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Hourglass - Brick WilliamsAfter the latest album by the Utah based prog band Hourglass took my heart and soul by storm, I was eager to ask the band's mastermind Brick Williams some questions about his brainchild Hourglass, his constant search for perfection and his addiction to music. While the e- mails travelled back and forth between Germany and the USA the whole thing was delayed a bit because Brick's wife gave birth to their second daughter. Congratulations Brick!

 U.B., 21.09.2009

We asked...
 Hello Brick,
thanks for taking the time to answer my curious questions. I already told you how much I like the new double album OBLIVIOUS TO THE OBVIOUS. With close to 140 minutes it is almost a mighty avalanche of material rushing at the listeners. Did you ever think about turning it into a concept album like Dream Theater did with METROPOLIS PART II SCENES FROM A MEMORY? Or do you believe that a concept album could limit your freedom writing songs?

A concept album was discussed as a possibility back in 2005. We dropped the idea after a short period of time, and it was never discussed after that. At the time the concept album was just a conversation at a few band practices and we never really worked on any material that was intended for a concept album. We certainly might do something like that in the future though. I love concept albums myself and I don't see that it would in any way limit our freedom in the writing or creative process.

The cover of the album is very dark and the child with that skull gave me the impression of a black- or death metal album when I first saw it. What is the intension behind the cover artwork?

Well, the album isn't exactly a happy album lyrically. There are some pretty dark, depressing subjects addressed in the album's lyrics. We tossed around many ideas for the cover and actually had settled on an idea that was pretty elaborate. We took a whole bunch of photos that we needed for it, and our graphics designer (who is our drummer's wife) was gathering all kinds of stock photography, and doing all kinds of things working towards the idea we had come up with. She had it coming along pretty good, but she just wasn't feeling it, and you have to be inspired in order to be creative, so we just told her to go for whatever she felt like doing. The cover was just her take on the album title, and I must say it turned out excellent. Inspiration is really important for music and art, and this was a good example of that.

During the work for the new album three members of the band were replaced. I believe that all three "newcomers" did an extremely good job. Where did you find such talented musicians, they don't grow on trees, not even in Utah?

They really did do a great job. I feel lucky to be playing with such great musicians. They make you a better musician yourself. Our keyboardist, Jerry Stenquist, was actually in the band back in 2001 through 2002 and played on our album "The Journey Into", so he is just a returning member. Our bassist, Eric Blood, actually sang for us for a while back in 2001 and early 2002 but it didn't work out at the time. So the band has known Eric for a long time. Jerry and our drummer, John Dunston, have known him most of their lives. He is an absolute monster on the bass and one of the most talented musicians I've ever known. We lucked out on finding Michael Turner, our new singer. Our drummer's wife had heard of a guy looking to sing in a band like ours and we gave him a call. He came down and sang at one of our rehearsals and that was that. Great guy and a great addition to the band. His voice has been a big part of the appeal of the new album.

In an interview you once said that OBLIVIOUS TO THE OBVIOUS is dealing with real life situations like: isolation, feelings of regret, bad relationships, lost opportunities or even cancer. All of this is not very pleasant. On SUBCONSCIOUS I found the song "Mists of Darkness" that deals with depression. I hope all this does not reflect your own experiences in the past. Would you describe yourself as an optimistic or a pessimistic person?

That is a tough question to answer. To be honest I go through fazes of both. Life is full of ups and downs in my experience, and all you can do is try to be positive, but sometimes that is easier said than done I suppose. "Mists of Darkness" was a song that dealt with the issue of depression, not necessarily from my experiences, but from my observations of others that have struggled with it. Many of the lyrics on the new album are dealing with difficulties faced in life. Lyrics are so often snapshots of moments in your life and the emotions that are affecting you at any given time. Some of the lyrics are just stories though, and should be taken as such. Not too much on the new album was auto-biographical lyrically. Some of it was though.

I suppose you did not plan to create a double album in the first place. How did it develop during the last four years since SUBCONSCIOUS?

We had an album that was 80% done or so. This was in 2006 and some of the members in the band were just not giving enough effort into practicing and working on the new material. The pressures of life or the difficulties of playing in a band that has so much technical music going on was just too much for some of them, so we lost a few members. Some we lost to career pursuits in other musical directions and some to a lack of drive and desire to push forward. When these people were replaced, the new members had some ideas for songs when they joined, and so we started jamming on some of these ideas. When we started doing that everyone started coming up with all kinds of ideas and it just kept growing. So by the time the new members had learned all of the material that was written before they had joined, and we had written a large amount of new material with the new guys, it was obvious that it wouldn't fit on one disc. We discussed the idea of releasing two separate albums about a year apart from each other, but it just didn't feel right. It all seemed to flow somehow and it felt like one album. There was a cohesiveness to the songs that made them seem like they belonged on one album together. One more epic song and we would have needed three discs!

