Glass Hammer Band Member Interview Part II
AH: Have you taken formal lessons and / or are you classically trained?
Fred: I took formal lessons and was classically trained for about four years, when I was pretty young…….between 9 and 13. So, it wasn’t really a long period, but it was a pretty intensive period and I had a really good teacher and he very much instilled in me the importance of proper technique………It drove enough into me that the next 30 years of not practicing and having core technique, I’m still able to slide through somehow. I probably do not play nearly as well as I did when I was 18……because when I was a kid I was could really sit and practice four or five hours a day and I was really into it and working really hard……(now) at least I still know when my technique is being sloppy or not…..But I do have enough of a classical foundation that I kinda know where I could be and where I should be, and that definitely helps.
AH: Have you finally gotten to the point you hoped for where you record the CD you hear in your head?
Fred: I think so, yea. Absolutely. Generally that just a matter of time, than anything else. There’s a point of diminishing returns between the amount of time it takes to tweak on something and the point you get to where you just can’t face it anymore and you have tunnel vision and you can’t be objective about anything. So, really the trick is to achieve the vision before it overwhelms you and you just have to move on to something else. This CD particularly, Perilous, is really, really coming together in a very easy, comfortable way which also has us worried. It’s disconcerting that it’s going this well, because….we’re all waiting for the disaster. This CD is shaping up very well because we don’t hate it at this point. Because usually when you finish an CD no matter how much you loved it while you were doing it, when it’s finished you hate it……(Laughing). Certainly we’re not going to get to that point because we own the studio and have all the time in the world.
AH: What’s your equipment of choice for keyboards, guitars and effects and why?
Well honestly, now a days I’ve pretty well embrace the computer in Sound Resources (Glass Hammer’s Studio). I’m fully on board. We have a Hammond down in the basement which
is deteriorating and I’ve got my Mini-Moog in the closet, and all the old
analog equipment that we love so much is just so hard to maintain. I don’t have the money, finances and
resources really to put a couple thousand bucks to refurbishing my Mini-Moog
every two years. I’ve found that if you
have a good ear and audition every software plug-in ever made and you find the
one that speaks to you, and then you tweak that, you can get some really,
really good results. I don’t think any
of them are truly plug and play. You
have to be willing to dig in to the ear a little bit and make it suite your
vision for how you think things should sound.
And I’m really picky about Organs and Mini-Moogs and I’ve found things
that work for me. In some cases where
they’re not working, we’ll go out to a Church that has pianos and things and
we’ll take advantage of it. But I’ve
found through Sound Resources I
can accomplish a whole lot in here just using software based stuff and we’re
moving a lot that way. We did a lot of
guitar that way on Perilous. We have to
be careful sharing this because there are people out there that will cop an
attitude when they find out you’re not using this real honest to goodness
vintage gear. It’s the kinda thing where
you show someone a painting and they’ll go, “oh, that’s beautiful, I love that”
and you’ll say, “well that was done in Photoshop and they had this printer that
prints on canvas like a painter.”
Alan: It’s kind of ironic though, because with the vintage snobs, it doesn’t matter how much your amp is, or this crazy pedal board you got and spent all this money on boutique pedals, if you mic it with an $80 Shure SM57 which is the industry standard, it’s like, you still have an $80 mic to record the whole thing………..I would like to embrace high quality recorded music. I think it’s a lot easier to accomplish high quality with software. You can work in 24-bit all the time and it never leaves 24 bit digital.
AH: Well, I think that’s amazing and I don’t see a downside to that. If I take an example, Yes Talk was recorded mainly as a digital CD and I think that’s an unbelievable recording.
Fred: Talk was the first CD I think, to be recorded using Digital Performer by Mark of the Unicorn with later evolved into ProTools. As far as I know, that is the first CD to be recorded on a Mac in a home studio environment. Obviously there was professionally digital recording before that, but Talk, I think was the first example of somebody that said, I’m going to actually push the state of the art to actually be able to do this digitally at home.
Fred Schendel’s Equipment and Software Choices – In his own words
Our main sequencing/VST software is Cakewalk Sonar Producer. We have version X1 but I've never warmed up to it- I tend to use version 8.5. We don't record audio in it for the most part, we do that with our trusty Roland VS-2480. But since we love Roland and we love Cakewalk and Roland has bought Cakewalk and it all works together now. I think someday we'll upgrade to the newest Roland V-Studio setup and integrate the whole thing.
