Shreddzone (USA)

1. Give us some background and personal history about yourself. (Where you currently reside, if possible students would like to contact you)
Tom Hess: I have lived in the Chicago suburban area my entire life. I am soon moving to Lake in the Hills, Illinois (another suburb of Chicago). I have been teaching guitar/music since 1990. I currently teach train and mentor musicians from all over the world to become better guitar players. 

2. When did you pick up guitar and how did you get interested in it?

Tom Hess: When I was 10 or 11 years old, 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. I couldn't sing well so guitar was my desire.  It took awhile to convince my parents that I really wanted to play. I bought my first guitar on January 31, 1986.

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.

Mark Carozza: I started playing when I was around nine or ten. I was visiting some relatives, and one of my cousins who had recently started playing guitar played some Pink Floyd stuff for my brother and I. When we got back from the trip I asked my parents if I could take some guitar lessons.

3. What drove you to become the player you have become today?

Mike Walsh: When I started playing, all the music I listened to was too hard for any beginner to play. I liked Metallica's (And Justice For All) and Megadeth's (Rust In Peace). These are not CD's you give a 1st year player and say, learn these albums note for note. I did not know that these were not practical songs and solos to play as a beginner, so when you play 6 to 8 hours a day for 2 years trying to sound exactly like those albums and nail the solos dead on, you get good really fast. After you learn how to play a whole song with the CD and the solos, it becomes addictive and you need more and more to suppress the hunger. So, then I moved on to Steve Vai and Dream Theater, and that choked me up for a long time.

Mark Carozza: I just enjoy playing. I can't think of anything that really drove me. I think the fact that I was into metal really helped with my technique because it was more technically challenging than a lot of the more mainstream styles.

Tom Hess: I could write a book answering this one question, but I won't so here is the very short version. For me, most of the driving force to play well in the early days was related to how cool I thought the electric guitar sounded. When my musical skills progressed more seriously in high school, I was able to play things on guitar that affected me emotionally. There was a girl in high school that I really liked a lot, she often came to hear me play and I discovered that I could affect her emotionally with my improvising, this was probably the most important event that led to my desire to become a better musician. As far as my desire to become a high-caliber player, Yngwie inspired me to improve my technique. Later, other players like: Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, George Bellas, Dream Theater and Andy LaRoque inspired me further. I took lessons from George Bellas for 5 years (1993-1998) and we became good friends, he was always encouraging me and inspiring me to strive for perfection in my playing, improvising and composing. I owe a lot to him, the rest of many great teachers that Ive had and all those mentioned above.

4. Name some of the biggest influences on your playing? Who where the ones early on that kicked you butt?

Tom Hess: Early on it was, Def Leppard, Metallica (1984-1988) and Iron Maiden. I have had lots of influences since then, 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 (he has been my most important musical influence from 1995 - present).

Mike Walsh: Late 80's Metallica, Dream Theater and all other great guitar players.

Mark Carozza: Early on I was into Pink Floyd and classic rock, then I got into heavy stuff like Metallica and later Pantera. One of the biggest influences on my soloing style is John Petrucci, although I don't really think I sound like him.

5. Who are some of your favorite bands?

Mike Walsh: I will just go with more recent artists, Dream Theater, Tool, and Nuno Bettencourt's solo works. Unfortunately for me, these types of questions are hard considering that I really do not buy CDs anymore and only hear new artists from students and the radio.

Tom Hess: Yngwie Malmsteen, George Bellas, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, King Diamond, Dream Theater, Rhapsody, Symphony X, old Iron Maiden, early 1990's Megadeth.

Mark Carozza: Like I said, my early favorites were Pink Floyd, Metallica, and Pantera. Some more recent favorites are Dream Theater, Primus, and Nine Inch Nails.

6. How did you form Hess and how long has the band been together?

Tom Hess: Tom Hess: Scott and I originally formed the band in 1995 under the name, Gothic Empire.

