Rarely do we at Linescratchers get the chance to feature good prog from the LDS community. It seems like a rare genre nowadays, with its long instrumental passages, difficult technical pyrotechnics, and odd time signatures, and yet there is still a large and extremely loyal market for prog in the United States and Europe. This is why our interview with Brick Williams from Utah-based prog metal band Hourglass is such a treat. Brick is a full-time guitar instructor in the Salt Lake area (with somewhere between 55 and 60 students a week!) and a full-time songwriter, guitarist, and lyricist for Hourglass. It’s a tough job, but we’re glad somebody’s doing it.
So first off, how many members of Hourglass are LDS?
A: Three of us are: me, our drummer John Dunston, and our keyboardist Jerry Stenquist.
How long has Hourglass been together?
A: We’ve been going for 10 years now. We started back in 1999 when Jon Shumway and me decided to start playing together again. We had been in a metal band in high school, and Jon was the drummer for that band. We started playing again in 1999 after we both served missions, and this time around Jon was the singer instead.
Tell us about your upbringing. Have you been musical your whole life?
A: I grew up in Provo, Utah, and then when I was 8 years old my family moved to Cedar Hills, Utah. I was really into sports and played basketball and tennis for Pleasant Grove. I was obsessed with music at a young age. I listened to music as much as I possibly could. When I was 13, I decided that I wanted to learn how to play an instrument. No one in my family really played anything, so I wasn’t influenced in any particular direction from anyone close to me. I couldn’t decide between drums and guitar. After a few months of pondering, I settled on guitar and began playing when I was 14. After a few years of playing I was getting more and more interested in guitar and music, and I just didn’t have room for basketball, tennis, and a band, so I had to throw one of them out. Basketball drew the shortest straw.
Hourglass is very reminiscent of Dream Theater, especially the A Change of Seasons EP. What other influences do you have besides Dream Theater?
A: I have been into Dream Theater since 1994 when I heard “Images and Words” and “Awake.” Those two albums just blew me away. Truly an amazing band. I grew up listening to old prog rock from the ’70s. Bands like ELP, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Rush, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Kansas were favorites and still are to this day. The first band I really got into was The Moody Blues and they are one of my all time favorites too. I listened to a lot of classic rock bands like Styx, Journey, Queen, and Boston from a young age as well, and most of it had to do with my parents, especially my Dad. He introduced me to many of the bands that I love—everyone from The Alan Parsons Project to Toto. I like some heavy metal bands too, especially Megadeth. Lately my favorite bands and biggest influences have been Porcupine Tree, Marillion, and Symphony X.
As far as guitarists that influenced me, Steve Lukather from Toto would be my biggest influence. I find his playing to be absolutely brilliant, extremely tasteful, and always appropriate. John Petrucci of Dream Theater has always inspired me as well. Many of the shred guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eric Johnson, and Paul Gilbert have always been influential in my playing.
Your latest album, “Oblivious to the Obvious“, has been getting positive reviews in prog publications. Tell us about Oblivious to the Obvious. Who writes the lyrics in Hourglass?
A: “Oblivious to the Obvious” is a double album that has 139 minutes worth of music. Most of the songs are very long and epic with lots of soloing and instrumental passages. We worked on it for over four years, and it was really a massive project in every way imaginable. It is our fourth studio album and has been selling great and has garnered us more attention than any of our previous albums, so we are glad about that. It is always good to be climbing up the ladder so to speak. It is very technical music, so many of our fans our musicians themselves.
As far as lyrics go, I’ve written every Hourglass lyric except for two songs on the new album and I co-wrote one on our “The Journey Into” album back in 2002. Our drummer wrote one of the song’s lyrics on the new album, and our bassist wrote one as well. Other than those few songs, it is all me in the lyric department. Lots of work and time go into it, especially when we have songs that are over 30 minutes long. I enjoy it though. It is challenging, but very rewarding in the end.
Prog is a difficult style to master, and can be even more difficult to promote. Is there still a market for prog?
A: Oh sure. It isn’t like it was in the early ’70s, but with the Internet you can promote yourself quite well. There are fans of prog all over the world and it seems to be picking up some momentum the last decade or so. Bands like Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, Tool, and others have kind of brought it back. A band like Tool that has some prog elements, but isn’t just straight forward prog exposes people to some of the elements in Progressive music. Fans of a band like Tool often explore other bands like Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater looking for music that is somewhat similar. The common element seems to be technically-minded music that has a high level of musicianship. We sell albums all over the globe, so there is definitely a market still.
In a recent Dutch interview, you mentioned that you’ve had so many lineup changes because of commitment problems. Do you see Hourglass as a career in the future, or have you had to put it on the back-burner for other things?
A: The hardest part about making a career out of it is finding five people that are all on the same page. Many people just play music as a hobby, something to do for fun. I would love to make Hourglass my career, but I’m only one guy out of five and I just can’t control what everyone else wants out of life. I feel lucky to find four other guys that are committed enough just to make another album. It doesn’t help that we play a somewhat unique style of music. We’re not making three minute pop songs, that is for sure.
What do you do for a living when you’re not working with Hourglass?
A: I teach guitar for a living. I have between 55 and 60 students a week. It keeps me plenty busy and I do that five days a week. I’ve been teaching guitar for eight years now. I like my job a lot and it is rewarding.
How has your LDS experience influenced your musical experience? Have you ever felt like you had to choose one or the other?
A: My membership in the church hasn’t had any direct influence on the music I play. As the lyricist in the band, I don’t write about things that would be contradictory with the teachings of the church, so in that regard my beliefs are influential. I typically write about more serious subject matter. I have never felt like I had to choose between my faith or my music.
I have been toying with the idea of releasing an album of church hymns arranged for acoustic guitar, so I may do that in the near future. I might do a Christmas one first, though.
Has Hourglass had the opportunity to tour? Any shows coming up?
A: We haven’t ever gone on tour. We have played many, many shows in Utah over the years. We had the chance to play down in Chihuahua, Mexico, a few years ago and that was a blast. The owner of a popular progressive rock website flew us down there to play at a club in Chihuahua. He is a big fan and wanted to hear us play, so instead of coming here to see us, he brought us to him. We will hopefully have some shows in the fall. Nothing is scheduled yet. Some band members have been out of town for the summer, so that is why we haven’t played for the last few months. I’m hoping we can play some of the big prog festivals soon.
How can interested fans hear more Hourglass, or purchase albums or songs?
A: You can visit our website which is http://hourglassband.com to listen to clips or to buy albums. We are also available in iTunes and many other digital download sites. There are several record labels that have online stores that carry our albums as well. Our website has links to a whole bunch of places to buy our music.