Rhythmical Ni(hi)lism) – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com Interview with George Kollias
George Kollias, a Greek titan of extreme metal drumming, once migrated to Egypt to look for a job. On the banks of the Nile he was recruited by some nihilistic musicians and since that day his reputation in the metal scene is increasing. So I asked him, humbly tilting my head: “Would you please grant me an interview?” Luckily he was willing…
A Greek drummer playing in an American death metal band with an Egyptian name is quite a cosmopolitan story – please tell us the details.
George: Ha ha, yeah it sounds weird, but it’s really simple actually. Nile were always one of the top Death Metal bands, and I was a huge fan of them musically and lyrically. When they parted ways with their previous drummer they tried to find the next guy, so a friend of mine, which had done a session album for Nile (Derek Roddy), recommended me as the right guy to do it. The guys in Nile saw some clips of me playing and they believed I was the right one for the band…..and I guess they were correct since we have been together for 5 years now.
You are commuting between Athens and Greenville – isn´t that a little annoying?
George: In a way it is. I often have to leave my home and my people and spend extra time just to be able to rehearse with the band, but there is no other way to make it work. It’s easier for me to get there and the rest of the band to fly in Greece for a week or two you know? Traveling is a part of my job, although I never really consider playing music as a job….whatever. I need to travel often. Many people see that as a cool opportunity to see the world, but I am not the kind of type. To me it’s all about music and nothing else. When we’re not on stage I usually get bored.
Rehearsals are a different situation. I try to spend pretty much the whole day in our practice studio and rehearse the songs or do my personal drum practice there. It’s the best way to spend my days when I am not home since I have nothing else to do and I can focus 100% on drumming.
Are you a hired gun or a real band member of Nile?
George: I am a member of the band. That’s how it was from the first day I joined Nile. If Nile wanted me as a session drummer I wouldn’t say yes. I don’t like to be a session drummer. I want to be able to express myself through my music and not just be the guy who plays for other’s dream, you know? To me joining a band means we are together in order to make some music. For anything else it has to be a really good offer for me to say yes, and still I have to like the music I am going to be a part of, as a session.
I did some cool sessions though. I played for some bands that I thought would be super cool just to be a part of their music, and I had fun. Session drumming is cool when you have serious offers from serious bands. I don’t think it happens in Death Metal that often. Most session touring drummers do it just because they want to get out there and have some fun, which is still cool but not for me.
How about a new Nile album?
George: We are writing the new material right now and getting ready to enter the studio around June 8th. This time we’re recording at Mana Studios in Tampa-Florida with Neil Kernon producing and Erik Rutan engineering. I’m very excited to work with Neil and Erik at the same time. We know Neil very well from the “Annihilation of the Wicked” and “Ithyphallic” days, and we had great fun together, but this time Erik is another reason for me to be really excited! His work so far is simply awesome! Erik is a super cool man too, and I think we will have a great team there.
The material sounds amazing, even right now in the working process. There are going to be many new elements added this time like Nile always does, but it will be Nile for sure. It’s still too early to give details, so we’ll see what’s going on soon…
Do you play in other bands or projects apart from Nile?
George: Not anymore. There is no time for me to have other bands, maybe cause I got sick of working with the bands I had or maybe cause I want to have a personal life too…Since I joined Nile, the 2 bands I used to play in got a weird attitude toward me, not cause I didn’t have time to dedicate with them, but I was being pushed to do more for them just because I was in a bigger band. Everything I was doing or saying was criticized and never for a good reason. I shouldn’t have stayed with them when I joined Nile, but I never leave a band unless things get to the point that I’m not enjoying it anymore.
I’m really dedicated to my personal activities, my drum clinics and my own music. Whenever we have a break from Nile I’m always super busy doing drum clinics, teaching drums and writing my own music. I have a few tracks ready so far and I plan to release an album soon where I will be playing everything myself too. There are some demo versions of these tracks on my website already for anyone who wants to take a listen. You know it’s important to have something to keep you busy and in the mood. To me writing was always a big part of myself, and I am happy I found it again since for the past few years I was so busy with other bands which made me hold on to that.
Do you do session work?
George: Very rarely…. For me, in order to get busy with another band right now it must be something good and fun to do. It’s not really about money-it never was. It’s about something that will make it worth the time and work I’ll put in there. My band and my own music/drum activities always comes first, but if there is something good, in my opinion, I’ll do it.
