Guitar Rock (Canada)
Matt Webmaster, February 2, 2004
1. What is HESS up too now?
Tom Hess: We are currently rehearsing our live set and will be doing some concerts in the spring (2004) in central USA. In the meantime, I have been composing Opus 3 since June of 2002. Sort of on the side, Mike and I are thinking planning out an instructional DVD where we will both be playing, lecturing, teaching, etc. on it.
2. How did HESS come into existence?
Tom Hess: My brother, Scott, and I started the band in late 1994. At that time we were doing more neo-classical stuff, the music became more progressive in 1996, while still doing some neo-classical music as well. We have had several lineup changes over the years. Mike came into the band in January, 1996 and Mark joined in May of 2001.
3. Can you give a little sales pitch to our readers about your music?
Tom Hess: I think the best things that can be said about HESS has been said by magazines and web sites from all over the world. I would encourage people to check out the list of CD reviews that we received.
4. What can fans expect from your upcoming album Opus 2 compared to Opus 1?
Tom Hess: Stylistically, it's very similar. The main difference is that Opus 2 is just better in every way.
5. Your music is obviously influenced by Baroque, Classical and Romantic music, along with metal and rock. How did you first get into these types of music and how did your musical taste evolve to what it is today?
Tom Hess: My earliest influences were from the rock and metal worlds. I liked Def Leppard as a kid and then Metallica, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, King Diamond. In high school I heard Yngwie Malmsteen and that was my first exposure to the Baroque genre. I was really into all the Shrapnel guys (Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, etc.) After high school, I started getting into Bach heavily. In October of 1994, I heard Fryderyk Chopin and that changed everything for me, I was totally into 19th century Romantic era music (and still am). George Bellas, Dream Theater and Symphony X were later influences that interested me into the progressive rock elements. All of these musical influences helped to shape the direction I wanted to go musically along with some non-musical influences from my personal life. Just to make a clarification, I have not really been influenced by the Classical era composers, it's pretty much the era that came before and after the Classical period that I listen to.
Mike Walsh: I did not get into Baroque, Classical and Romantic music until I went to college for my music degree. After having to study those composers throughout the years, you hear things missing from the music you like to play and write so you intertwine it. As I became more knowledgeable about music, my ears and writing expanded to what you hear today.
6. Who has been your biggest influences (both early on and nowadays) and why?
Tom Hess: From late 1994 until the present time, Chopin has always been my biggest influence. he was a master improviser, master of harmony, master of small forms and the undisputed master of expression! All the other influences are also important, but if I had never heard Chopin the HESS sound would have been very different (and definitely NOT as good as it is now). My biggest new influence over the last year has been the 3rd symphony by Henryk Gorecki. You can expect some of that influence to find its way in some small ways onto Opus 3. I also spent a lot of time studying Wagner and his views about the role of music and music drama (opera) and some of those ideas I have taken to the next and final step as will be very obvious when Opus 3 is released.
Mike Walsh: Metallica was my earliest influence, great musicians in general inspire me now. I was turned onto music by Metallica, they brought a new passion for me to seek. Now a days, I am not influenced by much but rather inspired by great players. I could listen to a guy play a 2 stringed tree branch and if he is coming up with creative or insane lines, I dig it. The older I get, the more I see myself looking into the good each player has to offer regardless of style or ability.
7. Do you find that your guitar playing and composing is more influenced by other guitar players or by classical composers?
Tom Hess: Compositionally, my writing is more influenced by the Baroque (circa 1600-1750) and Romantic (circa 1820s-1900) eras. Honestly I don't really like much music from the Classical era (circa 1750-1820s). As a player, a lot of my phrasing and long sustaining notes are influenced by Romantic era virtuoso pianists/composers (Chopin, Liszt, for example) My vibrato was influenced heavily by King Diamond's guitarist (Andy LaRocque) and Rhapsody's singer (Fabio Leone). Bellas, Dream Theater and Symphony X were my biggest influence on the rhythmic elements and also, Elliot Carter and Brahms.
Mike Walsh: In recent years, my solo writing has been way more influenced by singers than guitar players. Not any singer in general, but the overall ability to vocalize on your instrument with lyrical melodies. The actual song writing and arranging process for me leans more towards a guitar players approach with the development aspects ( key, mode, dynamic ) changes of the old composers.
8. How did you get into guitar, and get to the level that you're at now?
Tom Hess: When I was 12 years old, I had a neighbor that started playing bass guitar 9 months before I started playing and I thought he was really cool, and Def Leppard's Pyromania album was also a big influence at the time. That was how it started. There are lots of things that helped me to develop to the level I am at today. I had three great electric guitar teachers: Randy Pierce, Jack Wilson and George Bellas. My classical guitar teacher in college (Steve Vasquez) was a big help with me developing dynamics in my playing. Attending college for music composition definitely helped me greatly in learning how to compose anything and everything that I want to express in music. I also had some great music theory professors in college. I think the biggest thing was listening to, and studying, a lot of great music by great players and composers from the 1600s to the present day.