Almost 140 minutes on two CDs and each one an explosion of innumerable ideas, would you call yourself an extremely creative person?

I don't know. I try to be musically creative. It helps to play with other extremely talented people. I guess if other people think what I'm doing is creative than that is a wonderful compliment.

Now that the album is done are you absolutely satisfied or is there a minor thing or two you would change if you had the chance to?

There are always things that I would change in hindsight. I suppose that no matter how much time you spend on something, when it is all said and done, there are things you would go back and change. If I had to say one thing that I would do differently, it would be to work with a different engineer. He made the experience less enjoyable than it could have been.

Who is responsible for the songwriting? You did most of the work in the past I know, but do the other Hourglass members bring in their ideas as well? How about the lyrics? Do you still do them on your own? Are you a workaholic? Do you believe in the sentence: If you want a thing done perfect, do it yourself?

On "Subconscious" I was the main writer, so on this album having other people be so involved in the writing was really nice. I love to feed off of what others come up with when we are jamming, or when someone comes in with a chord progression or riff. When I hear someone play a great part, my mind jumps to all the possibilities of what I can do on guitar during the part. I love to just sit down and improvise too, to just see what comes out on any given day.
This album was a definite group effort. I had loads of help on this one. "Faces" is a song that was mostly written by Jerry and "Homeward Bound" was mostly written by Eric. Most of "Skeletons" was written in one night by John and me. Other songs took months to fully put together. Songs like "Facade", "38th Floor", "Delirium", and the title track were written by all of us over the course of several months.
As far as lyrics, I usually write them. Eric wrote the "Homeward Bound" lyrics and John wrote the lyrics in "Skeletons". Everything else I wrote.
I don't think I'm a workaholic. I try to relax and enjoy life as much as possible and I get the most joy in life spending time with my wife and two daughters. And as far as doing things yourself to assure that they will be perfect, things are rarely perfect in my experience, whether I do them or someone else does.

The Hourglass lyrics clearly have a message. Do you think that the lyrics of a progressive band should deal with more "important themes" than those of, let's say, a melodic rock band? Complicated lyrics that follow complex music?

I don't think the lyrics need to be dealing with anything important just because you are playing in a prog band. Some people like love songs and romantic lyrics, others hate that type of stuff. Some people like lyrics that are about chicks and having a good time. Others look for more significance in the lyrics, more dramatic or moving lyrics that are poetic. I personally prefer more in depth lyrics that move me emotionally, so that is the type of lyrics that I try to write. Some people love the Hourglass lyrics and others don't. You absolutely cannot please everyone, don't even try. As long as I'm happy with the lyrics and the band members like them, that is good enough for me. Whether it is a prog band or a melodic rock band doesn't matter. I have received many compliments on some of my lyrics, particularly "Exit Wounds" and "Oblivious to the Obvious". Just earlier today someone was asking me how I wrote the lyrics for "Oblivious" because they were really impressed with them. I've also read were people don't like them and think that the lyrics in "Oblivious" are weak. You can't satisfy everyone, so satisfy yourself.

I can imagine that you did spent a lot of time writing the lyrics. During the songwriting process do you have an idea what kind of lyrics would go well together with the music or do you start with the lyrics after the music is completely finished?

I have always preferred to have the lyrics done before the music. I like being able to read a lyric and have it guide where the song might go instead of the other way around. I've done it both ways though. The music in "Faces" was written before the lyrics. We brainstormed some ideas as a band one night at rehearsal for the subject matter of the lyrics. Once we had the general idea of what we wanted the song to be about, I went home and wrote all the lyrics for that song in a day. That usually isn't the case. I'll spend months on one song's lyrics sometimes, especially the longer songs that we do. "Exit Wounds" took me a long time and so did "Oblivious to the Obvious". "The Journey Into" was another song that took a while to get the lyrics for. Those are the three longest songs we've ever written though. Occasionally lyrics will just come to me in a rush so I always keep a note pad in my car. There have been a few times where I've pulled off the side of the road to write down a few stanzas that just came out of nowhere. The key is to pull the car over before you start writing.

