Guitar Mania (Canada)
HESS, the band, have released their debut CD titled "Opus 1". It features Virtuoso's Tom Hess and Mike Walsh on guitar, and Chris Dowgun on drums. Since the release of "Opus 1" Hess have evolved into a four piece unit. Adding Mark Carozza on bass and Scott Hess (replacing Chris Dowgun) on percussion. The newly revamped Hess are currently hard at work on the follow up to "Opus 1".
1) We don't know much about "Hess" the band. Can you give us a quick run down on your personal histories?
Mark Carozza: I've been playing for about twelve years. I took lessons from Tom throughout high school, I also took some lessons from George Bellas, then I went to the Berklee School of Music.
Tom Hess: I started playing guitar January 31, 1986. I had several guitar teachers throughout high school, after high school I studied with a great teacher named Jack Wilson, he helped me with theory, technique, improvising and introduced me to classical guitar. Jack also encouraged me to teach guitar full time, which I did shortly afterwards. I later studied virtuoso guitar from the master, George Bellas. Bellas helped me to refine my technique, and I also studied composition with him. George was a big influence on me as a teacher, composer and player. George got signed with Shrapnel records in 1997 and he became too busy to teach at that time. At the same time, I was a music student at Harper College and later a music composition student at Roosevelt University. My brother, Scott, and I formed the Hess band back in 1995 (under a different name) and the band has gone through several lineup changes. When Opus 1 was recorded, the lineup was myself, Mike Walsh and Chris Dowgun (our drummer at the time).
2) Tom & Mike - When did you guys first pick up the Guitar and what motivated you to want to learn to play the guitar?
Mike Walsh: I first picked up the guitar in 5th grade. I got a guitar from a family friend and I took lessons for about 3 months and then quit. Then at the end of 8th grade I got into Metallica and have played everyday since. My motivation to play was, and still is, how cool the guitar sounds and how sometimes the impossible becomes possible. That challenge has now shifted from physical things I thought were impossible to play to writing things that are impossible to express. That challenge will last as long as I play.
Tom Hess: In 1983, Def Leppard was the band that made me want to play guitar, but it wasn't until 1986 that I actually had the opportunity to buy a guitar. I too was influenced by Metallica in the 1980s and, although I do not like Metallica now, they were important for me at the time. In my first band in high school, we played mostly Metallica covers. I was also heavily into Iron Maiden then. Starting around 1986, I became aware of players like Yngwie Malmsteen and Andy La Rocque (of the King Diamond band). These guys had great technique and were more expressive than any other players that I had heard up to that point. Other important influences came along later. In the beginning I wanted to play because I thought that the guitar was cool, a couple of years later, I realized that music to me was much more than that, I wanted to express things.
3) "Opus 1" contains some very complex compositions weaving classical overtones with odd meter melodies. Who are your biggest classical influences and why? Who has influenced each of you the most on your respective instruments?
Mike Walsh: My favorite composers from the baroque or classical era are Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart and Haydn. But to say that our solos or compositions are directly related to those composers melodies is not really accurate. The melodies you hear from the band are really more influenced from other guitar guys like for me, Marty Friedman and Alex Scolnick were probably my two favorite soloing guitarists. When I would hear either one solo, it was so recognizable and fluid that I still to this day think they were among the best in getting across an emotion or a feeling. Then Steve Vai and Dime Bag Darrell were big and so was guys like Nuno Bettencourt and John Petrucci.
Tom Hess: I'm sure that when you say classical composers you are referring to all of the composers in the various periods (Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods). I actually don't really like most of the music from the Classical period, so I do not like composers like Mozart and Haydn. I love the Baroque era, especially J.S. Bach and some Purcell, but my real love is the Romantic era. Chopin being the most significant influence followed by Liszt, Brahms, Wagner and Beethoven's piano works in the romantic style. I like the baroque era for the sincerity and integrity of the compositions and the counterpoint. I think that the composers in the Baroque era were composing for noble reasons and the Romantic composers were composing for their own self expression romantic ideals, I like that a lot. I like Chopin the most because I think he was the greatest expresser of the deepest emotions. He accurately expressed things that cannot be accurately expressed. As far as guitar influences, I would have to say Yngwie, Jason Becker, George Bellas and Andy La Rocque. Marty Friedman I guess should be in there too.
