Empire Magazine

Renald Meinart, Germany, January 2004


1. After "Opus 1" now "Opus 2". I guess your third record will be titled "Opus 3". Why do you use such simple names for your records?

Tom Hess: It is for many reasons that I title the CDs by Opus number. Word titles of CDs could be misinterpreted, I don't want preconceived ideas in a listener's mind before he/she has heard the music. I had even considered not giving each track on the CDs word titles, I could have used a numbering system for that also, but I didn't take it that far. Another reason for using an Opus number is it implies that each track on the CD is part of the whole work, not just a collection of unrelated pieces that are on the same CD. Opus 1 and Opus 2 are concept albums and the music is related to the concepts. The titles Opus 1 and Opus 2 better serve that purpose compared to a word(s) title.

2. What about the single "Nexuses"? It's not the typical way releasing a single in this kind of music - and without a record deal?

Tom Hess: It makes no difference whether we are on a major label, an independent label or on our own label. The purpose of designating a single track to be the "single" of the album is to better control which track from the CD will be most often used for radio airplay. As you know from listening to the Opus 2 CD, our music is very dynamic and there are many moods, emotions, styles etc. on the CD. Because of these facts, some tracks from Opus 2 are a better representation of the "overall" HESS sound than other tracks may be. So when radio stations play a track from the Opus 2 CD, we want the listeners who might be unfamiliar with us to hear the track (or tracks) that best represent our overall sound/style. For those who may hear our music for the very first time via radio, "Nexuses" is probably the best track to use for representing the band. Of course one will not fully understand the depth of the Opus 2 CD by listening to only one track, but "Nexuses" is a good place to start. Opus 1 did receive a good amount of radio airplay on some specialized radio stations and internet radio stations in many countries, and I made the mistake of not designating a specific track to be the first single. What happened was radio stations just choose whatever track they wanted to play first and that was not the best way for us to be introduced to the world. Please don't misunderstand me, I don't necessarily think "Nexuses" is the best track on the CD, just the best representation of what we sound like overall.

3. Do you have a special relation to Poland?

Tom Hess: Yes, indirectly. I am an American and none of my ancestors were from Poland. However I married a woman from Krakow, Poland. She has a house there with a lot of land that is overlooking a beautiful valley. So we go there every summer (if we can). I have a desk there that is in front of the large windows. I can see the entire valley when composing. Poland, and Europe in general, is a great place for me. I am very inspired to compose there. The United States is very boring, there is very little history, no really old cathedrals to go to, no castles to visit. And where I live (near Chicago) the land is very flat with no hills or mountains, no valleys, etc. And when I am here in the USA, I am always so busy managing the HESS band, taking care of the label aspects (promotion and CD distribution, etc.), plus teaching music. When I go to Europe, I leave all of that behind and my only work is to compose without the stresses and busy schedule of normal life in America.

4. What about the symbol for infinity about Hess logo on the artwork?

Tom Hess: The infinity sign represents things that I don't really want to discuss in words, but is everywhere in the music I write.

5. Again no reactions from Shrapnel or Magna Carta or was it your intention to do a self produced release again?

Tom Hess: We are not signed with another record label because we don't want to be signed to a label at this point. That may change in the future, but right now, I actually enjoy the music business side of things and running my label. And besides, if you have ever seen the terms of a Shrapnel or Magna Carta contract, you might have a better understanding of why we don't want that. In this genre of music, it is possible to make more money on one's own label than it is on many labels.

6. Two guitar players in one band - is there sometimes a kind of competition?

Tom Hess: Never. Mike and I are a team, not rivals. Neither of us has an ego problem so their is no attitude or competitive feelings in the band. Our styles are quite different so it is fun to play together.

7. Why do you mention in the booklet who is playing the several parts of each song?

Tom Hess: Because our fans want to know who is who and have asked us about this after the Opus 1 CD. It's pretty easy to hear the difference of style and tone, but many people wouldn't know which one of us is the player of one style or the other. I remember listening to Cacophony and really wanting to know which player was which. I didn't know this until Jason Becker and Marty Freidman released their solo CDs, then I could hear things easily when listening to Cacophony again.

8. How does it come to the running order of the tracks?

Tom Hess: The track order for Opus 1 and Opus 2 was decided on two factors, the concept of the albums and by how the flow of the moods are from track to track. However for Opus 3 the track order was predetermined before I began composing a single musical note, the reason for this will be very obvious to all when the CD is finished.

9. Do you think about adding a keyboardist and / or a lead singer?

Tom Hess: A keyboard player wouldn't be able to play all of the orchestral lines on Opus 2, because he would need more than two hands to play all of the simultaneous parts. We may work with a keyboard player in the future, but there are no plans to look for a keyboard player now. As far as a singer goes, we might work with a singer in the future, but probably not with the HESS band, it would more likely be a separate project.

10. There are some moments on the new record when I think these are keyboard sounds.

Tom Hess: That is because some of the sounds are keyboard sounds and some aren't. Both methods sound good in their own way.

11. How would you describe the development between the new record and the record before?

Tom Hess: Musically, Opus 1 established the musical direction and styles for the HESS sound. Opus 2 is basically a continuation of that sound, but slightly evolved and simply better in every way. It is the next logical step.

12. What do you think about exchanging music as mp3 via the internet? A financial problem for independent artists in the same way as for major record companies?

Tom Hess: I think every artist (or label) should have the right to decide that for himself/herself/itself. I personally do not like my music to be stolen by people who are making illegal (and immoral) unauthorized copies of it. If another band doesn't care about their music being stolen, that is their right to allow it to happen or not. I am strongly opposed to it with the HESS music.

13. Is each member of the band absolutely satisfied with each song of the record?

Tom Hess: In the context of the expressive goals of the music, I think so, yes. I suppose if they were not happy with the music they would probably have quit the band.

14. How much is your kind of writing songs influenced by what people expect?

Tom Hess: None of it. Other people's expectations is not a factor. That is one of the benefits of releasing the CDs on my label versus another label. The only expectations that we are concerned about are our own.

15. Why did you decide not to work with electronic editing after recordings?

Tom Hess: Because we wanted our recorded performances to be authentic, to be real. Almost all CDs now are heavily edited and altered to correct bad performances and mistakes. We spent the time to get the recording to sound exactly how we wanted without all the post production editing that is so typical of most other CDs made today. I am an idealist, so it is just part of my personality to think this way.

16. Are you interested in the contemporary progressive rock scene?

Tom Hess: Yes very much, I like artists like Dream Theater, Symphony X, George Bellas, etc. They are great musicians and very interesting to listen to. I would like to see this style of music become more known and appreciated around the world. In the US, only Dream Theater has a pretty good amount of popularity.

17. What about Hess and playing live?

Tom Hess: HESS has not played any live shows in the last 2.5 years. We were in the studio for 18 months during that time. Also our other guitarist, Mike Walsh was in the studio with his other band SAGE, so there was no time to even think about live shows as a band. Now that Opus 2 is released, the band is rehearsing a live set now and will be playing live shows in the USA beginning in Spring.

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