Interview with George Bellas
by DPRP's Menno von Brucken Fock
George Bellas is an American composer, educator and multi-instrumentalist from Chicago (USA). After having played in numerous bands he released his debut with Shrapnel Records in 1997: Turn Of The Millennium. Collaborations with Mogg/Way, Ring Of Fire, Vitalij Kuprij, Mistheria, John West, Magellan and Palace Terrace followed, next to several solo albums. George owns a private studio and an impressive number of guitars, basses, keyboards as well technical aids, amps, computers etcetera. The studio is mainly used for George's own recordings. His latest release is his solo album The Dawn Of Time, inspired by the creation of the universe and life as we know it.
From the age of 7, George studied harmony, orchestration, form and advanced composition techniques after his dad bought him an acoustic guitar. He has always been interested in sciences and never stops to explore new paths and is constantly striving for perfection in his playing but also never ceases to enhance his knowledge on musical theories and composition techniques. Although George mentions a great number of names who inspired him along the way of becoming a guitar virtuoso and an accomplished composer, the names most important to him would be the classical composers J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Liszt and Chopin. Another name that is very important for George is Walter Piston, a cum laude laureate from Harvard University. This composer / pianist / violinist wrote two books who have been a very important source of information for George: "Principles of Harmonic Analysis" and "Harmony". Other inspirational celebrities are: Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, a famous astronomer and physicist Michio Kaku, well known for his work on the string field theory.
How did George become a multi-instrumentalist and how does he compose? Answers to these and other questions by the amicable Bellas himself....
MENNO: George, congratulations with your latest release The Dawn Of Time! One of the outstanding neo-classical releases in 2010 in my opinion. The name Bellas probably originates from eastern Europe?
GEORGE: Well thank you for the compliment! And yes, you're right; although I was born in America my family heritage originated in Lithuania.
MENNO: Most of the people know you as a guitarist but you also play several other instruments. How did you learn to play keys & bass?
GEORGE: Actually I've learned to play these instruments the same way I learn most everything else: from intense studying, exploring, and being extremely disciplined and focused.
MENNO: Most musicians compose on a keyboard or a guitar and record a demo. How do you work?
GEORGE: I thoroughly compose (note by note) all the instrument parts for all my music, which includes scoring for: guitar, bass, drums, piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, English horn, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, violin, viola, cello, contrabass, harp, glockenspiel, tubular bells, xylophone, timpani, choir, synthesizer and other miscellaneous instruments. Every single note for all of the aforementioned instruments are written down on a score as they are conceived.
MENNO: That's interesting and impressive at the same time! I can't remember I've heard about this way of composing before, at least not that extensive! Do you have favourite instruments among these aforementioned?
GEORGE: My favourites are the French & English horns and the oboe. Then of course the guitars: preferably I use the Fender 1957 RI Stratocaster, the Gibson 60's Classic Les Paul and the Gibson Flying V. My basses of choice would be the Fender Precision/Jazz Bass and the Musicman Stingray Bass. The most important factors to me that go into deciding upon an instrument are... the way it feels, how it sounds acoustically and also how it sounds plugged in. Money is not a factor, nor distance. If I find an instrument I like, I will travel to get it.
MENNO: You mentioned an impressive list of classical composers you admire. You must have some preferences in the oeuvres of those composers and do you have time to listen to any kind of music yourself nowadays?
GEORGE: From J.S. Bach I like foremost the vocal and instrumental works. From Beethoven I would say the piano sonatas, string quartets and symphonies, from Franz Liszt the "Transcendental Etudes", all preludes and etudes by Chopin, from Brahms and Mahler the symphonies. From modern day composer I'm a fan of film scores, especially by John Williams (to name of few: Close Encounters, E.T., Indiana Jones Schindler's List, Minority Report - MvBF), Hans Zimmer (Rainman, Gladiator, Madagascar, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Sherlock Holmes - MvBF) and Danny Elfman (Hulk, Spiderman, Men in Black, Alice in Wonderland - MvBF). I love all of the above music for differing reasons that are unique to each composer, but the main thing that I find appealing in all of the aforementioned is the superior composing skills that these composers posses. I really do love the works of Gustav Mahler, Franz Liszt, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and some of the modern composers such as Zimmer, Williams and Elfman, but since I am very consumed in my own writing, most everything I listen to are mixes of material that I am working on and hardly anything else!
MENNO: What role do amplifiers, MIDI, software, strings, accessories play in establishing your sound?
GEORGE: While equipment and production certainly do contribute to the sound of music, it is the writing and performances that are far more important; and it is they that most strongly contribute to making a recognizable style. While I certainly enjoy playing through high-end gear, the real power and uniqueness lies in the mind.
MENNO: How did you actually define your own sound and how important is it to you that people recognize it?
