Fan's Interview

December, 2003 / January, 2004

This interview was conducted by lots of HESS fans writing in interview questions in December, 2003 and January, 2004.   We received A LOT of questions, however many of the questions where duplicates of others (asking the same basic questions previously submitted by other fans), so of course we just used one of them for each specific topic.  Thanks to everyone who participated.

- I am big fan when I hear Opus 1 two years ago.  For Mike and Tom my question.  I read many times many professional guitar players have so big ego and cannot play with another of the same skill level guitar master without personality problems because it is too much similar to competition for them.  How is this for you?  Do you have these problems to play together in the same band with another great guitar player? Thank you for read my question and so sorry for my bad English. - Hiroshi Matsubara: Tokyo, Japan

Mike Walsh:  Tom Hess and I were friends before we starting playing together. This is a huge factor in our ability to continue as a great guitar duo. Most players find each other via their record label or through a music ad etc., and are only together for the music. We also find each other as inspirations, not as competition in the negative sense. We will continue to get better and grow in our playing because we are a team, not just individual guitar players in the same band.  

Tom Hess:  There has never been a competitive atmosphere between Mike and me (or any other members of the band).  I believe in cooperation and encouragement.  When Mike records something that I think is great, or amazing, or really fast, or extremely difficult, I don’t think to myself that now I need to try to do something better.  Our goal is to make the greatest and most expressive music that we can.   The cool thing about this band is that all of us are confident in our abilities as musicians, but nobody is arrogant and nobody has an ego problem here.  And besides, we would rather learn from each other than make this a guitar contest of some sort.  As different as we both are as players, we both have the same basic musical goals, we just use different musical tools and skills to manifest those goals into music.

- For the guitarists, How would you describe the other guitarist’s style? - Rob Foster: Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Mike Walsh:  This is a hard question because like other great players, Tom's playing has progressed immensely since the last album and will continue to grow past this present time.  At the present time, Tom has made his playing a collage of the Baroque era, Romantic era and the modern Progressive era. Due to this, he cannot be narrowed down to a very simple category like, neo classicalist, like Yngwie Malmsteen might be categorized by some.

Tom Hess:  Mike is definitely under rated as a guitarist and musician.  Part of the reason why he is so under rated is a lot of what I play is more obvious that it is sometimes very fast or difficult.  But it is harder to appreciate how great Mike is without seeing him playing or knowing exactly what he is doing.  Most people just wouldn’t understand by listening alone that some of the things he plays are extremely difficult and complex and would be hard for most guitarists to play even slowly and of course he plays a lot of these things fast.
   When Mike and I were in the studio together recording Opus 2, I was often really amazed at what he was recording.  Some of it was so hard to play, I was just inspired to see him actually recording it. Besides the technical similarities and differences between us, Mike’s approach to melodic phrasing is, I think, his greatest asset. What I think makes Mike most valuable to the HESS band is his commitment to great musical _expression above everything else.  He doesn’t play something that is really complex or difficult to show off, or whatever, he does it because that was what was needed at that moment to express the ideas musically and that is what the HESS sound is based on.  When I first jammed with Mike back in college, I knew he was the one I wanted in the band to replace our original guitarist (Joe LaBanco) after he left the band.  In my mind, there was no need to audition any other guitar players.  There is only one Mike Walsh.
 Because the name of the band is HESS and because I write the music, a lot of people just assume that I must be the superior player.  Let me just say this, there are some things that I can do on the guitar/musically that I don’t think Mike would be able to do very easily at this point, but there are definitely things that Mike does that I would have a hard time doing.   Our combined strengths make the overall guitar playing and sound on Opus 2 very, very strong.  

- Hi guys, I am confused about the guitar solos listed in the CD booklet for Opus 2.  In the last song, Waves of Far Reaching, it shows Mark Carozza as playing 2 solos.  When I listen it does not sound like bass, it sounds like a guitar solos.  Mark is the bass player though.  Is there a misprint in the Cd booklet or did Mark play guitar on that song, or am I hearing it incorrectly or what? - Rob Foster: Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Tom Hess:  Mark also plays guitar (very well!), he played the guitar solos listed in the CD booklet. Originally I was going to play some different solos in those spots, but was having a hard time improvising or writing something that I was happy with in the studio.  Instead of having Mike improvise solos there, I asked Mark if he wanted to do it.  I had confidence in Mark’s abilities and he came through with some really cool ideas and recorded them.  We will probably do a little more of this on the next CD as well.

- The sounds from the drums are so awesome on the second C, why didn’t you guys use Scott on the first CD?  The first CD was really cool, but the new CD is way ultra killer! - Brady:  California, USA

Tom Hess:  Scott wasn’t available at the time we recorded Opus 1.  He left the band temporarily to finish his electrical engineering degree at the University.  We used another drummer (Chris Dowgun) for Opus 1.  Scott is more of a power drummer and fits the band better overall especially on the faster and heavier parts.  

- I have read on your web site and in old interviews about your influences that you had when you were starting out.  I, and probably a lot of other people too, am curious about what music (bands, guitar players) you all listen to now and how much does your listening influence your sound as a band, and individually as a guitar player, bass player or drummer? - Jacob L.:  Chicago, United States.

Mike Walsh:  I might sound crazy here, but I have bought only 1 CD this year (Dream Theater).  And I definitely do not want or let anything creep into my playing (consciously at least).  I am thankful that when I started playing guitar, I was practicing along to music written by great guitar players. They opened my eyes, ears and mind to many musical ideas and expressions. As I went through college and up until today, I try not to listen to music in an influential way so that it will carry over into my playing and writing. I listen to the radio everyday as more of a way to keep up on who's who,  listening entertainment and training, and for my awareness of new tunes for my students. Its really weird, but I usually just vocally improvise over songs, figure out what mode it is in, and how it is arranged etc.  I use the songs as a way to improve my melody creating and layering ideas. American radio is definitely not influencing or carrying over into my guitar playing or writing, believe me.  Dream Theater, Sevendust and Audio Slave are bands that I can enjoy many musical aspects of right now. But none of these are my "favorite band" due to them needing elements of one of the other to be excellent in my eyes. For me, if Dream Theater had 3 singers (James Labree, Lajon Witherspoon and Chris Cornell) it would be an unstoppable force that would be able to musically express way more than any other band has EVER.
Mark Carozza:  I try to have a variety of music for different moods I'm in.  As far as heavy stuff goes, I've really gotten into Opeth lately.  I also had a big Cradle of Filth phase last year.  Lamb of God has some pretty good stuff too.  I was introduced to Symphony X recently, and I've been liking what I've heard from them.  Mike touched on this, but I don't think anything has really influenced my playing consciously, but certain things have helped me develop my taste and what I think is good or not.  This translates itself into one's playing whether you like it or not.  You are going to try to play something that you think sounds cool, and hearing other people's music is going to effect what you think sounds cool.

