Guitar Player (Russia)

by Anton Ivlev

1. Do you remember the moment when you understood, that you'd found your individuality in music. Which approach to the instrument has allowed you to do that? What kind of experiments with music itself? Can you say now that you found your individuality in music?

Mike Walsh: I do not remember the exact moment, but during Opus 1 my playing hit a point were I knew how to get the sounds out of my head and onto my guitar.  To get ideas for my solos, I would hum out ideas with my voice and that has been the biggest help in my style and expression.

Tom Hess:  I do think I have developed my own sound.  I did not really plan to be different than other players/composers it just happened to work out that way over time.  Some people try very hard to sound like their favorite players and other people try very hard to sound very different than other players.  I think that both approaches are very limiting.  I do what I want to do.  I compose and play what I want to express.  If the music sometimes sounds like someone else, I don't change the sound of the music to make it different nor do I change the sound to make it more similar to other players.  I do not want to worry about those things because either philosophy would limit myself.  I don't spent much time thinking about how to develop my own sound,  although I do spend a lot of time thinking about how I want to compose and play.  Anyone can hear my influences in my compositions and playing, but it is the mixture of those many influences (as well as my own innovations) that makes the music a new sound.

2. What influences on the unique style of the player? How to develop it?

Mark Carozza:  I think that unique styles come from peoples' unique lives.  You always hear about players that practice several hours a day, and I've always felt that you need to get out and experience things.  Music is about expression, and you can't have much to express if you lock yourself in a room to practice the majority of the day.  Practice is definitely important but I think some people over do it.

Tom Hess:  I do not believe that the development of a unique style is a worthy goal to pursue for its own sake, as I mentioned above, making this a priority is limiting because if you try so hard to sound different than everyone else, you are not allowing yourself to do so many great things musically.  However, I strongly believe that self-expression is very important for a composer and a player, this has always been my number one priority.  I think the best way to develop a unique style is to focus on your inner thoughts, emotions and ideals.  Before looking to music for influence and inspiration look elsewhere first.  Look to yourself as a person, not a musician. Think about your past, present and your outlook for the future.  Most people have a treasure of inspiration already inside them, but may not think to use it.  For more inspiration, look to poetry, literature, religion, paintings, sculpture, architecture, history, knowledge, science or whatever else may interest you.  After you have immersed yourself in these ways, then look to the music of other composers, guitarists, etc. for more inspiration.  

3. When composing, do you hear the whole music in mind, count on an image, mood, and atmosphere? Or do you build a song by a mode-harmonic structure, by theory?

Tom Hess:  A lot of inexperienced players/songwriters have a very limited number of ways in which he/she approaches writing music.  I think it is absolutely essential that composers, songwriters and players should have many different ways to compose music.  When I was in high school I always attempted to write music by picking up my guitar and trying to make something up by improvising.  When I discovered something I liked, I wrote it down on paper.  The music I wrote in those days was pretty simple and all of my songs tended to sound very similar to each other.  Now I compose sometimes only in my mind and then write it on paper.  Sometimes I think about a rhythmic idea in my mind and then go to my guitar to write the pitches to the rhythm. Sometimes I improvise with my voice (singing notes) and then write it down when I have a good idea.  Sometimes I think about music theory and develop my ideas from that.  Sometimes I think melodically first or the bass line first, etc.  In the last piece I composed, (a 19th century style piece for solo piano) I thought only of events from a specific time in my life, I made a graph of each event on paper, then I thought about how to develop the form of the piece to reflect the events. After the form was developed, I thought about the harmonic structure and then the rhythmic ideas.  After this step I went to the piano and worked out the details of the pitches.  There was a lot of pre compositional thoughts that happened before I wrote a single note.  A lot of Opus 2 was written that way, the only piece on Opus 1 that was composed in a similar way was Palette of Shades.  Of course there are still times when I pick up my guitar to write music, but this is now only 20-30% of the time.  I suppose using the guitar less for composing helps the music to sound more original since most guitarists are very dependent on using their guitar for writing.  Using the guitar is still a great tool, but I have discovered so many others that have helped me tremendously.