The original line-up was this:
Scott Hess ~ Percussion
Tom Hess ~ Guitar
Joe LaBanco ~ Guitar
Chuck Hamilton ~ Bass

In 1996, Chuck left the band to tour North America with Ted Nugent and Bad Company in the T.D. Clark band. Joe also left the band at the same time to form his own project called Fretfire (which Chuck later joined).

In 1996, I was a music student at William Rainey Harper college and it was there that I met Mike Walsh, we were in the same music theory, aural skills, piano and music literature classes as well as the classical guitar ensemble. Mike was really into learning as much as possible and one day we got together at Mike's house to jam for the first time. The first time that I heard him play electric guitar I knew that I wanted him to be the band's new guitarist. There was no need to audition anyone else. At the same time, I had asked one of my long time guitar students, Dan Massa to play bass in the band. In the fall of 1996, my brother left the band because he was transferring to the University of Illinois (which was 3 hours away from the rest of the band). It took 8 months and 40+ phone interviews and auditions to finally find the right guy to be the new drummer, that guy was Chris Dowgun. Chris instantly impressed us with his highly intricate style. In September of 1997, Dan left the band as me moved to Florida. Chris recorded the percussion on Opus 1 and then in January of 2000, he left the band to pursue his rock-musical-comedy projects. Scott had just graduated from the University and rejoined the band right away. I should also note that band name was changed to Hess in 1998. Hess did not have a bass player from September 1998 until May of 2001. All of our live shows were played with the bass and keyboard parts prerecorded on DAT tape. For the recording of Opus 1, I played the bass lines and the keyboard parts were played or sometimes sequenced by me. May of 2001 we added a bass player to our line up. We got Mark Carozza, a Berklee school of music graduate and a former student and friend of mine going back to 1993. We are very excited about having Mark in the band!

7. How would you describe the difference between Mike's lead playing and Tom's lead playing?

Mike Walsh: The main difference between Tom and I is that I play with more hammer ons and pull offs, I try to go for a more slurred legato saxophone technique, where Tom picks most of his notes and I pick about half, if not less at times. I really like sliding in and out of notes and doing slurred bends with out of scale notes. It gives my sound a little more exotic taste and really makes the fingerings tricky at times.

Tom Hess: Mike's style is so original that it is sometimes hard to describe. His playing is very exotic and you never know what he will improvise next. There are traces of other players in his playing but he really is one-of-a-kind. Mike's legato technique is part of what makes up his style, but I think it's his unusual melodic phrasing that sounds so original. People often hear him and ask, What the hell did he just do and how did he do it?! I have been told that my playing sounds like a cross between various different players with a dramatic feel.

8. I have a copy of your disc Opus 1,  can you describe what listeners will get, if this were a sales pitch?

Tom Hess: Opus 1 is a combination of three styles: Progressive Rock, Neo-Classical metal and and highly dramatic art music. The fusion of these styles in one CD is very unusual and is a new genre of high-caliber music.

9. What can a listener expect, when listening to your new Opus 1 CD and describe the styles you use?

Tom Hess: My reply to the previous question applies to this one as well. This is not your typical instrumental guitar CD, the combination of the different stylistic elements makes the Hess sound unique.

10. What other works are you on? (Albums or compilations)

Tom Hess: Guitars at an Exhibition ~ Volume 1. Mike is also on that CD with a song that he wrote.

11. Have you had any formal training? If so, who where and how long.

Mike Walsh: When I started playing, I took lessons for about a year and a half at the local music shop down the road. Then, I got into a bad car accident and stopped the next week. I pursued the guitar myself using common sense on technique issues and having subscriptions to both Guitar School and Guitar World for about 1 year. I then took lessons again only for classical guitar from Steve Suvada at Harper College. And, as I moved on to finish my music education degree at Elmhurst College, Steve also taught classical lessons there. So for me, my largest student studies have come from the classical guitar, not a shredder or jazz instructor. I took lessons with Dave Uhrich for only about a year, but Dave was very busy that year and I had about 15 lessons through the school with him.

