by Kate Smith - February 2001
Instrumental guitar music has got quite a shot in the arm over recent years with a resurgence of rock musicians who are musicians first, rock stars second. The success of such guitar monsters as Steve Vai, Gary Hoey and Joe Satriani didn't hurt, but the smaller, as yet undiscovered bands out there have been as responsible for the continuing popularity of hard rock/heavy metal as have the superstars.
Hess is one of those bands. Featuring master musicianship, amazing song-writing ability and a tight musical camaraderie, HESS has the guts, the brains and the determination to do what it takes to succeed.
We caught up with the Tom Hess, Scott Hess and Mike Walsh recently to discuss their past, their present, their future - and their new CD, "Opus 1."
Rough Edge: What got you interested in playing guitar?
Tom Hess: When I was young, I listened to Def Leppard albums a lot: "On Through the Night," "High and Dry," and "Pyromania." Hearing that really made me want to either play guitar or sing. It didn't take long for me to realize that I couldn't sing well so it was an easy choice.
Mike Walsh: I was in eighth grade and had heard Metallica's "And Justice For All," I was hooked. I thought it was the coolest sounding album (still do for Metallica). I used to play to that album and not even know what I was doing, I was just strumming the strings.
Rough Edge: For those who haven't heard it yet, how would you describe "Opus 1"?
Mike Walsh: A new breed of instrumental guitar incorporating neoclassicism with progressive rhythms. The songs are theory structured and are not just a collection of cool riffs that just happened to sound good together.
Tom Hess: I would just add to Mike's description that there is more emotion on this album than one would find on a typical CD in this genre. If you haven't heard it yet, check it out here.
Rough Edge: How did you guys meet and put the band together?
Mike Walsh: I met Tom through the Harper College Music Program where we had the same interest in progressing guitar and our music. After we met, I auditioned for the band (on songs we do not even play anymore). I have been in the band since 1995.
Tom Hess: Well, Scott and I are brothers and, as Mike said, he and I met in College, where we both were majoring in music. I started hanging with Mike because he seemed to be really into studying/playing music. I was instantly impressed with his original and very exotic guitar style the first time that I heard him play. The old guitar player who was in the band at the time, Joe LaBanco (now the guitarist for Fretfire) moved out of state, so we asked Mike to join the band. There was an audition, but I already knew that we wanted Mike before that. We didn't even want to audition anyone else.
Rough Edge: Are you signed with a label yet or is this an independent album?
Tom Hess: "Opus 1" is an independent album, although we are affiliated with Guitar Nine records and they have been great for/to us. We have had some recent interest from a small number of independent labels, but the offers haven't been substantial so far.
Mike Walsh: We are doing it all ourselves for now and hopefully we'll get more distribution and promotional support from a label. But, we really do not need a label to help us record our material.
Rough Edge: What makes you most passionate about music?
Scott Hess: The challenge of mastering your own instrument.
Mike Walsh: Writing material that, when you hear it, makes your stomach drop. It gets addictive and is something you strive to write for every song, but sometimes do not always get.
Tom Hess: In my view, when it comes to expression, music is the pinnacle of all the art forms. The feeling I get when writing/improvising/playing my own music is far beyond words.
Rough Edge: What inspired you to get into music?
Scott Hess: Listening to Metallica in '85 made me dream about it. But it wasn't until Tom joined his first band, and I would watch them practice at our house, then I knew I wanted to pursue that dream.
Mike Walsh: The fact that nothing else made me feel as satisfied doing it and the ability to do the things I wanted with my musical playing, and at times, my writing.
Tom Hess: The feeling.
Rough Edge: What's the greatest satisfaction you get out of playing?
Mike Walsh: Hearing the melodies and watching my fingers actually do those things that I only dreamed of doing when I was 14.
Tom Hess: Mike summed it up pretty good.
Scott Hess: Being on stage knowing that the crowd wants to hear what we have to offer and then strive to exceed their expectations!
Rough Edge: What are some of your influences?
Tom Hess: I have had lots of influences, but the most substantial ones are: Yngwie Malmsteen, George Bellas, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Andy LaRocque (from King Diamond), King Diamond, Dream Theater, Fabio Lione (from Rhapsody), Gustav Mahler, J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms and Fryderyk Chopin.
Mike Walsh: Late 80's Metallica, Dream Theater and all other great guitar players.
Scott Hess: Lars Ulrich, Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Static-X, Pantera, Megadeth.
Rough Edge: Will you be going on tour to promote the album?
Mike Walsh: Of course, we will try to play as many shows as possible to increase our following and album sales.
Rough Edge: What words of advice would you give to aspiring musicians and bands?
Mike Walsh: Get lessons with a great teacher that is doing the things you want to accomplish. For your band, do as many little things that are not associated with playing and writing but are aimed to keep your band moving forward. For example, building a web site, doing a low budget demo to pass out, playing gigs with other bands that have a similar fan base, and get into as many popular clubs as possible.
Scott Hess: Don't be a copy of someone else, master your instrument as best you can, and should you gain success ... don't get an ego! Don't get on stage just to be a "Rock Star", get on stage and offer your fans something elite and passionate, then you will gain respect.
Tom Hess: I agree with what Mike and Scott said. I think studying music seriously at a college or university would help tremendously. Stay focused! Study marketing and music business (you can do this at schools) Make sure that you are in it for the right reasons and surround yourself with others that are too. Get rid of people in your band who drag the rest of the band down (no matter how good he/she is). The most critical qualities that I believe everyone who wants to do this should have are what I call the Three P's: Perseverance, Patience and Passion.
Rough Edge: Do you have any projects planned for the future?
Tom Hess: "Opus 2," "Opus 3," "Opus 4," "Opus 5," etc.
Mike Walsh: I personally have two other projects that I am writing for aside from Hess. I write for SAGE, a hard rock female fronted band and Lunar Eclipse, a progressive metal band that I sing, play guitar and write in.
Rough Edge: Any last words?
Mike Walsh: I feel Hess will make great leaps in the instrumental guitar world in popularity and respect. Our new album will continue the classical/progressive edge were I feel we will start to see big gains in our writing and how others around the world view our band as a leader in pushing this style to a new height. I look forward to proving all the venue/club owners wrong that no one will listen to a band without a singer.
Tom Hess: I would like to thank all of our fans and supporters from the various countries around the world. Your support just makes us stronger and more determined to do bigger and greater things in the future.
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