Tom Hess:  When you asked about influences, I know you meant musical influences, but that is only one of many different types of influences for me, but I’ll stick to the musical aspects for this answer:  I go through phases when I listen to a lot of music and then other phases when I listen to very little music.  Right now I’m listening to a lot of music.  I’ve been listening to Symphony X, SAGE (Mike’s Walsh’s other band) and the new George Bellas CD (Venomous Fingers), but lately I’ve really been listening to a lot more classical music, specifically to Henryk Gorecki (b. 1935) Amy Beach (1867-1944).  I think my influences affect me quite a bit in very specific ways for example, Andy LaRocque (King Diamond’s guitarist) and Fabio Leone (Rhapsody’s singer)  were the models I used in developing my vibrato technique.  When I listen to Chopin, he affects my general mood and he reminds me of how critically important self-_expression is, so I’ll focus on the nonmusical aspects that I want to express in my own music.   Symphony X has been inspiring me to pick up a 7-string guitar lately.  Mike’s other band SAGE has a new EP CD out and I love his songwriting and the phrasing on that CD and has made me think about different phrasing possibilities.   Like Mike, none of these influences really change anything as far as my musical goals or the overall HESS sound.  And unlike Mike, I never listen to the radio, here in Chicago (and most commercial radio in the United States), radio sucks.

- My friend Luis is your fan, but cannot write in English so I am asking two questions for him to you.  He wants to know about what things you like that is not music. For example, what beer you like, what movies, what food, what cars, what?  Second question now, what do you like to do when you are not playing music?  - Questions from Luis Santiago: Mexico

Tom Hess:  I never consume any alcoholic drinks.  I like dramatic movies with a ton of emotional content.  I also like movies like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.  My favorite actors are Russel Crowe, Robert Dinero and Clint Eastwood.  I like typical American food, Chinese food and Mexican food.  My favorite car is one that doesn’t break down and won’t use a lot of gas.  When I am not playing music I am writing it.  I manage the business side of the HESS band so I spend A LOT of time taking care of all the management and business aspects of HESS.  When I am not working with music, I am with my family.  I don’t go out much when I don’t have to, I like to be at home.  Oh I almost forgot, I LOVE to go to Europe!!!

Mike Walsh:   I like dark beers like Sam Adams and Killians. I see movies on a rare occasion but I liked all the Matrix movies and will probably go see The Lord of the Rings movie soon. The food here in the restaurants of the northern suburbs of Chicago is very very good. I eat way too many great tasting and different foods to still weigh under 200lbs. If you ever come here, you will know why I cannot narrow it down to one or two things. Sports cars are what I consider to be my favorite hobby.  I own a 1969 GTO, 1987 Grand National and a 1991 TSI Talon.  I look forward to finally having the Hess vs Walsh summer showdown in 2004 where I will put all the Hess machines in their respected place, the garage!! LOL

Tom Hess:  So far Mike has been ALL TALK AND NO ACTION for many years with regard to winning a race against my father’s and brother’s race cars.  Mike always says he can win, but never races them!

Scott Hess: Budweiser is my beer of choice (Go Dale Earnhardt Jr.).  Favorite movies include Rounders, Oceans 11 and The Sopranos! anything with Clint Eastwood or Robert Dinero.  I like to gamble, mostly poker.  I am currently restoring a 1970 Corvette, which has Mike fearful to race against. LOL  Mexican food is my favorite by far!

Mark Carozza:  I like to watch movies when I'm not playing music and as far as the other stuff goes I'll just give you a list of some of my favorites.   Beer:  Maudite, pretty much any IPA, Heineken, Sam Adams, Grolsch.  Movies:  Heat, Happiness, Donnie Darko, Rushmore, The Salton Sea.  Cars: Nissan Skyline and 350 Z, BMW M3's and the new 7 something's, the General Lee and KIT.  As you may have guessed from my pictures I enjoy food a bit too much, but my favorite kinds are Mexican and Italian food.  If you are ever in Illinois look for Francesca's.  It's an Italian restaurant, and they have a few different locations.

- Have you ever thought of including a good singer into the band instead of just being a guitar virtuoso based group? - Vince Koh: Singapore

Mike Walsh:  Funny you brought this up, you might see something like this very soon from Tom and I. Maybe not under the Hess name, but the topic has come up.  I currently have a vocal project called Sage which is my vocal band outlet. For me, having Hess and Sage is a great musical experience.  I look forward to doing another project with Tom if it means we can expand our _expression in a new (vocal) format.

Tom Hess:  For a long time I was opposed to the idea of bringing in a singer to the HESS band.  For many reasons I wanted to keep HESS an all instrumental band.  However, in November of 2002, I heard the composer Henryk Gorecki (b. 1935).  I listened to a recording of his 3rd Symphony (with soprano Dawn Upshaw singing) and I was totally blown away.  I began composing sketches for two vocal pieces, one for mezzo soprano and orchestra and another for mezzo soprano and piano.  Neither of those pieces are finished and neither of them would be a part of a HESS CD.  The point here is that I am more open to the possibility of bringing in a singer now than I ever was before, but we are not actively pursuing any singers at this time for HESS.  I suppose if we came across an absolutely great singer we would seriously consider it, but he or she would have to be great (good won’t do).  Or maybe we would do a side project as Mike alluded to.

- Have you ever thought of including virtuoso musicians specialized in their profession like virtuoso keyboardist, virtuoso Bassist and Drummers? e.g. are the likes of Vitalij Kuprij, Billy Sheehan, Dean Castronovo/Dave Lombardo? - Vince Koh: Singapore

Mike Walsh:   Well, I would like to think we already have 4 virtuoso players. As for other players coming in, we really do not need to change what is really working well right now.