Tom Hess: I started with several private guitar teachers in the Chicago area when I was a teenager. The first teacher who really introduced me to great guitar players was a guy named Randy Pierce, I studied with him from 1987-1989. I later searched for a great professional teacher and found an amazing player, teacher and friend, Jack Wilson. He helped me a lot and we are good friends today. I studied guitar with Jack Wilson from 1992-1994. From 1993-1998, I studied with the great virtuoso guitar master, George Bellas. George inspired me very much and helped me to refine my technique, improvising, composing and general musicianship. My formal training didn't really start until 1994, I attended William Rainey Harper College starting in 1994. I majored in music theory and studied classical guitar there. After graduating from there, I transferred to Roosevelt University, in Chicago, as a classical music composition major (1997-2000). Both of these schools gave me the musical depth that I needed. What I learned from my private, college and university teachers/professors is priceless to me.

Mark Carozza: I went to Berklee College of Music, and I'm close to earning a degree in professional music. I studied with Joe Stump and Jon Finn.

12. I read that Tom has studied with George Bellas, how did that affect you as a musician, and your playing?

Tom Hess: Studying with George affected my musicianship a great deal. A learned a lot from George that would be almost impossible to learn anywhere else. I feel very fortunate to study with one of the greatest electric guitar virtuosos/composers of all time. George was a great source of inspiration and encouragement. Mark also studied with George for a while before attending Berklee School of Music.

13. Your guitar playing is simply amazing, screaming notes, harmonies, arpeggios, and classical feeling. How did you get to the level that you're currently at?

Tom Hess: Lots of practice and an intense desire to become as good of a musician as I can be. Having some truly great teachers over the years has helped a great deal.

14. What did you do to get your arpeggios so clean and fast?

Tom Hess: Practice everyday. I started out slowly to get them clean first, then I worked on the speed, doing it in that order is important. I keep my right hand thumb in contact with the strings that are adjacent to where my pick is at all times.

15. What is your favorite part of your playing style?

Mark Carozza: I like to think that I play with more emotion than the average guitarist/bassist.

Mike Walsh: The fact that at times, I can hear the different musical instruments I teach come out in my playing. I love the slurring wind instruments have and bends that both guitar and woodwind can produce. I like to hear solo's that sound effortless and very complimentary to the background music. I hope that those qualities are coming out in my playing, I have spent some time humming along to music and recreating it on my guitar.

Tom Hess: I don't have one favorite aspect.

16. Favorite Scale or Mode?

Tom Hess: The 5th mode of Melodic Minor, Lydian, Harmonic Minor, Aeolian, Ionian and Hirojoshi (an oriental pentatonic scale).

Mike Walsh: I usually do not play with a mind frame of staying in a mode or scale. I think it is the notes that are not in the scale that sound cool when done right, and that means actually knowing the scale you should be in to pull it off. I prefer to play over the chords more, meaning, if we are soloing and the riff is based off of Fm, I will slip around the chord and base my notes on the triad of the chord.. I will bend into the root, 3rd or 5th of the chords tones and then scale away or sustain on something in or around the chord. I am totally against mode SHAPES when soloing, I prefer to solo by humming and theory than with my hands and shapes. Though at times, your hands do things your mind never would have thought of, so I try to keep it balanced.

17. Favorite key?

Tom Hess: I don't have a favorite key.

18. Favorite trick, lick or both? Describe or TAB it if you like (optional).

Tom Hess: I don't think of playing as a collection of licks or tricks so I can't really answer this question.

Mike Walsh: In order to answer that question you would need either licks that are passed down to you from others, or, something you saw or noticed was a big part of another players technique that you use. This is the reason why I stopped buying and figuring out songs for my playing to improve, you end up stealing or emulating someone else's style.. I realize you can not always do something completely original, but there comes a point where the melodies are more important than the pyrotechnics and tricks. Although, I do like bending out of scale notes into scale notes, so does that answer your question?

