Interview of George Bellas

George Bellas Interview

Do Fret

by Trevor Beckett

Hey George - many thanks for agreeing to do an interview for Do Fret - your time is much appreciated. Your new CD, The Dawn Of Time, is released via Lion Music on 16th July 2010. Can you tell us a bit about the new album?

It's my pleasure to share some insight into my new album and also various aspects of my music and the process of making it. My new album, "The Dawn Of Time", is an instrumental album that is rich in Romanticism and Futurism with insane performances by Marco Minnemann on drums, and myself on guitar, bass, and keyboards. The album contains 19 songs in the neoclassical, neo-romantic and also progressive styles. The production is dynamic, clean, and has an open sound to it allowing the music to breath naturally. Very minimal amounts of compression were used during the production of "The Dawn Of Time", which yielded a much more natural sounding album than one that has been squashed to a pulp with compression and limiting. The album contains a myriad of lyrical melodies, virtuosic instrumental melodies, counterpoint, improvised guitar solos, odd-meters, poly-meters, rich instrumentation, and a plethora of awe-inspiring drum playing by Marco Minnemann.

The writing process began shortly after my last album was turned into the record label and was completed within a 3-4 week period. After all the parts were composed I contacted Marco Minnemann and we began recording. The total running time for the album is mere seconds under the maximum capacity of CD, which is 80 minutes. I actually had way more than 80 mins of music, so I had to cut some notes to shorten it up a bit, and that was indeed a challenge.

I loved the 2 preview tracks and accompanying videos from The Dawn of Time (Machine Man and the title track)! One thing that struck me was the bass tone - it sounds really great. Did you approach this recording in a different way? Were you aiming for a more accessible sounding CD overall?

Thank you for the comment about the bass tone. I have always loved the bass guitar, after all, it is guitar and is just another spectrum of pitches. For this new album I really wanted to kick it up a notch with the bass tone and playing. So, for the bass recordings I used a Fender Precision hybrid bass along with a Musicman Stingray bass going into an Ampeg SVT Classic amp and cabinet. I used a Sennheiser MD421 to mic the cabinet and also took a direct line out of the amp, and during mix-down I combined the direct and mic signals to varying degrees for each song. Another unique factor of the bass recording was that I used a custom made isolation box (thanks to Greg Amidon). The iso-box was designed to only encompass the microphone and a few of it's surrounding speakers, not the entire speaker cabinet. The objective with using this iso-box was to have the ability to selectively use as much or as little of the room tone as I wanted. I did several A/B tests to hear and analyze the effects of the iso-box and I could not believe the difference; it worked great!

And yes, I was aiming for a more accessible album with this release. My last album "Step Into The Future" was a single 75 min song with no breaks, which is a lot to ask from somebody to listen to in one sitting. But, that's the way I wrote that album and am happy with the way it came out. So, for "The Dawn Of Time" I wanted to keep the song lengths a tad bit shorter than 75 mins, more like anywhere between 3 - 7 mins. The songs on "The Dawn Of Time" are also tonal and more consonant as a whole, although there are a few progressive songs that utilize odd-meters, poly-meters, exotic scales, and unusual chords, but most of the album is in a tonal neo-classical / neo-romantic style.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with Marco Minnemann? He has appeared on a number of your recent releases. Were the parts written out for him?

Yes, all the parts were scored and given to Marco in sheet music form for each album that we've done together. But the extra personal Minnemann character he adds is astounding and unmatchable. Marco is a truly amazing talent, he blows my mind each and every album we do together. Finding a drummer that can play the complex rhythms that I compose has always been a challenge for me, so, to me, Marco has been a real godsend. Even so, some of the material is still quite challenging, but he learns it and plows right through it, all the while adding his own unique staple to the material. I can't speak highly enough of Marco's talent.

Tell us about your guitars? I understand you favour Fender Strats and Gibsons (Les Paul's and V's)?