Tom Hess:  I know you wrote this question before Opus 2 was released and therefore haven’t heard either Scott’s or Mark’s very high level of musicianship yet.  Mark was a student of mine for about five (5) years in the 1990s.  So I have had the great opportunity to help him develop his training as a musician.  Mark also took some lessons from George Bellas and Joe Stump.  He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from the Berklee School of Music.  Trust me, this guy is qualified to be in this band.  Listen to the bass lines in Kingdoms (track 2 from Opus 2), those lines are all over the fretboard, only a great player would be able to play that perfectly as Mark does.
Scott, as most of you know, is my brother.  He is the only member of the band that does not hold a music degree from a university or college (his degree is in electrical engineering).  He is an extremely intelligent person who can dissect the very complex rhythms on Opus 2.  Dean Castronovo and Dave Lombardo have great chops but I don’t think either of them would do well playing in time signatures that go from 19/16 to 3/8 to 12/16 to 5/8 (one measure each at a fast tempo)  Lombardo is great for what he does, but he probably would not be the right guy for this band.  Dean is also great at most of the things he has done, but I know he had a very very hard time recording some of the drum parts on George Bellas’s CD, Turn of the Millennium (maybe that's why he didn’t play on all the songs and two other drummers were also on the CD to play on some of those hard tracks).  I don’t mean to be negative about those guys, because I also really like their playing and respect them a lot as drummers, I just don’t think that type of player is the right drummer for this band.  A drummer like Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) or the drummer from Symphony X would be a better match because they are virtuoso drummers from a mental point of view not only a physical one.  
Scott and I grew up together and we listened to a lot of the same music and that has helped in our ability to play well together.  In high school we played in the same bands.  He knows my writing and playing style better than any other drummer.  He works hard to make sure that his contribution is exactly what the music needs.  He’s not all about seeing how many fills he can put in a song.  He always puts the music goals for each track first, if that means that his drumming needs to take a back seat on a particular part or a particular piece, he does - and he does that instinctively.  Unless you are writing very complex music, it’s hard for one to know how valuable a drummer like Scott is to the band.  Most people don’t have a clue how hard a piece like Into The Pinnacle (track 3 from Opus 2) is to play on the drums.  The complexities of the rhythms are very very challenging.  A lot of other drummers I know would have asked me to change the hard parts so it would be easier to play them - with Scott this is not an issue, he just practices the music until he gets it where we want it.

- What are the differences of this new album, compared with the first one? - Ovidiu Dumitrescu: Romania

Tom Hess:  Opus 2 is the natural evolution of Opus 1.  The best way I can describe the difference is by saying that every element of Opus 1 was taken to an even higher level with the new CD.  The heavy parts are heavier, the dramatic parts are more dramatic, the virtuosity is even more virtuosic, the progressive elements are even more progressive, etc.  The first thing that most people will notice right away is the difference in the drum and bass sounds and playing, both are more powerful and better suited for this CD.  The overall sound production is also better.

Mike Walsh:  From the first note of Opus 2 you will hear the difference. The new album stepped it up on many aspects. _Expression, range, arrangements, tempos, tone, production, mixing, power, ripping and drumming to name a few.  Buy the record and e-mail us back on what you think.  We would love to hear back from you about Opus 2!

- What do you expect from this new album from the fans and critic? - Ovidiu Dumitrescu: Romania  

Tom Hess:   I think it’s pretty safe to say this:  If fans or critics liked Opus 1, they will LOVE Opus 2 because Opus 2 is a more extreme version of the Opus 1 style.  Of course we like it when people love our music, but the main purpose of this band is to be highly self-expressive in a very artistic way.  Certainly this music is not for everyone’s tastes, but for those who like it, we are happy that you liked it so.

Mike Walsh:  The fans are going to LOVE this new cd. We took all the things that we did well on the first album, and multiplied them. The critics were very receptive to our first album and I believe they will hear Opus 2 as an encore to Opus 1.
- I have a questions for you.  It is for Tom and Mike, since I know they are music teachers. But also for Mark and Scott if they teach music too: Have you ever been listening to a student playing and been thinking 'Damn! Why didn't I come up with that?' Have you guys ever been in that situation? -  Jacob Collstrup: Lynge, Denmark

Tom Hess:  If you are referring to songwriting ideas, then the answer would be yes, it has happened  before.  I teach composition as well as online guitar lessons, so I deal with hearing student’s songs pretty regularly.  Some of these students have gotten really good and created some really good music.  I am happy to see their continuous progress.  My primary goal as a teacher is to help my students reach each one of his or her musical goals.  I have had a lot of really great students over the last 10 years or so, it's a pleasure for me to see some of them in the music business professionally now.  

Mike Walsh:   I have a few really really great students right now. They write solos that would have killed mine at their age and I love it. The fact that I can help my students do things that blow away their expectations and many others, is a great pleasure to experience. I have two students that are becoming speed freaks. I have to keep my chops up so that when they challenge me to play something they wrote,  I can and do it right away, faster and cleaner.  I actually say "Damn, I wish I could have been that good at their age.  I could have been if I was ambitious enough to find a teacher that could have guided me in my playing as I have done for my own students.

Mark Carozza:  I haven't been teaching as long as Mike or Tom, but there have been a few times when I was really impressed by a student.  There was one student in particular who would do a lot of creative things that I wouldn't have thought of.  I didn't get jealous or anything,  it's just really cool to hear students progressing.  That's the whole point of teaching.

- Question (for the whole band):  I was wondering, What is your guys' structure to writing music and recording? (for example do you come up with a riff first, then lay the drums down etc.). - Marty Paradine: Binscarth, Manitoba Canada.   

Tom Hess:  I write the music.  There is no simple answer to your question because there are many different ways that I approach composition.  I actually used my guitar only 25%-35% of the time in the writing process for coming up with ideas for Opus 2.  In general, I don’t like to spend too much time just improvising at the guitar for new ideas.  Sometimes I’ll work out ideas at the piano, sometimes I’ll just use a pencil and paper to write out ideas in my mind.  Other times I’ll think rhythmically first and may have a drum beat in mind or general rhythmic idea.  I use my voice a lot to sing melodic ideas (something that I never really did prior to working with Mike - he always does that.).  Sometimes I think about the overall form (structure) of the piece first.  But always, I think very much about what it is that I want to express before I begin writing any music.  I sometimes make elaborate charts on large pieces of paper or poster boards, writing down all of the non-musical ideas that I want to express, then I’ll think about the seven elements of music (melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics, texture, timbre and form) and discover how to best use those musical elements to express my thoughts, feelings, etc.  There are a few other, less often used, methods I use as well.  I did not have a set formula for the compositional process when composing Opus 2 because I was using all of those described above.  However, I have already begun composing Opus 3 and my compositional process for that CD is very very different from anything I have ever done before, but I won’t reveal what that method is until that CD is finished.

