Interview: Hess

Dan McAvinchey: How did you all get started in music, and what led to your selecting guitar as your primary instrument?

Mike Walsh: I was in eighth grade when a friend of my brother had brought over "And Justice For All" on tape. I was in shock on how cool the music was. It made me start to play that following week in hopes of playing like Metallica someday. The solo to the song "One" was the guitar clincher for me. I remember having people over and playing air guitar to the tapping part.

Tom Hess: When I was 11-13 years old, I listened to Def Leppard albums a lot, "On Through the Night", "High and Dry", and "Pyromania". Hearing that really made me want to either play guitar or sing. It didn't take long for me to realize that I couldn't sing well so choosing guitar was an easy choice.

Dan McAvinchey: When did you first realize you had the ability to write original music?

Tom Hess: It was a very gradual process. If I had to narrow it down to a specific time I would say 1994 was when I started writing neo-classical music, 1996 for progressive music and 1996-1997 for classical music (non rock/non guitar compositions).

Mike Walsh: Not until I was in high school. I had grown up playing everyone's albums and solos. I never thought of writing my own. I had a death metal band that also played Megadeth and Pantera and just for fun we would write our own songs. They were not to bad for the times.

Dan McAvinchey: "Opus 1" has a heavy neo-classical feel. Who are your biggest influences in this style of music?

Mike Walsh: Well, Tom is the neoclassical guru. He has a long influence of that music and most importantly the originators, Bach and the Baroque period composers.

Tom Hess: I have had lots of influences, but the most substantial ones are: Yngwie Malmsteen, George Bellas, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Andy LaRocque (from King Diamond), King Diamond, Dream Theater, Fabio Lione (singer from Rhapsody), Gustav Mahler, J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms and Fryderyk Chopin. "Opus 1" is about 1/2 neo-classical and 1/2 progressive and different guitarists, bands and composers influenced me in different ways.

Dan McAvinchey: What gear did you use to record "Opus 1" and how important a role do you think the selection of recording equipment, instruments, etc. plays in the final quality of the album?

Tom Hess: As far as the instruments go, I used one of my Carvin V220 guitars for all the distorted rhythm guitar parts and for all of my solos. I used a 1970's Washburn acoustic and a Takamine classical guitar for the clean guitar parts. The electric guitars went through my T3 preamp, BBE sonic maximizer, Tubeworks Mosvalve power amp and into a 4x12 cab loaded with 75 watt celestians and the mic was a SM57. We recorded the CD with ADATs, and a digital Yamaha console. As far as the production goes, good gear is important but a good engineer is even more important.

Mike Walsh: On the album, I did not have my Johnson Millennium amp. I was using Tom's gear at his studio. If I could of used the Johnson, I believe people would be able to tell the two soloists apart better. For the solo's, I used my Hamer Diablo with the DiMarzio Evolution pickups in it. I also did not have my Ibanez 7620 at the time.. The gear is the first step in a good sounding recording. Because if it does not sound good going into the microphone than you are going to have to work extra hard at the mixing board and mastering to make it up.

Tom Hess: Yeah, we went through the same amps and rack gear but our lead styles are quite different and I think people can tell us apart after hearing the CD a few times.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get a chance to perform the material from "Opus 1" live?

Mike Walsh: Oh yeah, we get to go out and smoke about twice a month. This time around with the new album we have been having better luck with the clubs and people's reception of our instrumental guitar style.

Tom Hess: Yes, and the response has been great.

Dan McAvinchey: What made you decide to release "Opus 1" as an independently produced product?

Tom Hess: There were many factors involved in that decision, mainly that we wanted to write, record and release "Opus 1" on our own terms. We have had some recent interest from some smaller companies, but no offers have been made so far that are substantial enough and that would leave the musical involvement solely to us.

Mike Walsh: The fact that Tom has thousands of dollars in recording gear is hard to pass on. We feel that the next album will also be done at his studio. We hope to get picked up for distribution and promotion help. Home studios help to keep the cost low , and when we do it at his studio we have the freedom of taking our time on the music. A major plus!

Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel about the national press (Guitar One, Guitar Player, Guitar World, etc.) and how they are currently covering guitar-oriented music? Do you think there is a bias against instrumental artists?

Tom Hess: I think the guitar mags are definitely biased against most high caliber players because the mags are trying to please their target market (young American guitar players) and that market, in general, is just not into high caliber music. I do think that the situation is better now than it was in the 90's. At least now you may see a great player like Yngwie in the press without being criticized by the magazines. It's a business though and the big magazines are only out there to make money. If this year that means saying that Vai is the King, then they'll say it, and the next year Kurt Cobain will be on the cover every other issue, it's all about whichever way the wind blows for them.

Mike Walsh: I could not agree more with Tom on this one. My girlfriend works for Roth Advisors, an investment banking firm, and it is all about how much revenue the magazine can acquire and which investors will take a chance on the magazine. If they don't sell, the investors will bail, simple as that!

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Dan McAvinchey: What do you think the future holds for digitally distributed music such as mp3s or other forms of digital music?

Mike Walsh: Well, this a great time for bands and independent record labels. The exposure is endless and the quality is so much better than even 10 years ago. I think bands will get smart and start to depend less on the company to put it in stores and see more of the future music listeners downloading the album. This would cost less for the buyer and give more to the band. In return, both parties are satisfied and the middle man is dead. I'm all for that, but not the Napster thing. I think a lot of artists do not want their music out there for free. Now, if they could fix that situation, I think Napster could be a good thing for bands who do. I just do not agree with Napster's, "we have no control over what is on there" philosophy. It is against some artists wishes to be out there for free, and artists have copyright laws to protect that.

Tom Hess: I think that the good potential of mp3 and other digital formats are being ruined by things like Napster. Every artist should be able to choose whether or not he/she wants their music out there for free on Napster or not. If someone wants their stuff on Napster then fine, but for those who don't, their rights need to be protected, this was the whole point of copyright law.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you have planned for the next year or two?

Tom Hess: I'm currently composing music for "Opus 2". In general, I write very slowly and the next album is about 1/2 written (at the time of this interview). We are hoping to release "Opus 2" in the beginning of 2002. I'm doing another compilation CD to follow up on the one we were on in 2000, it will be released late summer of 2001 and will be called, "Guitars at an Exhibition - Volume 2". Hess will have a new track on there from the upcoming "Opus 2" record and Mike will have a song on there from his other band Sage.

Mike Walsh: I have two recordings to do in February of 2001. My two bands, Hess and Sage (a hard rock female fronted band), are both going to be on the compilation CD, "Guitars at an Exhibition - Volume 2". Then its back in the studio with Hess to record "Opus 2" and hopefully have it released in early 2002. At the same time, my other band, Sage, is putting together songs for an album and both bands are looking for record deals. The next two years will be very busy with me in the studio and on stage.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you think has been the biggest help so far in getting the word out about "Opus 1" to the fans of instrumental guitar music?

Mike Walsh: By far, the overseas exposure of guitar9 has been the key. We have a decent number of CDs sold and a lot of web traffic through guitar9. Playing out and getting our name around through other venues has gained us some momentum also. We are working with the little things: stickers, local music shops and music articles to get some extra exposure. Playing in front of larger crowds is in the near future for us, and we will be gladly awaiting.

Tom Hess: In the United States, outside of Illinois, it has been the Internet and word of mouth. Outside of the US, has been the biggest help in getting our exposure and CD sales up in foreign countries.

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Hess, the band, features not just one, but two excellent guitarists - Tom Hess, the founder of the group, and Mike Walsh. These two musicians operate out of the Chicago area with a shared love of heavy progressive and neo-classical styles and an appreciation for advanced guitar technique. Hess' first CD "Opus 1" is currently making a lot of noise for the band.

The duo recently made themselves available to Dan McAvinchey to answer questions about their formative years, their current situation, and their feeling about the musical climate we all find ourselves in.