the way for the album which is to follow it. It has a couple of notable pieces- namely, our first cover, longer, and our longest epic to date, Behind The Great Beyond. Again, it's an album I'm not disappointed in at all.

Steve: This album had to be put on hold while we rehearsed for our concerts, and for NEARfest. The hard drive crashed once near the beginning of production, and that set us back a couple of months! Otherwise, it was a joy to make. It was fun playing a real pipe organ, and hearing Glass Hammer with a real string section. It was vocally pretty challenging as well. I’m very proud of it, and many people seem to think we’ve made a jump forward from Lex Rex. It certainly showed us that we could do some very good things with real instruments (pipe organ, strings). I think it will lead to bigger and better things in that respect. We’re planning to write Glass Hammer music for a symphony and choir at some point in the near future. That’s definitely a result of the experience we got during the Shadowlands sessions.

Lex Live (DVD) / Live at NEARfest (CD)

Fred: We had decided that performing live was just not feasible anymore, for a number of reasons, in 1998 or so. By the time we did Lex Rex, we did it in the studio under the assumption we would never be called upon to play it live. Getting a call from NEARfest changed that of course. It was too great an opportunity to pass up, especially considering how well LR was doing. So, we called Walter and he was up for it. But we had a problem. We wanted him as a singer/front man, and not behind the drums. So we needed a drummer! In one of those great twists of fate we found Matt Mendians, who could not only play what was on the albums, he made it better. So, after months of rehearsal we couldn't let the first GH concerts in 6 years go undocumented. We knew NEARfest would be audio taped, but there was no way financially to video that show. Thus, we set up a show at home to make our first DVD. The results were great- you get to see us in a small setting with the cameras very close to the band. And as a companion we will have the CD of NEARfest with the huge audience and the added bonus of a full choir, which you won't hear anywhere else, including the DVD. Needless to say we're tremendously proud of both these projects, and we can't wait to see what the reaction to them is when they come out later this year!

Steve: Rich Williams of Kansas will appear on the live CD. He sat in on “Portrait He Knew” and brought down the house. The choir sounds really big on this album, in fact the whole album sounds really big! As for the DVD, it took a lot of work to edit it together from 3 different shows. The result is one seamless concert though, and I think it may be a big hit for us. A lot of people have never seen us perform live, and we’re a much different band live than the studio albums would lead you to believe. We’re much edgier, we play much harder and with more energy.
We’ll have some video clips on our website pretty soon, and some screen captures as well. We had a solid band for these projects, and we needed one to pull off Lex Rex! Matt Mendians (drums), Eric Parker (acoustic and bass), Walter Moore (vocals, guitars and keyboards), Susie Bogdanowicz (vocals), Fred Schendel (keyboards, vocals and lap steel guitar), Flo Parris, Bethany Warren and Sarah Snyder (back up vocals), and of course yours truly (vocals, bass, keyboards). We are hoping to have the DVD ready by mid-May (check our website) and the live album out by mid-summer.