Do you see Hourglass as a progressive metal band or is it not important at all for you if people refer to you as prog metal or prog rock or a god knows what kind of band as long as you and the fans like the music?

We cover so many different styles that it is hard for me to say where we should be categorized. Prog metal certainly works for the most part, but when you have songs like "Daddy's Little Girl", "The Believer", "Estranged", "The Circle Breaks" and "Realization", you can't say that there is any metal going on in those songs. I suppose I prefer prog metal because we are sometimes metal and often times prog.

Brick, Hourglass is your brainchild and you are the only member left of the original line-up. Are you a very "bossy" person when you believe that some member is not giving one hundred percent? Are you completely addicted to the music, constantly searching, squeezing the best out of yourself and the other members?

I hope I never have come across as bossy. I'm a very opinionated person I would say. That isn't exactly a good thing either. When the band first got started I was very bold in trying to get my points across, but I think over the years I've calmed down quite a bit. I hope so anyway. The new album was much more of a group effort than "Subconscious" was, and I feel that it needed to be in order for it to turn out the way it did.
As far as other band members not giving their all to the band, it is completely out of my control. We've had so many unexpected happenings in Hourglass over the years that nothing surprises me anymore. I just want to have musicians in the band that are willing to work hard on new albums and see it through to completion, and also to be involved in playing shows and promoting us in any way possible. It hasn't always been the case unfortunately. I just keep plugging along and do my best. John has been there giving to the band for a long time now, so our friendship has really grown over the years. We have become so in synch with each other's playing styles after all this time that we can almost read each other's minds at this point. Also, Michael has been great to have in the band. He really tries to be involved in the promotion side of things, and it is great to have another person trying to get the word out there.
I am addicted to guitar and to music in general. I teach almost 60 guitar students a week and have been doing that for eight years now. With that many students every week I spend a lot of time with a guitar on, but I still come home and practice most nights either on my own or in Hourglass rehearsals. And yes I do have certain standards for my own playing so that is the reason I practice. I can't control how much effort other band members put in, but many times in the past when someone isn't putting in the time, they just can't keep up with the technical requirements of playing this type of music. You have to practice to do this stuff.

Did you play all the guitars on the album? In some dreamlike scenes ("Faces" for example) your style reminds me of David Gilmour. Do you like the old Pink Floyd albums?

All the guitar parts were played by me. I love Pink Floyd and Gilmour is a total genius, so yeah, he certainly has an influence on my playing. To have someone say my playing has a Gilmour vibe at times is an incredible compliment, so thank you.

Some of the visitors on our Hard Harder Heavy website play an instrument and they are interested what kind of equipment the pros use. Please tell us something about your guitars, strings, and pickups.

I have two Music Man guitars: the Steve Lukather model and a John Petrucci model. I also have a couple of the Ibanez Petrucci guitars. I have a Peavey Wolfgang which is the Eddie Van Halen guitar that Peavey made for a few years. I also have a 7-string Steve Vai Ibanez guitar. As far as acoustics go, I have an Ovation Adamas that I absolutely love and I use an Ovation Viper for all of the nylon string Hourglass material. I use a Tacoma 12-string guitar that sounds amazing as well. I use Marshall cabinets, but my favourite piece of gear is my amp head. It is a Yamaha DG130H and it is awesome. The DG amps that Yamaha made were super cool and were the best modeling amps ever made in my opinion. You can't get them anymore unless you can find a used one, but I love it. It is very versatile and I can dial into just about any sound I want. The coolest thing is how user friendly it is. I control the Yamaha with a Behringer FCB1010 midi controller, and then I have a few pedals like a Morley Bad Horsie II wah, the MXR Van Halen phaser and flanger, and of course a few Boss TU-2 tuners. I use Ernie Ball strings for electrics and Elixir acoustic strings. For the nylon-string guitar, I use D'Addario strings. The pickups are usually Dimarzio but the Luke guitar has EMGs.

On the Hourglass homepage I found links to many famous bands that must have had an influence on the Hourglass style like Dream Theater, Symphony X, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Rush. It came to my big surprise that you once mentioned you are a big Megadeth fan. I would never have expected that you like Megadeth. Their music is so different in comparison to Hourglass. How can you explain that?

I honestly like a very wide variety of music. I first heard Megadeth back in '92 or so. I saw them on TV and was blown away. Ever since, I've been a big fan. I used to learn entire Megadeth albums and play along in my room as a teenager. Hourglass played "Ashes in Your Mouth" in 2007 at a show or two actually. We've covered a couple of their songs over the years. I've even written some new material that has a Megadeth vibe recently, so maybe it will end up on the next album.