My main go to for Hammond organ is GSi's VB3. Utterly amazing. Best virtual organ in the universe imo. For Glass Hammer we rely heavily on Arturia's Minimoog V v2. I also use their CS-80 and ARP 2500 plugins. For piano I truly love Forefront's Truepianos. It's great sounding and has a very small memory and CPU footprint because it's mainly a modeled piano- fantastic for a live setting. I also like the Galaxy Vintage D piano library for Kontakt. Our Mellotron these days is the GForce M-Tron. The old one, never upgraded to the pro version. We use a lot of Spectrasonics, primarily Atmosphere and Omnisphere although not so much for GH, more for other types of projects. We run a venerable version of Gigastudio on a dedicated PC and we still have a huge selection of libraries for it; mostly orchestral things like Project SAM brass, Garritan Orchestral Strings, Peter Ewers Pipe Organ, a lot of things that are technically somewhat out of date but still work very well. And for amp modeling we use Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 and WAVES GTR3. Each one has strengths and weaknesses.
AH: Of all Prog bass players I have to say, yours is the closest sound and style to Chris Squire I’ve ever heard. How has his playing influenced yours?
Steve: Well that’s a great compliment because he’s certainly one of my favorite bassists and somebody I’ve spent a lot of time listening to. With that said, once I really look at how he plays and what he chooses to use, I don’t think there’s a lot of similarity in what we do. I think my pick position is certainly different than his and my gear is certainly a lot different than his. Not sure really how I’m even getting that sound to be honest with you, except we both play with a pick and I do like to get very high up on the neck and do melodic things. We try to use different gear now and then to get the different sounds and strangely enough, I sound the same no matter what we do. It’s true. You can put any bass in front of me in any kind of gear configuration and I’m still going to sound basically the same. I don’t emulate anything he’s doing I guess somehow, we just get that sound.
AH: You are a story teller who draws from many sources of inspiration. Tell us about that?
Steve: When I first got into Prog, I was 17, which is about the time I was incredibly into things like The Lord of the Rings and the writings of C.S. Lewis, and I was 17 when this happened. I think something kind of magical about that age where all the various influences are coming together and you really can’t separate yourself from them after that. So I began to relate progressive rock and literature because of some things I saw on other albums. Like the first thing that drew me to a Rush album at all was the fact that I saw this song title Rivendell on the back of Fly By Night and I was like, oh my gosh, this band is into Tolkien. Storytelling, progressive rock, the idea of having concept CDs, all that goes hand-in-hand with me. I just love to tell stories and not being a novelist, the best way to do it is to attempt it now and then through lyrics, if I think I’ve got something worth saying.
AH: What Album and/or song most influenced you and why?
Steve: For me, Awaken managed to transcend both the band Yes and the medium of rock. Suddenly here were pipe organs, harps and angelic choral arrangements mingling with rock guitar, bass and drums - and even these last three weren't playing in traditional styles. All that set to spiritual poetry with one melodic rhythmic crescendo building toward another. Being a rocker at heart, but one who grew up classically trained on piano, singing in choirs and performing church music as a job from the age of 12 onward - Awaken made sense to me. I got to have a talk with Jon Anderson about Awaken once, and he confirmed to me that the band knew at the time that something amazing had happened with that song and that something was present during the writing that they couldn't explain. So, it caused me to search for the transcendent in music and changed the way I approached composing. It set the bar very high!
AH: What’s your equipment of choice for bass, amp and effects and why?
Steve: Well bass guitar, I’m currently playing a Nathan East Yamaha. And I’m not a guy that’s a big gear head. I went into a music store that one of my friends owned, picked up a few basses and found one that felt right, plugged it in, loved it. It was time that I changed. I played an old Ibanez Roadstar that was leftover from the 80s for many years and when that guitar was just beat to death, and I decided it was time to get something else, I found this Yamaha that I really, really liked. In terms of gear, we do something a little different every CD……..Once upon a time we would mic up the cabinets, and even really old bad cabinets and try combinations of speakers that didn’t belong to get a real gritty, nasty sound, and then mic up a 15 at different distances. Culture of Ascent was recorded with a big 15 going through a Behringer bass rig, which a lot people would just be shocked and appalled, but it had a real cool octave effect built into the amp and on stage the thing just rocked. It was like thunder. Mine never caught on fire, but I was told that there were a couple of instances where some Behringer equipment caught on fire, but I don’t know that for sure. This thing was great and in the room, I sat in here and cranked this thing so loud I about deafened myself, and got what I think is one of the best bass tones I ever had, and that was on Culture of Ascent. For If, I believe I was still using some direct bass gear and then now for Cor Cordium I was using a Line 6 Bass Pod. For Perilous a combination of Line 6 on one setting that we really, really liked (because once we like a setting we don’t tweak it). But that was a combination of Line 6 and Guitar Rig in the computer and I gotta do a shout out for SansAmp, which I’ve used for years and still use live.
