Metal Coven (Belgium)
by Ronny Elst
1. Who are the band members?
Mark Carozza - Bass Guitar
Mike Walsh - Lead Guitar
Scott Hess - Percussion
Tom Hess - Lead Guitar
2. Where can your fans hear and order the Hess CD, Opus 1?
Tom Hess: Here: Tom Hess Music.
3. When will the second Hess CD be finished, what will it be called and what will it sound like?
Tom Hess: : We are rehearsing new music for our second CD now. It will be entitled, Opus 2. Recording is scheduled to begin later this year. We are really excited about the new material. People can expect Opus 2 to be a more extreme version of Opus 1. The progressive pieces will be more progressive, the neo-classical pieces will be more classical (baroque) in style, due to the addition of more carefully composed contrapuntal lines. The virtuosic passages will be even more virtuosic and the heavy sections will be even heavier. The dramatic/emotional sections will be even more emotional. We aren't changing the Hess sound at all, we are simply taking it further in the same directions with Opus 2. The unique mixture of the elements I just listed is what made Opus 1 successful, so why change what works?
4. I know that you have played many concerts in the United States, will you guys be touring Europe to support Opus 2?
Tom Hess: There has been some talk about doing a small European tour. It is too early to go into details about this now because nothing has been confirmed yet, but it is very possible that we will be offered to be the supporting band for a much more famous guitarist (whose name I can’t discuss at this time at the request of his management).
5. How did Hess get its distribution deal with Michael Angelo's record company, M.A.C.E. music? And how did you guys get on Guitar Nine records?
Tom Hess: Michael Angelo actually approached me about the M.A.C.E. deal. He had heard our CD and told me that he liked it very much. He called me on the telephone and told me that he thought Mike and I are great players. I was speechless for a long time, I wasn’t expecting such a telephone call, distribution deal and compliment from him, after all, he is one of the greatest guitar virtuosos of all time. Michael has been very nice to us and we will probably be doing some concert dates with him here in the United States. For Guitar Nine, I sent a copy of Opus 1 along with a brief e-mail describing what Hess is all about to Dan M. (president of Guitar Nine Records) and he liked us so we signed the contract the next day. Guitar9 has been really great for us, it has dramatically increased our CD sales, especially outside the U.S., and has led to other opportunities for us.
6. What about Shrapnel Records or Leviathan Records? I am very surprised that you guys have not yet been signed by one of these labels, Hess should be signed to a label like that, if not a bigger one.
Tom Hess: George Bellas (Shrapnel recording artist) and I have discussed both of these labels and he had encouraged me to submit a CD to these companies, but I wanted to keep all of the rights to Opus 1, which is typically not possible with these companies. It is standard policy at Shrapnel Records for all their artists to surrender all of the music rights to Shrapnel’s president, Mike Varney. George’s contract is not very attractive and he had been trying to get out of his Shrapnel record deal. After Opus 2 is released, we will be shopping it around in search of the right deal for us. We didn’t send Opus 1 to any companies because we wanted to do the first one ourselves. Even though we didn’t send it anywhere (other than Guitar9, we did get some outside label interest, but no deal was substantial enough in our favor to go forward. We aren’t opposed to the possibility of signing with a label like Shrapnel, it's just something that has to be pursued very carefully in the future.
7. What happened to the drummer that played on Opus 1 and will your new drummer and bass player change the sound of Hess on Opus 2?
Tom Hess: Chris Dowgun left the band to pursue his own music comedy project. He has been replaced by my brother, Scott. Chris and Scott are both excellent drummers, but their percussion styles are very different because of their different musical backgrounds. Chris was a very versatile drummer with a jazz background and was more of a finesse drummer. Scott grew up with 1980’s Heavy Metal and he has the power, speed and refined double bass chops that Chris lacked. Obviously this change is going to affect the sound of Opus 2 to some extent, Scott’s drumming style will make Opus 2 stronger and more powerful. Having Mark in the band is also going to affect the sound, he brings his style and Berklee education to his bass parts. Another thing that has changed is that Mike will be using his 7 string guitars on Opus 2, while I will continue to use my 6 string guitars (Opus 1 had no 7 string guitars on it).