Yes, that is correct. I play Fender '57 Strats along with Gibson Flying V's and Les Paul's. My two all time favorite guitars are a candy apple red '57 strat and a daphne blue '57 strat, both with vintage style frets and maple fretboards. I use .010 gauge strings on all of my guitars. When I was growing up I used .013 - .058 gauge strings on a Fender acoustic that I played for 10 - 18 hours a day. And I mean intense workouts; constantly pushing my abilities with the metronome during gruelingly long practice sessions with little or no breaks at all. Doing so really helped me gain strength and develop my picking and fret hand skills, although it is quite dangerous, as human tendons aren't designed for such excessive workouts. During that period my finger tips on my fret hand were black and green, yes, that's right... black and green. I remember one year on the way to NAMM, Mike Varney's photographer at the time, Ross Pelton, saw my finger tips and could not believe it! It was kind of a funny reaction. I was (and still am) beyond obsessed with becoming as proficient as I can possibly be. I'll never be perfect, but I'll always strive for it.

Your playing is very technical, super-precise, yet always melodic. Can you tell us about your history with the guitar? How did you develop such a unique voice on the instrument? Is it true you are self-taught?

Yes it is true that I am an autodidact. I am an extremely focused and disciplined person and have been fortunate to have discovered amazing sources of inspiring information when I was very young. It doesn't matter how one learns, the point is to learn and understand how the information can be used, and of course to have the creativity to use it. Although, I do believe having an awe inspiring teacher can have a profound effect, not only on a student's interest, but on their lifelong development. It would be like having Albert Einstein as your 7th grade science teacher vs someone less passionate about the field.

How did you develop your compositional skills?

Learning, exploring, practicing, and getting creative. Ever since I was very young I have loved to write music, even before I understood any theory or composing techniques. What I did to develop and hone my craft was study, explore, practice, refine, and ultimately compose with what I had learned. This still goes on to this day, as I am always reviewing old techniques and searching for new ones. In my preteens I began to seriously study music theory and composing by immersing myself within all types of music books; harmony, counterpoint, form, and history. I also listened extensively to Bach, Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin, to name a mere few. When I compose I will begin with either a rhythmic or melodic motive, or perhaps an interesting harmonic scheme. As an example, my album Planetary Alignement was composed by writing all the rhythm and drum parts first. After all the drum parts for every song were composed I then began choosing scales, creating melodic motives and their respective harmonic underpinnings.

Who do you admire amongst guitar players out there today?

While there are certainly many fine players out there today, what I get the most enjoyment out of is composition. Who I enjoy listening to are composers that have developed their writing skills to a level that only a rare few ever achieve. I admire and deeply respect artistic and creative expressionism which has been developed to that of the highest regard. Developing composition skills is something I stress to all of my students, although some people are quite content with playing other people's music, which I can also respect very much. It's clear that when one is in the early developmental stages of learning an instrument many will want to become as proficient as they can, but at some point they will need to have unique compositions to utilize their instrument skills within. There are no limits to a creative mind.

How much of your time is taking up teaching? What do you think students should look for in a good teacher?

Most of my time is spent focused on studying, exploring, writing and recording music. Although I do enjoy teaching students that are passionate about learning and increasing their performance and compositional skills, but most of my time is devoted to composing. I get excited each and every day about writing music, and the inspiration never seems to dwindle, it's always on like a faucet without a shut-off valve.

Back to your question about teaching... What students should look for in a good teacher are: someone who is extremely knowledgeable; has vast experience; has exceptional performance and composing skills; can communicate well; can demonstrate to the point of being motivational and inspiring; and goes above and beyond what is required to help the student.

I read with much interest your letter on "The Current State of Music Piracy". Do you think people that steal music realize the damage they are doing? What do you think is an alternative model for the record business?

Some people may not realize that when they steal music they are hurting artists and the entire industry, but they are indeed. It is a serious problem which affects everything from the quality of releases, to the longevity of artists. An alternative? Don't Steal Music.

Do you have any live dates or clinics lined up? We would love to see you in the UK!

I am very much interested in scheduling some tour dates. The issue I am always confronted with is that... I am always writing and recording which consumes my very being, but, I do love to play live too. There is a good possibility for some concert and clinic dates in the near future. All details will be posted on my website.

Thanks a lot Trevor! I really do appreciate you asking me to do the interview and for all your support. The gratitude I have for that is truly beyond mere words - I will always remember it and take it to the grave.