George Bellas Interview
by Roy Amit
I first discovered George Bellas' incredible guitar playing on a SHOUTcast internet radio broadcast in the spring of 2001. Immediately after the broadcast I sought all the information about George -- his albums, his projects, bootlegs, if any, etc. I simply had to hear more of this incredible guitarist. Fortunately, almost all of the information can be found on George's website. Besides the videos on his site, I have also been able to find videos of George's playing on the Chops From Hell website. They are: 1) Ninth Arpeggios, and 2) Phrygian Improvization. Then, one day, I decided that I would approach George for an interview. He has been very kind to take out time from his schedule to share some very interesting thoughts with us. We owe George a debt of gratitude for this! So, without further ado, I present to you George's interview...
1. You have a fast, fluid picking style, and your passages often have a non-guitar quality about them. Do you play other instruments as well, and did you consciously try to achieve the sounds of other instruments on the guitar when you were learning?
Not other instruments, but human phrasing in general. Often times, during my development, I would try to mimic the sound of a spoken phrase. (NO, not the WahWah pedal thing Vai is popular for.) I would say a phrase and then say it again, with all the same pitches, rhythm and inflections but without the words. I would then try to mimic that on my instrument. I here so many players play scales up and down with out any interesting or really expressive phrasing, to me this is just not interesting or emotionally captivating. I need the provocative phrasing to capture my emotions and attention!
2. Do you find the guitar to be limiting in any way? The reason I am asking this is because often when I listen to classical piano recordings, I feel there is no way that those passages could be played on the guitar. That thought bothers me. You have indeed stretched the limits of technical proficiency on the guitar a great deal, but I wonder if you ever think the same thing I sometimes do when listening to classical piano.
There is a certain practicality with any given any instrument. There are adjustments made to play a piece on a different instrument other than the instrument intended to played by the composer. There are things that the piano can't do that a guitar can do. The Tuba isn't really preferable to play quick lines, the Saxophone can't play chords, the Violin is not suited to play more than 3 tones simultaneously, most singers can only sing one note at a time, the piano can't play microtones, certain chord voicings, tremolo picking etc. So each instrument has certain limitations based on the nature of the instrument. And NO, I do not feel limited to any extent worth complaining about. Give me more frets (2 or 3 in between each fret, plus more past the 5th octave E), more strings and more fingers and and longer life span and I'll show non limiting! class="question"
3. It angers me greatly to read reviews -- e.g. the one on the All Music Guide web site -- which claim that you are only "capable of playing frighteningly fast scales and sweep picking," as if to imply that what you play has no musical value. Do you ever attach any importance to the reviews you get at these sites?
I'm not sure why you or anyone would get angry about it. Some people think the artist Piccasso was whacked, and his paintings aren't art. I do, but, Art affects people differently. I think personal experiences lend themselves to the way art makes people feel. What one sees as blood red, another may see as rosy red. Poor analogy, but, you know what I mean.
I love it! Everybody has a right to there own views and opinions. I think that makes a healthy world. But, lets be nice about it! Each review is just one persons opinion. Sometimes I think fans opinions are much more important than some 9-5 critic with a little power and a loud voice. In regards to the comments on AMG - "Nothing original" geese... The compositions, progressions, time signatures, counterpoint all have something unique to offer. What YJM song uses 23/16, 11/32 time signatures, The Hindu scale, Major11ths, Altered dominants ( other than spanish phrygian) and dense counterpoint like that on TOTM? (Editor: TOTM is the album "Turn of the Millenium," George's 1997 solo release.) The only song on "Turn Of The Millennium" that is more pure Neo Classical is "Ripped To Shreds". That song uses 4/4 time and the harmonic/melodic minor scales and older classical period progressions. It's difficult for any guitarist, it seems, to use the Harmonic Minor scale with out the YJM reference. This is most likely do to the fact that, the Harmonic Minor scale is about the only one YJM uses through out every record he has put out. And besides that, we all use the same Well Tempered tuning system, and the same 12 notes, why doesn't somebody be REALLY unique and use the Pythagorean tuning system or a 48 tone scale?! Scales, Chords, Arpeggios and Rhythm are just tools to use in musical expression. They're available for everyone, use what appeals to you. I am very much more of a futuristic guitarist than Neo Classical.
So you can label me as a: "Futuristic-Neo-Classicalist" What kings, queens and castles are to other, more traditional, neo classicists, Aliens, Bio Implants and spaceships are to me!