I think that Hourglass shows some jazz influence on some of the tracks on OBLIVIOUS TO THE OBVIOUS, do you agree?

There are definitely some jazz vibes in a few places. I would credit much of that to Eric and also Jerry. They bring that element to the music more than John or I would. When Eric plays a jazzy bass line, it kind of forces the rest of us into a jazz mentality. Hopefully we pull it off well.

The longest tracks on CD 1 and CD 2 were placed at the end of each disc. Both songs are extremely good. Is there a reason you saved the best until the end of each disc?

It just seems appropriate to me to have the longest song as an album closer for some reason. We've actually done that on all of our albums. When we discussed the order of the tracks and which songs should be on which disc, the two songs at the end of each disc were the easiest ones to place for us.

What I like about Hourglass is the fact that the music is complex but not too complicated. The melodic elements play an important part and that makes it easier for the "not hardcore prog fans" to get "into" the songs. Do you take special care that your songs do not get too big a "challenge" for the listeners? That reminds me of "Delirium" which is the most complicated song on the album, well at least for me it is.

Being as melodic as possible has always been a focus in the band. We want our songs to be catchy and stick with people. That is challenging with such a huge amount of music as we have to offer on the new album, so great melodies and hooks are certainly a focus. It is challenging just because of how long the album is. When you listen to over two hours of music, it can all get lost in a jumble, but great melodies and having melodic elements in the lead guitar and keyboard parts hopefully helps. I always try to keep my lead parts as catchy as I can. I want my solos to be sing-able. As far as the vocal melodies on the album, Eric is responsible for most of them. He has a great knack for writing vocal melodies and it comes very naturally to him and very quickly too. Michael wrote the vocal melodies in "Skeletons". The vocal melodies in "On the Brink" were written a few years ago by John, me, and our previous singer, Cody. Same thing with most of "Estranged", but we re-worked some of them more recently with Eric. Eric wrote most of the other melodies, and almost every single harmony as well.

Jerry Stenquist the new keyboarder plays some piano parts that got under my skin. Did he use a piano or only the keyboard? Does he have a classic music background?

He used a Kurzweil K2600 for every note on the album, I believe. He is a great writer and yes, he does have a classical music background. We actually studied music together in college. That is where I met Jerry-in music classes at college. He is often playing classical pieces to warm up his fingers and just for fun.

In my opinion John Dunstan is an outstanding drummer. He can play so many different styles and his versatility is very impressive. He is never overpowering the other instruments as some other drummers do. How important do you think is his part with Hourglass?

John is crucial to the Hourglass sound and his playing is amazing. For the first couple of years that he was in the band, I spent half of the time shaking my head in amazement at his playing. His hands are incredibly fast and he has always been willing to push himself to get better. I admire that immensely. What can I say, the guy is my best friend, and we have been playing together for enough years now that we really understand one another musically. It is a privilege to play with John.

Eric Blood the new bass player has lots of opportunities where he really shows off with some fantastic solos. In most bands the bass player is the poor fellow in the background with only little attention. Does he enjoy it to play a bigger part than he would possibly have with most other bands? It does the sound of Hourglass a lot of good by the way. As far as I can tell from the backing vocals he seems to have a good voice as well.

Eric is the best bass player I've ever played with, hands down. He might be the best musician I've ever played with. With Eric's playing style and his talent and chops, you almost have to let him have as many moments to shine as possible. It would be foolish not to. He has a very funky, groovy, Victor Wooten type of style that he brings to a progressive metal band, and it is just fantastic. I think it makes us unique. He does almost all of the backing vocals on the album. There are a few sections where Michael sings the harmonies himself, but it is mostly Eric. Eric actually sings the lead vocal in the bridge of "Facade", and he has a couple of places where he sings counterpoint melodies to Michael. I love Eric's voice.

Michael Turner seems to be the perfect choice for Hourglass. He not only has a great voice, he blew me away with his interpretation of the ballad parts for example in "Faces" and "Estranged". I hope he is staying longer than his predecessors. Any comment?

I think Michael is around for the long haul. He has brought a much needed metal element in the vocal department that was missing with previous singers. His voice worked out great on the slower songs and sections too. Cody and Chad both did a great job with the emotional element involved in singing. The actual delivery from an emotional standpoint is incredibly important, especially with lyrics that are more serious. Michael was able to do the same thing fortunately. He was able to really sell the song and make you feel something as a listener.