The thing that really pisses me off is that most of the bands I played used my name and Nile’s name all the time to get some more attention on them, so it makes me think, “Is it my drumming or my name that they want?” It’s really weird. Many times I’m afraid to play music outside of my band because people keep using my name and my band. Even if I want to jam with somebody, I always think about it twice before I do it.
Is there a musical style you wouldn’t play even if you’d get a lot of money?
George: Well, I hate country music, for example, but if you offer me $50,000 I will definitely do a country album. Who wouldn’t? The thing is, if you really have that much to offer, why hire George Kollias and not hire a great professional Country drummer that will kick some ass and make your album better?
All I am trying to say is, the big bucks goes to those who can do a kick ass job. For country music, I am definitely NOT the right guy, and many other styles as well, and I don’t mind playing music outside metal. I do that all the time. I play jazz, rock, pop, latin…. you know, whatever feels like I want to play and learn more about music. I want to be a better drummer, so I keep my ears open to anything. If it’s good, then it’s welcome no matter what the hell it is…
How about the Greek metal scene?
George: I have no clue about it….There are many bands which unfortunately I can’t follow since I am far away all the time, but the scene is not better than it was 10 years ago when we had some really good bands leading the scene. From what I hear/read from magazines and friends, the scene is going really bad. The press there promotes their friends, so we are talking about a small circle of bands which happen to have some good relationships with some journalists. That doesn’t get Metal “up there” you know? I hope things will change cause I know there are some really good bands and musicians…
You studied with the Greek jazz master Yannis Stavropoulos; do you recommend studying other musical styles for metal drummers?
George: Definitely, as long as the teacher is a good teacher! You can study with the best and get pretty much nothing. The teacher needs to know how to pass his knowledge first. For me, I was lucky enough to meet Yannis. Yes, everybody knows how much of a KILLER drummer Yannis is, but a few people know how much of a great personality he is and how much motivation he gives to a drummer. This guy is very special. I studied with him for a year, and since then he has been my mentor and a huge influence in my playing/teaching. I wouldn’t have done my DVD if i didn’t have his help and support.
As for different styles, well a good teacher can make you better no matter what style he is into. Drumming is the same thing anywhere. There are just a few minor differences from style to style. What I consider as a very important thing is the experience as a professional player. I think that good teachers should have a Touring experience playing in big crowds, huge events etc. This is where the game is, no matter how many schools you’ve been into, the live thing is a different story and having somebody that actually KNOWS this is really a student. This is where Masterclasses take place. Is it worth spending some good money to study with drummers like Virgil Donati, Dave Weckl etc. for just an hour??? Hell yeah, it’s worths every penny.
I was a teacher before I started Touring, but now I am a completely different teacher since I saw what’s happening out there, in small clubs with bad quality sound to huge events with 30,000 people. Experience changes everything….and always in a good way!
You are a brilliant drummer; do you consider playing in a metal band as a limitation of your abilities?
George: Thanks for your kind words, I really appreciate it…
No, there isn’t any limitation. The opposite I would say. There is room to explore anything you have in you, and the more you do it, the more you give to your music or music in general. There are always ways to be more creative, and I believe this is always a good thing in music. Hell, I see jazz drummers blasting some times, and I think it’s way cool!
With that being said, there’s always a fine line. In extreme drumming you need to play to your maximum: fast, loud and aggressive. You can add different elements in there, but you can’t play super dynamically and softly. It just doesn’t fit the music. This is where projects and jams gets
their own role. I have a few people back home (some killer musicians) where I jam things I can’t put in our music, but I still want to discover and experiment. We’d jam some fusion jazz and whatever comes in our minds, and it’s always fun and positive for our evolution as musicians. Any musician should feel the same in my opinion. There are no limits on what to play, but there are –a few- limits on what to play in a band. You can’t play Nile songs as a pop drummer or blasting in pop songs, but going through these 2 worlds and experiment will definitely give you weapons to get better as a musician in general.
Your foot work is excellent, so I suppose you do special exercises to strengthen your feet. What´s your secret?
George: Thank you, to be honest I haven’t practiced double bass for the last 5 years that much. I used to do strength building exercises, speed exercises, control/balance….you name it, but since I joined Nile we’ve been playing so much that this became a second nature somehow. It’s funny when people ask me about my double bass practice routines when I mostly practicing shuffles, swing, grooves… it’s just heart…..you play live, you give everything you got and soon 240bpm becomes easy, but this is definitely a result of a complete drumming’s study and research. You can’t play good Death Metal even if you ONLY spend ridiculous amounts of time practicing Death Metal. It sounds funny; it’s 100% true…
Don’t get me wrong, I did a lot of work with my feet and my “routines“ are shown on my DVD. I have no secrets, and I always share whatever I do/did with any fellow drummer. But after all that, the most important thing is to actually play live. Everything you have studied, make it a part of your playing and not just a practice routine in your practice space. Even if we like it or not, practice means nothing without getting everything in your playing. This is why we practice anyways, to play better music right?