19. Recommended playing technique:

Tom Hess: I am a firm believer in directional picking (also known as economy picking and inside picking).

Mike Walsh: Playing with efficiency ( small movements ), muting, and using your right palm on the bridge as a guide. You need to know many more to get the one technique to sound good. You can not hear the sweep if the E, A, D, and then fretted notes are all sustaining while your sweeping, so work on all of them.

20. Suggested theory books or readings:

Tom Hess:

  • Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene
  • Tonal Music - Part 1 by Paul O. Harder
  • Tonal Music - Part 2 by Paul O. Harder
  • Counterpoint in the Style of J.S. Bach by Thomas Benjamin
  • Counterpoint by Walter Piston
  • Harmony by Walter Piston

21. What advice can you give to ammeter and beginner players? Practicing tips, etc.
Tom Hess: Find a great teacher, listen to high-caliber players in the style you're into and in the styles you are not into, study theory, develop your ear and improvising. Write music a lot. Don't try to be overly diverse or try to play all styles of music. Practice 7 days a week for a minimum of 1 hour but a maximum of 3 hours (of actual playing time) per day. Find out what inspires you and then surround yourself with a ton of it!

22. Recommend any CD's for our readers to check out?

Tom Hess: There are lots of CDs but here are the ones that I encourage my students to buy (in no particular order):

     Yngwie Malmsteen:
             Rising Force
             Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra
     George Bellas:
             Turn of the Millennium
             Mind over Matter
     Jason Becker:
             Perpetual Burn
     Marty Friedman:
     Dream Theater:
             Images and Words
     King Diamond (for Andy LaRoque's solos):
             The Eye
     Frederic Chopin (1810-1849):
             24 Preludes, Opus 28
             Piano Concerto in Em, Opus 11
     J.S. Bach (1685-1750):
             Violin concerto in Am
             Concerto for two violins in Dm
     Johannes Brahms:
             A German Requiem

Mike Walsh: Definitely listen to all of those, and add these to round it off, Anything with Steve Vai's name on it. Blues Saraceno, Plaid, for you rock, blues, country, jazz guys. Michael Angelo, No Boundaries, (for inhuman shredding) Racer x, (Paul Gilbert at his finest) many more, I just can not think of all of them.

23. What guitars do you use and why? Have you made any upgrades, modifications, or had custom work done on them? (Pickups, wiring, etc)

Tom Hess: Your readers can get a complete list of gear at our website: go the band member profile section and you can view it all, as well as other info. In general, I like a Floyd Rose (although I did not use one on Opus 1), Carvin V220 Guitars, Seymour Duncan pickups (Humbuckers!), 24 frets, ebony or rosewood fingerboards.

24. What gear are you currently using?

Tom Hess: Carvin V220 guitars with Seymour Duncan Metal Live Wire pickups, some Gibson Flying V№s and a Yamaha guitar with a Floyd Rose and Seymour Duncan pickups. For Distortion I use a Hafler T3 and a Sansamp, then into a BBE 462, a Digitech TSR 24S and into a MosValve Tubeworks Power amp which powers two 4x12 cabs with 75 watt Celestian speakers.

25. What do you think of the present music scene in the US?

Mark Carozza: I'm pretty sick of all the bands on the radio trying to play metal. They write simple pop tunes, and flip on a heavy distortion to try and sound all mean. If the kids heard some real metal, these bands wouldn't be around much longer.

Tom Hess: I think that it's slightly better than it was in the 1990s but the current climate is still far from good for high-caliber music.. We all live in the Chicago area, but we sell more CDs outside the U.S. Hopefully, things will improve here before too long.

Mike Walsh: I think you are starting to see a comeback on players, slowly, but it is starting to happen. If Tool can sell 500,000 copies in the opening week with a 7 minute single, the people must be seeing through the 3 minute pop punk songs. And the public only hears what the man wants him to. The problem with music today is the radio stations dictating what three minute master piece the public hears next. They are looking to smash a many songs in there 40 minutes of music per hour ( 20 minutes commercials). So, do you play 6 songs at 5 minutes each that are cool, or 10 songs that are 3 minutes so you can play more songs and hear more artists? Do not bother answering that question, IT ALREADY HAS BEEN!