Mike Walsh: Tom does the majority of what you hear and is the mastermind behind Hess. The rest of us contribute on the cd but all the themes, arrangements and moods are all Tom. Tom and I sit down and figure out who hears certain ideas over the parts.  Then we make a guitar solos and melodies sheet that maps out who will be playing lead over what parts. We then spend whatever time is needed to write the parts and record them. Tom usually records the orchestral parts and then the rhythm guitars first. After this, it really depends on who is ready and who needs someone's part to help inspire their writing. it’s a very long process but it works, and the new CD's expression reflects this new recording/writing process.

- What would you recommend to a newbie to recording? - Matt: Orlando, FL

Tom Hess:  Know your parts well before you start recording.  Don’t improvise in the studio unless you are very experienced at it.  Learn how to record yourself and buy the recording gear if you can afford it!

Mike Walsh:  1) Have your MUSIC READY!! Prerecord everything before you go into the studio and spend money.
2) Make sure your TONE is exactly what you want BEFORE you record. I have made many mistakes on my tone over the years and for this album, I had to rerecord parts because Tom and I were tweaking my sound during the recording. There is nothing like playing some of the hardest lines you have ever written, not just once for the record, but 3 times!!!
3) Tom showed me the value of MICROPHONE PLACEMENT. it’s unbelievable what a 1/2" will do to your tone.  Make sure you mark your amps or spend enough time to get the correct placement and tone EVERY TIME.
4) DO NOT USE A VOCAL MICROPHONE FOR YOUR GUITAR RECORDINGS!!! No matter how bad ass the mic is, or how much a studio paid for it, go with what works for guitar. I made a HUGE mistake with SAGE and got talked into using this $2000 tubed vocal microphone for my guitar recordings. It was supposed to be the best this, and that,  but NOT FOR MY GUITAR!! We were taking out so much midrange from the rhythms and leads that the before and after did not even sound like it was the same amp. The vocals sounded great though.

- What recording technology do you use? - Matt: Orlando, FL

Tom Hess:  ADATs, a digital mixer, MAC computer for sequencing with EMAGIC Logic Audio Platinum right now, but I’ll be buying a new recording studio with all new gear in early 2004, so everything I just mentioned will be different for the next CD.

- For Tom, How do you write the music?  I mean, the band’s style is so different from the other guitar CDs I have, why?  I don’t mean to ask why did you want it to be different, I want to know HOW you guys are able to get that sound?  I hope my question was clear, I don’t really know how exactly to ask in words what I want to know in my head.  - John Fubure: Canada

Tom Hess:  I think most of your question was answered in my answer to the previous question above.  Regarding why HESS sounds different from other bands, I think there are probably a few different explanations for this.  First I always start writing by asking myself what it is that I want to express and focusing on the inspiration for wanting to express that.  Doing this forces the creation of the music to go places that it would not have gone had I just been writing music for any other reason.  Another big difference is that I don’t use the guitar to write everything.  I don’t even use the guitar most of the time to write the actual guitar parts.  It is not my goal to be different than anyone else. I just do what I do and if the final result is unique or original, then fine and if it’s not, that is fine too.  

- If you couldn’t be a musician, what would be your new job? - Forest Silver: Illinois, USA

Mike Walsh:  If I never started playing guitar, I would be playing baseball for either some farm team or in MLB. I had to give it up my sophomore year in high school because I was playing guitar for 4 to 8 hours a day.  

Mark Carozza: I've been getting interested in business and the stock market lately so I think I'd do something involving those things.  

Scott: As you know my degree is in engineering but it has always been a dream of mine to be a business owner.  The idea of being your own boss has it’s benefits which can be obtained from ownership or a financially stable musician.  

Tom Hess:  Being a musician is not my job, it’s not my career, it is who I am on every level.  However if I could not be financially secure as a musician, I don’t know what type of job I would have. I haven’t thought about such a question for a very long time.  When I was in high school I had some friends that got involved with drinking and drugs.  I have never done either in my life, but considered going into drug and alcohol rehabilitation as a career. I wanted to help people who had these problems, but for selfish reasons I became a musician instead.  I have other interests besides music, but I can’t see myself doing anything else or being anyone else.

- What advice would you give someone who wanted to do what you are doing? - Forest Silver: Illinois, USA.

Tom Hess:  Read this book:  Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.  Find a teacher who is doing what you want to be doing and study with him/her.

Mike Walsh:  I can only give you an example of what I did from day one of my playing. Spend a lot of time practicing and playing along to songs (solos included) of tunes you really like. During this time, start to write songs that you would want to hear on CD. This means starting off with a 4 track or, if you are fortunate enough, get an 8 track to help you develop your creativity. Now, your practice schedule and writing are two separate entities, you need to put in a lot of time for each. If you practice 4 hours a day, you will notice that the writing time is slower and less productive. it’s frustrating, but that's the reality. In order to get where you want faster, you need more time, practice time that is. Be prepared to practice 4 to 8 hours a day regularly and taking few breaks. As time goes on, further advancing your musical education is a huge plus. This includes college or taking classes in your high school on music theory etc. During these times, you need to balance your physical playing with your writing. This means, it’s much easier to play along to a famous player than to write that cool part you are playing along to. You must balance yourself eventually, as it is much easier to sit down and shred for hours and get very good at playing. This can get addictive and before you know it, you play awesome but write like crap. The writing process needs much more time to develop.  For me, it is a life long quest to try to perfect my style or styles and my ability to express exactly what I am hearing. Be persistent, see and know where all of this is suppose to lead you. If you just want to be a virtuoso and play in your room, go ahead. If you want to go out and try to reach people with your music, know what steps are needed to do that. And then, at what level do you want to reach them, local shows, indie label contract, major label etc. And do not forget, a GREAT teacher will help you along much faster and further than you could alone. Trust me.