GEORGE: With the power of knowledge and creativity combined through my own individuality along with courage and an exploratory spirit. My style evolved very naturally without any purposeful pursuit of it. Undoubtedly though, and based on decisions I made, it developed by continuous work while harnessing modern and classical composing techniques, which when combined, yields a uniqueness to my music and playing. The more educated a listener is the better they will be able to recognize the elements in which I use, but that's not to say you need to understand something to be able to enjoy it.
MENNO: How often do you perform live on average each year? As a band, a solo artist or both?
GEORGE: In recent years I have dedicated most all of my time to composing. I feel fortunate to have never been without ideas, and it is an ongoing challenge for me to bring to fruition as many as I possibly can.
MENNO: Do you have other occupations, guitar teacher for example?
GEORGE: I am a full-time composer and multi-instrumentalist. I only teach a few select students and spend the majority of my time composing.
MENNO: Talking about your last album "The Dawn Of Time": you are the composer, guitarist, bass player, keyboardist, orchestrator and producer: can you comment briefly on the making of this fine album?
GEORGE: Well, I composed and scored all the parts for all the instruments one note at a time to begin with. I then orchestrated it, learned and recorded the guitar, bass and keyboard parts, and finally had Marco Minnemann record the drum parts. After all that was completed, I mixed, mastered and created the artwork. It is very intellectually and emotionally stimulating for me to be at the helm in the entire creation process, which is indeed a lot of work, but at this stage I can't imagine handing over my artistic creation for someone else to complete.
MENNO: How would you describe the music on this album? Why are odd meters and classical influences important to you?
GEORGE: The music on the album is a combination of baroque, classical, romantic, and modern styles. Common Practice and modern composing techniques are important to me because that's what I like.
MENNO: How/why did you choose Marco Minnemann (UKZ)?
GEORGE: The reasons I chose Marco Minnemann to record the drum parts were 1) because he is one of the most incredible drummers I have ever heard , and 2) he is actually capable of playing the scores I send him.
MENNO: You also play jazz and classical; did you record this genre of music at all or do you perform live with this genre of music?
GEORGE: I have recorded a vast amount of music that has never been released, including classical, jazz, blues, funk and ethnic styles. I have studied jazz and classical since my early youth and have always had a deep interest in common practice techniques and form.
MENNO: How do you think you can move or touch the hearts of listeners?
GEORGE: By composing and playing music that a listener may be able to connect with in some metaphysical way. When that happens, it is magical. It is very interesting to me how individuality selects what is enjoyable to listen to and what moves us within what is heard; very intriguing!
MENNO: Do you have any special interests outside of music?
GEORGE: I have always loved sciences very much, in particular astrophysics. Contemplating the grand scheme of things has always fuelled my imagination and exploratory spirit more than anything else, but for me, I imaginatively project this through my music.
MENNO: Could you name a few artists you'd love to work with in the future?
GEORGE: Marco Minnemann, Rachael Barton-Pine, Franz Liszt, Itzhak Perlman (violin virtuoso from IsraŽl), and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
MENNO: What are your next endeavours?
GEORGE: The writing for my two new albums is totally complete, and the recording begins for one of them at the end of October. Marco Minnemann will once again be performing the drum tracks and I will be playing everything else. The first album to be released will be approximately 80 minutes in length and is in a neo-romantic style and is very epic sounding with huge lush melodies and romantic harmony. I used a lot of complex developmental forms on this album that I haven't used on any previous releases. I am very excited to start the recording process. I am anticipating at least one of the albums to be released in 2011. The title has yet to be determined.
MENNO: Any additional comments?
GEORGE: I would like to thank all of my fans for all their support throughout my career. It is not only for me, but for all of you too, that I will continue to release new music for as long as I possibly can.
|Mogg/Way || Edge Of The World || 1997
|John West || Mind Journey || 1997
|Vitalij Kuprij || Extreme Measures || 1998
|John West || Permanent Mark || 1998
|Ring Of Fire || The Oracle || 2001
|Sampler ||Shawn Lane Remembered || 2001
|Magellan || Hundred Year Flood || 2002
|Vitalij Kuprij || Forward And Beyond || 2004
|Mistheria || Messenger Of The Gods || 2004
|Marco Ferrigno || Hanging Gardens || 2006
|Palace Terrace || Flying Through Infinity || 2007
|Matthew Mills || Neoclassical Spirit || 2008
|Sampler ||This Is Shredding - vol. 2 || 2009
|Michael Angelo Batio ||Hands Without Shadows 2 || 2009
|Sampler ||Shrapnel's Super Shredders || 2009
|Mistheria || Dragon Fire || 2010
George Bellas - Official Website
George Bellas - MySpace Page
George Bellas - Facebook Page