by Espie Estrella
Tom Hess is an electric guitar virtuoso known for his immense musical talent not only in the United States but internationally as well. He is part of the rock band HESS along with Mike Walsh, Mark Carozza and Scott Hess. Tom also has another band called HolyHell where he plays alongside Joe Stump, another guitar virtuoso.
Tom is likewise a composer, he produced the HESS debut album titled Opus 1, followed by Opus 2 which he produced in 2004. Aside from performing and composing, Tom offers private and correspondence lessons, improvisation training classes and a mentoring program for those who want to become professional musicians. He has co-authored The Beginning Guitarist's Book and is an endorser of Randall Amplifiers and Seymour Duncan Pickups.
Have you always wanted to be a musician? What age did you realize that this was your calling?
Tom Hess: When I was 11 years old I heard Def Leppard’s Pyromania album. At the same time MTV was becoming popular (and at that time MTV was actually cool).
Is the guitar always your first choice or did you try another instrument before switching to the guitar?
Tom Hess: I wanted to be a guitarist or singer. It didn't take long (about 1 minute) to realize I couldn't sing well, so guitar was it.
In your opinion what makes the guitar stand out compared to other instruments?
Tom Hess: With the exception of the harp and the piano, I generally do not enjoy listening much to solo instruments. I prefer the sound of ensembles, chamber music, orchestral music (my favorite musical genre is the piano concerto), rock band (which of course contains guitars). The guitar is expressive in that there is much we can do with the pitches, but we are limited to how many can be played at once and there are no natural sustaining possibilities.
Did you take any formal lessons? What is your advice for those who want to learn how to play the guitar?
Tom Hess: Yes I studied formally from both good and bad teachers. I earned two music degrees (a B.M. in Music Composition from Roosevelt University and an A.A. in Music Theory from Harper College). My advice for others is to find a great teacher.
Are there any guitar brands you're personally fond of?
Tom Hess: I play Carvin Guitars exclusively. I love them, although my main model is the V220 which was made only between 1984-1989. As far as other gears, I also have endorsement deals with Randall Amps and Seymour Duncan pickups (love the Metal Live Wires!).
Tell us the first time you performed on stage, what was it like? What is your advice to those who want to perform but have stage fright?
Tom Hess: My first time was back in high school and it was a mixture of emotions for me (excitement, joy, fear, etc.). The best advice I can give is to prepare well before hand, but once the day comes to play and you walk out on stage, stop thinking about every little thing and enjoy yourself. Focus on the experience of making music, not on the technical details of playing The more relaxed you are, the better you will play. And definitely NEVER drink alcohol or take drugs before or during a performance, and of course I strongly recommend to never do those things at any time (I never have).
Could you tell us more about the band HESS and the type of music you play?
Tom Hess: HESS is an all instrumental progressive and neo-classical band. Imagine the sounds of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Jason Becker, George Bellas, Yngwie Malmsteen, The Lord of the Rings movie soundtrack and 19th century classical music.
What is your most memorable performance? Why?
Tom Hess: Either the Masters of Rock Festival in the Czech Republic or the Earth Shaker festival in Germany. These were the first really huge shows I’ve done (18,000 people in Czech and 30,000 in Germany). To look out and see a sea of people with hands in the air as you play is a very unique feeling, especially the first couple of times! I’ve reached a lot of my life’s goals…things I only dreamed about as a kid, but it wasn't until I walked out on the huge stages in Europe that I finally said to myself, “I’ve made it”, at least in terms of music business success. It was also an amazing experience for me on that first big tour in 2005 because I was touring with Rhapsody. (My all time favorite singer is Fabio from Rhapsody!) So in that sense, all of the shows on the tour were great. 10 years ago I would have been happy to simply meet Fabio.
Who are your icons?
Tom Hess: Fryderyk Chopin
Do you have a teaching method?
Tom Hess: It depends on who the student is. I don't believe in a set method for all people. Certainly it would make my job 1,000 times easier to work with everyone in the same way, but that just does not work. My philosophy is basically this. Students are totally responsible for creating and then communicating their goals to me. My responsibility is to create and implement the knowledge, tools and strategies to enable the student to manifest his/her goals into reality. It is the student's responsibility to be committed to staying focused on the results they want and follow through with doing the training. When students are dedicated to this process they always achieve great things. The ones who don't do this simply won't get the big results in the best and fastest way.
What keeps you busy nowadays?
What's next for Tom Hess?
Tom Hess: There are lots of things on my plate all the time. In 2006, Magic Circle Music / SPV will release the debut HolyHell record and a world tour will follow late 2006 and into 2007. In addition, I have finished a solo acoustic and will release it later this year or early 2007. I'm also working with serious musicians (mostly rock guitarists) who want to become professional musicians. They are all a part of my Music Careers Mentoring Program. This is a huge time commitment but is very rewarding for me personally to help my students in some very big ways.