26. Give us your feelings on the current state of instrumental and guitar driven music in the US or worldwide?

Tom Hess: It has been weak in the US since the beginning of the 1990s. The scene is much better overseas though and Opus 1 is stronger in foreign lands. The US is way too trendy.

Mike Walsh: Exactly, we are way too trendy, and if American radio wants it to come back it will. Otherwise, the stereotype is pretty thick right now and no one is willing to touch it until someone pulls off something incredible over here.

27. What are you currently up to? (Projects and other industry things. List websites also if applicable)

Tom Hess: We are beginning to rehearse the music for our next CD, Opus 2. Recording is scheduled to start later this year.

Some fun questions:

28. What other outside interests do you have? (Hobbies, passions)

Tom Hess: Traveling to Europe, genealogy, space exploration, 19th century music history. Collecting and reading books about F. Chopin.

Mike Walsh: I really got into hot rods the last 5 years. I own a 69 gto and a 87 grand national. With some of the time off I started a small website for guys to soup up their cars. I found items that are cheaper alternatives to the high dollar parts and offer the same performance and quality. It should be ready be the end of July.

Mark Carozza: I like to watch movies, and listen to as many different kinds of music as possible.

29. Favorite movies?

Mark Carozza: Happiness, Dark City, Heat

Tom Hess: As a kid, I grew up on and loved the Star Wars movies. Other movies I liked a lot are: What Dreams May Come, Gladiator, Immortal Beloved, Pearl Harbor, Contact.

30. Favorite actor and actress?

Tom Hess: Actors: old Clint Eastwood, Robert Dinero and Russell Crow..

31. Favorite food and drink?

Tom Hess: Steak Fajitas and Milk.

32. Favorite song?

Tom Hess: There are lots of great songs out there, I don't have one favorite rock song. I can tell you that my favorite collection of music is Chopin's Opus 28 (24 Preludes). (These being among my most favorite of the preludes: #1, #4, #6, #9, #15, #20 and #24).

33. Favorite Book?

Tom Hess: : I own over 30 books about Chopin's, life and music, it would have to be one of those books as well as my college music theory and counterpoint books.

34. What sports do you enjoy or take part in?

Mark Carozza: I like hockey, and I've been trying to learn some tricks on a skateboard.

Tom Hess: I used to play football when I was a kid, but I stopped playing soon after I began playing guitar so I could focus on music more..

35. Is your guitar playing, touring, recording your full time job, or do you do that along with other things to supplement your income?

Tom Hess: Along with playing, recording, composing, etc. I teach guitar lessons online, and I am a music career mentor so I am always very busy. I know that Mike and Mark teach a lot of students as well.

36. Favorite music related websites:

Mike Walsh: ( my other bands website )

Tom Hess:

37. Favorite Non-music related websites:

Tom Hess: NASA's site, genealogy sites.

38. Favorite Guitar Magazine:

Tom Hess: I don't really like the national guitar mags in the U.S. because they don't give high-caliber guitarists the coverage, and credit that they deserve, they all seem more interested in featuring bands like Limp Bisket, Korn, Blink 182, etc. There is a smaller guitar magazine in the New York area called Guitar2001 which is focused more on high-caliber music. We are fortunate to be in the most recent issue.
39. Can you share some words of wisdom?

Mark Carozza: Listen to as many different styles of music as possible.

Tom Hess: To whom? Musicians? Do what you really want to do and focus on that. Surround yourself with people and things that inspire you. Be a sponge and absorb as much info as you can regarding your goals. Listen to a lot of music. Practice your instrument 7 days a week. Write and improvise music. Have these three things: Passion, Perseverance and Patience and you will go far.

Mike Walsh: I could not have said it any better, unless I were to say it 1st.

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