Two years ago, one would have been hard-pressed to find the one out of ten who had even heard of Glass Hammer, let alone actually heard their debut CD, Journey of the Dunadan. This year, with a second release, Perelandra, and solid management behind them, Glass Hammer is becoming widely known among progressive fans, and are fortifying their reputation with numerous live appearances, such as their day-two opener at Progscape in Baltimore.
by Peter Thelen, Published 1996-08-01
Glass Hammer's two principals are Steve Babb (AKA Stephen DeArqe) and Fred Schendel, who met in the 80s when they both worked (off and on) at a music store in Chattanooga. At the time, both musicians were playing in different bands - DeArqe was on the road with a pop-metal band, Schendel in a country band, both with pending big-label deals. Schendel explains, "Both deals fell through about the same time, so we collectively said 'screw it' and started working together." Both had always shared a passion for the progressive keyboard-driven music of the 70s, as well as being proficient on numerous instruments.
"Ironically, at first we were still looking for an angle, and at that time it seemed to be New Age. We were convinced that prog was dead and we could never make a dime at it. Little did we know!" And so they began work on their first project, a series of ambient music tapes called Voyager, entirely instrumental outings designed for role-playing gamers.
"Our idea was, make keyboard-based music and sell it to guys playing Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, and such, since they would be more open to non-pop sounds, or so we thought," says Schendel. "The music ranged from straight new-age type stuff to slightly heavier – a lot of it had simple drum loops behind it, but we couldn't get too wild because it was being marketed as background music to listen to as you played, and therefore couldn't be too attention grabbing. In other words, wallpaper! Some of our best-ever creepy stuff is on those tapes, much more whacked out than Perelandra."
The tapes sold fairly well, but didn't break any records. Now deleted, they are presently being mastered for CD release and will be available again soon. "The best of each tape will be combined into one Voyager CD and will be released as 'DeArqe and Schendel' instead of Glass Hammer," DeArqe explains. "This music is much more in the style of Tangerine Dream than ELP or Yes, and I wouldn't want anyone to confuse this as a new Glass Hammer CD. Our sci-fi / fantasty fans have been asking for this for two years now, so we felt it was a good time to go ahead with it."
At that point in early 1993, essentially at a musical dead-end and with nothing to lose, DeArqe and Schendel made a conscious decision to change direction, and in fact do what they really wanted to do all along – expanded compositions in an uncompromising progressive rock style typified by 70s bands like ELP, Yes, Genesis, and others.
At that point, DeArqe notes, "All of our wonderful musical schemes were not bearing fruit. We sold about 2,000 tapes and that looked as if that would be the end of it. We didn't want to continue with our day jobs and were looking for another musical alternative. Something that we could pursue full-time."
"We bought an 8-track machine and started doing what we thought were demos, until we sat back and realized that no studio in town was going to make it sound any better than we had," Schendel elaborates. "From that point on, we considered it an album."
Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was chosen as the subject, and the pair continued recording until over seventy-two minutes of material had been laid down, and the album was nearly finished. At that point, they decided the music would be better served by bringing in some other musicians to assist with the finishing touches. It was released in July of that year. Fred explains "Journey was a big experiment for us. We really didn't know there was a prog scene out there at the time, so we were attempting to recreate all the different type of influences that we had as kids and didn't think were out there anymore. That's why it contains so many different elements – we were trying to get 'em all in there, classical, pop, jazz, ELP, Todd Rundgren, whatever – even a little Kiss near the end, which was only half tongue-in-cheek!"
The CD sold much better than they had expected, well enough in fact to finance the building of a new, fully digital studio which they christened "Sound Resources," with Schendel and DeArqe acting as the in-house producers, composers and engineers. Over the last year they have done Tracy Cloud's album Love Changes, and are currently working with the band Somnambulist, who are recording their first album for The Laser's Edge label. There are presently seven other CDs in various stages of production at Sound Resources, including solo projects by Walter Moore and Michelle Young, and a band called Wizards, described as "early Rush meets Camel" which will be released on Glass Hammer's Arion label, as well as the third Glass Hammer CD, tentatively titled On to Evermore. They also do a lot of custom composing for corporate videos, commercials, and the like.
