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Barry Nothstine Interviews GH Lead Vocalist Jon Davison

 

Prolific progressive rockers Glass Hammer return in mid September 2010 with their album IF.  IF marks a return to a classic symphonic progressive rock sound heard on the Chattanooga based band's earlier releases.  Tollbooth staffer and Soul Frequency Radio host Barry Nothstine recently discussed IF with the new lead singer of Glass Hammer:  Jon Davison

Nothstine:  Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?

Davison:  I grew up in Laguna Beach, a relatively small town on the coast of Southern California. Because of its picturesque coastline, it was originally an off-the-beaten-path haven for painters seeking a simple, quiet lifestyle. Although Laguna today has for the most part become an upscale living community, it still has an enchanting aspect about it. I continue to live in Laguna with my wife, Maewe and son, Aleph.

Nothstine:  What music did you listen to in your formative years?

Davison:  When I was young, I remember my mother buying a Beach Boys greatest hits album for my brother and I. My mom was always either singing or listening to music, especially religious music during the Christmas season. She would sometimes play a Bread album that contained a song coincidentally called "If". I used to stop whatever I was doing and just become mesmerized by that song. It still gives me goose bumps whenever I happen to hear it. One Christmas she bought my brother and I the first Boston album. "More Than a Feeling" just blew my mind! From that point on I've wanted to be a rock musician.

Nothstine:  Tell us about your musical background.

Davison:  I grew up singing in the youth choir that my mom conducted at our church. I also have this vivid memory of when I was probably around ten. Our street had a collective weekend garage sale in front of our house. At night, our neighbors would put all their things into our garage. When everyone had left, I would sneak in there and take out a neighbor's electric guitar that was for sale. I remember being so enamored with it. I'd dance around the garage and fantasize about being on stage.

Not long after that I made a new friend, Taylor Hawkins, now the drummer of the Foo Fighters. We quickly became best friends. One day he called me up all excited about hearing a Queen album at a neighbor's house. He declared that we would start a band, that he was going to be a drummer and that I would be a singer like Freddie Mercury. I never took to lead singing though, because I felt my voice wasn't aggressive enough for rock. I did, however, finally talk my mom into letting me take guitar lessons.

Taylor and I formed various bands with schoolmates, he on drums and I on guitar. Later in high school we heard Rush and flipped out on our discovery of progressive rock! I wasn't able to really shred on guitar like one needs to in order to pull off prog, so we recruited a friend who could and I switched over to bass. I would read these Bass Player magazine articles with Geddy Lee, describing his influences at the time, and discovered through him other progressive bands like Yes and Genesis. I was completely taken by Yes in particular and from that time on, they have been my favorite group and greatest musical influence.

A few years after high school I moved to Seattle to study at the Art Institute of Seattle and happened to fall in as bassist with a popular local psychedelic space rock band by the name of Sky Cries Mary. I remained involved with them throughout the nineties, touring and recording several CDs, one of which was done on Warner Brothers. We were eventually dropped and things never really took off completely. Though we disbanded in 2000, we have since late 2003 reunited and released several new CDs. Now, we usually only get together to perform once or twice a year.

In 2001, Maewe, Aleph and I moved to Brazil to take care of Maewe's elderly mother. That experience was a real artistic eye opener for me. I was able to play bass in a band there and learn a lot about Latin music, specifically its very unique rhythmic structures. When we returned to the states a year later, I happened to see a vocalist-wanted ad for a Yes tribute band by the name of Roundabout. Knowing that I had the right type of higher singing voice, I thought I'd at least give it a shot. However, having never been properly trained as a singer, I had to really pour a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into it. It sure paid off! Five years later, I was contacted by Steve and Fred through the Roundabout MySpace profile expressing their interest in using my vocals with Glass Hammer.


Nothstine:  Who are some of your favorite and influential musicians/artists?

Davison:  Yes served influentially on my singing, but also to a degree on my bass playing. Jon Anderson has had a huge impact on me as a singer. I really love Brian and Carl Wilson too. In truth, all great singing, be it in rock, choir, or opera music has in some way inspired and influenced me. Laguna has a very professional drama department for both the middle school and high school. Watching my son perform on the stage has taught me to really appreciate musical theater.

Nothstine:  What are some of your favorite songs?

Davison:  I don't really have favorites. There are so many amazing pieces of music that can stir my soul. I recall being a teenager and gazing out my bedroom window at the long stretch of canyon below our house and toward the sunset over the ocean while listening to "Awaken" by Yes. I would daily listen to that majestic and inspired epic several times in a row, longing for a spiritual connection of some kind. When a song like that can move and uplift you to a transcendental state, you know you've witnessed one of life's artistic gems. And that view! I live in that same house today, and in front of that window I recorded all my vocal tracks for the new Glass Hammer album.

Nothstine:  How did you wind up joining Glass Hammer as a lead vocalist?