Mike Walsh: I starting playing along to tapes 2 to 4 hours everyday for a few months. Problem was, I was playing air guitar with a real guitar around my shoulders. I had no clue what I was doing, but damn did the tapes sound good with me playing along to them. I was so into dropping in tapes and strumming strings that it was all I started to think about at school. I remind you, I was NOT PLAYING ANY REAL NOTES HERE. It felt so cool that I could not have cared less. Here is what I would like for those reading to take away from this question. The passion and desire that I had to sound like those tapes was so great that I did everything I felt I needed to do to play like, or better than what I was hearing. For me that meant playing 4 to 8 hours a day, writing and recording everyday to a crappy boom box ( then an analog 4 track until I was 24 ), a college music education and playing in Hess. You should get lessons and schooling from the best teachers available, it's going to help you out, no doubt about it. But if you do not have the passion and drive to want to go places with your music, it's going to be lifeless and empty. Make sure you surround yourself with other great players to fuel your fire. By doing so, you will come closer to your dreams and hopefully inspire others with passion and desire when they listen to your music. This is exactly where I am at today with my music.
9. Tom, you took lessons from George Bellas, what was that like?
Tom Hess: It was a great experience of course. He taught me a lot and I owe a lot of my playing success to him. Eventually I got to the point where I needed instruction of a different sort, so I spent more time studying music composition at Roosevelt University.
10. You both have two music degrees. How have they affected your playing and your composing?
Tom Hess: It made the biggest difference for both Mike and I (and probably for Mark too). We are so much better off as players, musicians and composers than we could have been without all the knowledge we acquired and learned to apply through colleges and universities. And now that I teach many students, I work hard to pass along to others, all that I received from college.
Mike Walsh: Sure, the bigger the library of knowledge, the easier it is to find what you need to express. I can draw upon so much more now that I went and got the degree that it becomes very difficult to say that a song is done. There is so much out there that can help you expand your mind and ears that it's overwhelming. I would never have known this if I had not gone to college and challenged myself.
11. Are there any other current virtuoso guitar players (or bands) out there who you really respect?
Tom Hess: Yes. I still like the older generation like: Yngwie, Dream Theater, Symphony X, etc. As far as new players, I think Francesco Fareri is just amazing on a technical level (and he is the nicest guy on the planet too!). Tony Smotherman is awesome as is Rusty Cooley, Chris Brooks, and of course George Bellas (in my opinion, Bellas is the greatest virtuoso guitarist of all time). I'm sure there are a bunch of other great players that I am forgetting to mention at this moment, there are so many excellent players out now, that's really cool.
Mike Walsh: This is my soft spot, I have no clue who is really out there in the last 5 years other than guys Tom tells me about. There are a few locals that are great that need to get themselves out there and release a CD so that I can finally answer a question like this.
12. It took three years to compose Opus 2, how does it make you feel when you hear about someone like Dream Theater, who wrote 'Train of Thought' in three weeks, or Yngwie, who brags of improvising all of his solos and getting them on the first take.
Tom Hess: It makes me feel great actually. There is a reason why the bands you mentioned have to write and record quickly and that is because their record companies put a LOT of pressure on them to do it: to save money and to get new revenue flowing for the record company faster, plus their management companies want to schedule tours around the release of a new CD, so their is additional pressure from them to work fast.
With the HESS CDs, I run my own record company and, although I want to save time and money also, I make sure that the quality of my writing is at its very best and won't cave into other pressures. And I'm also willing to give Mike the time he needs to compose his solos and record them perfectly. Of course Yngwie and Dream Theater still can put out great albums, but don't you think if they gave themselves another 6 months, or 1 year or 18 months that they could make their music even better? I'm not claiming that we make better, or worse, music than someone else, I'm just saying that you can be sure that when we release a HESS CD, the compositions are 100% exactly the way I intended them to be. I don't know if Yngwie or Dream Theater could honestly say that.
Mike Walsh: More power to them. The music does not sound like that so all I can say is, I hope they are totally happy with it. If they are, then you could not ask for more. Expression is all that matters, so if it takes 3 weeks or 3 years, it's irrelevant, the finished product matters. And it always helps to be the best players on the planet too. But even if I could improvise every solo on one take, I would never ever want to on an album anyway. For me it's like this, have you ever heard of an author write a book in a few hours on a stream of consciousness and love to go back and read it years later? Probably not, I have to spend hours making sure every avenue has been driven down before it goes onto the C.D. ( Complete Devotion ).