- What do you think makes a great musician? - Kurt: Australia

Mark Carozza:  I think there are two separate worlds out there and each would answer this question differently. A lot of musicians would probably mention technique and knowledge of theory, while non-musicians might have a hard time answering. To them a great musician may be a guy who happens to write simple songs that don't require much skill to play.  They just like certain music because it sounds cool.  I think a great musician is someone who writes music that appeals to a large group of people no matter how technical or how simple it may be.  I do appreciate fast and difficult stuff, but I also like a lot of basic tunes.  Your music just needs to stir up an emotion or two in people.

Mike Walsh:  Mike Walsh:  This is the one time I would say you need to be well rounded, but it’s in different musical skills. First, if you can not play guitar very well, you have just limited the way you express yourself musically. But, like I tell my students, just because you CAN play as fast as Yngwie, does not mean you have to.  Being as physically talented as possible on guitar will allow you to play and express whatever you want easier, consistently and more accurately. Secondly, if you do not have the ability to hear ideas, melodies etc. in your head, you are missing out on how to truly express your music. Taking aural skills classes, transcribing songs, singing and writing music without your instrument (guitar), will help you where you are suppose to really be a musician, in your mind. When you put your creative mind and your physical playing together, you have a great musician.

Tom Hess:  The answer can be really long, but I’ll give you the short answer which pretty much covers my thoughts on this question:  The desire for self-expression, and acquiring all of the available technical skills to manifest that expression into musical form.

- Why is it that so many guitarists today focus so narrowly on a particular style of music that they often disregard other great inspiring styles that they could very much learn from? To me, the sign of a really good 'musician' is one who can appreciate outstanding musicianship, whether it comes from a guitar, keyboard, mandolin, or even a pedal steel guitar, and whether it is in jazz, rock, classical or country styles... - Kevin Bain: San Diego, CA USA

Tom Hess:  I think you may be making some assumptions that may not be accurate for a lot of players.  I studied jazz guitar, jazz theory and jazz aural skills in college, but people probably wouldn't have guessed that by only listening to my playing / writing, but I have in fact learned from that and implemented certain elements.  The point being that many players do learn certain things from other styles and other instruments, but it just might not be apparent to most listeners.
     Being well rounded (in the sense of learning a lot of different styles) is not necessarily a good thing for all players.  Sometimes its better to focus on mastering your own style.  Putting in a lot of time into a lot of other styles can sometimes take away too much time, effort and focus from your main objectives.  I don't think this is a narrow focus at all, but it certainly is a focus and that is the key for many players.  Also, I think great musicians do appreciate or recognize when they hear another great player in another style, but that doesn't mean that the player has to like those other styles or even want to learn anything from it.  Some do, and some don't care to by their own choice and that's ok too.
     Many years ago when I was looking for a great guitar teacher, I didn't want to find a player that could play a bunch of styles well.  I wanted to find a MASTER of the style of playing that I wanted to master.  And I did find him, his name was George Bellas.  When I studied jazz guitar at Roosevelt University, I took lessons from a great jazz player (Frank Dawson), he didn't care much for other styles, but he was a master jazz player because he focused only on that for the last 35 years.  When I took classical guitar lessons, all of my teachers were strictly classical players and they were great teachers and players because that's all they did.   

Mike Walsh:  Tom made some great points, I would add that most of the time, people really just want to be good, period. That means focusing on a few styles you like and then trying to express them very effectively. You might not hear the 2, 3 or 4 styles in someone's playing due to what they take and like from each and how they put their own personal taste behind expressing them.  And, I think most players do appreciate other good musicians.  They just might not be influenced or feel that those styles are ones they would want to mix into their personal style. If you are talking about players on the radio in the last 10 years, it’s hard to find a few that express themselves even melodically anymore, let alone hear where they might be coming from.
- I don't know how many times I have heard very good guitar players say they have 'no influences'. One listen usually reveals numerous and obvious influences in their playing. Does a high level of musicianship in your mind make guitarists less apt(ie. arrogant) to admit that they are a product of other players and really are an individual mix of their influences, rather than someone who is creating a fresh new style - Kevin Bain: San Diego, CA USA

Tom Hess:  I have to say that I have never heard or read about any great players ever claiming to have had no influences in their life.  And of course we all have influences, but some players (like Mike Walsh) don't listen to many other guitarists so that they won't be influenced by them now.  Personally I don't agree with that philosophy really, but hey Mike is one of the most original players I have EVER heard, so who am I to say?!  

Mike Walsh:  Everyone is influenced in some way regardless if it’s music, acting, drawing, poetry etc. AND are original in how they express those arts even if they are rip offs of another artist. Even if you sound a lot like Yngwie, you are still original in your own sort of way. Not ground shattering or bringing a new original style to the world, but you do express ideas in ways and combinations others, even Yngwie, may not duplicate. I believe even if you are purposely ripping off licks, but do them in your own way like different rhythm etc., you are technically doing it in combinations that the person never would of thought of or would have done exactly like you did. it’s all on how you approach the subject of influences, which some people (Me) interpret differently. There are 48 original notes on a 6 string, 24 fret guitar. To a certain degree, the first guy to play all 48 notes on it was the original and everyone else is just expanding on his findings. Just look at how President Clinton approached the phrase, sexual relations, during the Lewinsky scandal. To some, he had sex with her. To him and few others, it was not a sexual relationship because they never had sex.
 To make these questions of influence and how people have their own personal take on them even harder to answer, let me ask this. What ever, who ever, turned you on to the art you like best is your influence?
  Well, yes and no. I knew as a kid that I did not like art much (suck at drawing),  but Metallica made it clear to me that what they were doing (music) fit my personality. If it were not for Metallica, I might not have played the guitar again (played for 2 or 3 months in 5th grade and quit). I consider them an influence, and at the same time not an influence. 1) They motivated me to start playing and shaped what I thought was cool about music. 2) I sound nothing like Hammett or Hetfield, in my opinion. Technically they are influences of mine, yet you do not hear them in my playing. And, I played more Hammett solos than any other guitar player I liked. The word, influence, is just too general to go accusing people of being arrogant or in denial of what and who THEY think they sound like or not sound like. Everyone DOES bring something original to the musical world. How original is up to how you categorize the music you hear. Some musicians hear another guitar player in everyone's playing. I have students who never hear a new band as new, they are "these" bands or "this" band. If I had to, I could easily find others that sound a lot or a little like someone else. But does that mean they are? I would say Metallica is an influence of mine, but if I never did, could you hear them? Does not hearing Metallica make them any more or less of an influence on my playing?  I generally do not care who someone's influences are and if they hear what I hear (or do not hear) in their playing. This is because they never sound exactly like them (to my ears) and I know there is way more to any person, be it music or in life, than one or a few influences could sum up.
 To answer your question (finally) Everyone is an influence of someone else, is an individual mix of those influences, and is original.

