George Bellas Interview
by Steve Totomis
1. TELL US A FEW WORDS ABOUT YOUR MUSICAL BACKGROUND / PROFILE. SOMETHING LIKE A SMALL BIO OF YOURS.
I started playing guitar at the age of 7. I studied, practiced and wrote with such an incredible amount of ambition and enthusiasm, I surpassed the norm without even realizing it. I would practice on acoustic steel string with .013 - .056 gauge strings, I would practice for sometimes 20 hours at a time. I ate, urinated and rested with my guitar. There was a period were my fingers were black mush up past my finger nails. I remember Ross Pelton's (Varney's Photographer) reaction at NAMM back in 1988, he was like "Holy cow!!" He couldn't believe my fingers. I really went overboard.
2. WHICH DO YOU CONSIDER AS YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCES AS A GUITAR PLAYER AND COMPOSER ?
I have gone through several phases of listening to different guitarists along my development path. In my early youth I went through a heavy period of Ronnie Montrose, Robin Trower, Ted Nugent, Michael Shenker, Jimmy Page, Randy Rhoads, Ted Greene and the list goes on and on... J.S.Bach, L.V.Beethoven, and Franz Liszt are probably my main classical favorites. Not only for there compositional skills but for their individual styles.
3. TELL US A FEW WORDS ABOUT YOUR SOLO INSTRUMENTAL ALBUMS TURN OF THE MILLENNIUM AND MIND OVER MATTER ? DO YOU FEEL THAT THEY ARE ANY MAJOR DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ?
"Turn Of The Millennium" is a futuristic - modern oriented album, rich in odd meters, dense counterpoint, modern progressions, uncommon scales and modes within elaborate orchestrations and arrangements. The album is very melodic but also has quite a bit of guitar improvisation. I wrote most of this album sitting outside with a piece of staff paper and pencil. It was compositionally, very well thought out. I love composing in a very modern way such as this album. Not very neo classical at all. The only song that is neoclassical is "Ripped To Shreds" which uses the Harmonic, Melodic and Natural Minor modes within a common meter rhythm. These are basic elements more associated with (more traditional) NC music.
"Mind Over Matter" is more Neoclassical in nature. Again, most of this album was composed note for note on manuscript paper. Some of which I composed while recording the MoggWay album out at Prairie Sun Recording Studios in Cotati CA, USA. I would jot stuff down here and there throughout the day when I had time away from writing and rehearsing with the band (Phil Mogg, Pete Way, Ansley Dunbar and myself). There aren't any odd meters on this album, it contains elements from the 16th, 17th and 18th century classical periods. The harmonic progressions, the counterpoint, the scales and modes were actually simpler in nature. There is still an extensive amount of counterpoint throughout the album. The last track is a smorgasbord of counterpoint, like I said, it's more within the older, more traditional neoclassical style.
4. I GUESS THAT THE TERM NEO-CLASSICAL METAL SUITS MORE TO YOUR GUITAR STYLE AND TECHNIQUE. IS THIS CHARACTERISATION CLOSE TO YOUR OWN BELIEFS ?
No and Yes - Like I said in the above answer. I love composing in a very modern style. Sometimes I think that is actually one of my stronger areas than the old Neoclassical style. I love Odd Meters and other futuristic progressive elements. Having said that, I am also a complete sucker for J.S.Bach and all of the strict counterpoint that comes with that style. But my music, and over all vibe, is more futuristic than that of old style Kings and Queens and all those similar topics and qualities found far too often in these re-hashed neoclassical bands. What kings and queens are to other Neoclassical bands - aliens and spaceships are to me. So, if I had to label myself, maybe I would say that I am a "Futuristic-neoclassicalist".
5. YOU HAVE ALSO CO-OPERATED IN THE PAST WITH GREAT ARTISTS IN THEIR SOLO WORKS LIKE VITALIJ AND JOHN WEST. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THESE DAYS ?