Steve Babb’s Equipment and Software Choices – In his own words
Yamaha Nathan East 4 string bass, Line 6 Bass Pod XT Live, a variety of Boss stomp boxes (Delay, Bass Overdrive, PW-10 V-Wah Programmable Modeling Wah). I frequently use a SansAmp bass driver - but didn't on Perilous. For performances I'll typically go with a tube driven classic Ampeg stack. I also play a Dean 8-string bass and Moog Taurus Pedals.
AH: How did you get turned on to Progressive Rock?
Alan: It was really a modern Prog metal band that I liked a lot and in interviews they kept mentioning bands like Yes, Genesis, Crimson and Floyd as their influences and I thought, well I heard my parents talk about these bands and I’ve heard a lot about them, maybe I should check them out. So, of course growing up in the digital age and having access to these albums…….. I basically picked an album from each one and listened to it, checked it out. With Yes…….I picked Close to the Edge and I got lucky. I probably might not have gotten into Prog the way I did if I’d picked any other album. That one just really spoke to me. It took me a little bit longer to understand Genesis and Crimson, but I’ve grown to really like them.
AH: Who Was the Progressive Metal Band you talked about?
Theater. It’s one of those things where
when I was 13 or 14 somebody had Scenes From Memory….live DVD. Somebody had brought it over to somebody’s
house. There were a bunch of musicians
there just geeking out and oh my gosh, this is just very technical. I had already been studying classical guitar
and listening to classical music. It
wasn’t so much the long songs, the fast licks or the dramatic things that
impressed all that much. It was just all
those things in a rock content. Hearing
the sound of rock instruments with the scope of classical music………But once I
got turned on to Classic Prog, that was just the stuff for me. And I felt like, it was almost the sounds of
the instruments more than anything.
Drums and bass especially.
Sometimes I think we just don’t record it like we used to.
Steve (to Alan):
You have kind of a low fi setting in a lot of ways, and that comes from
Alan: Yea, I guess it does come from Jazz. You know, a lot of guys my age get into these shred style players. It’s just really high gain, fast licks and stuff. I think maybe it was starting on classical guitar that made me steer away from that. I realize that was not my calling as a player, it’s not really my forte. A lot of times it will just be a simple clean tone or some real spacey kinda vibe that I like and try to go for. In a keyboard lead band like this, sometimes there’s not a lot of space in the mix for all out shred. You really have to choose your spots carefully. Steve Hackett for instance. Those parts in early Genesis…..just super tasteful. He could have played a lot more, could have played faster, and could have played all this crazy lead stuff. But instead, really just melodic, well-chosen notes and that’s what I try to emulate.
AH: Who are your favorite guitarists and why?
Alan: I’ll just speak in terms of rock guitarists here, because obviously starting with classical and Jazz, there’s a lot of those players who have influenced me. But in terms of rock influences that come through in this band……It’d be a tossup for me between Alan Holdsworth and Pat Metheny. I know that sounds like two complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but again, I mentioned earlier. With Holdsworth it’s not so much the kind of shred style stuff. It’s his clean work, real tasteful chord solos and chord melody stuff with that gorgeous clean tone of his. And Metheny, when he plays chord work, there’s this huge soundscape that both of them get with their clean tone. It’s almost like the role a keyboard player might play in a band where they have to take up a lot of space in the mix. So I like those big lush sounds a lot. Holdsworth influences….it’s just bringing the jazz, jazz scales, jazz harmonies into rock is kind of cool to me. I’ve always tried to reach for those note choices when I get chord break.
AH: How did you learn to play guitar?
Alan: I started on classical guitar long before I really ever picked up an electric, and I went to prep-school here in town that happened to have a classical guitar program. The program started when I was in 7th grade, so the program’s first year was my first year at the school. So in a lot of ways you can say I am the first product of that school, I guess. Started out reading music notation on a staff, like a piano player, and played individual parts of an ensemble, usually four or five parts reading single notes. But then I started taking private lessons and playing solo pieces. But it wasn’t until a year or two of classical guitar that I picked up an electric…. I think that because I never had formal lessons on electric, the classical stuff just kind of guided all my playing on the steel string acoustics and electric. So I kind of maybe have an unorthodox technique sometimes. I use my fingers a lot, even on the electric. Other guys have done that. I noticed one time I saw Mike Oldfield on a video playing like classical guitar style on an electric with distortion.