- What do you guys (particularly the guitarists) think when there are "more important" guitarists out there (like Steve Vai) who either don't have the technical ability or DON'T DEMONSTRATE IT in concert or in their recordings?  Fans like myself resent hearing about Vai's "amazing ability" when the guy isn't even on record as having played a "one note per string" arpeggio EVER; nor has Satriani.  It's frustrating to hear about their so-called technical ability when, if anything, it is notoriously ABSENT.  Hey, I'll be the first to say that Satch in particular has great songwriting ability, but don't tell me that they are technical maestros by any stretch! Rock on guys - can't wait for Opus 2. - Torben Bruck

Tom Hess:  Its all relative.  When someone says that Vai has great technical ability, it is true or false depending on who Vai is being compared to.  Certainly compared to most guitarists, Vai and Satch are great, but compared to a real virtuoso monster like George Bellas, Francesco Farerri, Paul Gilbert, Yngwie, etc., Vai and Satch are not in the same league with them on a technical level when we are talking about speed, etc.  One thing I would like to point out is that even though Vai doesn’t play super fast that much, some of what he does is very difficult to do at slower speeds.  So just because it’s not fast doesn’t mean it is not necessarily hard to do or virtuosic.   There are a  lot of things that Mike [Walsh] recorded on Opus 2 that are very virtuosic, but not super fast all the time, some of his playing would be very hard for most players to play cleanly at even a slow tempo.  Speed is just one aspect of technical skill.   It may be the biggest element of virtuosity, but not the only one.  
 I personally am not a big fan of either Vai or Satriani, but not because I think they don’t have enough technical skill.  I don’t like Vai’s weird style and both Vai and Satriani’s songwriting is not not something that appeals to me.  But lets not forget that these guys are important players in the guitar world and have contributed a good amount to it.  G3 is very good for the whole guitar scene in general and particularly here in the US.  
 People are going to think what they are going to think and they are going to like who they like.  It doesn’t bother me if someone claims that Vai is the God of guitar, even though I don’t agree.  What drives me nuts is hearing how these guys are the greatest guitarists:  Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the guys from Limp Bisket and Korn.  Hearing people claiming those players to be great musicians makes me laugh and then want to puke!   Eventually you get to the point where you say, who cares what those people think anyway, why fight it, even if you know you are right?  There are more important things to do, like create your own music and support the musicians that you do like.

Mike Walsh:  Joe and Steve have tons of ability and do deserve to be considered "important players". But like Tom said, you already are comparing them to someone you have in mind that fits your "important" player criteria.  Everyone likes some aspect of guitar playing more than others. And some of us are in the position to express it louder than others (via the media, music press etc.) so that it gets passed down as the bible of music truths.  If you feel emotional songwriting with slower bluesy solos is great, then Clapton might be your guy.  You get the point, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
But, I have seen Joe and Steve a few times and they play their music flawlessly.  On top of that, they put on a good to great show (Steve having the best instrumental guitar show out there IMO: in my opinion).  I would say Joe probably fits the description of your comments more so than Vai.  Joe is a good player, yet is not as "important" if you compare his playing skills to say, Yngwie Malmsteen, George Bellas or Michael Angelo. Joe is not considered "important" because he is the best physical player on the planet, it is because he is the best player that has tunes that a lot of people like to listen to.  Really, popularity is what most people see as being "important" and (unfortunately) that translates usually into, "The Best". That happens all the time and not only in music, and like Tom said, seeing comments like, Kurt Cobain or the guy from the White Stripes are awesome players, is really weak. These type of comments keep getting passed down and is why guys like Eric Clapton will always be considered a better player than Eddie Van Halen to music magazines and dads talking about great guitar players to their kids. it’s not always what the hands can do, it’s what the tunes do for you.
  Joe and Steve are "important" because of their all around musical skills. To a certain degree, they have helped instrumental guitar become more accepted today and definitely more with G3 here in the USA.  They write good tunes, Steve IMO has better, and they play at a very high caliber during those songs. Steve deserves to be "The Guy" in my opinion. He has some amazing creativity not found on most instrumental tunes. Listen to all the parts in a Vai song. it’s not just the guitar melody that is expressing something, the background music helps create the platform for it to be heard over more effectively. Most of the instrumental songs out there are very thin. Meaning, it’s usually just the core instruments playing the parts with a solo or the melody on top (Satriani IMO). Steve does the best job of having tons of great music to listen to under his guitar lines, and you know it’s just HIM writing it all. And, some of it’s really wacked out rippin lines. I remember a playing comment from a very impressive professional pianist. He said how some of the hardest lines to play over and over again in tempo were lines from atonal, contemporary and impressionistic pieces. It was because the fingerings were so wacked out it went against all common practice of proper technique and efficient fingerings. That is how I would describe some of Steve's rippin, totally awkward and not for the common man to attempt on his instrument.
  I leave you with this,  Paul Gilbert had a great comment about live playing that really holds true (I’m not quoting exactly here). You have to practice and play at 110% if you want to play at 90% live. His point was that in order to play something perfect and consistent live, you have to have more chops in the tank that can pull off lines even harder. Joe and Steve fall into this category of great live playing. But I ask, where does this leave Angelo's live show chops? (Holy Crap!!)
- What is your opinion of these guitarists in one sentence for each? - David Smithe: from a town close to London, England.

Yngwie Malmsteen
Mike Walsh:  Ground breaking electric guitar virtuoso, set the standard for high caliber playing.
Tom Hess:  The single most important guitarist of all time, however Bellas may change that.

Michael Romeo
Mike Walsh:  Have not had a chance to hear his music.
Tom Hess:   Very creative and an underrated rhythm player and songwriter.

Tony MacAlpine
Mike Walsh:  The only dual virtuoso instrumentalist on the planet today, big inspiration to me.
Tom Hess:   I respect him greatly, but don’t care for his style.

