1. Please tell me something about the history of the band, something about the members!
Tom Hess: The band was originally formed in 1995 under the name Gothic Empire. In those days the music was neo-classical and heavy metal, I had not yet written anything really progressive at that time. I began writing progressive music in 1996 and also continued to write neo-classical and dramatic music. We went through several lineup changes along the way and changed the name to Hess in 1998. The current lineup, besides myself is: Mike Walsh - Guitarist: He came into the band in January of 1996. Mike and I went to college together, where we were studying classical music together. Scott Hess - Drummer/Percussionist: He was actually the original drummer but left the band for 2 years to study at the University of Illinois. He didn't play on Opus 1 because he wasn't in the band at that time, after graduation, Scott rejoined the band in January 1999. Mark Carozza - Bassist: Mark joined the band in May of 2001, after graduating from the Berklee School of Music. I've known him since 1993 and he has grown into a very fine musician.
2. Are there earlier releases, demo tapes etc.?
Tom Hess: There are no previous Hess releases prior to Opus 1, but there was a collection of cassette tapes that contained demo versions of Opus 1 and some older material that didn't make it onto Opus 1. Originally, track nine on Opus 1 (Golden Colloseum) was not planned to be on Opus 1. That track was going to be used as a B side to a single or used as part of an EP. The track that was supposed to be the ninth track was giving Chris Dowgun some difficulties in the studio. Scott's playing style is much better suited for that track and it will appear on Opus 2. The title is: Waves of Far Reaching. It is very progressive in style.
3. Why are you most impressed by Chopin?
Tom Hess: To understand my love for Chopin, one needs to know much about Chopin's music, life and personality. I don't want to turn this into a history lesson so I'll just say that he was an amazing person that lived through enormous personal tragedies. He was a very sensitive and emotional man who, out of necessity, became a true master of expressing his deepest emotions, especially those more serious and painful. Chopin's instrumental music was a direct reflection on his thoughts and feelings. He wrote in an autobiographical way, using no words (not even in the titles of his pieces).. Although my music doesn't really sound like Chopin's music, I compose for the same reasons. In my opinion, Chopin was the greatest of all the 19th century romantic era composers. When I listen to Chopin's music, I feel a connection to it as if it were my own music. Some of my favorite pieces by Chopin are these: From Opus 28, these preludes: C major, E minor, B minor, E major, Db major, C minor, D minor. Opus 11. The funeral March. Opus 10, number 3 in E major. Nocturnes: Opus 9, number 1 and 2, Opus 48, number 1, Opus 72, number 1, Opus post., C minor. Both piano concerto, Opus 11 and Opus 21.
4. I think you are the mastermind of Hess, what about the influence of the other band members?
Tom Hess: I compose the music for Hess, but the other musicians do have an influence on our sound. To explain, I can compare the current members influence with previous band members. The biggest difference you will hear on Opus 2 is the drum sound and playing, Scott [Hess] is a powerful drummer with great double bass chops that is different than the style of former Hess drummer Chris Dowgun. Mark [Carozza] is bringing his unique bass style to the band now that is different than my bass style. Mike's influence has always been prominent with the Hess sound, his exotic improvisational lead style has brought another layer to the guitar sound. It is important for others to realize that their influence is very important to the Hess sound.
5. How does your songwriting work?
Tom Hess: I don't write the same way all the time, I use many different compositional processes not just one or two, this helps each recording to sound different than the others. Here is a very rough breakdown of how Opus 1 and Opus 2 were written: 25-30% of the time, I'll pick up a guitar (or sometimes a bass) and improvise until I find something that I think is worthy enough to keep. 5-10% of the time, I'll go to a piano or keyboard and write on it. 20-25% of the time, I'll begin with a rhythmic idea (this usually happens only on the progressive tracks) and compose music around that. 10% of the time, I'll get a melodic idea in my head and begin there. 15% of the time, I'll work out some contrapuntal sections on paper or sometimes in my head. 10-15% of the time, I'll hear chord progressions in my mind and carefully work out some cool modulations. That was a really rough and general breakdown. There are sometimes other methods used also from time to time. I try not to rely to heavily on guitar for the compositional process. I think the various processes of composing is, in part, the reason why the Hess sound is unique.