Another thing really important that everyone should note, drumming is not music itself. Drumming can be a “part” of music, and the more you play “for the music” the better results you get. I’m saying this cause I see many kids being confused on this. Having education or self taught experience on more than one instrument will definitely lead you to the right direction. A drummer should play for the song and not for drums, if you know what I am saying. When somebody stops thinking about their parts but “hearing the parts in the song” then automatically 9 times out of 10 they get better results and meaning to their music. Being a guitar player for over 20 years has definitely made me realize that a song needs a lot more than a killer riff or a super cool beat. That’s why I believe in the band concept so much, too.
Extreme Drumming exercises (that includes any style you do over the limits) should be „a part“ of your training to get to your goal, not THE GOAL…
You are able to play very complicated rhythms with unbelievable speed and precision; maybe you are the Dave Weckl of extreme metal. Can you give us some of your practice tricks for achieving these qualities?
George: Ha ha ha, well I’m a big Dave Weckl fan by the way…
The main thing around fast drumming is relaxation and muscle memory. That requires a huge amount of playing time and music knowledge (that means the songs, the parts, transitions etc.). You have to get through strength building exercises of course, push your limits on a regular basis to achieve more relaxation for the super hard/fast parts but mostly you have to spend a lot of time to get into the music, Metal and especially Extreme Metal comes from your heart. You can’t get the knowledge on papers and go for it. It needs passion and fire!
I’ve heard so many drummers talking about speed. They say you need to get everything tight on super slow tempos and stay there for years, and in my opinion this is 100% wrong (in a way). I had over 100 students coming to me and saying „I play singles at 40bpm for the last 2 years but I still can’t really go over 150bpm“, the answer is always the same: „You will never achieve super fast tempos if you’re not going for it“. What I used to do at the age of 12 was get songs down, transcript, everything note for note and go for it! Never happened at once, but the more I was going for it the more I was getting closer to the goal and that was a matter of 1 month most times. No limits, no forbidden areas, when I had something in my mind I went for it and made it…. I mean, if „x“ drummer did it, then I can do it. That’s my general view on Extreme Drumming since there are limits that everyone has to break.
On the „tips“ note, like I said, having the will to do it is the first thing and then technique follows-technique always comes second. Most drummers I know, including me, are self taught and most of them did an amazing work in albums I was listening to since I was a kid. Then of course you have to go through your technique fixing progress. There are so many books/videos and even free material online that makes it a piece of cake nowadays.
As far as Death Metal drumming goes, I would say „pushing“ is something everyone should go through… you can’t achieve anything without trying hard and unfortunately that ends up in real pain most times. It’s like when you are working on your technique, you have to go through pain. This is why I always note the „liking the music for real“ thing. If you do, then it will be fun. If not, then forget it….
Extreme Metal Drumming needs precision, stamina, good control and balance. Then, by pushing your limits, speed will become a part of you soon. Other than the basics, it’s flavor…and this is what makes some drummers different and sound better than others. Listen to a lot of music. Get into the music. Then go for it! Simple, but not easy.
Do you permanently play with click tracks?
George: I always record with click tracks like all professional drummers. It’s just the right way to go. It’s much easier to go without it, and I prefer it since it’s easier to apply the feel in the music, but when it comes to song writing, it’s way more professional to go with click tracks, not for “fixing and getting everything on the beat with technology.” I hate that, and I never do it, but click makes the song a lot more tight and also makes everyone else’s life easier….except the drummer, since if you ask me playing on a click at those speeds, it’s one of the most difficult situations you will face as a drummer. It’s tough….very tough. Also by saying “play on the click” I don’t mean playing along with it, but make it as a mark point while you add all the natural human feel. THIS is what I am talking about.
As far as “fixing drums” goes, I’ll never do it for 2 reasons:
First, I want to be able to play everything live, too. I hate when drummers are not able to do what they “did” in the studio. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s so much disrespectful to me as a listener and a fan.
Second, I wouldn’t feel good about it at all. Why make my fans believe I am that great while it’s all fake? I wouldn’t be able to sleep at nights…no thanks!
Do you like using click tracks?