AH: What’s your equipment of choice for guitars, amps and effects and why?
A lot of younger guys, of course when you’re a teenager and tuff, you
tend to be a gearhead and everybody in school bands and stuff are talking about
this fancy gear they want to be able to afford one day…….Fortunately, I was
around the right people growing up who kind of instilled in me the value of
convenience and not working yourself to death carrying a lot of equipment and
setting up equipment. Once you go to a
gig or recording session and you set up walls of Marshal Stacks….it’s like you
don’t have any creative energy left to play.
So, I got into the modeling thing pretty early on. I had a Line 6 rig when I was thirteen,
fourteen, when I first started playing electric. I’ve been using Line 6 stuff ever since. I upgraded every iteration of the POD series
I’ve had from the beginning. It’s just
gotten so much better. For any guitar
players listening, the new POD HD they just released last year, it’s like the
absolute real deal. If you close your
eyes and play, it not only sounds like a tube amp, they’re starting to get the
actual feel, touch sensitivity and dynamics and stuff. It’s a real joy to play. We just crank up the studio monitors, plug
the POD in and go. Use some Native
Instruments, Guitar Rig latest GTR. The
other great thing about it that helps Steve and Fred out a lot, when we find a
tone we like and works really well for that 10-second overdub, you just save
it, it’s on the computer. If you want to
come back use it again you don’t have to get the amps and figure out what angle
that mic was pointed out.
Fred: Yea, one of the nice thing about going to more software based solutions is that you spend a whole lot more time making music and a whole lot less time dialing sounds.
Alan Shikoh’s Equipment and Software Choices – In his own words
Been a faithful Line 6 user since I first began playing electric guitar in 1999. Started with the old AX2 amp which still works and lives at home. Been through several iterations of the POD line including the XT, XT-live, and recently upgraded to the HD 500 which I absolutely love and think is the closest any company has gotten to faithfully modeling both the sound and feel of classic tube amps.
We probably used about 60/40 ratio between POD and software (Native Instruments and Waves) during recording of "Perilous", but I would have no reservations in relying solely on the HD 500 in either the studio or a live situation with Glass Hammer.
I have been itching to try out the Line 6 James Tyler Variax modeling guitar in conjunction with the HD, as they are designed to be tightly integrated and would allow a pretty versatile variety of classic guitar/amp combinations at the flip of a switch. Right now I have to bring along at least a Gibson and a Fender style instrument to the studio to cover most situations, but having oddball instruments like a hollowbody, sitar, and 12 string modeled in one instrument would be incredibly convenient and would certainly allow us to spend less time dialing in a sound for different guitars and more time focusing on writing and recording great parts.
On the acoustic side, I've always been a big fan of Taylor guitars as I feel no steel string plays as easy on the hands. I prefer very low action and use quite a light touch which the Taylor facilitates. I've used a 510 model for the acoustic layers on every Glass Hammer CD so far and find it very easy to get a great mic'd up sound with minimal effort.
go-to nylon string is a maple/spruce classical built by a local Luthier here in
Chattanooga named Charles Evans. I am
currently waiting for an electric nylon guitar on order from Sadowsky in New
York City which I plan to transition to and experiment with as my
"main" instrument. My aim is to be able to utilize more of my
classical background while still having access to the palette of my favorite
Line 6 effects via the pickup. Who knows, the next Glass Hammer recording could
feature a boatload of nylon string sounds!
AH: You have a colorful guitar, bass and singing background from Sky Cries Mary to a Yes tribute band called Roundabout. You are now filling in for Jon Anderson of Yes and the lead vocalist for GH at nearly the same time? What’s it like with all of this success and recognition?
