Exclusive Interview with Glass Hammer: VALKYRIE, The Best of 2016

 

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Glass Hammer’s Latest, VALKYRIE–2016’s best album.

From the beginning of this, let me [Brad] note that I think that VALKYRIE is not only Glass Hammer’s finest achievement, but it’s the best album of 2016, thus far.

Questions

PROGARCHY: Steve and Fred, after so many years of writing, recording, and producing, what motives you?  I ask this, because most bands go the other direction.  They start strong, and they lose it.  You, however, do just the opposite.  You started very strong, and you just keep getting better.  Why, how?  What’s your secret?

Fred: Luck, perhaps?  It may have a little to do with the fact we’re easily distracted and move from one thing to the next like butterflies so we never have a chance to get too stale.  We are always interested in trying something different.  I think in this case we benefit from having little bits of stuff fly by on the wind and stick to us- post rock, ambient video game music; things we don’t necessarily know well enough to emulate too specifically, but that influence what we’re doing at any given time.  The other thing is surrounding ourselves with the right people and I think that has a lot to do with the new album working out as well as it has.

Steve: We’re driven and we just don’t stop. Momentum is important. We have awesome bandmates who invest themselves into our vision and a support team that keeps everything behind the scenes running smoothly. I’m with Fred on the butterfly theory. There are a million things I’d like to try with Glass Hammer. We’ll never get to the end of my list or Fred’s.

***

PROGARCHY: What do you think Glass Hammer means as a band, a concept, a project?  Where do you see Valkyrie in your personal history, and where do you see it in the long tradition of rock and prog?

Fred: I don’t know what it means.  I feel like I have to leave those questions to the people on the outside looking in; people that have an objective view of it all.  My perspective is kind of mundane.  For me Glass Hammer is an outlet for the music I write and Valkyrie is the latest work we’ve done and that’s it.  Time will tell us where Valkyrie fits in the history of the band and of prog in general.  I have high hopes though that it will be remembered as an important album in our catalog but it’s not my call.

Steve: For me, Glass Hammer satisfies the need to create and share the work. We’re a musical expression of a world-view as well, and I guess I’ve driven that idea. Valkyrie is or was quite personal. The story of the soldier and the girl started as a way for me to deal with trauma from my own experience. The hope being, that as I wrote it I could build the story toward a hopeful ending, and thus, find answers to my own dilemma. What happened was that I realized how insignificant my experience was when compared to others. It helped me mend. My Valkyrie has already arrived and guided me home so to speak. What happened to me was no battlefield experience and we need to confess that unless we’ve actually been in that situation there is no way we could possibly be able to relate to those who have, or even write music about it. I can’t reduce that sort of horror into music or lyrics. Still, trauma takes many forms in many lives. I just hope Valkyrie helps others, and especially encourages family and friends of trauma survivors. Survivors don’t make it home without help. As for Valkyrie’s place in history I can’t say. We just hope everyone enjoys it and that it has as much or more impact as other important albums in our back catalog.

***

PROGARCHY: I’ll take this a bit further.  It’s twenty years from now, 2036, and some historian of rock is writing the definitive history of the first sixty years of prog.  Where would Glass Hammer and Valkyrie fit in?

Fred: Well, assuming it’s worthy of a mention at that point it seems it will have done pretty well.  Hopefully I’ll be around to find out!

Steve: I still hope our best work is ahead of us, though if Valkyrie were the final musical statement of Glass Hammer I’m prepared to say we have done all that we ever set out to do and more. That’s today. I’ve always thought Glass Hammer deserved to be taken seriously. If, in twenty years our legacy is intact and acknowledged, I’ll say it was work worth doing. Truthfully, it has all been worth doing regardless of the future.

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Priceless.

***

PROGARCHY: Why Valkyrie as a title?  Most listeners will immediately conjure images of flying Viking maidens, Wagner, or Bugs Bunny.  How does the story tie together?

Steve: I’m a casual student of Norse literature so I’m not unfamiliar with the term Valkyrie. Oddly enough it was the Tom Cruise movie about WWII of the same name that got my attention. We watched it for a second time last spring and it occurred to me that the girl in my lyrics was very much like a battle-field angel, sweeping in to rescue the fallen hero. Frankly, it’s an attention-grabbing title, and I’m always looking for just the right phrase or impactful word to use as a title. The word “Valkyrie” summed it all up for me as it encompasses ideas of battle, heroes (both male and female), angels, romance and rescue.

 ***

PROGARCHY: When you compose musically, are you thinking in terms of the overall story and concept, or are you thinking about creating space for individual musical contributions?

Steve: For me it’s more simple than that. I’m just looking for a good song. From time to time I’ll give some direction about needing this or that to make the concept work. I have always felt that the concept or the need to tell a story shouldn’t overwhelm the music. Interesting music is the top priority. Though I do write sections of music where I know Fred will solo or Alan will add textures. I know I can count on them. Factoring their future contributions into my current songwriting has become second-nature at this point.