Mike Walsh:  When I compose my solos in Hess, I base them off of the mood of the music. Knowing music theory and which scales work over the song helps me to focus more on how I want to express myself and not on which notes the fingers have to play.

4. Which song from your catalog do you consider the best and which one ­ the worst?

Tom Hess:  Its hard to say because each piece is so different from the others.  On Opus 1, there are 3 separate styles: neo-classical, progressive and dramatic.  Speaking only of Opus 1, from the progressive style I really like Exploration as a whole, the main solos in Modes of Expression and the 7/8 meter / C# minor parts of On the Brink.  From the neo-classical style, I like Homage a lot.  From the dramatic style, Lydian Speaks and Queen of Me are closest to me.  Opus 2 is even stronger and the music is even better, so picking a favorite is impossible at this point.  

Mike Walsh:  I really like Behold on the new record as my favorite piece so far.

5. Is your new album Opus 2 going to be in the same style as Opus 1?

Tom Hess: The styles will be the same, progressive, neo-classical and dramatic, but every element of the music are superior on Opus 2.  The virtuosity is much higher, the complexity is higher, the level of passion and expression are also higher.

Mike Walsh:  Opus 2 will be the same in the sense that it will have the same elements of neo classical, progressive and dramatic music. This album has more of the above than Opus 1. We feel we have found and expanded our sound.

6. By the way, how did you four meet each other?

Tom Hess:  Scott and I met when our parents brought Scott home from the hospital (after he was born).  Mark was a guitar student of mine from 1993-1998, Mark later earned his music degree from Berklee College of Music and I asked him to join the band then.  Mike and I met at Harper college where he and I were both studying music there.  

7. Why neo-classical? What is so special in the style that attracted you?

Tom Hess:  It is superior to most other styles, the level of virtuosity needed to play in this style is very high and that attracted me at a young age.  The counterpoint. I love that it is based a lot on music theories that go back several centuries.  One can express things in this style that are not as easily expressed in others.  Its one of the only styles that can sound good without vocals. Most importantly I love the sound.

8. Don't you think that the neo-classical style have already passed its peak (end 80-s, early 90-s) and now audience loses the interest to it more and more?

Tom Hess:  This style has passed its prime in the US, but in other countries (like Japan) it is as strong as ever and our Opus 1 has sold in 26 countries around the world.  It doesn't matter to me how popular this style is.  I play in this style (and the progressive and dramatic styles) because this is what I want to do.  Of course it is ideal for more people to like these styles but we are not influenced by this.  

Mark Carozza:  Pretty much every genre in music goes through phases of popularity and unpopularity.  Eventually the neoclassical stuff should gain a bigger audience here in the US.  Like Tom, I don't really care if it's popular or not.  As a musician I respect the level of playing this style requires, and enjoy the challenge.

Mike Walsh:  Hess is not just a neo-classical sound like most of the bands that have come out in the past. We are a new breed of neo-classical that also includes the progressive and dramatic styles. Which I believe will become more popular as time moves on.

9. Is it important for you and your musical preferences that neoclassical guitar players do not sell so many tickets to their concerts as before?

Tom Hess:  I think all these kinds of players would like to receive the respect, recognition and popularity they deserve and it is sad that it is a struggle to do this as a full time job, but its still worth it to do what you want to do.

10. Whom do you consider the most technical guitar player?

Tom Hess:  If you are asking who do I think has the greatest technique and virtuosity it comes down to these two guys:  George Bellas and Michael Angelo.

Mike Walsh:  Michael Angelo and George Bellas are by far the two most impressive players on this planet.

Mark Carozza:  I think Joe Stump deserves mention also.

11. Where do you find your inspiration? What is it, inspiration? Do you need it for composing or playing, or making music is like a work, and it should be done?

Mark Carozza:  I never find myself feeling inspired necessarily.  There are just emotional states that are easier for me to play and write in.  Sometimes when I'm just not in the right mood things don't come out as well.

