George Bellas Interview
30th November 2007
George Bellas is one of the worlds most acclaimed virtuoso guitarists. Constantly pushing the boundaries of what constitutes neo-classical guitar his new band Palace Terrace with their debut album "Flying Through Infinity" bring another element to the genre with this exciting and musically rich offering. We tracked down George to discuss the album in depth.
George, many thanks for agreeing to this interview.Its great to finally hear some new music from you, its been quite a wait! In the 4 year gap since "Venomous Fingers" you've formed your debut vocal band project Palace Terrace in your own vision. When did the seeds of Palace Terrace start and how long has the project taken from conception to completion on your end?
Palace Terrace was formed shortly after releasing my last instrumental album "Venomous Fingers". I had the music composed and arranged for "Flying Through Infinity" within a year after my previous solo release. Once I had the whole album together I had thought about what I wanted to do and envisioned turning it into a massive vocal oriented album. At that point it was time to find a singer. There were several choices I considered, but there was only one that I thought could truly fit the bill, and that was vocalist Jonathan Marshall. It was an early Sunday morning that I put the call into Jonathan and presented to him my ideas. When initially speaking with Jonathan I explained to him that I had this album and concept for Flying Through Infinity ready to go just waiting for vocals to be added. I asked him if he would be interested and he replied very enthusiastically "yes". It was then that the core of Palace Terrace was born. I then sent Jonathan the complete album and we began working on the lyric and vocal arrangements. Over the next couple of years we recorded and fine tuned every single vocal part. The actual vocal production took a while longer than I had originally anticipated due to each other's schedules and refining parts, but the end product came out very satisfactory to me. When Jonathan and I were recording there was great chemistry between us and we clicked seamlessly capturing some real magic in the process.Having had the chance to absorb the music over the last few weeks I can say its a truly magnificent body of work. Extremely advanced in composition, harmonisation and structure. I will admit it took me a number of listens to get a hold on what the album is about, and it was then the album took on a life with a vibe that is quite unique and I am totally hooked! How did the basic track structure form and how did you take those from what we hear today on the album?
The writing process for "Flying Through Infinity" primarily used 3 methods. One method began by composing rhythmic motives and building melodic and harmonic structures on top of them. Method two would begin with a melodic motive and then harmonically brought to life with choices based on each melodic tone. The third method used harmonic progressions as the basis for developing improvisations, melodies and rhythms around. After the foundation of all the songs were formed I added the vocal and guitar improvisations as well as adding carefully composed vocal melodies, counterpoint and harmonies, all of which were composed on staff paper. I spent a grueling amount of time on the compositional process of the vocal lines and Jonathan's improvisations -- carefully reviewing, redoing and making sure that every single note worked perfectly. After all that was complete I reworked many of the vocal and instrumental arrangements. The entire production was indeed quite daunting, but I strive for perfection with a precise vision and need to make sure that every aspect of a project is the way it should be.
The album I believe is a concept story, can you tell the readers what this story in and how the lyrics work with the music.
I initially sent Jonathan the "Flying Through Infinity" concept along with the seeds to each individual song. We would then both contribute lyrics based on what we each thought the song's overall idea should project. For example, "The Tenth Dimension" is based on a higher dimensional plane that scientists and mathematicians have proven to exist. But to visit there... Is it real? What will we find? Will we find loved ones that no longer belong to our ever familiar three dimensional world? "No one is sure and no one really knows if it's for real..."
You have a superb vocalist in Jonathan Marshall. How did you hook up with Jonathan and what did he bring to the project?
I have known Jonathan for two decades and have worked with him early on. We have always wanted to do an album together and this was the perfect opportunity for it. He did a fantastic job and we sure had a lot of fun making the album.
You wrote all the music, performed all the guitars, bass, keyboards, orchestration, did the composition and arrangements not to mention production etc. This must of been quite exhausting, how did you manage to stay focused during this undertaking?
It was definitely an enormous amount of work that required an extremely disciplined focus on my part. I had a vision and needed to make sure that every aspect of the production came out the way I had originally conceived. I enjoyed the huge undertaking. It gives me a break from each task at hand and offers me a fresh look at each element. I wouldn't have done it any other way.