*** 

PROGARCHY: This album strikes me as especially cohesive, but without diminishing individual and artistic excellence.  I’m especially interested to know how and what Susie, Aaron, and Alan think about this?

Susie: It’s interesting that you point that out, because as I listen to it, I am thinking “wow, Alan sounds awesome there. Wait…and Aaron, and Steve, AND Fred!”  They really are all on top of their game on this album.  No one outshines, yet each is brilliant.

Alan: I think there are really two main things that contributed to the cohesiveness of this album. On both Ode To Echo and The Breaking Of The World we all wrote material individually which grew and evolved as ideas were passed back and forth. So we really didn’t know exactly what we had in terms of the big picture until all the individual pieces took shape and were brought to life later on in the process. There’s a very distinct contrast in each of our writing styles and you really get an eclectic mix of songs on those two albums. This time around with Valkyrie, I really helped champion the idea that it might be time for Fred and Steve to fully take the reins and write a unified concept album in the way they used to work back in the days when it was essentially just the two of them carrying out their artistic vision. That’s definitely not to say that the rest of the band was somehow less involved – quite the contrary. I feel like the two of them taking full control over the songwriting and concept on this project allowed me to better focus on coming up with the best guitar parts that complimented the skeleton that was already in place and I was able to spend much more time rehearsing and dialing in tones before hitting record than in the past. The second contributing factor I would say is that the recurring thematic material on this album is a lot tighter and more concise than on previous projects. There are many moments where various motives appear and reappear throughout the album in surprising ways that I don’t think would have occurred to me if I had been preoccupied with trying to write my own songs while learning others. So basically the strategy was a win-win, Fred and Steve delivered a brilliant concept and vision and the rest of us were inspired to deliver our best individual playing.

Aaron: Thank you for your kind words regarding Valkyrie!! I think the main reason for both the cohesiveness and creativity is just the fact that Steve, Fred, Alan, and I rehearsed the material extensively for several months prior to recording it, so it personally gave me a chance to really put my spin on the songs after I learned them and was comfortable playing them.

 ***

PROGARCHY: Susie, the internet is abuzz with the idea that you’re now fronting GH.  Does that excite you?  Would you like to take this live?

Susie: I don’t really understand the buzz.  It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside :), but I let that go pretty quickly.  I don’t take praise or criticism too seriously.   And, I don’t think anyone “fronts” Glass Hammer.  We are all equally essential parts of the whole.  At different times Fred is the “front” or Steve.  Other times, it’s Alan or Aaron.  That’s the beauty and freedom of progressive music.  It doesn’t have to fit traditional band roles.

I think this would be a perfect album to perform live, because that’s how we recorded it.  It would be a varied set musically, and I think it would take the audience on an emotional ride.  We would have a blast performing this!

***

PROGARCHY: Alan and Aaron, there’s been some really healthy attention focused on you each as individual performers within Glass Hammer.  Thoughts on this and on your role within the band?

Aaron: It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around having any attention at all because I’ve always been a behind the scenes and chill out kind of guy haha. I’ve always thought of my role in Glass Hammer as being the silent leader. I have to set up the next section of a song rhythmically and dynamically, and if I fail to provide that, then I alone could make that section sound flat or even worse, it could all just fall apart. The drums are the only instrument in a band that have that  power. So, I have to be on top of my game even more so than the others.

Alan: My role in the band has definitely grown since I came onboard during the recording of IF. Initially, although the guys have always welcomed my ideas and my musical instincts from the very beginning, I look back at those earlier albums and feel that I thought and played more like a session guitarist filling a hole rather than a vital component of the Glass Hammer sound. Because this band can be somewhat mercurial I used to find myself looking entirely to Fred or Steve for direction on what they felt they needed from me on a particular part. As longtime GH fans will know Fred plays guitar well himself and could easily fill that role if needed as he has at times in the past. So I kept thinking to myself, “if I’m going to play this part it has to be because I bring something unique and individual to the table”. So I’ve kept that mentality and I think over the course of the past few albums I’ve started to shape a guitar style that is uniquely Glass Hammer and can be recognized and identified. I’m very happy with what I was able to bring to Valkyrie and I think it’s definitely the most fully integrated the guitar has ever been in this band.

*** 

PROGARCHY: If you extended the scope of the media around Valkyrie, where would you go?  I could easily see this as a novel, a graphic novel, and a Netflix original series.

Steve: I would be thrilled to see Valkyrie as a graphic novel. Of course it would first have to inspire someone, some other artist or writer. We don’t have connections with those folks but if someone who reads this does, by all means hook us up!

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Afterword: a gargantuan thanks to all of the members of Glass Hammer for taking the time to answer my questions.  A true honor.

An even greater honor: having the art of these five extraordinary persons out in the world for all of creation to enjoy.  Thank you : Steve, Susie, Fred, Aaron, and Alan.

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