Davison:  Again, through MySpace. When Glass Hammer first approached me, their initial idea was to have me sing on a revision of their masterpiece "Long and Long Ago." It went over so well that they then asked me to track vocals on another, and then another. Eventually they invited me to sing on the new album that they were composing. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly agreed.

Nothstine:  What was your impression of working with Steve Babb and Fred Schendel?

Davison:  They are both really nice guys and very pleasant to work with. I am impressed with how down to earth and humble they are considering their immense talent. To me, they possess the ability to pull off progressive rock in a legitimate way. I greatly admire their prowess, but there's also a lot of heart in what they do. I think that they're not afraid to have fun and show their influences, but there is so much uniqueness to who they are as a band as well.

Nothstine:  Tell us about the recording process? How did you contribute to IF?

Davison:  They would send me .wav files of the instrumental outlines through the internet and I would come up with vocal melodies for them. They really wanted me to explore my own ideas and take a stab at being the creative contributor for the lead vocal parts. I think it was their way of trying to let the music go in a different direction than where it had gone in the past. Letting me take part in the composition process allowed that to happen. In fact they never turned me on to any of their earlier works in the hope that I wouldn't be influenced in any way.

They instructed me to try anything, to experiment, an overall rewarding experience, as they eventually used the majority of what I contributed, both lyrically and melodically. And wherever they didn't use my ideas, I always found that what they came up with was better anyway.

Nothstine:  What did you enjoy most about working on IF?

Davison:  Probably that I was given a lot of freedom. It enabled me to relax, which in turn opened me up creatively. I found it rewarding to contribute to a vision that I could deeply identify with, and that what I creatively offered to it, reflective of who I am as a person, was in most cases understood and related to by Fred and Steve.
I'm aware that my voice and singing style would not be appropriate in a lot of rock band situations, so I feel fortunate to have found other musicians with whom exists an almost effortless compatibility.  It's made the whole experience really enjoyable.

Nothstine:  What are some of the lyrical themes of the project?

Davison:  For me, there's a lyrical continuity throughout the majority of IF of one's disillusionment with life in common, materialistic society; the feeling that something's missing, and from there the process of beginning to question one's purpose in the grand scheme of things. There's the searching for and the eventual turning to a higher power, and then the understanding of one's connection with that power and his fellow man. Then comes the difficult conflict faced as we are torn between the temptations of our more worldly, selfish ways and the call to live in accordance with what is spiritually fulfilling and permanent.

Nothstine:  Now that it is finished, what do you think of the album?

Davison:  I'm completely amazed by it in every respect. Lately, as I've been listening to it, I've been taken by the elaborately rich vocal harmonies that Fred and Steve laid. I've also been loving the intricate guitar work that Alan added. He offers the perfect ingredient, balancing the symphonic elements with a more straightforward guitar tone. I feel that he has really complimented this project with his rawer and slightly jazzy approach. He's a remarkable talent for being only twenty-two! Those are just a few examples of how I love the CD.

Nothstine:  Who are some of your favorite vocalists? What quality do you like about their voices?

Davison:  I don't really have favorites. In terms of natural born talent and incredible emotional expression through the voice, I think Freddie Mercury was the best and most versatile singer that rock music has yet produced. As far as I know, Jeff Buckley was a sure second. I appreciate vocalists that have a unique quality to their voice. When you hear Peter Gabriel for example, you know it.

Nothstine:  If you could sing a duet with anyone alive or dead who would you choose and why? What song would you pick to sing?

Davison:  At this particular point in time, wherein I'm really riding a high on having done this album, I'd have to say that just being able to pull off IF on stage, and being able to sing harmony with Steve and Fred would make it for me. Then again, doing a duet of "Everything's Coming up Roses" with Ethel Merman (God rest her soul) would be a real kick in the pants! Did I just say that?

Nothstine:  Glass Hammer playing live is a rare and wondrous treat. Which song from IF do you most look forward to singing live?

Davison:  There isn't one tune in particular. I appreciate and enjoy them all as a whole.

Nothstine:  What advice do you have for aspiring vocalists?

Davison:  I would say do the type of singing that is closest to your heart. Regardless of what others think, follow a musical path that you believe will grant you the most space to lyrically and melodically express who you honestly are inside. It takes a lot of courage but you've got to be totally honest with yourself and pour your heart out in the process, because when all is said and done, that's what's going to pay off most. Maybe not in the form of monetary or commercial success, but ultimately that will be the most gratifying to you. Beyond that, if you feel that you're struggling to get where you want to go, don't get discouraged. Be patient with yourself. I've had to go through a lot of hurdles to get to where I am now. I recommend taking vocal lessons. They have helped me immensely.

Nothstine:  Any final words for fans of Glass Hammer?

Davison:  Yes. Dear fans of Glass Hammer. I hope that you will all enjoy IF and what I've been able to contribute to the project. I did the best I could. By your listening to the album, you've at least given me a chance, and for that, I am truly grateful. Peace, Jon.

 

 

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