Theodore Ziras
Mike Walsh:  Have not had a chance to hear his music.
Tom Hess:   A great neo-classical player.

Rob Johnson
Mike Walsh:  Have not had a chance to hear his music.
Tom Hess:  I don’t know his music.

Paul Gilbert
Mike Walsh:  Monster player, and another pivotal virtuoso of the mid  80's.
Tom Hess:  A great player, but I don’t care for his songwriting.

Michael Angelo
Mike Walsh:  Not human, if he was, I want to see a blood test, another inspiration and has the best lead tone.
Tom Hess:  Total ripper, I loved No boundaries and Planet Gemini, but don’t care for his other CDs and yes his tone is great.

George Bellas
Mike Walsh:  Prog/shred guru with insane improvisational skills, #2 on the blood test list.  
Tom Hess:  The greatest guitar virtuoso of all time and my favorite guitar music composer.

Francesco Fareri
Mike Walsh:  He has to hate guitar strings, he probably burns through picks like he is going for a Guinness book of world records, non stop rippin.
Tom Hess:  The most aggressive lead player I’ve ever heard and is my very close friend.

Jason Becker
Mike Walsh: The young Paganini of the 20th century, what every teenage guitarist dreams of playing like but never will, wish him all the best.
Tom Hess: Perpetual Burn is one of my all time favorite CDs and I think the Universe was robbed of one of it’s greatest treasures when he became too sick to play!

Marty Friedman
Mike Walsh:  Great emotional player with the most exotic phrasings, total original and is, Major Bad Ass, in the metal guitar army.
Tom Hess:  Extremely influential (as is Becker) from a phrasing point of view, loved his earlier stuff.

Joey Taffola
Mike Walsh:  Have not had a chance to hear his music
Tom Hess:   I don’t know his music.

Rusty Cooley
Mike Walsh:  Heard only 30 seconds of a solo but I could tell he has skills.
Tom Hess:  Badass-fire-ripper.

Ron Thal
Mike Walsh: The multi personality guitarist, all of them are so off the wall virtuosic that it makes Zappa sound like he is playing the 12 bar blues, stream of conscious player, wow.
Tom Hess:  Obviously a great player, but I don’t care for the style.

Borislav Mitic
Mike Walsh:  Another guy I have to find and hear now
Tom Hess:  Similar to Theodore Ziras, a great neo-classical player (I probably like the Ziras style a bit more though)

Steve Vai
Mike Walsh:  The man, does everything and does it well, he is my, Greatest all around rock guitar player EVER.
Tom Hess:   I respect him, but can’t get into his musical style.

Joe Satriani
Mike Walsh:  Great player, not a virtuoso but has great melodic lines and is a big boundary breaker for instrumental guitar and American radio.
Tom Hess:  I’m not sure if I would put him in the same group as the other players you asked about above.

Zakk Wylde
Mike Walsh:  Very underrated shredder, super rhythm player and my favorite Ozzy guitarist.
Tom Hess:  I definitely don’t put him in the same group as the others, I like him as rhythm player more than a lead player - I don't consider him a shredder and I do not think he is underrated.

Jimi Hendrix
Mike Walsh:   Today = nothing special, but for the late 60's =the King, very deserving of guitar god claims as long as they are in context of the era, huge improvisational entrepreneur.
Tom Hess:  He bores me (except for Little Wing).  He is way over rated.

Eddie Van Halen
Mike Walsh:  The most important main stream guitarist EVER, makes Hendrix look like he WAS playing the guitar upside down, bigger than Hendrix in my eyes.
Tom Hess:   Like Yngwie, an important player, but he lost his fire long ago.

Mike Walsh:  Metal Guitar Lord, the best rhythm/solo guitarist for metal, founder of the, Kick your ass,  riffs.
Tom Hess:  A good metal rhythm player and songwriter for that style, I’m not a big a fan of leads.

- In what country do you have the most loyal fans? - Sergey Stogernoff:  St. Petersburg, Russia

Tom Hess:  That is difficult to measure or know.  However, in general, our fans outside the United States are probably more loyal.  We sell a lot more CDs outside the USA even though we are based in the Chicago area.  Another huge problem in the United States is piracy!  Many Americans don't respect artists and steal the music from the internet and CD burners instead of buying the CD.  That's why most instrumental guitarists don't tour the US, but are more likely to play in places like Europe and Japan.  That's why Shrapnel records basically stopped releasing new instrumental guitar CDs.  That's why the more active guitar labels are in Europe (such as Lion music.)  Piracy is much less of a problem in those countries compared to the US.  
     When we see that we are selling CDs in countries where the economy is very bad (like Romania, Russia, Argentina, Mexico, Lithuania, Brazil, etc.) it makes you ponder just how much these fans must really love the music and respect us enough to actually buy our CDs, that makes us feel like just giving it to them.  Compare this to some well-to-do Americans that can afford to buy several CDs every week (or every day), but instead choose to steal the music.  Its a real problem for all musicians.  Of course we do have some really loyal fans here in the states, but for every person who bought Opus 1 in the US, 4-5 more have illegal copies of it (by copying it onto CDR or illegal downloading from the internet).

- Did/does the band feel pressure when making the new cds because now you are more famous than when making your first cd? - Mike Walsh: Ohio, USA

Tom Hess:   No. The only expectations or standards that we have to worry about are those set by ourselves.  And those expectations and standards would be in place whether we would be totally unknown, very famous or anywhere in between.  Because we released Opus 1 and Opus 2 on our own record label, we don't have the external pressures from record company executives.

Mike Walsh:  Tom hit this one right on the head.

Scott Hess: it’s not pressure as much as it is a desire to continue to make better music and that can be accomplished either in the writing or in the production. 

