George Bellas Interview
What music did you listen to before you started playing classical guitar?
I listened to a variety of musical styles. From the very beginning I was more intrigued with the idea of creating than I was in mimicking other people’s creations from repertoire. I also was not interested in nor satisfied with what has been traditionally perceived as ‘classical guitar’ due to the performance and sonic limitations of the instrument. I wanted to create without being bound to any particular instrument and was passionately drawn to composition with no interest in being confined to the range, tonal characteristics, and performance nature of the traditional nylon-string classical guitar, or any other single instrument for that matter. Six strings and twenty-some frets was not enough to satisfy my insatiable desire to create for a wide spectrum of instruments. While I do love guitar very much, I prefer to play it in a way that is more like a violin, viola, or cello than that of what is perceived as traditional classical guitar.
Are you completely self-taught? Have you ever attended music schools or music teachers?
I had some formal guitar lessons when I was seven and in later years academic training which clarified and strengthened what I had already learned. I began studying classical harmony and counterpoint very early on. As I mentioned, I never wanted to simply play pre-written music. To me, the music from the last several hundred years was a source of inspiration that kept me engaged while studying various composer styles and the principles used within those styles. To study what has been done provided me with the realization of what had not. One of my deepest joys in my life is the process of creating new information in unimaginable ways.
I don’t agree with the way the public education system is currently setup. I think it is flawed. Grouping students by age, standardized testing, time spent on pointless classes for the sole purpose of acquiring credits, along with having the imaginative creativity educated right out of you by instilling the notion of either being correct or incorrect does not create an environment that fosters an individual’s passion or creativity. While literacy is of course important, so is creativity. Rote learning and regurgitation of existing information that may or may not be valuable in a person’s life isn’t the ideal method for everyone.
When did you change your classical guitar to an electric guitar? What was the reason for this change?
I was not enthralled with nylon strings on an acoustic. The electric guitar was more exciting to me in that it offered many idiomatic features that I was drawn to, such as increased sustain, bending ability, molto vibrato, and a variety of tonal possibilities that I found all collectively contributed to enhanced expression in which better suited my preference.
Did you also learn to play keyboard instruments on your own?
As with the guitar, I had some academic piano training but cannot attribute my abilities or knowledge to any given institution. It was (and still is) the innate ongoing passion for learning, exploring, and creating that combined with diligence and discipline yielded the skills necessary to perform and compose beyond the familiar.
In the book «Shredders! The Oral History of Speed Guitar (and More)» Mike Varney tells a series of stories about how he found this or that guitarist. But it doesn't have your story. How much time and demos did it take for Varney to sign you?
I sent Mike Varney a demo of my debut album “Turn of the Millennium” and about a week later he called me offering me a recording contract as a solo artist as well as several opportunities to play on other albums. Mike Varney was calling me every few months to get me to perform and compose on other Shrapnel artist albums.
Mike Varney co-produced your debut album. What was his role? You needed a co – producer?
Shrapnel Records President Mike Varney was involved during the recording of the drum tracks and also during the mixing stage. Due to the complexity of the rhythms that I wrote, it was challenging to find a competent drummer to complete all the tracks within the allotted time. It was Mike Varney that recommend and contacted various drummers to complete the drum tracks. While I didn’t necessarily feel that I needed a co-producer to realize my vision, I am very grateful for the help and support that Mike Varney contributed.
Your debut album came out in 1997, when the interest in guitar music and long guitar solos almost dried up. But that didn't stop you. Did you believe that guitar music had a chance?
I write and perform music and do not concern myself with what is accepted by society or what is popular. My mind is fueled by creativity. The work involved during that creation process is satiated by the reward of intellectual, creative, and emotional stimulation, not popularity or money; those are meaningless numbers imposed by the society our race has constructed through constant conditioning. It is irrelevant to me during the creation process.
Were there tours in support of your albums «TURN of the MILLENNIUM» (1997) and «MIND OVER MATTER» (1998)?
Yes, I did perform those albums live. However, shortly after that I devoted myself further and immersed myself in studying, exploring, composing, and recording. Repeatedly playing existing material is not as satisfying to me than pondering extraordinarily unique ideas and in turn creating something from nothing. That creation process is the breath of my life.
Why did you leave Shrapnel Records for Lion Music? What was wrong with Shrapnel?
Nothing was wrong with Shrapnel. I have a good relationship with Shrapnel Records and have a great deal of gratitude for what they did to bring my music to the world. I simply contacted Lion Music Records and shortly after started releasing albums for that label as well. Both Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records and Lasse Mattson from Lion Music Records are great people to work with and I am quite fortunate and genuinely thankful for having had the opportunity to work with them.
On your official website there are photos from the Cacophony concert. When did this concert take place? What did you play on it?