12. Have you done a lot of performing?
Tom Hess: Quite a bit over the years, but none since late 2001. We concentrated all our efforts into recording Opus 2 since the fall of 2001. We will be playing live again soon.
13. What kind of an audience does Hess attract (classical fans, or metal and rock fans, or just guitar fans)?
Tom Hess: All of the above.
14. Could you please run through a quick list of your gear?
Tom Hess: The main pieces are Carvin V220 guitars, Sansamp PSA-1, BBE 462, Berhinger 8024 Midi EQ, Peavy 4x12 cabinets with 70 watt Celestians and a bunch of other minor things.
Mike Walsh: As of Feb 1st, I have extensively upgraded my gear. I now use 2 vertical buzz bomb cabinets (extra deep 16" cab for a fuller 7 string tone ). One cabinet has two 12" Mesa Boogie Black Shadows and the other has two 12" Eminence M12 speakers. I have added the Johnson Millennium 250 watt head with 12ax7c preamp tubes for a killer distortion. I play 7 string Ibanez with Di Marzio pickups with the bridge in both locations. My guitar tech has turned me on to a new guitar tweak that helped bring out more gain in my pickups. ( Tip only passed on to students sorry :( and have finally felt like I have found my sound. I now use my Johnson 150 combo with Mesa Black Shadows to record all my solos. It is a half back enclosure that allows the mids and high to sing out much better than the closed back cabinets. My Johnson combo was used on all my Opus 2 solos and will no longer be coming on stage with me.
15. Is there one piece of gear you couldn't live without?
Tom Hess: My guitars and my Metal Live Wire BRIDGE pickups (which are in both the bridge and neck positions - not just the bridge position).
Mike Walsh: Aside from my 7 strings, it has to be the Johnson amps in general. I use all the sounds in it and it's so compact and easy to use that going back to individual rack mounts is a scary thought.
16. How do you get your guitar to sustain so long?
Tom Hess: It's a number of factors actually which all contribute very long sustain. First the guitar itself is of excellent quality (Carvin V220s). I use .010 strings with high action (increases sustain), neck through body guitar construction. Ebony fingerboard. Fixed bridge. METAL LIVE WIRE BRIDGE PICKUPS (in both the bridge and neck position). The non-gear related things that add to the sustain is my vibrato technique and picking attack on notes I want to sustain longer than normal.
Mike Walsh: It's going to get even longer when Opus 3 comes out.
17. What is the creative process like for Hess?
Tom Hess: LONG! VERY LONG! As far as the actual process itself, the answer is not simple. Unlike most bands, I don't have a single method or process that I use for composing. I have dozens of methods and processes so that I can better express what I want by having lots and lots of different ways to achieve the goals. That was the greatest thing that I ever learned from studying music composition at Roosevelt University. To describe all the methods would literally take hours and hours to explain. I have several students that study composition and songwriting with me, so I save all the explaining for them.
Mike Walsh: Super long and very thoroughly thought out. There is not many notes on this album that were not planned out before recording it. Like I said earlier, writing solos for me and Tom takes countless hours and they will have many revisions before they get laid down. There is easily over a 1,000 hours on the creation of this cd from all the guys. You need tons of patience to play in Hess and it's only going to get worse after seeing Opus 3's blueprints.
18. Do you have a favorite scale, mode, or key?
Tom Hess: I love the 5th mode of melodic minor (Mixolydian b6) and also Lydian, but Harmonic minor and Major are cool. Another one of my favorites is the 5th mode of Hungarian minor (1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 7), but I like to change modes (modulate) a lot while soloing and writing. as cool as these modes/keys are, I don't want to be tied to them for too long in a piece.
Mike Walsh: Not really, I try not to bound myself to traditional guitar scales and fingerings. To often playing in modes or keys tends to lead to writing and playing with your eyes and not your ears. I try to create as much in my head as possible and use the key to shape what I just made up.
19. Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start an organized band or solo career? How about advice for beginning guitarists?
Tom Hess: A lot actually, but to sum it all up in a simple statement: Buy and read this book: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill!!!!! I also coach and train musicians on how to build a music career in my Music Careers Mentoring Program.
Mike Walsh: If you are looking to start a solo career, be prepared to have problems with line ups etc. If you live up to a high standard and expect that from other players in your group, then you pretty much said screw off to about 98% of the music world. Finding the right guys is much harder than even finding the guys that can play the songs correctly. No matter what, always work on developing your music and playing along with being as positive as possible about every situation. Sometimes having a solo career means that it's ok and better to move on all alone than play with members that will inhibit your music or vision. The problem is see for most starting bands is the inability to work with each other. If you can treat your band members like friends and not hired musicians, you will go much further in the music world. One last thing, most musicians think the word compromise has a negative connotation to it. Not so, especially when your compromising for another great musicians, band members, idea.