Tom Hess:  The first part of your question I answered in question 2 above the only other things I should add are my trips to Europe.  I wrote a lot of Opus 2 during my time in Krakow (Poland) during the summers of 2001, 1999 and 1998.  The environment there is much better suited to me for composing than it is here (in the United States).  Sitting in the courtyard of Wawel (Krakow's Royal castle) or overlooking the awe-inspiring valley from the bedroom window of my wife's old house is just a magical place to be for me.  These are such Romantic (in the 19th century era - sense of the word) and Idealistic places to me and feeling the inspiration flow is a wonderful thing.  
 I suppose inspiration means different things to different people.  For me, however, Inspiration is the psychological vehicle that transcends myself (my inner emotions, thoughts and ideals) into a musical existence.   I do heavily rely on inspiration to express myself in music.  

12. What do you do when you're stuck with a good idea, when you don't know how to develop it to the finished song?

Mike Walsh:  I record things on a digital 8 track recorder or use a hand held recorder to keep those ideas from getting lost. If I cannot finish the song I will try to improvise over the parts or use a set of lyrics to try to inspire me to see a new way to end it.

Tom Hess:  Most of the time, I eventually can make things work the way I want them to, but it often takes hundreds or thousands of hours to complete the writing of just one 5 minute piece.  That's why it took 3 years to write Opus 1 and another 3 years to compose Opus 2.  I often have a really hard time deciding between which note to use next, or which key to modulate to next or how I want to get there, etc.  There are always so many options in every situation that makes deciding which one to choose so difficult.  I generally can finish what I start, but once in while I have to abandon a piece.  For Opus 2, I painted myself in a corner on a piece and couldn't resolve the compositional problems I was having to my satisfaction, so I dissected the parts of it and used some of them in another piece on Opus 2 called Through The Trials.  The best way to resolve these problems is to have lots of different ways of approaching the compositional process as I discussed in my response to your question number 3.

13. Where did you find the most grateful audience?
Tom Hess:  Japan!

14. Do you improvise a lot on your concerts?

Tom Hess:  Not as much as I used to.  The music is complex now and there is so much going on musically that there is less room for it.  I would like to get back to doing that more though in the future.

Mike Walsh:  I improvise very little live due to the fact that I spent hours trying to express myself on the record.  I think that sometimes improving live is a necessary part of being a guitar player, but for the most part, I like to play what you hear on the record.

15. Does your improvisation or composing process depend on your location, surrounding, weather?

Tom Hess:  Definitely!  I compose better music (and in greater quantity) during my times in Europe.  

Mark Carozza:  Like I mentioned about inspiration, it depends more on my state of mind.

16. How to find a label? Actually, would you tell some words about Tom Hess as a businessman? How do you promote yourself?

Tom Hess:  We released Opus 1 ourselves and are doing the same for Opus 2, has been a great help to us and our distributor in Japan has also sold a lot of CDs for us.  For any other players out there who want advice on this matter, reads some marketing books.  I read a really great book called Permission Marketing by Seth Godin published by Simon and Shuster.  Read that book, it's also available on cassette tape.  All excellent players should be on 

17. What is your attitude to the national musical magazines, TV programs, press? Do they help to the musicians who are not stars yet?

Mike Walsh:  There are plenty of good press, and music magazines that are out there. I believe if you have talent, they will help you out. But you have to go to them first, especially now how the music industry is here in the states. Guitar music is not as popular as it used to be so you have to work hard to get noticed.

Tom Hess: I disagree.  The big ones are really bad, the small magazines and web sites (like yours) are the best help for high quality players.

18. How much time do you spend promoting you and your band? Does it harm the musical, creative aspect of your live?

Tom Hess: 5-10 hours a week and yes it does put a strain on the creative process because it takes away the time.

19. How did you record your Opus 1?

Tom Hess:  We spent 1 year recording Opus 1 we did it track by track.

20. Would you please explain to us how you organize gigs for your band? What is the first step? Do you call somebody? And then what happens after that?

Tom Hess:  I really hate this part of the music business.  I generally take care of the bookings, but sometimes booking agents contact us to do shows.  Considering how unpopular our style of music, it really isn't that hard to get gigs here, getting paid a lot of money is much harder.