But in fact, every single living human being on this planet is original, but some use the same language, some wear blue jeans, some listen to this or that kind of music, some like vegetables, and everyone has a different unique personal character to them. If everybody played the guitar equally well and we were only allowed to use the same scale (Ionian for example) we would all still have something musically expressively unique to offer. I want to hear E.T. play some music!
Editorial remark: Sometimes, the best remarks come not from the all-knowing critic, but from the ordinary listeners who buy the CDs and listen to the music they love so much. I want to quote a portion of Mike Smith's review of "Mind Over Matter" from the Amazon.com site:"Anyone who dislikes Bellas should consider how much work is required to get that good... when you're that good nothing you do is crap, only misunderstood or not understood at all."
4. The neo-classical genre has been on the wane since the early 90s. However, recordings such as your solo albums, "Extreme Measures" with Vitalij Kuprij, Greg Howe's albums with Kuprij, etc., seem to be pumping back some much needed vitality into the genre. Do you see a resurgence of the genre to its old level of popularity in the near future? Besides the established names, whom should the audience look out for?
I don't keep up with all the trends, I play and write what I prefer. Every single living entity on this planet could say "NO! Not that way, you should play like this, in this style!" and I would ignore them and continue to write and play in ways that satisfy my intellectual curiosity and is emotionally captivating to me. It is my expressions where talking about and that IS the nature of art.
5. Who were your influences when you started playing? Who are some of the musicians you enjoy listening to nowadays?
In the beginning: Ronnie Montrose, Robin Trower, Ted Nugent, Michael Shenker, Uli Roth, Van Halen - J.S.Bach, L.V.Beethoven, Franz Liszt and more.
6. Is the title track on "Extreme Measures" for real? I want to see a video of it! Prove to me that you actually played it! (Ha ha! Never mind!)
I played that with my big toe! :-) It's all real bro, I have NEVER sped anything up. And I also prefer to lay down complete sections opposed to punching in a million times like others I have heard about.
7. A word about the videos on your official site. "Anti-Matter I" is one of the most stunning improvized clip I have ever heard. I love the part just after the pedal tone, when you pick up the theme again and begin that ascending run, hitting the #7th along the way before resolving it higher up on the neck. Can you give us a glimpse of your thought process when you are improvizing?
My thought process while improvising sometimes can be very intimate, meaning I may reflect on things that I've gone through or would love to see in the world. I usually am performing differential equations, calculus and nuclear physics in my head while improvising. Just kidding about the latter!
8. I mentioned Kuprij a little earlier. I love to listen to the musical sparring the two of you engage in on the album "Extreme Measures." Do you have any more projects planned with him?
Vitalij and I create a tremendous amount of energy in our playing together. We have been great friends from the start and am sure we will work together more in the future.
9. The coyote or the roadrunner? Any particular reason for your choice?
Both! What fun would it be to have one with out the other. The day the coyote catches the roadrunner will be a very sad day indeed. The coyotes cleverness in trying to catch the roadrunner is inventive and ambitious (great qualities), but the roadrunner is swift for having its super human speed and quick wit, you gotta love that!
10. Recently my girlfriend made me watch the Disney cartoon "Fantasia" with her. At the beginning of the movie, the conductor of the orchestra said that music can be divided into three kinds. The first kind tells a story. The second kind sketches the bare outlines of a story, and asks the listener to use his vivid imagination to fill in the details. The third kind is just "pure music" -- music that exists for its own sake, and needs neither structure nor suggestion to validate its existence. Do you agree with such a trichotomy? Into which category would you say that most of your music falls?
All three. Without the pictures, the music without words isn't painting any story other than one being created by the listener. But, with the pictures it seems instrumental music, even with out words, can be really suggestive in its story telling.
11. What are your interests besides music? How do you spend time when you are not busy in the studio?
Reading, Music, Math, Science, Art, Nature and Teaching. I don't drink at all, so it wouldn't be pounding the brews with the bros. I'd rather be learning, creating or exploring.
12. How do you name instrumental pieces? The reason I am asking is because I can never seem to think of names for my own instrumental pieces. I have three compositions so far, and they are aptly called Etude 1, Etude 2 and Song 1. If I ever release albums, they will be called -- you guessed it -- Album 1, Album 2, etc.
How do I name them? Well... Uh... with names. No, just kidding, I know what you mean. I get creative as I do with the music. Sometimes trying to think of some word or words that describe what the music provokes in my mind and heart and other times not. One of my songs is not called anything, but rather given a symbol of association. Here it is: . (Yes, that was a tiny little dot.)
Thanks a LOT for your time, George. Thanks a lot for agreeing to do this.