8. I understand that great guitar music (and great music in general) is not popular in the United States. You guys are all virtuosos, how does Hess cope with a music scene that is not very supportive of virtuoso music?
Tom Hess: It has not been easy, but our popularity and success has been growing steadily and we are going in the right direction. Our market is relatively small compared to the mainstream, so we are just focusing on our target market right now. Considering how small the guitar market is, we are doing quite well for an independent band.
9. This question is for Scott Hess (new Hess drummer) and Mark Carozza (new Hess bass player): What will you do to add to the Hess sound on Opus 2 and other future Hess CDs?
Mark Carozza:That's a tough question for me to answer. I'm just going to give it my best, and hope that my playing adds to the Hess sound. I've been checking with the guys as much as possible to find out if they like what I'm doing at practice, and I'm going to do the same when we record. I don't have much of an ego, so if Tom or anyone else doesn't like a part that I come up with I won't be offended if they tell me to try something else.
Scott Hess:: I would like to add more thunder to the drums. Find more creative beats that utilize double bass.
10. Also for Scott and Mark: What is it like playing in a band with two guitar virtuosos? Does your playing take a secondary role to the guitars or is it a primary instrumental playing also? (Albums or compilations)
Scott Hess: Sometimes it takes the pressure off because most people are focused on them. But sometimes it is the opposite because there is a certain level of playing that must be met. So I wouldn't say it is a secondary role, it's more like an alternate one.
Mark Carozza: I've been enjoying it a lot. It's cool to watch and listen to these guys play their butts off. I'm definitely not the featured player, but I don't really feel my playing takes a secondary role. I'm there to lay something interesting down and contribute to the overall sound so that Tom and Mike can go off over something that sounds good to them. It's easier to improvise over something you like, and I hope I can do my part to help the guys out.
11. How has your formal training and music college and university experience shaped your music abilities?
Mark Carozza: It helped my technique of course, but I'm more thankful for what it did for my ears and my taste. I'm better at hearing where phrases need to go, and what to do to resolve or answer them. I'm also more discerning now when I listen to music, and that translates into my playing. I'm really hard on myself, especially when it comes to playing with Hess. I'm playing with incredible musicians, so I need to step it up.
Tom Hess: I’ve had a lot of music training throughout the years and I am in debt to all of my teachers/professors for their intense and vast gift of knowledge and inspiration. Without them, I would be years behind where I am now. I wouldn't have the tools to compose, improvise and play at the level that I’m able to do these things now.
12. Will Hess always remain an instrumental band or will you guys add a singer to your lineup in the future?
Tom Hess: A difficult question to answer. In general, I’m perfectly content with writing instrumental music. I don’t like most singers that are out there, but I do really love some of them. I would be open to the idea of a singer if we could find an absolutely great, great one. We are not actively looking for a singer, but if the right person contacted us with his/her genuine interest in mind, we would give it serious consideration. This subject has recently come up among ourselves, but at this time, no plans to seek out a singer are in our immediate future. If we did find a great singer that we wanted to work with, it's possible that the Hess band could split into two separate bands: Hess may remain an instrumental band while a new band name would be created for the vocal band. Of coarse this is all just speculation at this point.
13. The Hess sound is very different from the other bands that are out there, does Hess consider to change the style or direction of it’s music?
Mike Walsh: The band feels like we found our sound, and change would be not necessary anymore. We have already changed our sound from years ago, this is way more to our liking and playing.
Tom Hess: Its impossible to predict what will happen in 5, 10, or 15 years, but in general I am very happy with the Hess sound stylistically and I don’t see any fundamental changes happening, I’m always seeking new ways to achieve the same result though and I want to take the sound further in the directions that we are going.