You do promote the album yourself. You can't be satisfied with this situation. Are you looking for a label? If that's the case how comes that such a fine band does not have a good contract? By the way in Germany it is easy to get the Hourglass albums because you can buy them at Amazon. As I wrote in my review the title OBLIVIOUS TO THE OBVIOUS could be interpreted the way that the labels are oblivious to the obvious quality of Hourglass. But I am sure you had some other intention in mind with the title. Would you please tell us.

We have been an independent band from the beginning. We are in no way opposed to having a label to help support and promote us though. If something came along that would help us in an important enough way, we would jump all over it. There have been several offers over the years to help with distribution. With the internet now you can do a decent job of it yourself. Places like cdbaby really are amazing for independent bands too. There are many places that you can purchase our albums, so at least we are out there, and the new album has sold better than any of our previous albums so far. This is great news for us considering the fact that it is a double album, and also considering the illegal downloading that goes on so much.

On SUBCONSCIOUS is the song "Exit Wound" that tells a story about a soldier who gets killed in combat and the situation for his family, wife, children and his father. This year Queensryche started with AMERICAN SOLDIER. Another prog band, in this case with a concept album which covers the theme war. Do you know that album, what do you think about it?

I bought the new Queensryche when it came out and I thought it was probably their best album since the Degarmo days. Man do I miss Degarmo being in that band. "American Soldier" was good though. I like what Tate decided to do with all the commentaries thrown in there. Queensryche was one of my favourite bands when they had Degarmo, and I was fortunate enough to see them live with him a couple of times. Michael actually got to sing with them a year or two ago when they came through and played in Salt Lake City. He sang Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" with them and he absolutely rocked. It was awesome to see.
"Exit Wounds" was never intended to be a song about war, although most people think that's what it is about. It is more a song about death and how people react to the death of a loved one. Depending on your own personal religious/belief system people can have very different reactions to the death of a loved one. War was just my means to bring about the main characters death. Same thing goes for "Oblivious to the Obvious". It isn't a song about cancer, it is a song about how a person's upbringing can have a very significant impact on the person they become as an adult. Cancer was just the vehicle that I used to allow the main character to start reflecting back on his life and his choices. When you are told you don't have very long to live, often times people start looking back at their life and pondering what type of a life they led.

How is the situation in Utah or let's say in the USA for a progressive band? Dream Theater is very popular but on the other hand there does not seem to be a big market for prog and the length of most of your songs makes it impossible for any radio station do broadcast them.

There isn't much of a prog scene really. There are a few festivals for prog acts over here. Dream Theater is certainly popular. Radio stations obviously don't play prog stuff except the radio friendly stuff from bands like Rush, Kansas, Yes, Genesis, or Emerson Lake and Palmer. Never long songs though. Internet radio stations are the way to hear longer songs though. Utah has a pretty weak music scene to say the least.

Another prog band I love is Threshold from the UK. I believe that Threshold and Hourglass make music for the same group of fans who like melodic progressive rock and metal. Do you agree?

I do. Threshold is a little more on the metal side than us, but what I've heard of them is in the same field as us.

Bands like Dream Theater and most of all Symphony X developed a style that became heavier during the years. For example THE ODYSSEY is pretty heavy stuff in comparison to the older TWILIGHT IN OLYMPUS or THE DAMNATION GAME. Symphony X has lost a good deal of their melodic quality, what a shame. Do you intend to become "more metal" in the future? (I see Hourglass more as a prog rock band than a prog metal band)

I'm sure that we will have some more songs in the same style as "On the Brink", "Skeletons", "Thread the Needle", and "Not My Time". I have to admit that I really miss the more melodic qualities that Dream Theater used to have. It's not like they don't display it at all any more, just not as often. As far as Symphony X goes my favourite songs from them are songs like "The Accolade I" and "The Accolade II", "Through the Looking Glass", "The Odyssey", and "The Divine Wings of Tragedy", the more melodic stuff they do. Both DT and SX have more of a metal element going lately, but if that is what makes them happy and makes them still want to write music, so be it. Personally, I love writing both melodic and heavy stuff, so I would assume any future albums would have both elements.

Well, I run out of questions. Thank you for the interview Brick, if you would like to tell the fans a message please feel free and do so.

Just a big thank you to all of our fans and all of the kind words about the new album. It is a great feeling to know that something I poured my heart and soul into is being well received by the fans. Thanks for the interview, Ulf.


    ¬ Hourglass
    ¬ 21.09.2009 deu | eng

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