4) Aside from the obvious classical influences where do you get your ideas for compositions? Is "Opus 1" autobiographical in any way?
Tom Hess: I don't get ideas for pieces from any single source, but much of it is from within, reflecting and dwelling on past or present emotions and thoughts. Opus 1 was very autobiographical and Opus 2 will be as well. I want to express things that I can't or won't express in words or in any other way.
5) What equipment did you use for the recording of "Opus 1"?
Mike Walsh: At that time I used my Hamer with the evolution 6 string pickups in it. The guitar was all right but not really set up at the time that well. ( I forgot to do it ) At that time I was not playing my 7 strings and did not have my Johnson Millennium amp. So I went through Toms rig and played my guitar. It is a good thing him and I sound different soloing, it could of been a little hard to hear who is who.
Tom Hess: I used my 1987 Carvin V220 guitar for all of the distorted rhythm and lead guitar parts. A Takamine classical guitar and an old 1974 Washburn acoustic guitar. My Carvin went through a Hafler/Digitech T3 preamp, a BBE 462 Sonic maximizer and into a Tube Works Mosvalve power amp and then into a Peavy 4x12 cabinet with 75 watt celestian speakers.
6) How big of a role does equipment play in the overall production of the music on "Opus 1"? Did the selection of equipment influence the compositions?
Tom Hess: Not much of a role really. The selection of equipment did not influence the compositions at all.
7) You are currently hard at work on the follow up to "Opus 1". What can you tell us about the direction and compositions that will be included on this new project?
Tom Hess: The direction will remain fundamentally the same, but Opus 2 will be a more extreme version, stylistically, of Opus 1.
8) What type of music do you all enjoy listening to? If you had to pick one recording as your favorite off all time what would it be?
Mark Carozza: I try to listen to a wide variety of stuff. I don't really have one favorite album, but Vulgar Display of Power from Pantera is definitely towards the top of the heap.
Tom Hess: My favorite thing to listen to is Frederic Chopin's set of 24 preludes (Opus 28). Those pieces, written during the second half of the 1830's are among the most emotional pieces of music ever written, they are Romantic music at its finest, in my view. I also like the Brahms piece, "A German Requiem" a lot. I mostly listen to: J.S. Bach, Chopin, Brahms, Mahler, some Wagner and some Debussy. I listen to Dream Theater, George Bellas, Jason Becker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Marty Friedman, Rhapsody, Queensryche, Operation Mindcryme, Savatage's Streets CD, older Iron Maiden, Alice in Chains and some other stuff too.
Mike Walsh: Well, I honestly do not spend a lot of time anymore just buying CDs and listening to music. I either hear songs on the radio in the car, or figure out songs for students in the lessons. So unfortunately, I am up to date on the new pop culture tunes, but not really at all on the guys I would rather hear and support. But if I were to pick one recording to listen to over and over again, it would be Awake from Dream Theater. I could probably sit there for years trying to count all the meter changes and work on ear training on modes, keys and so on. The new Dream Theater one would be a close second.
9) Tom, I read somewhere that you are a schooled player. Can you elaborate on your musical education and can you give us some highlights from those experiences?
Tom Hess: I have always done well with my music education, my biggest regret is that I wasted a lot of time in the early years with either no teacher or without a great teacher. As far as highlights from my educational experiences, I have lots of those. Studying with Wilson and Bellas were great times for my development. Harper college and Roosevelt University were great places with some elite teachers that I learned so much from. I have become personal friends with some of those great teachers, and that is a valuable thing to me too. Mike [Walsh] and Mark have extensive music education histories too. Mark studied with me for 4 or 5 years and also was a student of Bellas for some time also. He later earned a 4 year music degree from the Berklee School of Music. Mike was a music student at Harper when I was there. Mike and I were 2 of only 6 students to graduate that year as music majors from Harper. There were over 40 students that began the two year music program there, 34 of them never made it to get the degree. Mike was a very good student and was (and still is) very well respected among the music faculty there. He then attended Elmhurst college and received another degree there. He also studied with Dave Uhrich.
10) All of the music you have recorded showcases your depth as skilled musicians. Tell us about your technique and how you developed it?