Jon: I felt a lot of recognition at the time when I was young at the time and moved to Seattle to go to school, and Sky Cries Mary was a really big band in the Northwest. So to become a part of that, and I was a big fan of the band and then to join it, that was my first taste of musical success and doing something legitimate, beyond being just a hobbyist. Even then, I had a sense of recognition which was rewarding, but as a bass player, and I don’t demean being just a bass player, but I always knew I had singing potential, I was a background vocalist, but never really was very good at singing that much rock music. Because I’m not a Robert Plant type vocalist, to sing aggressively wasn’t my thing. So that was my first taste of recognition and then, Roundabout (Yes Tribute band) was a necessary step to begin honing that craft of lead singing. It was rough at first because, like I said I’ve only been a background vocalist. And then to step into that, because I’ve always been a huge Yes fan, they’re my favorite band, and there was a time, there was a lull in my musical life where I wasn’t doing anything and I actually knew this tribute band that needed a singer, and I thought well, I have the higher voice, it’s not your typical aggressive rock singing, I could probably pull this off and it’s Yes oriented, so I was happy to do it. It did take a while to get it going, it was rough, but that was the stepping stone which lead to Glass Hammer. And that’s when I really started to feel like OK, you know, I am a lead vocalist, I can compose as I’d only done on guitar or bass guitar but I can compose vocally now. I have a band here that’s perceptive to it, we have and exchange, it’s working, it started to feel very real at that point. And again, that was another step that would lead to this (fronting for Yes). Not that I consider Glass Hammer a lower step, but it was certainly an opening which exposed me to the members of Yes, and their management.
AH: But now you find yourself on a World Stage.
Jon: Yea, and I don’t really think about the recognition too much, I try not to focus on that. I just know I have a job to do, and I’m so thrilled and so grateful for the experience………I’m in this moment where I’m just soaking it all in and every day I wake up and it’s exciting. It’s like wow, you know, I’m on tour with Yes, I’m helping to elevate the band, you know, I’m winning over the audiences, I’m selling Glass Hammer CDs, I love Glass Hammer. You know, all this is really great and yes, it’s nice to have the recognition but even the main thing is what’s internal, that satisfaction of doing music I love and I’m doing it well.
AH: How have the Yes fans been treating you?
Jon: Wonderfully. And I’m getting, without trying to sound like I’m bragging or anything, I’m just getting honest feedback at these meet and greets we do after the show where I talk to forty, sometimes fifty individuals and the general consensus is I’m offering all that is necessary for Yes. I’m living up to how the music should sound. I’m living up to Jon Anderson, but I’m also giving something of myself. There’s a balance between, OK, this guy is obviously doing the parts, he’s hitting the notes, but he’s giving something of himself too, I’m not just this tribute singer.
AH: You’re contributing?
Jon: Yea, and that’s very rewarding and the band is sensing it too. They are sensing that the step of energy and enthusiasm, I’ve always been a Yes fan and I’m on stage, I’m loving it and really excited and they’re feeding off of it. And the audience are telling me they’re sensing it, the band is sounding better than they have in years. I’m not putting Benoit (David) down or anything, I think he did an excellent job. But I think I have such a hard connection with the music as a true fan and the other fans are sensing that and sharing with me after the shows that they might feel. Like, “I was upset that Jon Anderson wasn’t singing, and I was hesitant to come, but I’m so glad I came. You’re doing it, I have the goose bumps and you’re giving me the Yes experience” and that’s great to hear. Because I’m doing it for all of us (meaning Yes fans).
AH: Regarding Bass and Guitar do you plan on continuing to play on Perilous or any upcoming projects?
Jon: Definitely with Glass Hammer, the next time, I’d like to get in more on the musical side of it. I just wasn’t able to contribute as much this time because I’m on the road….and I just joined Yes and I had two busy months preparing for the Australian tour. Meanwhile, Steve and Fred are writing. When they say go, like it’s time to write…….they just run with it. So, you got to jump in if you want to partake, otherwise it’s going to be written without you. But, none the less I feel that the tracking, when I did my vocals they were very encouraged because they can write a vocal but they’re never 100% confident of it until they hear it interpreted and delivered. There’s so much in the delivery as they’ve expressed to me before. So they were relieved that, OK, this works, this is legitimate……..Once they hear it through me, they seem to know it’s going to work so I still felt that I contributed to some degree.
AH: How has singing Jon Anderson’s vocal lines and lyrics during your days with Roundabout and the front man for Yes influenced you as a musician?
Jon: It’s hard to say because they’ve always influenced me from a very early age. It’s just like, engrained. There’s many influences, I like all types of singers and all types of music and it all plays a part in it. But certainly Jon Anderson has always been there. So when I’ve been singing with Yes, it’s just more about the experience of being with the actual members of Yes and the experience of touring and reaching a wider audience. But really, he’s always been a big influence. It’s just kind of a carry on to what’s always been and that’s why it works because it’s just so natural.
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