While Journey was in the final stages, they continued to record material – not intended for inclusion on that album because it didn't fit in with the Tolkien concept. In fact there is a full album's worth of material that was originally recorded on the old 8-track that was to be part of a planned second album that never saw the light of day.
"Ultimately the whole thing was scrapped. At the time it just didn't seem like we had made any real progress beyond what we had already done, either in terms of production or composition," explains Schendel. "The exception is a seventeen minute piece called "Arianna" which we have totally re-done and will definitely be on our next CD."
After the release of Journey, there still remained the problem of how to perform the material live. Glass Hammer's first live gig – and only time that Journey was performed in its entirety – was in November 1993, nearly six months after the album's release. Schendel played keys, guitars, and sang, while DeArqe handled bass, keys, and vocals, with new members Michelle Young on vocals and keyboards and Walter Moore alternating between guitar and drums. At those early gigs, prerecorded parts (narration, extra guitars) and drum machines were used liberally. Since that time, David Carter has been added as regular guitarist, freeing up Moore to man the drum kit full time.
"Absolutely no tapes or sequencers this time out," Schendel explains of the current lineup, "We've actually put together a hot live band that I think will surprise everyone. Glass Hammer live is a bit heavier than on record – it'll be interesting to see the reaction we get." They have also been known to pop up occasionally in an 'unplugged' format locally in the Chattanooga area.
Throughout 1995 Glass Hammer were hard at work on their latest album Perelandra, released in December of last year. The disc – again a concept album, but this time based on an original idea – shows much growth and maturity in both composition and production, offering a slightly harder-edged style when compared to Journey, and a more sure-footed approach, certainly confirming that Glass Hammer is finding their own sound within the boundaries of what might be called ‘accessible progressive rock.’
Concerning the theme of Perelandra, DeArqe notes, "It is a story, a musical fantasy, and it is meant only to be an 'audio diversion' for the listener. I hope it entertains, and I hope it inspires, and I hope it is enjoyed. Much of the inspiration for this story comes not only from the overall theme of the books Perelandra and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, but also from a poem called 'Little Girl Lost' by the English poet William Blake, as well as the Twin Peaks movie Fire Walk with Me by David Lynch. Our next album, On to Evermore, will give a little more insight into not only the history of Lliusion, but the other creatures which inhabit Evermore as well."
Related artist(s): Glass Hammer
Celebrate 10 Years of Fruits de Mer – As a special celebration for a decade of cool vinyl releases, our friends at Fruits de Mer records have prepared a limited edition reissue of an album by the first band ever to appear on the label: Schizo Fun Addict. The band is known for unusual release strag » Read more
Mega Dodo Presents New Charity Album – Our friends at Mega Dodo have put together a lovely compilation of their artists performing new arrangements of nursery rhymes, and all the profits from sales of the album will benefit Save the Children. It features a number of artists we've covered. » Read more
Phil Miller RIP – Sad word reaches us today of the passing of another of the great musicians of the Canterbury Scene — guitarist Phil Miller. His distinctive sound added greatly to Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, and he also contributed to albums by Caravan, Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin, and many others. He was 68. » Read more
Moonjune to Distribute Tony Levin's Back Catalog – It has been announced that Moonjune will now handle distribution for Tony Levin's catalog of releases. These great albums will now be a bit easier to get hold of, so check out the site and see what you're missing. The veteran of King Crimson and Stick Men worked with a host of great players on these albums, and we've reviewed most of them over the course of the years. » Read more
Bandcamp Shines Light on Niches We Like – Bandcamp has developed into one of the best places to discover new music, and even a lot of old music is showing up there. In addition, their staff has been producing periodic articles spotlighting some interesting stylistic areas. On 20 September, they published one called "The New Face of Prog Rock" which bears checking out. » Read more