Working with Vitalij is always a great experience. We have very good chemistry and seem to really fuel off of each other's performances. We also love to do a lot of unisons and counterpoint. Rather than just harmonizing this, and harmonizing that. The end products always turn out really exciting.
John West is a great singer and super nice guy. It was a pleasure to work with him. For John's album, Mike Varney introduced us guys(John West, Mike Terrana, Barry Sparks, Matt Guillory and myself) and then we locked ourselves in the studio for a couple of weeks and came out with a cool record. I am really happy with my performances on there, I think the guitar tone was good and the playing was very inspired. My good friend James Murphy has also had a major involvement with all these records i did early on for Mike Varney and Shrapnel Records.
6. RECENTLY ENOUGH YOU ALSO PLAYED THE GUITAR PARTS FOR RING OF FIRE’S DEBUT ALBUM FEATURING SOME OF THE BEST MUSICIANS OF THE US NEO-CLASSICAL MUSIC SCENE. TELL US HOW THIS PARTICIPATION OCCURRED AND WHICH ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS FROM THIS WORK ?
Vitalij and Mark Boals had both called me and asked if I wanted to join this cool new band they were forming. They told me Virgil Donati would be playing the drums and Vitalij had all these song ideas ready to go, so how could I resist? It was a really cool time. Mark and Vitalij flew out to my studio in Chicago, and we just lived, slept, arranged and recorded music for weeks. I think the performances on the album came out very well. Again, Vitalij and I just seem to click. We are both very aggressive players and share other similar musical qualities and I think that lends itself to our ability to create these one of a kind performances.
7. RING OF FIRE JUST RELEASED A DOUBLE LIVE-CD AND DVD FROM THEIR JAPANESE TOUR FEATURING TONY MACALPINE ON GUITARS. WHY DIDN’T YOU FOLLOW THEM IN THEIR LIVE APPEARANCES ? IS RING OF FIRE MORE LIKE A PROJECT WHERE MUSICIANS COME AND GO ? FOR EXAMPLE DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE GOING TO CO-OPERATE WITH THE REST OF THEM IN A FUTURE RELEASE AS WELL ? DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CERTAIN PROPOSALS FROM THEIR SIDE ? BY THE WAY WHO IS THE MAIN MAN BEHIND RING OF FIRE ? MARK BOALS ?
Shortly after the 9/11 disaster here in the states, I was awaiting my passport and Visa papers. They got delayed and was unable to get over there in time. I'm very glad Tony MacAlpine was able to step in. He had a lot of songs to learn quick, I though he did a great job. Though I do think Tony plays Tony better and George Bellas plays George Bellas better.
8. CONTINUING THE PREVIOUS QUESTIONS , I’D LIKE TO ASK YOU WHY YOU KEEP NOT FORMING A FULL BAND INSTEAD OF RELEASING ONLY INSTRUMENTAL ALBUMS PLUS SOME SPECIAL APPEARANCES IN OTHER PROJECTS ? DON’T YOU MISS THE IDEA OF WORKING INSIDE A NORMAL BAND ? I THINK THAT THIS COULD EVEN GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY OF DOING BIGGER THINGS LIKE TOURING OR REACHING WIDER AUDIENCES. ARE YOU AGAINST IT ?
I have introduced my new vocal band - AUDIODROME.
Mike Varney introduced me to this singer from New York named Matthew Guarnere. He's great, we are in the process of writing and recording material. There are some sample clips available for listening on my website www.georgebellas.com. The songs are more on the progressive said than they are the Neo Classical side. In fact, you won't find any of that operatic style from Matthew. He has quite a unique style of singing, I mean it, he really is very different. Still very approachable though.
9. OR THE FACT THAT YOU SEEM TO BE QUITE OCCUPIED WITH YOUR GUITAR LESSONS AS I SAW THROUGH YOUR WEB SITE KEEP YOU TOO MUCH INVOLVED TO FORM A BAND THAT WILL PROBABLY TAKE EVEN MORE OF YOUR ALREADY PRECIOUS TIME ? AS I SAW GUITAR LESSONS SEEM TO BE QUITE IMPORTANT TO YOU . DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE NATURAL NEED OR EARNING ONE’S LIVING ?