Mike Walsh: I used to sit and get pains in my right hand all the time from picking. So I started to focus way more on the actual physical playing aspect for hours a day in front of a mirror. I realized that if you moved the pick less across the string it would be able to return to the string faster (huge for a 14 year old to figure out on his own). I would work on making the picking motion as small as possible. Then I would watch for the thumb placement, it had to be touching the strings to help muting and then the levelness of the pick tip. It got to the point to where I did and still do the same motions every time. That really helps out in those times you can not play for an hour or for a day or even more (vacations). You are able to return to the instrument and have lost only some endurance, not any form or technique. That is super important in my view. If I can recommend a tool that helped me in this category big time is the stylus pick. I recommend it to all my shredder students.
Tom Hess: Economy of right hand motion is the key. Both Jack Wilson and Bellas taught me the beauty of sweep picking and directional picking (sometimes referred to as economy picking or inside picking). This is basically the same thing as Mike pointed out already. Also keeping your right hand thumb on the strings below the one your pick is needed to keep the other strings quiet. The most important thing though was for me to believe that I could one day play fast and clean if I worked hard for a long time at it. Some people think that one must have natural talent to play fast. People who think that will never have great technique because they have already told themselves that there is no need to work at it seriously.
11) What do you think about the new crop of talented Guitar Players that are currently out there making music?
Mark Carozza: It's a shame they're not getting more recognition.
Mike Walsh: I will say this, they are getting better than what the mid to late 90's players were helping the guitar community with. They showed that any Joe can pick up a guitar and play the whole song on the radio, even if you have only been playing for a month. Some people would say that is a good thing, and to a point they are right. But when I watch a movie, I do not want my $9 to go to some actor who I can do at least a good of a job as. Players should be way better than the AVERAGE player. That was not the case in the mid to late 90's.
Tom Hess: I think Mike here is referring to the typical player on US radio, but the question about a new crop of TALENTED players is more encouraging. There are a lot of excellent players that you can hear on www.guitar9.com. I'm happy to see more great players coming to the surface, but as Mark said, It's a shame they're not getting more recognition, at least not here in the USA.
12) What are your thoughts on the state of instrumental guitar music these days?
Mike Walsh: I actually think it is getting better and the talent improving. Even though there is no forum here in the states for it anymore, it sounds as if more and more guys are getting out there and doing cds with some label help. Maybe we will have some awaking amongst the Americans on what they are missing out on, but till then, I applaud all web sites and magazines that will not let talented INSTRUMENTAL musicians be unheard or unknown. ( at least to the guitar community )
Mark Carozza: I've been a little out of touch with it lately so I don't know. Joe Stump has put out some pretty cool stuff, but that's about all I've heard.
Tom Hess: In the USA, it's very sad. Most people here have been brainwashed and have no concept of what musicianship is, what skill is, what musical integrity is, what complex expression is or its value.
13) What are your interests outside of music?
Tom Hess: My wife, my daughter and the rest of my family. My wife and I love to travel to Europe, (she is from Poland). My wife and I collect fine art pieces such as hand cut glass crystal and cloth tapestries, sculptures etc. I am interested in space exploration, United States military technology, European history, genealogy and stuff like that.
Mark Carozza: I watch a ton of movies.
Mike Walsh: Outside of this I really got into turbo cars. I now run my own site and sell parts to people aside from having 2 bands, Hess and Sage ( female fronted hard rock/progressive band www.sage4.com ). Then I still teach lessons, which is why I went to school, and that is what consumes up my days and weekends.
14) Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers that we have not asked or may have overlooked?
Mike Walsh: We get a lot of questions on how we do this or that. Here is how I would sum up: what it takes for a young player to do what we get to do. When you start playing, take some time on your own to get used to the instrument. After about a few months of playing, get lessons. As your lessons move on, play the music you like to listen to and dream of eventually playing. Then, if you are into the high caliber guitar thing, you must take LESSONS FROM A HIGH CALIBER PLAYER! Too many kids want to play things their teachers do not like or can play. You can do things on your own, but lessons are really a great short cut for learning techniques and speeding up your progress. Play for as many HOURS A DAY as you can on useful things. I do not consider chromatic exercises useful past 10 minutes of playing. Then go to college or community college and take some theory and aural skills courses, it will do way more for your music writing than listening and coping other players. Education equals consistency and originality. When you KNOW what you are doing, your playing will go a long way in developing a style and sound.
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