The concert took place prior to the new millennium. I composed and played guitar for the band I was currently in at that time. That show was a lot of fun. I remember talking with Jason Becker that night before the show; what a super nice guy and such an inspiration to many.
There is no section about concerts on your official website. Do you tour?
I do enjoy improvising when performing live and get a tremendous amount of stimulation from that spontaneity, after all, improvising is composing at a rapid pace without the critical thinking involved that is necessary for composition on a deeper level. However, I prefer to create, to constantly create, and find that I can do that best when able to spend significant time in a critical thinking state that solitude provides.
How do you compose music?
From ideas generated by my mind one note at a time. I continuously find profound inspiration from compelling ideas in quantum mechanics and astrophysics.
Usually on your solo albums you do everything yourself, except for the drums. Aren't you interested in playing with other musicians? Or is it just a matter of recording budget?
Recording budget isn’t the principle factor involved in the decision process of performers on an album. I write for all the instruments. We are a peculiar race and have been heavily conditioned to believe that things are and should be done the way we are used to and most familiar with, for the most part anyway, such as humans performing music. Whether by human or machine, bringing exceptionally unique ideas to fruition is my goal. It can certainly be fun and fulfilling when performing with other human musicians, however, to me, it does not matter if it is human, machine, or lifeforms unbeknown to homo sapiens.
Which of your albums do you consider the most interesting in terms of music, and which in terms of guitar technique?
The most compelling is the one that hasn’t been written yet.
One of the brightest and most melodic of your songs is "Let There Be Light". What is the history of its creation?
Thank you. While I appreciate that sentiment, there are 16 billion others that may view it differently, and therein lies the beauty of how music has the power to move each person uniquely. I composed “Let There Be Light” straight from my mind onto standard notation one note at a time. After everything was written I then learned the guitar parts that I planned to record. The piece is based upon classical and romantic harmonic structures, counterpoint, and form. The introduction begins with an augmented-sixth harmony resolving to the cadential-tonic-six-four to the dominant that subsequently moves straight into the chromatic neighbor-tone based main theme on the tonic. I used a JCM800 amp and a 57’ reissue stratocaster for the guitar parts.
Marco Ferrigno is your student? How long have you been teaching him? Who else among your students has become a professional musician?
Marco has studied with me privately one on one at my studio and also has completed all of my digital instructional media. Prior to that Marco and his fellow classmates (while at Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood California) studied and transcribed my recordings that were circulating around the school. The word ‘professional’ is a human construct and I feel should not be used to judge the significance of what one is doing or has accomplished. I think the person with unique ideas hidden from society in a desolate room somewhere is just as relevant (perhaps more so) than the one who others are familiar with. I have taught thousands of students worldwide and they are all equally important to me.
How did you work with the choirs for the album «COLONIZING the STARS» (2018)? Have you worked with choirs together in the Studio? Or did you work remotely in different studios?
I composed the parts and those notes were then realized with the choirs. I have written for Bass, Tenor, Alto, and Soprano for a long time. I much more enjoy and can endure for a great length of time the ensemble sound of a choir than that of a vocal soloist.
What language do choirs sing in? Who wrote the libretto? What’s the ending to this story?
I wrote my own alphabet and language for the album. It is not a story per-say, rather it is the idea of what human kind is faced with that has yet to be concluded.
Why did you refuse guitar overlays on this album («COLONIZING the STARS»)?
It’s not that I refused, I merely decided to use a single guitar track in an effort to maintain balance between all the other instruments and choirs. It was something I hadn’t done on any previous albums but turned out to be still quite challenging to mix regarding frequency balancing and stereo spectrum placement.
What kind of sports do you do? How much time do you spend in the gym?
I’m not really interested in sports other than my own physical conditioning with resistance training, cardio, and clean eating. I’m not a sports fan, I find more enjoyment in reading about, listening to, or thinking about intriguing ideas. I prefer to live a healthy lifestyle in order to keep my mind and body in an optimum state so that I may continue to live and do what I am passionate about for as long as possible. I spend time in the gym 5-6 days a week, and equally important I spend everyday in the kitchen eating nutritious meals that fuel my body and mind.
Who invented and painted your coat of arms? What does it mean?
The coat of arms was created by the amazing graphic artist Andre Beckston. It means George Bellas, the earthbound human that ponders the deepest questions of the incomprehensibly massive place we call the universe.
What are you working on at the moment?
Music. I don’t want to reveal anything other than that at this time. I have many albums completely written and find it difficult to stop imagining new ideas that incessantly motivate me to compose more fresh music. I will say this though: I plan to publicly release a great deal of music far into the future.
An enormous thanks to my supportive fans and inquisitive students around the globe. Keep your ears on… there is a lot more to come.