Guitar Mania

by Mike Sandomirsky, February 4, 2005

1) Opus 2 takes things up a notch – your playing is tight and to the point whilst still exhibiting the classical influence your style so aptly showcases. Have you incorporated any new subtle influences into the HESS musical equation?

Tom Hess: Somewhat. I spent a lot of time listening to piano concertos between Opus 1 and Opus 2. The two Chopin concertos, Beethoven’s Emperor, Liszt concertos and a great concerto by Amy Beach and the second McDowell concerto and a few others. The piano concerto is probably my favorite classical music genre/medium. I’m not a big fan of the concerto structural form as I generally do not like sonata forms. The timbre, texture and dynamic aspects of the ensemble lends itself to expressive music and the 19th century harmonic language has always been a big influence on me. In addition to the concertos, I got really into Alice in Chains. I love the vocal phrase structure with the half time feel vocal lines, long sustaining notes in the voice and guitar melodies. Mike and I have learned a lot from each other over the years and the influence we have had on each other I think is more noticeable on Opus 2. Of course I listened to lots of other things during this time, but these are things that were newer things for me during the 3 years I was writing Opus 2. There were some new non musical influences that affected me too. I study other art forms outside of music. Between Opus 1 and Opus 2 I read lots of poetry and studied it, drawing upon things I learned from that medium. After Opus 2 was finished and the start of composing Opus 3 began I began studying sculpture and painting. I am still doing that now at night before I sleep I read about it and study and observe and analyze and make sure the thoughts of it are the very last things I let myself think about before sleeping. Sometimes days or weeks later I am able to make a new connection between these details and I ponder all the ways I might use these tools in music.

2) Tell us about the writing process that you went through for “Opus 2”. How much collaboration was involved from the other members of the band?

Tom Hess: The writing process for Opus 2 would take many hours for me to explain. I am teaching a very cool one week seminar in Chicago this summer for National Guitar Workshop that deals heavily with these (and other processes for composing music). I have many dozens of different processes that I use for composing, this allows a much broader range of expressive possibilities compared to having only one or two processes. There was virtually no collaboration or influence from the other guys in HESS for the writing of the music. The first time the other guys actually heard Opus 2 was when we were in the studio recording. We never rehearsed Opus 2 before going in. Sometimes I wrote the drum parts and the bass parts and other times the other guys had their own ideas, which worked better. Mike wrote or improvised all of his own solos. Sometimes we discuss his ideas for his solos and I might make a suggestion or ask him to compose another solo for a section, but his playing is pretty much all him.

3) What inspires the HESS sound - When HESS records are you all together in the studio feeding off of each other as musical equals or are parts recorded separately/individually and pieced together?

Tom Hess: Always separately. I record a click track, then the orchestral and keyboard parts. Next the rhythm guitar parts and acoustic and clean electric solos. Then Mark comes in and records the bass. Then Mike and I have a meeting about who will play what solo spots, which solos will have a counter melody or double solo and then we go off and compose or improvise solos over the parts we decided to take. Drums are recorded last since my brother Scott Hess (the drummer) prefers to listen to guitar solos and melodies to record the drum parts (how cool is that for us guitar players to have a drummer who creates drum parts based on listening to solos!!)

4) Do you record digitally or are you more of a purist opting for tape?

Tom Hess: The word purist is a bit misleading I think. When I record I want to record exactly I played with the tone I want, only digital can do that. Analog tape colors the sound and it is not a true representation of what was recorded. So I am a purist that uses digital to get the pure tone.

5) Tom I know that you are good friends with George Bellas. One of the true musical geniuses writing and recording music today I might add. How has George impacted on your overall career?

Tom Hess: Let me just say this, in my opinion, Bellas is the greatest electric guitar virtuoso of all time. He is a good teacher. He is an excellent composer and history will judge him very kindly. 200 years from now people will know him and study his music. George is a very cool person too and we have been friends for a long time. On the business end of things there hasn’t been much of an impact, but certainly on a music level he was/is an influence for sure.

6) Tom you and Mike are both well educated musicians having several credentials each. How has this education served the HESS vision?I have heard from some notable musicians that too much knowledge sometimes gets in the way of creativity – has this affected you or do you find the acquired years of education to be a well of opportunity that you can freely draw upon?

