George Bellas Interview
by Tommy Hash
With "Planetary Alignment" you used a whole array of playing upping the antae with progressive elements and with "Step Into the Future" you performed the album as one song, and now "The Dawn of Time" is a highly melodic rock, why this direction on the new album ?
There was not necessarily a change of direction on "The Dawn Of Time", on the contrary, it rather exemplifies quite nicely the writing styles that I have laid forth on several previous albums; Neoclassical and Progressive. I quite often use different composing techniques and elements on each of my albums, it would bore me to reuse the same things for each and every album. It's a lot of fun for me to be ultra creative and not tied down by having to rehash the same material over and over again. I constantly yearn to discover and explore new composing techniques, and also continue to review and refine my skills at using older baroque, classical and romantic techniques. While there is certainly a great deal of melody on "The Dawn Of Time", as there is with all my albums, it is not of the stereotypical melodic rock genre, being that there are some highly complex and exploratory elements scattered throughout the album. The idea was to include the complex progressive songs along side the neo-classical / neo-romantic songs. I did however want "The Dawn Of Time" to be a more tonal and consonant album than my two previous releases, but I still managed to include many modern elements that I enjoy using when writing, I just mixed the styles up a bit more.
On the album "Step Into The Future" it wasn't that it was just performed as one song, it was indeed entirely written as one continuous piece of music. It was not several songs that were later merged together after the fact. Recording a 75 minute song was quite demanding on my digital audio workstation and brought it to its knees near the end of the production. Some might consider me to be a bit eccentric for releasing such an album, not only for its unconventional format, but also for the ultra-modern content.
Going back a bit, how did the idea of making Step into the Future come about?
Just like all my other albums, I had conceptual and musical ideas come to me and I composed until it was finished. The whole composing process took about 6 weeks. There was no special thought process involved with "Step Into The Future", other than thinking about the ultra-modern composition techniques and elements that I used. And the length of the song was not something that I predetermined prior to writing it, I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote. It was a very natural process, it's just that it came out to be a rather lengthy song compared to what's considered the norm. It was a lot of fun and very exciting to write and I am happy with the way it came out.
On Dawn of Time, you played all of the bass and keyboards as well, how is it that you approach writing/arranging for these instruments as opposed to the guitar?
I don't think in terms of just guitar, in fact, for the most part, it's not even in my mind or hands when I'm in composing mode. 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 before they are ever played, which includes the bass, drums, piano, oboe, french horn, etc. I love the art of orchestration very, very much and am quite adept at properly writing for each instrument. I really enjoy a diverse tonal palette, and that along with the actual parts, together gives the music a lot of depth.
Choosing Marco Minnemann to play drums on this record, what was the basis?
Because he is capable of reading the music I send him and playing the material, some of which is extremely complex. And not only because he can just read and play it, but in a way, much more importantly because of the personalized interpretive character he adds to the parts; which is some of the most unique and best I've ever heard. I really consider Marco to be one the best drummers that has ever lived.
What is some of the gear that you have used over the years for guitar and recording?
My number one tool over the years for composing has been an overflow of creativity with plenty of paper and pencil on hand. Those are the three most important tools, everything else is disposable. After the composition process though, the gear I have used over the years to perform and record the music includes:
- Fender '57 Stratocasters
- Gibson Flying V's
- Gibson Les Paul's
- Ovation Acoustics
- Fender Precision / Jazz Bass
- Musicman Stingray Bass
- Marshall JCM 800
- Marshall 1976 MKII
- Marshall 1977 JMP
- Marshall JCM 900 (several, each equipped with different tubes)
- Ampeg SVT Classic
- Ibanez TS9
- NOS Tubes
- Sennheiser MD421 Microphone
- Sure SM57 Microphones
- Mogami Cable
- Dunlop Jazz III Picks
- Dean Markley .010 - .046 gauge strings
- Apple Computers
- Logic Pro DAW
- Abbey Road EQ and Compression
- Apogee Rosetta 800 Converter
- Apogee Big Ben Wordclock
- Coleman Audio SR5.1 Sound Distribution
- Focusrite Red Series Mic Preamps
- Mackie Monitors
- Alesis, Roland, and Studiologic Keyboards
- RME audio cards
Having been involved with several projects such as Palace Terrace, is there anything else that you are working on doing at this time?
Yes. During a three week period this past December I composed a new album, and am also about half way through composing another album on top of that. Once I am finished with the composing for the 2nd of the two albums I will begin the recording process for both. I don't want to disclose too much about these two albums just yet. I also recently collaborated with keyboard whiz Mistheria on his upcoming album "Dragon Fire", which will be released later this year (TBA) on Lion Music.
How did the appearance on the record by "Hands Without Shadows" by Michael Batio come about?
We have known each other for some time now, and after recently doing a gig together in LA we had kept in touch and tossed around a few ideas of working together. For the "Hands Without Shadows" album, Mike just asked me to play on his album and I agreed, it was simple as that. I composed a 3-part counterpoint section for the album on a Friday evening, and then recorded all the tracks on an early Saturday morning. I recorded a bunch of solo variations for Mike to choose from, but we wound up going with my first take.
You once mentioned that you have quite a bit of back-catalog that remains unreleased - any possibilities that you might release some of this material as an archival compilation?
I have an enormous amount of unreleased music, and I mean a lot. If I am not in the midst of a production (recording and engineering) I am writing. The past several years writing has taken precedence and completely consumes my time. It's what drives my inner being more than anything else. And yes, there is of course the possibility that some or all of the material will be released, whether it's within my lifetime though has yet to be determined. And the unreleased music is not material that didn't make it onto an album per se, it's just material that was written separately and not specific for any of my releases. When I write an album I write specifically for that album and include everything that was written, unless there are too many notes, like on "The Dawn Of Time", meaning I had more than 80 minutes of music and had to trim some notes off to fit it onto a CD. But which notes does one not include? That was indeed quite a challenge unto itself.
As someone who teaches and holds guitar clinics, what are you goals as far as what you want you students to get out of your lessons?
My goal is to teach students about music and not just guitar. I highly stress composition to all of my students, and granted not everybody wants to compose, but I still present them the ideas and tools to do so and try to be as encouraging as I possibly can be. I also teach and encourage the spontaneous art of improvisation. As much as I love to compose, I also enjoy improvising, and I don't mean just soloing, I mean progressions, melody, rhythms and solos. I share with students the same methods that helped me with improvising, while playing many examples as we explore the process.
What else holds the future for you, producing, tours?
I would really love to set up some tour dates. So once I am finished with my current composing and recording, I will consider it. It's a challenge for me though, due to my passion for writing it becomes an obstacle knowing that I won't be able to compose as much while traveling. But I do indeed very much love to play live, so once my two new albums are recorded I'll see about putting the quill and paper down and scheduling some dates. In the future I plan on writing and recording as much as I possibly can, and as I previously stated, maybe even release some or all of the material from my existing back catalog, but for me it's so much more exciting to look ahead and write new material.
Thank you Tommy, it's lots of fun sharing insight into my creative process and what's involved with bringing the ideas into fruition. And also thanks to my family, friends, students and the press for all the support throughout my career. I appreciate it very much - thanks!