George Bellas Interview
Many of you will remember George Bellas as the man with the flying fingers on Mogg Way's 'Edge of the World', and also on 'Mind Over Matter' with Barry Sparks. Well, there is a lot more to this fella than just a dexterity of dizzy digits. He also likes doing hard sums. And messing about with molecules. You wouldn't think it to look at him, but he's really quite intelligent! Anyway, he was working in the labbbbbbbb late one night, when his eyes beheld an eerie sight..... a monster from the slab began to rise, and suddenly to his surprise..... it was The Bat - with a load of questions for him to answer. So, here ya go!
1. First off, tell us a bit about your early days - whose music inspired you to get into this business?
Well, there was this chemical reaction, then there was light, worlds collided, oceans parted and boom! George Bellas was born. A short while later I was listening to Kiss, Ted Nugent, UFO, Zeppelin, Montrose, and creating a lot of loud noise myself while trying to decipher all I was hearing. I practiced my ass off as a kid. I was very hyperactive and wanted to learn everything I could get my eyes, ears and hands on, relating to music, art and science. I was a very heavy rocker, I also had quite an affinity for classical and other musical styles, particularly the works of Bach, Beethoven and Liszt. I have always loved counterpoint and therefore have always loved Bach's music and style, Beethoven's deep and intense extreme emotionally moving music was also very captivating to me. Liszt's virtuostic awesomeness inspired me to really push my limits as a player. I have studied through Walter Piston's Books, 'Harmony', 'Counterpoint' and 'Orchestration' books. Ted Greene (Famous jazz guitar educator) was also a huuuuge inspiration to me. Although I was rocker, I loved learning all those cool chords, scales, arpeggio's, patterns, compositional and improvisational techniques, that I did not here in the rock music I heard. In my early childhood bands, drummers told me my songs weren't in time, well the fact was they couldn't play in 11/16 time. Though I didn't realize early on, I had a very natural tendancy to use odd time signatures. Having said that, I love the simplest stuff as well.
2. When did you realise that music was the career-path you wanted to follow?
I have known this since I was very, very young. Actually, I can't remember there ever being a time when I didn't have this ambition for music, art and science. I suppose something sparked when those 2 chromozones merged.
3. What other work might you have done if you hadn't become a musician?
I love science, math, and physics. I have many other interests that all reflect in my art and music. It is very tunnel visioned to have and develop only one interest in life. Man, it seems so short, and there are so many cool things to discover, learn and react upon. I want to live forever! I have been on a lifelong quest to find the correct frequency (note) that is holding all these molecules together! Why we and everything around us aren't all dissolving into oblivion is pretty incredible. So you see, music helping science, science inspiring music and all these interests and thought-provoking ideas working collectively to stretch, refine my creative and logical awareness. Logic and creativity are a very powerful combo. Read, listen and learn!
4. You've recently been working with Ian Anderson out of Jethro Tull - we've got their drummer, Clive Bunker, for our Legends Of Rock tour. How did that come about, and does he still stand on one leg a lot? Tell us more about Magellan and the '100 Year Flood' album. Mike Varney called me and asked me if I would be interested in doing this really cool and challenging album, I said Ya!
I have been a Magellan fan since Mike Varney played me some demos over the phone years ago. So it was really a great pleasure to work with Trent Gardner. I recorded my solos for that shortly after the 9/11 tragedy and I dug really deep into my soul to pull up those performances. I was in spine-shivering heaven. I didn't find out until later on that Ian was going to do the record as well, that came as a nice surprise! As a youth, Jethro Tull's progressive style and Ian's awesome flute skills were very inspiring.
5. Also, tell us about Ring of Fire - I hope the experience wasn't as painful as the name suggests.....
I have worked with Vitalj Kuprij in the past and became good friends. Mark Boals and Vitalij called me and said I came recommended and asked if I'd be interested in putting something together with them and Virgal Donati, I was stoked. Mark and Vitalij came out to Chicago (my home) prior to recording the album. We lived, ate, slept and molded music. The album came out great. Vitalij and I have some great chemistry and produce some killer interplay when we work together. All in all, a great experience.
6. You are a professionally-trained musician - which means you understand that whole 'tadpoles on telegraph wires' thangggg - and you can recognise a diatonic chromatic lydian major arpeggio thingy at 100 paces, AND hum it an hour later from memory. Whewwwwwwww. You also teach guitar, through training videos etc., and put a lot of your resources into encouraging guitarists to develop their own style, etc. Tell us more about this, and the sense of achievement you get from making this happen.
I love teaching. I have been teaching guitar and music since I was in my mid teens. I get a great sense of accomplishment when I can help others. I have seen a lot of uninspiring guitar teachers give lessons. I try to keep all my educational material very exciting while really trying to expand the students' musical and creative abilities. I think it's so important to learn, but to really get motivated, to go overboard, reaching for boundaries and knocking them down.