20. What are your favorite Hess songs, both to listen to and to play?
Tom Hess: I can't really pick just one, I like the different pieces for different reasons.
Mike Walsh: Honestly, all of Opus 2 is really cool on many levels for me. There is so much that the album represents in both mine and Toms lives that hearing every tune has something to be grateful for. Playing the new tunes are becoming much more fun as the fear of making mistakes is lessening. It's pretty damn hard!!
21. Which one is most difficult to play live?
Tom Hess: Probably Into the Pinnacle because it is extremely progressive rhythmically (much more so than a Dream Theater song for example).
Mike Walsh: For me, my second solos in Nexuses and Kingdoms, and my first solos in Through the Trials and Behold are all well beyond any of my Opus solos. Hopefully the upcoming DVD will show you what I mean.
1.If you don't mind, could you name some (or all) of the songs on Opus 2 and give a quick description on what they mean to you and where you found the inspiration for them?
Tom Hess: Sorry, I won't do that. Words are too limiting to fully express what I have to express, which is why I am composer and not a poet. It is also the main reason why HESS is an instrumental band. I get asked this question a lot and my answer needs to be the same (especially with Opus 2 and Opus 3.)
2.Are most of your guitar students 'shred' guys or people wanting to play more popular styles, like punk and nu-metal?
Tom Hess: For a long time, I taught all kinds of students, now I can afford to be a lot more selective about what types of students I accept for my private lessons at my studio. Most of those players are serious players, because the students want to take lessons with me, it's natural that these students would most likely be into the styles that I am doing.
Mike Walsh: Most of my students are punk to rock guys. I have only a few shredders and a few that are just into nu metal. For the most part, my students like a lot of music and would be happy to play whatever it was on the radio regardless.
3.Non-music related pastimes?
Tom Hess: Spending time at home with family. Traveling to Europe.
Mike Walsh: I like performance cars, sports and finding ways to drain my bank account.
4. Day job?
Tom Hess: I teach guitar privately and I teach guitar lessons online. Most of my time is spent managing the HESS band and composing new music.
Mike Walsh: Teaching music lessons, the day job that gives back and helps makes dreams come true.
5. Favourite food?
Tom Hess: Good Mexican food.
Mike Walsh: It would have to be pizza. I do not eat it that often but when I do, I feel like starting my own business so that I can eat more of it for free.
6. Favourite Book?
Tom Hess: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (written in 1937)
Mike Walsh: Ah, this is funny to friends of mine but, I'd rather read magazines.
7. Favourite Movie?
Tom Hess: I liked Lord of the Rings and the early Star Wars movies, but I mainly like serious dramatic movies.
Mike Walsh: I will answer this in categories,
Favorite action= Matrix 2
Favorite comedy= Dumb and Dumber with Austin Powers 3 trading places on the list.
Favorite scary movie= Exorcist, only because the damn topic and plot is freaky as hell.
Favorite serious= Brave Heart
8.Favourite TV Show?
Tom Hess: I don't have time to watch TV. And honestly so much of what is on TV is trash (in my opinion). I used to like to watch the Discovery channel, when that used to be good, but now there is so much boring stuff on there, I don't bother anymore.
Mike Walsh: Favorite cable sports= ESPN ( Watch about 20 minutes at dinner time, 10pm at night )
Favorite news= Fox News with Bill O'Reilly being the winner, ( I catch the reruns at 3am while practicing sometimes )
Favorite comedy= Dave Chapelle show ( seen it twice but it's funny as hell )
Favorite cartoon= South Park ( Have seen probably 5 to 10 shows total, but they are better than the Simpsons )
9.Play sports or Video games?
Tom Hess: I don't do either. I loved both as a kid, but I just don't have time now.
Mike Walsh: I love baseball and sometimes get out to play basketball and tennis. I love video games, but that's why I do not play them. I would be stuck sitting in front of the TV for hours if I had a system. If someone is playing and I am around, I make sure to get in a game.
10.Anything else you would like to say?
Tom Hess: Thanks to guitarrock.ca and also thanks to all the fans that did, and continue to, support us.
Mike Walsh: Thanks Matt for the interview, we were happy to talk to you. Hope everyone thinks the new Hess album Opus 2 is as great as we do. Hess fans, feel free to contact us with any comments about the disc or even some questions you have for the band. We would be happy to answer them and have done so on the site for some of our fans already.