21. You wrote a great article "Choosing a teacher". Would you tell more about Tom Hess as a teacher? How many students do you have at this time? Do you enjoy teaching?

Tom Hess:  I teach private lessons at my home studio, but it is by audition only now, and there is a waiting list to get into the program.  I am still accepting students from all over the world into my Online Guitar Lessons Courses.  Most of my students do not live near me and I teach those students through the mail via my correspondence music lessons program.  I currently have students from all over the United States and in 14 other countries throughout the world.  It is really important to me that my students reach their goals, I teach in a way that puts the goals of the students first and we work together to accomplish this.  I have had many fine students over the years that have become really excellent players and teachers.  I really like teaching most when the student is really serious about learning and becoming better as a musician.  

22. Do you try to establish personal contact with a student? Is it important for a teacher and student to become friends or can it sometimes damage the learning process?

Tom Hess:  Generally I think it's good to be personal with students (if the student wants to be personal), but I have so many students that it is impossible to do social things as friends with all of them, there are just too many.  Certainly the students I have had for the longest time I am much closer to than newer students.  

Mike Walsh:  I believe that teaching is a combination of being a mentor, and a friend. If your not personally involved with your students, they might think that your not concerned about helping them succeed and reach their goals. We are music teachers, not psychiatrists or school teachers so we can afford to be more personally involved and not have a tight professional barrier between us.

23. Do you maintain contacts with your former students?

Mike Walsh:  I have a few older students who I let know about shows and other music news.
Tom Hess:  Yes.  All three of the bass players that have played in the Hess band were former students of mine.  I am in touch with lots of former students, many of them are pursuing careers in music today as guitar players or guitar teachers or as music students in Universities and I am always helping them when and how that I can.

24. Would you share with us any secretes or discoveries that you've made? I mean, in techniques, modes, theory, or just general in life? Do you have a credo?

Tom Hess:  I don't know if I would label any of this as secret since these ideas are available to anyone, but I can offer some words.  On technique, number 1 idea is this:  Your picking hand is far more important than your fretting hand, so many players focus on the fretting hand and then cannot understand why their technique is not as good as it could be.  
 On musicianship: Years ago my primary goal was to be a virtuoso guitarist.  I studied guitar virtuosity intensely with George Bellas for 5 years (and with several other teachers before that).   Today, I see myself more as a composer than as a guitarist.  While I still work hard to maintain my guitar abilities, I am more focused on the composition of the music than on playing it, although I still play it of course.  I would like to see more people, who want to become virtuoso guitarists, to also strive to become virtuoso composers.  Self expression, in my opinion, should always be the first priority.

25. Name, please, some instrumental guitar songs (written by other musicians), that you like the most.

Mark Carozza:  

Joe Stump:  Wrecking Machine
Tony MacAlpine:  Oversea Evolution

Tom Hess:

Jason Becker: Altitudes
George Bellas:  Everlasting
Yngwie Malmsteen: Far Beyond the Sun
Dream Theater: Erotimania
Marty Freidman: Jewel
Michael Angelo: No Boundaries

Mike Walsh:  Steve Vai's Passion and Warfare is filled with tons of great tunes.

26. Does a computer play an important role in your life as a musician?

Tom Hess: Yes, but more on the business side and less on the creative side.

27. Do you think that there are any peaks in music that should be conquered?

Tom Hess: Yes, but not universally. It should be different for every person.  

28. If you were not Tom Hess, what would you ask Tom Hess?

Tom Hess:  Why do you compose, record and perform your original music?

Mike Walsh:  Is it true that Mike Walsh taught you everything you know when you were in college together? (LOL!)

29. Do you have a dream?

Tom Hess:  Yes, many dreams woven into one.  I am doing many aspects of the dream already, my only real obstacles are financial and time.  Most everything else is in place already, other obstacles do exist but are much easier to manage.

30. Is it your first interview to the Russian audience?

Tom Hess: Yes and we wish for more exposure in your country.  We are also seeking distribution there.

Mike Walsh:  This is our first interview with the Russian audience and we are very excited to have this opportunity. Hopefully we will see you all some day soon at a Hess show.

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