Sunday, May 21, 2006

From The Archive 21/5/06 - George Bellas Interview

George Bellas is one of the leading players in the modern day neo-classical scene Having released 3 solos albums to date that showcase his rapid fire picking and flawless sweep picking technique over intricate and complex arrangements, Bellas has also worked with such illuminaries as Vitalij Kuprij, Ring Of Fire, Mogg/Way and many more. In this interview we find out what makes George tick musically and get his opinions on neo-classical metal and much more.

Interview conducted November 13th 2005

George, many thanks for agreeing to this interview. If we can go back to the start, what initially made you pick up the guitar?
An unexplainable inner drive. I was seven when I started and had a tremendous passion for it right away.

How long was it before you started to realise you have a talent on the instrument?
I knew from day one.

Who were you early influences?
As far as rock goes... Ronnie Montrose, Michael Shenker, Robin Trower, Ted Nugent, Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, etc...

How did these influences shape your playing style?
They boiled my blood, singed my fingertips and made me want to crank it up! They energized me for a lifetime!

You utilise a lot of intricate time signatures and rhythms in your music, where does this side of your playing persona stem from?
I'm not sure. I have always written with odd meters, ever since I was really young actually.

Do you consciously think, "I am gonna write something in x time signature", or does the music always dictate the rhythm?
Yes to both. Sometimes I begin with an odd meter rhythmic motif, and other times I'll just improvise something on the keyboard or guitar and it turns out to be in some odd meter. 4/4 is weird man...

The neo-classical slant in your playing is well documented, what composers or pieces of music from the
classical masters would you recommend to the fan that maybe is only really into neo-classical metal genre?

Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Paganini, Liszt, Mahler, Stravinsky, John Williams, Bill Brown, Danny Elfman...

On the rock side of things whose works do you particularly enjoy or got inspiration from?
I've been really diggin' Virgil Donati's "Serious Young Insects" album. Killer rhythms and great playing on that thing!

You use predominantly Fender Strats, are the pickups in these guitars changed from the stock units?
I love the sound of the stock pickups, but I also use Dimarzio's and Seymour Duncan's.

Your website shows a few different Marshall amps (non master volume/JCM800/JCM900),do you use these for different applications and do you have a particular favourite model?
I love the JCM900 4100 series amps and also the vintage MKII's from the early 1970's.

Do you an external overdrive with any of these?
I use an Ibanez Tube Screamer. The old green ones. I love those things! Who'd ever thought something so green could be so sweet.

How do you like to mic your guitars?
With an SM57 right up to the grill and a little of centre. I run that through a Focusrite Red Mic Pre and finally into an Apogee AD converter = Bellas Butter Tone!

Any tips for getting a good guitar tone on mix down?
Not on mix down, but while recording yes - play your absolute best, use a great mic pre and get the best AD converter you can afford. Trying to fix a badly recorded tone during mix down is not the way to do it. Get it recorded properly in the first place.

Which of the albums you have recorded are you most pleased with (a) your guitar tone, (b) overall sound.
To be honest... The two albums I am currently producing that are not released yet are my favourite. The tone, writing and overall sound / production is the cream of the crop.

How does your writing process normally start?
There is no normal involved. I'll sometimes begin with a melody, sometimes with a harmonic progression, sometimes with a time signature or rhythmic motive, sometimes just by jamming and improvising. Most always though, it starts with a blank piece of sheet music. I am endlessly and always inspired to create, my passion is insane.

Your 3 solo albums all have their own individual character yet with the unique Bellas sound throughout. What were you aiming for on each album, do you feel you accomplished your goal and what are your thoughts on them now looking back.

Turn Of The Millennium
This album is very progressive, utilizing lots of unexplored meters, rhythms and modes. There is only one neoclassical song on the whole album, everything else is totally futuristic. This entire album was written on music paper (while sitting outside) way before I even picked up a guitar. Dean Castronova did a great job tracking drums as did all the other performers. There was definitely a lot of pressure felt from all the musicians to record this album within the short time frame they had. I sent all the musicians the full score's prior to me getting together with them to record, but most of them had never played or seen rhythm's in 23/16 time, for example. For the drum tracks...Dean and I would get together at his house in the morning, review the drum parts (from the scores) to be recorded that day and then go to the studio and cut the tracks. Bravo Dean! He is one awesome drummer!

Mind Over Matter
This album is totally in the neoclassical style. I composed this album (again on music paper) while recording an album with the UFO guys. While out at "Prairie Sun Recording Studio" I would rehearse with Phil, Pete, Ansley, Barry and Matt and then compose feverishly with every other moment I had in between those band rehearsals. This album has a lot of cool old school harmonic, rhythmic and contrapuntal qualities about it. Immediately after doing this record I did the John West "Mind Journey" album. I was flying back and forth from California to Chicago quite often back in the early days. My girlfriend knew that whenever Mike Varney called, I would usually be on a plane days later.

Venomous Fingers
This album is a combination of Neoclassical and Progressive styles. I wanted to do everything on this album and retain complete control of the entire production. I am very happy with the guitar tone, playing, writing and overall production on this. I am a composer in the most literal sense and want control of every note. I have a passion for writing for all instruments, not just the guitar. Paper and pencil is all I really need and is my preferred compositional workflow. At one point in my teenage years I told my Bass player that I was thinking of devoting 100% of my time to composition (just paper and pencil). But the guitar is too cool! So, my whole life has been trying to balance both performance (improvising + practicing) with Composition.

You played guitar on Ring Of Fire - The Oracle, you had an excellent chemistry with Vitalij Kuprij across all the projects you have worked together on, but how come you only played on the one album?
VK and I have always had a great vibe when we record together. I am very happy with how everything worked out on all the various projects we have done together.

Can we expect another neo-classical release featuring you and Vitalij in the future?
I'm not Nostradamus, but I'm sure it's possible!

You sell a lot of instructional material on your website, what do you feel you offer other musicians in these?
Help with obtaining better skill on their instruments as well as being a source of inspiration.

What are your plans for 2006?
I write constantly and very fiendishly. My catalogue of music is enormous. Out of all that, I am currently preparing 2 albums for release in 2006. These 2 works will contain some of my most eccentric writing to date, featuring lots of unexplored elements not found on any other records to date.

Anything else you would like to tell the readers of Baroque & Roll?
Life is but a vibrating string... and the universe a symphony. Do a google on "String Theory" and you'll know what I mean. Peace!

Interview by Andy Craven.

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