-What do you (the whole band) think about when you are playing the songs? - Christine Fryer:  Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Mike Walsh: Recently, I have noticed that during SAGE shows I am thinking a lot like a musical robot. I am way more conscious of the key that I am in, what letters my fingers are playing on the fretboard and how everyone sounds (rhythmically, tuning, tones, mix etc.). it’s a checklist that keeps getting bigger and bigger as I play more live. I used to just think about what the hell was coming next, playing to the click, when to do patch changes and nailing solos. As times gone on, I have been trying to take in everything on stage with the above included. I want to hear every note from the band, every mistake, know who is rushing or dragging, try to express the music live as it was felt when I wrote it. The more I can take in and make sense of what's going on, the better more consistent live player I will become.
The goal for me is to develop my ears to take in, make sense of, and be able to free up tons of emotion. Like a pianist first learning a song, the hands(brain) are not able to coordinate well together due to all the notes it has to process. Eventually, the physical becomes a no brainer thus allowing you to free your mind for expressing the music, the real goal. I eventually do not want to think about the physical aspect of playing, only the emotional. So, I have to get better at the robotic musical elements of playing live first. I hope to free up a new part of my musical development on stage.  
Mark Carozza:  Due to the fact that the parts were already written,  I really just tried to block everything out and focus on the click or the drums.  A lot of the tracks I played on didn't even have drums yet. For me, the emotion goes into stuff in the writing process, and with this sort of bass playing I really just need to focus on the rhythmic aspects during the recording.  With Tom and Mike's solos, I'm sure they needed to draw on their emotions, but I needed to concentrate my energy on getting the bass parts tight with everything else.

Tom Hess: It depends which piece I am playing at the time, each one is expressing something different usually.  Each one of the pieces are memories for me of something that happened in my life, something that didn't happen in my life, something that should have happened in my life or something that I wish/hope/want to happen in my life.  I always play better when I am focusing on that. If I let my mind drift off and think about something else, the music suffers.  With certain pieces that are harder to play, if I have to think too much about the physical aspect of playing a hard part, the music also suffers.  So I practice those parts a lot so that when we play live I won't be burdened by anything that is hard to play.

Scott Hess: When a song is first created I practice it until every section is memorized so it comes natural with out having to count measures or repetitions. At this point I like to let my mind wander with thoughts of the time or memories that each track has given me.  For me music is more fun that way.

- Why are all the famous guitar players only men? And is it true that males make better guitar players, songwriters, composers and musicians?  It is so frustrating to be a woman player in a man’s musical world you know!- Christine Fryer:  Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Mark Carozza:  Lita Ford and Jennifer Batten are/were relatively famous right?  I can't really say much about female guitar players because I haven't heard many.  (which is precisely why you wrote your question)  However,  I know that the female drummers I have seen just lack the aggression of male drummers.  Female guitarists may lack the aggression too.  I'm not saying that women aren't good musicians,  I'm just saying that they might not make good rock/metal musicians.  Who knows,  maybe you're awesome and you'll totally prove me wrong. Send us a recording.   Also, check out Ani DiFranco if you haven't already.  She's a great guitarist/musician and she does her own thing rather than trying to play like the men out there.  She's not a virtuoso or anything, but she comes up with some pretty cool acoustic rhythm parts.

Mike Walsh:  Honestly, I do not know. I would guess that the instrument is a tad too big for smaller female hands to play. Males are generally more geared to physical challenges than females are and the guitar is physically challenging. This means females need to add more practice time to overcome those obstacles, which in turn means their progress is a little slower. If you put in the same time on a project as your co worker did and they got further than you on it, you will probably get discouraged. These factors will most likely lead to a profession change.
 I do not believe men are better songwriters/composers/musicians though. Those are things that the physical can not rule over the mind on. Example, if Mozart were to of lost his arms in a horrible accident, would he not have continued to write great music? Your mind is way more creative than your hands. Being a musician/composer/songwriter really relies on how well you hear the music in your mind and find a way, through notes, to express it. These are not gender specific attributes, it’s fair game for both sexes. Guitar is very deceiving in how difficult it is to play, yet the most appealing in wanting to start. Guitar is probably the 2nd hardest instrument to master next to the harp. Here is my tip for all the females, HAVE A GUITAR MADE WITH A SMALLER NUT AND FRET BOARD LENGTH. If you change those two things on the guitar, you can level the playing field.  Then men will be coping licks off girls and will have found another reason to put up more of your posters in our rooms.

Tom Hess:  I can hear Mike’s and mine former music theory teacher (a woman) now, just screaming with a reply to this one.  It is true that most electric guitarists are male.  It is also true (at the present time) that the best electric guitarists are also virtually all male. But it would be a mistake for anyone to assume that males are naturally better than females or that females make inferior guitarists biologically or psychologically.  There are less great female players because of many reasons such as:  there are far less fewer female guitar players in general, females are not encouraged to pursue electric guitar playing as a career or serious hobby, they are sometimes not taken seriously by guitar teachers, they are encouraged to play instruments like piano, violin, flute, etc.  
 Whenever I am lucky enough to teach a woman or girl to play guitar, I make sure to give them extra attention, extra encouragement, extra time, etc.  Not because I feel sorry for females or think that I should make up for all the times that they were discriminated against by other people.  It is because I believe the single most important ingredient of being a musician is the desire for self-expression.  And I think females, in general, are far better than males at communication, expressing emotions and in desiring to express oneself.  Therefore I think females DO have a big untapped natural advantage over males.  So I want to be sure that my female students are aware of that and I want to help them to develop the skills needed to reach their full potential.  To all the females out there, I say to you, be thankful you are female.  Anyone (male or female) can learn how to move his/her fingers, develop one’s ear, knowledge of music theory, improvisation, composition skills, etc.  But one can NOT learn the desire to express oneself, you either have that or you don’t.  I would encourage all female musicians to find the right teacher for themselves.

- Can all tell me how long time it make to be great music man? - Woong: South Korea

Tom Hess:  Probably every music teacher in the world is asked this question many times by his/her students.  Unfortunately for all who this question, there exists no single or definite answers.  Among the many problems with answering this question are:

Different people may not define GREAT the same way.
Different people may not even define MUSICIAN the same way.
Different people progress at different rates of speed.
Different styles of music have different standards of greatness.
How are we measuring time here?
Is the question itself even a valid one?
Why do you want to be a great musician anyway, why not make your goal to be the best musician on the Earth at expressing YOU.

I’m sure that this was not a very satisfying answer for those reading this who want to know THE answer.  So I’ll leave you with another unsatisfying answer and that is this: IT TAKES AS LONG AS IT TAKES.

Mike Walsh:  More than a year, and a never ending process. The best advice I can give to you in a few sentences would be, 1) Do everything possible to help get you to where it is you want to be (lessons, schooling, recording, etc.), 2) Put in as much time, and care, into the drawing of your future you see yourself living.

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