6. How do you find titles for your songs? Without lyrics!
Tom Hess: All of the compositions written for Opus 1 and Opus 2 are based on my personal events, thoughts and emotions, so the titles are easy to come up with after the concept for the music has been established. The titles reflect the inspiration for each piece.
7. How would you like to develop in the future? Do you think about adding a lead singer?
Tom Hess: I'm pleased with the band's current musical direction. I love writing instrumentals, it is more challenging for me to write instrumental music than vocal music. The biggest challenge is to express myself without using words, but when it is successful, it's a great thing for me. I do like a select handful of singers and would be open to the possibility of working with a great singer. He or she would have to be really great though. These are some of my favorite singers: Fabio Lione (he's my all-time favorite), Geoff Tate, James LaBrie, Midnight, Jon Oliva, King Diamond, Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, Michael Kiske.
8. Is there a most important event in the history of the band?
Tom Hess: The release of Opus 1. Our affiliation with guitar9.com and Michael Angelo's label, M.A.C.E., have been significant events for us as far as exposure and cd sales go.
9. What about your success/feedback in different countries?
Tom Hess: We sell most CDs outside the United States. At the time of this interview Opus 1 has been selling in these countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, Greece, China (Hong Kong), Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.
10. The biggest problem in playing your kind of music is to find the balance between showing technical skills and playing songs with emotions! Would you agree and how do you try to reach this goal?
Tom Hess: There are many people who think that one can't play fast and have emotion, some people wrongfully assume one must play slowly to be emotional.. The truth is that most virtuoso players play with very intense emotion that goes far beyond the average player. Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, George Bellas are three perfect examples, but some people just can't comprehend the passion of the music. I think that the burden is on the listener to comprehend it, not for the musicians to play at 25% speed and put little feelings on a spoon and feed it to those who probably won't recognize passion anyway. I know that I just made somewhat of a bold statement, but I am answering your question with my honest opinion. Just because a guy like Eric Clapton plays slow does not mean that he plays with more emotion than a guy like Yngwie. Speed and modal usage are not the two elements that define emotion. It would not be accurate to imply that a fast movement of a Beethoven sonata does not display profound passion. There are many great examples of virtuosic music that are just dripping with emotion. I don't think that my slower music is always more emotional than my faster music, it's just a different shade of emotional color, some people are color blind though and can't see all shades of expression.
11. What do you think about the situation of your musical genre in the present and what will change in the future?
Tom Hess: I think high tech guitar music in general is turning a little more progressive in style now. This genre of music has been heavily attacked in the US, mostly by people who are not even qualified to criticize it. Fortunately, this music is respected more in other countries. Of course we would like our music to become more popular than it currently is, but we aren't doing this to see how many people we can please, we do it for ourselves. I don't foresee any monumental changes in the near future for the Hess sound.
12. Can you tell me something of the process of creating the new record? Were there any problems or went everything well?
Tom Hess: : We haven't recorded Opus 2 yet, that should happen late 2001/ early 2002. The writing always has its problems, I have been composing Opus 2 for 3 years and I finished most of it while I was in Krakow (Poland) in June, 2001. I compose very slowly and I sometimes agonize over a single note choice or modulation for days. I try to go to Europe once a year for a month or so, this is the best environment for me to compose. I especially like Poland, the homeland of my wife and of Chopin.
13. So you could have the possibility to make this record again. Would you change anything?
Tom Hess: It would have been nice to have had more money for the recording of Opus 1, but musically we are pleased with it.
14. What about your contact to other artists, record companies?
Tom Hess: When Opus 1 was released, in April of 2000, we did not seek out a deal with any record label mainly because we wanted to maintain total musical and financial control. Now that the Hess sound has been firmly established, on our own terms, with the music of Opus 1 and soon Opus 2, we will be talking with a select group of companies. As far as other artists go, we have been in contact with many other high caliber and virtuoso guitar based bands and they have been very supportive to us.
15. I think Shrapnel or Magna Carta should be lucky with an artist like you - but your album was self released....
Tom Hess: Those are labels that we will be talking to after the release of Opus 2. Both of them have a very impressive roster of musicians that we respect. We have not had any contact with Mike Varney or his associates at Shrapnel or Magna Carta thus far.
16. What about your future plans?
Tom Hess: Right now we are focusing on Opus 2, there has been talk about doing some bigger concerts next year, but none of that has been confirmed yet.