I love teaching and helping people. Probably more than most would realize. I also love music, math, science, physics, art, and nature. I try to balance it all out. But nothing has ever prevented me from doing the other. In fact I have become quite prolific in my abilities because of my constant studies and diverse abilities. "The George Bellas Instructional Series" is an exhaustive full bodied, 12 CD ROM guitar method.
"The George Bellas Instructional Series" covers several different topics and is very well documented. I offer an enormous amount of support to my students, I really, really do love teaching. If you really want to learn, I'm the guy! Teaching and helping others is just as important as furthering my own career. I'm not that selfish, if I can help, I will.
10. ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE ONLY TWO ALBUMS IN YOUR BACK , I CONSIDER YOU AS ONE OF THE BEST , NEW US GUITAR SHREDDERS THAT THE SCENE HAS EVER KNOWN ! DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE FACT THAT SO MANY GREAT ARTISTS WANT TO HAVE YOU IN THEIR WORKS LIKE UFO , JOHN WEST , VITALIJ , MARK BOALS etc REFLECT THIS FEELING QUITE CLEARLY ? WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKE ALL THESE PEOPLE WANNA WORK WITH YOU ?
I believe there are 8 or 9 records out to date (not just 2) with my name and guitar credits on them. Don't give people the wrong idea, there are several albums completely immersed with George Bellas guitar, that are available today. These aren't small collaborations, they're dense with my guitar playing and counterpuntal ideas.
"WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKE ALL THESE PEOPLE WANNA WORK WITH YOU?"
My amps go to 11.
11. TALKING ABOUT UFO , I BELIEVE THAT YOU CARRIED THE GUITARS IN THE SOLO ALBUM OF MOGG/WAY ? HOW WAS IT TO WORK WITH THESE TWO LEGENDS AND HOW DID THEY DISCOVER YOU ? I BELIEVE THAT FOR A REASON OR ANOTHER YOUR NAME WAS KEPT SECRET IN THE ALBUM CREDITS SOMETHING LIKE THE NEW GUITAR PHENOMENON . WAS IT A PROMOTIONAL TRICK OR SOMETHING ?
Mike Varney called me and asked me if I would be interested in joining UFO. I was immediately interested. I believe it was the melodic elements in my guitar playing that Phil Mogg and Pete Way were attracted to. It was a great experience! I met Pete Way first. I flew out to his home and hung out for a couple of weeks writing, playing and bouncing ideas around.
I flew back and forth several times, eventually Phil Mogg started to fly in from England to join us in the writing and arranging. It was really casual and low key. It was a blast, one night Pete Way and I went down and hung out with Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. Great times man!! Pete is one of the nicest guys one could ever meet. I swear he knows everybody! I think the album turned out very good. They weren't looking for a Shenker fill in, they said do your own thing! It was cool, I did pull some stuff out of me that I didn't think I had in me. The solo to "house Of Pain" wow! Not sure were that came from. the crew down at the Shrapnel Camp were saying - Geeesh... Is this the same George Bellas?!?" It was very different from my solo instrumental albums. I love this simple style of music as well. Yeah, I love to get into composing, but this record the way I wrote was mainly by just picking up my guitar, cranking up a Marshall and jamming. Who needs paper, no just kidding. I do write using several various methods, though.
12. DO YOU REMEMBER WHICH WAS YOUR DEBUT RECORDING / APPEARANCE IN A STUDIO EFFORT ? WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THAT PERIOD ?
When I was 13 I recorded several songs with my band "Destiny". Those songs we're recorded on 24 track 2 inch tape. I was composing in a very progressive style very early on, heavy guitar solos, experimental meters, advanced progressions and other cool elements. Those times growing up and going through my major development periods were great. Some of the best times were not necessarily the final release of some completed work, but the times and struggles during the process! Stop and smell the roses and enjoy the circumstances life presents to you.
