February 20, 2004
Hi Tom, Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Congratulations to you and the band on the release of your second CD "OPUS 2".
1) You list Fryderyk Chopin as an influence. What is Chopin's influence on you?
Tom Hess: Chopin is an enormous influence for me. There are many aspects of music that are very influential for me. He was a master of tonal harmony and modulation. His phrases and melodies also are great. His use of rubato too, but above all it is his ability to express the most passionate side of himself that is greater than any other composer (alive or dead) in my opinion. When I listen to many of Chopin's pieces, I feel that I know him, that I know everything about his soul. It is as if all his emotions have transcended out of his heart, into music, and into me (and other people who really understand and love his music).
2) What effect have the following two musician's/composers/guitarists had on you.... a) Yngwie Malmsteen b) George Bellas
Tom Hess: I heard Yngwie when I was in high school and he blew me away. The style, the tone, the technique, the fire of his playing and his songs just grabbed me like no other player before him. Bellas was more of a direct influence because I know him personally and studied his music with him. George was different because I liked his compositions more and I personally think he is the greatest electric guitar virtuoso of all time.
3) When I listen to your playing I can "hear" the control/command you have of the guitar. It sounds like you OWN the notes. That's very rare in a lot of players. Did you spend a lot of time working on the often "neglected" aspects of guitar, like vibrato, bending, phrasing, etc....?
Tom Hess: Yes I did spend a lot of time on those issues. Music is self expression for me so every little nuance (phrasing, vibrato, etc.) is a big part of that.
4) You teach both locally and via correspondence.
a) How long have you been teaching?
Tom Hess: I've been teaching since 1989, professionally since 1991, and via correspondence since early 2002.
b) Roughly about how many students are you teaching right now?
Tom Hess: Total (private lessons and correspondence) I have several hundred students, but not all of them take a lesson each week, most of the correspondence students one big lesson a month.
c) Are you still accepting students?
Tom Hess: I am still accepting correspondence students. I am accepting students at my home studio, but it is by audition only now, only the most serious students are accepted there.
d) How can those who are interested in studying with you "sign up" for lessons?
5) How was it in the studio this time around compared to the OPUS 1 sessions?
Tom Hess: It took a lot longer because we never rehearsed the music for Opus 2 beforehand as a band. Opus 1 took a let less time because the band had already played those pieces live before we went into the studio. We also had a lot more money for Opus 2 so we could take more time. The final aspect is the music itself, Opus 2 is a lot more complex musically than Opus 1 was so it took longer.
a) Now that you came into the OPUS 2 sessions with a better understanding of recording techniques, did you spend a lot of time tweaking? Or was it, "Fire it up and go."
Tom Hess: We kept on improving things, we often rerecorded parts if we found a better tone later in the process. There are a few of Mike's solos that he recorded three separate times and a lot of the others he recorded twice. My tone was pretty much set from the beginning so I only had to record my parts once.
b) How much time do you give yourself and your band mates before you head into the studio to put things "on tape"?
Tom Hess: I wrote the music and gave everyone their parts (except where they had the freedom to improvise or write their own parts. Mark was actually the fastest in the studio, his parts were recorded quickly, Scott's part took longest on some tracks because they are so very very complex rhythmically. Mike's solos took time because he wrote them all and he took as much time as he needed to get them just right. I am slow because I am a perfectionist when it comes to phrasing, so I was always trying to get the best performances out of my self.
6) You mentioned that most of OPUS 1 and Opus 2 was written in Europe.
Tom Hess: A lot of the original sketches originated there, but most of the details were worked out at my home (Chicago area, USA).
a) Is there a certain place there that inspires you to write?
Tom Hess: Yes a very specific place in Krakow, Poland. At an old small desk which sits in front of a large set of windows that face south and overlook a beautiful valley. The room is the bedroom where my wife lived as a child until she was 21 years of age. The room and the view itself is not the source of inspiration (that is inside me in my memories, thoughts, emotions, etc.) but that room and that view is the best place for that inspiration to manifest into music.
b) Is it the people? Scenery?
Tom Hess: It is knowing that it is the view that my wife saw as a child and young adult everyday, every night. The view is great also.
7) What are your favorite tracks from OPUS 2?
Tom Hess: I can't really answer this because I like different tracks for very different reasons. From a personal view (not a musical one) these tracks are my favorites: 1. The Cynic, The Sad, And The Fallen 2. What Could Have Been...And What Is Not...
8) What's the hardest part of promoting an all instrumental band like HESS? Some high caliber players choose NOT to tour at all. Stating that financially it's just not worth it to tour.
Tom Hess: The biggest challenge is that I live in a country (USA) where instrumental, highly expressive, virtuoso music is not appreciated by 99.9% of the population. If I were living in Japan, it would be much easier - but I have no plans to move my home there.
a) Is there a big turn-out when you play live?
Tom Hess: That depends on what one considers to be a BIG turnout. The most people we have ever played for in one show was 1,100, but an audience is not typical for HESS at this time. 200 people is more realistic of the number of people we played for when doing shows for Opus 1. We have yet to play live for Opus 2, so we'll see how large the audience is when we do in a few months from now.
b) Are the audiences generally larger Stateside or Overseas?
Tom Hess: Chicago is the biggest market for us to play live, but we sell more cds in Japan than anywhere else.
9) Your brother Scott (drummer for HESS) seems like such a perfect fit for your style. One advantage is that he is your brother so he more than anyone else KNOWS what you want. He really completes the HESS sound.
Tom Hess: Yes. Scott knows what we wanted and is a very good match for the band.
10) Is there anything that you would like to say to your many fans and students?
Tom Hess: Thanks to all of you who have supported HESS over the years. And an extra special thanks to those who actually bought our CDs instead of copying it illegally over the internet or burned a copy from a friend.
Thanks to you Rommel and everyone at Angelo Guitars.