14. Why did you title your CDs Opus 1 and Opus 2? Why not use a word or phrase title instead?
Tom Hess: There was more than one reason. A title gives the listener a preconceived idea about what they can expect to hear with regards to style. Often times, even a good or accurate title is misinterpreted and leads to false, incomplete or inaccurate expectations. Removing the titles of all 12 tracks on the CD was considered prior to releasing Opus 1, but it was later decided to keep those original word or phrase titles. Using Opus numbers keeps things closer to the 19th century tradition (my favorite musical period).
15. I have read your influences on your web site. Who, if anyone do you listen to now for pleasure or inspiration or influence?
Tom Hess: : I still listen to a lot of the same music as I have for the last few years. As far as newer players or bands, Mike got me into Alice in Chains and I like them. Others include Symphony X and Vitalij Kuprij. I like Mike’s (Walsh) guitar style a lot and some of his phrasing ideas have found their way into my playing recently. Mike and I are still very different players but I think that it's natural to be influenced by the people who you have played with for years.
Scott Hess: : Static-X, Iron Maiden, Metallica respectively.
Mark Carozza: : A couple of bands I've been listening to a lot lately are Stretch Arm Strong and Jimmy Eat World. They're styles aren't even remotely close to Hess, but I like to listen to a bit of everything.
Mike Walsh: : For me, I really do not try to listen to players as motivation or influence of who is out there doing something I would like to sound like. Right now, I do not listen to much and really listen to more radio only because my car does not have a CD player.
16. Why does each of you play music?
Mark Carozza: Because I love it. I couldn't imagine my life without music. It's been a huge part of my life for over ten years, and I can't begin to explain how much it's done for me.
Tom Hess: For the same reasons why someone would write in a diary or journal. For self expression, self preservation, self understanding. Its a very selfish thing actually. At times, it can be a sort of secretly coded set of messages to someone or something else.
Scott Hess: Because it is such a poetic way of releasing your emotions.
Mike Walsh: I decided a long time ago that this is what was making me happy. It can be confusing in high school what you want to do with yourself, but when you spend all your free time playing and listening, you get a good idea of what drives you as a person and what will be fulfilling and challenging throughout your life. So, I decided to go to college to learn more about it to become more aware of myself and what was possible as a player.
17. Why does each of you play in the Hess band?
Tom Hess: This band gives me the freedom to express myself freely in 3 different styles at the same time. If I would not be a part of the this band, I would have to find three separate bands in three different styles to satisfy myself. I am only able to do exactly what I want to do in the Hess band. I’m very proud and honored to play with my brother, Mike and Mark, they are all great players who I have a ton of respect for and it's fun to play with them.
Mark Carozza: My main reason is for the fun of it, but it's also a good way for me to improve my playing. The tunes on Opus 1 are challenging, and Opus 2 is going to be even tougher. I'm really looking forward to playing on it.
Mike Walsh: Tom and I have known each other now for about 6 years. He was and is the most impressive player and writer out there. When I joined the band, the tunes were not that mature and did not reflect his or the bands ability. So, I would like to think that with my joining of the band I had some influence of moving into the new direction and pushing Tom to challenge himself and myself in writing only the best that he can. I liked the fact that the band was willing to listen to me and that it was improving throughout the years. The new stuff is even better and Tom will someday be looked on as the Mozart of the 3 coolest styles, Classical, Romantic, and Progressive. Oh, one more reason, I really like writing solos over his tunes.
Scott Hess: I love the music and I feel there is great potential.
18. If you could jam with anyone else who would it be?
Mike Walsh: Without a doubt, STEVE VAI. The guy is the most diverse soloist ever. He can do it all and I would love to get embarrassed in a jam session with him.
Mark Carozza: I'd have to say John Petrucci. He's got great chops, and he plays with a lot of feeling. That's a combination you don't hear very often. It's usually one or the other.
Scott Hess: Either Static-X or Iron Maiden.
Tom Hess: Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849). If you are taking only about people who are still alive then I would have to say, Andy LaRoque (from the King Diamond band), next would be Jason Becker or Marty Friedman (back at the end of the 1980’s). (I would have included George Bellas in the list, but I have already jammed with George many times.)