Tom Hess: People who say too much knowledge gets in the way of creativity do not know what they are talking about and this is the worst possible things one could give as advice to someone else! People who say these things have one or more of these problems:

1. They do not want others to be more knowledgeable than they are.
2. They do not possess ENOUGH music education and therefore can’t reply on what they do know.
3. They make these statements as excuses for why they have not studied music formally in a higher level.
4. (And this is one is the most common) They did not or could not truly learn HOW TO APPLY the knowledge they do have to creativity, songwriting, improvising.

When Mike and I are were music students in college, it was very clear to us which people were simply going through the motions of school and learning and which students were truly there to learn all that they could. Mike and I were both like sponges in music classes. We wanted all the information and knowledge we could get. He and I (and a very small group of others) often got together to study music theory and music history, etc. We knew we would be using all of that knowledge in a big way for everything we would do. It would not be possible for us to do what we do without all the knowledge we have. The knowledge itself are tools. The goal is to have as many tools as possible so that when one is composing he/she can have the ability to express whatever it is they are trying to say musically. Think of any great composer of music (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, Mahler, Wagner, etc.) All of them worked very hard to have a huge amount of knowledge. And each worked EVEN HARDER to be able to apply the knowledge in everything they did. Not all of them went to a university, but all studied music very intensely for a long time.

7) HESS is one of the few bands around today who show real integrity to the music. You have stayed true to your personal prophecy. How does one develop the required drive and mind set to be able to achieve this singular goal?

Tom Hess: This is very simple. If you have something that is important for you to express, stay focused on the expression the whole way through the compositional process. Do not let outside influences of music business, marketability, your assumptions about what other people will think  etc. influence you. There will always be some people who will like what you are doing, so don’t worry about that.

8) After a composition is complete from the writing stand point – how do you get yourself into the best “Space” to transfer the mental into physical, really deliver your mental concept into performance?

Tom Hess: I never really thought about that because its never been a problem. I don’t have to get myself in a “SPACE” to write or perform in the way that I do. I LIVE in that Space, so I am always there. If someone has to force himself/herself into a “Space” then perhaps the space is not genuinely real. For me, this music is not like being an actor, it's about living (or reliving or trying to live) events, ideals, emotions that are very real to me.

9) Has your choice of equipment changed? How does the choice of equipment influence the music you make?

Tom Hess: Yes the choice of gear has changed. Mike and I both use Randall amps now. We are both using the Randall X2 heads and the Randall 4x12 cabs. This gear combined with our rack gear just gives incredible tone! We now have endorsement agreements with Randall and they have been very cool to us.

10) The production on Opus 2 is really pleasing to the ear! What did you do differently this time around compared to Opus 1?

Tom Hess: The main thing was that I learned the recording gear better, I invested a few more thousands of dollars into my studio. I recorded my guitar direct. Also we have a new drummer on Opus 2 (Scott Hess) and his style and tone was just better suited for what we are doing now.

11) I really dig the composition “What Could Have Been… And What Is Not” – simply brilliant!! I think this song really sums up the HESS sound and musical revelation. What inspired this breathtaking tune?

Tom Hess: Thanks for the kind words about that piece. I don’t really like talking about the origins or inspiration for some of the pieces. I keep a written journal and I wouldn’t want others to read it (at least not while I’m still alive) and for the same reasons I don’t like discussing the deepest parts of myself. All I’ll say is this; As the title implies (and the music describes), the beginning is full of the ideas of What Could Have Been if certain events would have turned out differently and if different decisions would have been made differently. But as the piece progresses in time (and as the second half of the title implies), The realization that what has come to pass is not what could have been or should have been. Its too late to change things and regret sets in deep.

12) Are you a tortured composer or does the music flow easily through your soul?

Tom Hess: Writing music is pretty easy, writing music I really love is much, much harder.

13) What’s next for HESS?

Tom Hess: Opus 3! I’m composing it now. There are some concert dates we’ll be doing. Mike and I have many other projects that we are working on in the meantime including DVDs, clinics for Randall, teaching at NGW in the summer, an acoustic cd (not a HESS cd) and a few other things that we are working on simultaneously.

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