7. What are your views on the current music scene?
I think if there is music being made and enjoyed, no matter if it's my music or not, that's a great thing! Art is a peculiar thing. And it seems so many artists (audio and visual) are so emotionally sensitive, and of course we all want the universe to love and praise us and our work. Well, that's not going to happen. I am not the one to think, "hey, everybody should listen to me and my music!" So, I am not the one to talk to about trends and scenes - I ignore 'em. I do what I love and enjoy and don't press it on anybody, but if somebody likes something I've done, well, that's cool! Be a nice person, there's something out there for everyone it seems. I am quite fascinated with the fact that so many humans have such strong opinions about what kind of music they like and why they think its good. Hey, it doesn't take some unusual Hirajoshi b5 scale in 23/16 played with a strat through a Marshall on 10. I save 11 for when I want to piss off the neighbors.
8. Who are the musicians today who you think have got what it takes?
I think there are a world of fine players and musicians out there. What it takes? Hmmm??? Tough question. Because even though people say I have this great technique, I don't think it takes all that to make great music. One note, with just the right vibrato can be a spine-shivering emotionally captivating auditory experience. I say, stick by what you believe in. Don't be so critical on what others may think of your music. Listen, be nice, and absorb, but most importantly, listen to and stay by your dreams. We all have emotions to express, so, we all have what it takes. But then there is that learning how to do that factor. Whether it be learning the alphabet , drawing, music, writing (text) whatever. We all have these abilities. Ambition and motivation are key factors in developing any of these elements.
9.Have your fingers ever dropped off while you were playing?
Only 9 of them have fallen off so far, so I have this one that's still dangling, it's gotten me by pretty good.
10. What do you feel is your greatest achievement so far, and what are you most proud of?
Surviving as long as I have on this eroding revolving rock without smashing into some other planetary bodies. But also, moving and inspiring as many people that I have with my music has been quite rewarding to me. It's not the riches, to me it's the simpler things like the smiles on fans' faces. Priceless.
11. Any unfulfilled ambitions - who would you like to share a stage with?
Matt Guarnere, the singer for my new band - AUDIODROME. We are working hard, writing and recording songs. Top secret for now!
12. What would be your 'fantasy line-up' with you on guitar, of course.
Well, the album cover would be hand painted by Michael Angelo.... then.... Nicolo Paganini - Violin, Franz Liszt - Keyboards, Einstein - Drums, George Bellas - Guitars, Barry Sparks - Bass, E.T. - Vocals
Hmmm, give me a minute to imagine that..... mmm, nope!
13. So, what are your other interests and hobbies, apart from music?
Writing computer programs- C++ writing code is very much like writing and structuring a piece of music. Graphic Art - Hand drawing, 3d modeling and animation etc... Science - I love learning how things work and why. I love problem-solving, finding a solution. Math - It is everywhere. whether you can add or not it is all around us with no escape! Physics - What goes up, goes up even farther with no gravity!
Blimey - I must remember that.
14. Tell us what it was like working with Bazzle Sparkypants. We find him a little ...err..... well, if I said 'Dennis The Menace' you'd know what I mean, yeh? What was he like to work with, and how did you ever stop laughing for long enough to make any music?
Barry is one of the nicest guys I have ever worked with. His bass playing is nothing short of spectacular. Barry and I have done a couple of records together and they were a blast making. We will probably work together in the future.
15. Also, I believe you stayed at Pete's house when you worked on Mogg/Way's Edge Of the World. I bet that was an education, yeh? Any gossip you'd like to share with us? Or any dirt you can dish us on Phil?
One thing I can say is - 'Oh my god!!!' OK, I'm back from pulling myself up and off of the floor.... That was quite an experience indeed! Those guys are the best!! Phil and I met at Pete's house several times prior to doing the album. Working with Phil was a riot! There was one time were it was really super early. Everybody was still sleeping and Phil was downstairs in the basement with headphones on mumbling something (working on the songs) I snuk up behind him and poked him in both sides of the ribs and yelled. I have never seen a white man jump so high! I couldn't get the shit-eating grin off my face for hours. Awe man, that was great! We worked very well together, the songwriting process was so very relaxed. I felt very compfortable working with those guys. Aynsley too, he is a super nice guy. One night, Eric Martin and Ross Pelton came down to the studio and we partied to the weee hours of the morning, listening to: 'Pete Way - The Life Story' - it was great, Pete had Eric, Ross and I nearly pissing in our pants from laughter! Phil was working very hard on the legal things that were preventing us from using the name UFO, but finally decided upon the name Mogg/Way at the last minute, which is probably for the better anyway. UFO is 'Rock Bottom' etc...!!! I love that stuff!
16. Do you have any message you'd like to pass on to our readers, or anything you'd like to add?
Thanks to everyone for all their support and enthusiasm! Being a longtime UFO (Schenker) fan myself, I thank all the die-hard UFO fans for allowing and accepting me as I am and not looking at me as trying to be a Schenker fill in. Let's all play nice now and not blow up our planet.
OK George - thanks very much for taking part in the interview and sharing your thoughts with us. Nice one!