13. RIGHT NOW WHICH ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS ? MAYBE A NEW GUITAR INSTRUMENTAL WORK ? I SAW IN YOUR WEB SITE THAT YOU’RE ABOUT TO RELEASE A NEW ONE ? CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT ? WITH WHICH MUSICIANS ARE YOU WORKING WITH ? I BELIEVE THAT BOTH YOUR ALBUMS WERE ONLY RELEASED IN THE STATES. IS THERE ANY POSSIBILITY TO SEE YOU IN A EUROPEAN LABEL ?
I am working on my vocal band AUDIODROME. I have my 3rd instrumental solo album ready to go. I have just released several "Music Tools" software titles developed to better my students learning and my teaching them. I plan on putting together a tour very soon to support AUDIODROME and my instrumental music. I am also working on an instructional DVD. I currently offer "The George Bellas Instructional Series" 12 CD ROM guitar course. (Mac or PC)
14. I ALSO SAW THAT YOU JOINED MAGELLAN IN THEIR LATEST ALBUM WHICH SHOULD BE OUT BY THE TIME WE ARE SPEAKING. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THIS CO-OPERATION AS WELL ? MAGELLAN IS A WELL-KNOWN PROG.METAL ACT BUT I GUESS THE WHOLE THING SOUNDS EXTREMELY PROGRESSIVE COMPARED WITH THE ACTS THAT YOU HAVE WORKED WITH SO FAR . WE KNOW YOU AS A NEO-CLASSICAL SHREDDER SO YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN A COMPLETELY PROG.METAL BAND LIKE MAGELLAN SOUNDS QUITE PROMISING . SO WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE NEW MAGELLAN ALBUM ? ARE YOU INVOLVED ALSO IN THE COMPOSING OF GUITAR PARTS OR YOU JUST PERFORMED WHAT THE REST COMPOSED ? SHALL WE EXPECT GEORGE GUITAR GOING PROGRESSIVE OR MAGELLAN SOUNDING A LITTLE BIT MORE NEO-CLASSICAL ? OR MAYBE THE TRUTH STANDS SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE ?
Again, I think I am more of a futuristic guitarist than merely just a neo classicalist. I use odd meters and progressive elements extensively in my style. I have always been a fan of Trent Gardner's writing, so when Mike Varney called and asked if I would be interested in working with Trent, I was totally into it.
15. WHICH ARE YOUR TOP-5 RELEASES OF ALL TIMES AND WHICH ARE YOUR TOP-5 GUITAR PLAYERS. WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR IDEAL METAL BAND ?
- Gamma II
- Bridge Of Sighs
- Strangers In The Night
- Double Live Gonzo
- Van Halen
There's a whole lot more, but you asked for 5, so I better stop.
My fantasy band - I've said this before but:
- Drums - Einstein
- Guitar - Me
- Vocals - E.T.
- Keyboards - Liszt
- Violin - Paganini
Can you tell I'm yearning for a different kind of vocalist? And yeah, my drummer better be able to count!
16. WHICH IS THE EQUIPMENT THAT YOU MOSTLY USE AND FOR WHICH REASON ?
My Brain, ears and other senses... Everything else below is easily dispensable.....
- Books, books and more books...
- Fender Stratocasters
- Marshall Amplifiers
- 10-46 gauge strings, Dunlop JazzIII picks
- Apple Computers
- Focusrite Red Series
- Emagic, Adobe, Apple, Waves Software and more.
17. HOW DO YOU SEE THE MODERN METAL SCENE ? WHAT ALBUMS HAVE YOU LISTENED LATELY ?
I think there are whole bunch of promising guitarists out there. I try to encourage people to practice, study, live and experience, and express the sum of all this through music and art.
18. FREE SPACE. GIVE YOUR OWN MESSAGE TO YOUR FANS WORLD-WIDE .
Be nice. Listen to what you want. Allow others to enjoy what they like. And let's all have fun doing it. We are all sharing this sphere together. Seems like people lose site of that sometimes in all these turbulent times. PEACE!