Sasha Horn's drum work is often quite complex, what were you looking for from Sasha and where did you find him?
Drummer Sasha Horn is an exceptional talent and a really great person to work with. I have only recently been introduced to Sasha from a student of mine. When I approached Sasha about working together I explained to him that I had all the drum parts composed for this massive album and now needed a live person. I am known to compose very complex odd-meters and intricate rhythms. As challenging as they may be Sasha does a great job at bringing them to life.
What struck me is that a number of these songs are predominantly led by the orchestra which creates a solid foundation to start with. Did you start with the orchestration of the tracks before moving onto other instruments?
I had most all of the orchestration completed before recording any vocals or guitar parts. After everything else was recorded I went back and elaborated even more on the orchestration. It is a lot of fun working with a large palette of sounds rather than just a typical rock band context.
What was your aim with how your guitar fitted into the bigger picture with this album?
I wanted my solos to sparsely weave in and out of the vocal lines and wanted my main solos to have enormous feeling in each and every note. It was first and foremost about passionate guitar playing, not just speed for speed's sake. I wanted every note to say something, to sing, cry, laugh and be angry when it was felt.
Your playing is the best I have ever heard it. Did the music call for you to extend your own abilities on the instrument and what was the biggest challenge you faced with this material?
Thank you very much! I am always striving to improve my craft by constantly studying, practicing and creating. The music on this album was really no different in my approach with the guitar other than leaving plenty of room for the vocals.
Your guitar sound is great - clear, smooth, focused with great clarity. What guitars/amps/fx did you use and what were you looking for in your tone this time around?
On the "Flying Through Infinity" album I used my longtime ever faithful Fender 1957 Stratocasters, Marshall JCM900 series amplifiers and a Tube Screamer. I use Dean Markley .010 - .046 gauge strings and no scalloped fretboards, although I do like scalloped boards but I have always used regular old fretboards. From my guitars and amps I then went into a Sure SM57 microphone --> Focusrite Red Series Mic Pre --> Apogee Rosetta 800 Converter and finally into an Apple computer via lightpipe on an RME PCI card. I monitor using Coleman Audio equipment and Mackie HR824 monitors.
The promotional material on the Lion Music website states that their is a number of highly complex time signatures such as 99/32, how do you go about writing in these time signatures let alone playing in them!?
That is correct. The first song on "Flying Through Infinity" has a section that uses a time signature of 99/32 time. The way I compose with these meters is in the same way I do for all my other music -- with staff paper and a pencil. After composing the parts I begin learning and counting parts on my guitar, which indeed can be quite challenging at first, but after much effort with counting it becomes very natural.
What do you think established George Bellas fans will get out of "Flying Through Infinity"?
Fans should enjoy the same style of writing they have grown to know me for (neoclassical and progressive), but the difference with this album is that it is vocal oriented. I have always written vocal scores and this is my first step in presenting them to the public.
How do you sum up the album now (since you completed it) and can we expect a follow up down the road at some point?
First and foremost it is a musical work, and no matter what the language barrier may be fans should hear and feel the deep emotions and intellectually stimulating aspects of the music. And yes I do plan on releasing more vocal oriented albums in the future.
I also see you have a new instrumental solo album due early 2008 entitled "Planetary Alignment", I will save my questions until I have heard it but what can George Bellas fans expect from this forthcoming release and how does it compare to your 3 previous solo albums?
My upcoming solo album entitled "Planetary Alignment" is the most modern and futuristic body of work I have ever released. There are so many compositional elements not found on any of my previous releases. Fans should really expect the unexpected. I really stretched my playing and writing abilities with this album. It is extremely progressive.
Anything else you would like to add to finish up?
I would like to thank all my fans around the world for listening to my music and all their feedback throughout the years. I already have an enormous amount of new music and look forward to many more years of releasing new albums for all to enjoy and hopefully connect with in some way.
George, many thanks for your participation.
Thank you Baroque and Roll for talking with me and also for bringing such a cool source of guitar oriented information to the fans.