George: Well, it’s something I got used to, and it feels very natural to me now, so I don’t mind at all. Back in the days I didn’t like it, but that’s because I couldn’t pass the natural feel in the music from having a click stressing me out all the time. Not anymore though. Now I can combine both. I make the click follow me and not me follow the click…. This is how music should be played, or to say better “rock music/metal etc.” I know many drummers out there -especially in metal- are bashing the click but unfortunately this is cause they are not used to it or they are not able to do it. It’s not easy…but it’s not that hard either.
You just got a new drum kit; what sizes are you actually playing?
George: Yes! It’s a Pearl Masters Premium 4-ply maple shell. This kit just rules! Sounds incredible!
I use what I was always using, 2×22“ kicks, 8“,10“,12“ 13“ toms, 14“ and 16“ floors and 2 snares: a 14“x6,5“ and a 12“x5“. I have also added a 14“x12“ tom on the left, a foot snare which is a custom made Pearl Tambourine transformed to a snare and lots of effect cymbals. I really like my set up. I can play whatever I want, and I have multiple choices of sounds in there. Although I have a smaller kit too, sometimes is a 4-piece or I will add another tom, a foot snare, whatever to make things rolling, you know?
Why did you change the drum company?
George: Well, Pearl Drums was my first Endorsement Application I ever did, but I didn’t have luck in the past. I was ALWAYS a Pearl fan and that was the first company I tried to get a deal. Then I had offers from other companies which I turned down since I wasn’t a fan of their products and I chose Gabriel Drums since they were a Greek company which makes some great drums. I wanted to support them. This company is actually huge in Greece, but we managed to get them out there with our tours and do some great promotion, great drums and nice guys. We had 4 years of blast.
During these 4 years though, I met the A&R guy from Pearl Europe and we became friends. He asked me to joined Pearl, and I couldn’t by that time since I had a contract with Gabriel Drums. So, we kept talking about the day we would do that. And finally it happened, and I am happier than ever! I play EXACTLY what I always liked since I was 12 years old. I couldn’t be happier! Now being with Pearl for quite a few months I can tell you that Pearl is a huge family and we have such a great time. You might wonder how can a huge brand like Pearl make you feel like home, but I guarantee you it does. Everyone I met so far in Pearl and official dealers are super cool and really into drumming! I love Pearl….I was a Pearl collector since 1990, and now I am proud to be an official Pearl artist!
Why do you use triggers?
George: Yes, I use triggers on my 2 kick drums. Death Metal drumming is something you can’t really play without triggers (on the kicks at least). So, I have no choice. I prefer mics a thousand times and I always record with mics as well, but live or in our rehearsals it’s just impossible to get these crazy fast double bass patterns loud and clear. It’s just the way it is and the way the bass drum works as an instrument itself, but i still try to get a natural feel out of it by using mics, too, so I am not loosing the dynamics. This works really well actually. It’s just very hard to set it up live night by night.
Don´t you like the new Pearl Demon Drive pedals since you are using Axis pedals?
George: I am using Axis for many years, and I don’t plan to change. I love my pedals and the feel they have. It’s incredible! I have found my settings for years now and Axis were always working great for me. It’s so funny how they NEVER let me down even with all these tours, traveling and doing miles of Double Bass on the them. They always work great!
I played the Demon Drive too. I tried it while I was in Finland for Finish Metal Expo where I had a clinic there. It’s an incredible pedal with so much quality. It’s like the spot says“ Insanely fast, Heavenly Feel“, exactly! They got so much technology and finesse, which I know every drummer will love them immediately!
Still, playing Axis for so many years already I am so much into them. There is no reason for me to change. I also have a Pearl Eliminator double pedal for my jazz kit. I got the belt drive one, and hell it’s insanely fast, too! Great pedal also!
Did your cymbal set up change too?
George: My cymbal set up is what I always had, except I added a few more cymbals on my main kit. For example, I am using an 8“ Chopper right now as a closed Effect-Hi Hat under my main Hi Hat and I also added 2 APX crashes, a 16“ Crash on the left side and an 18“ O-zone Crash on the right side next to my Chinas. All these cymbals are new models and I really love their sound, especially the APX line where I am using a lot of them on my other kits also; these cymbals are 100% Rock/Metal cymbals and they can cut through anything….no matter how loud your band is on stage the crowd will be holding their ears every time you hit those cymbals! I really like the Crashes and Chinas. The splashes are also loud and clear. The Hi Hat and Ride are very nice but for a more Rock approach than extreme Metal.
I got a huge collection of Sabian cymbals. I always get more and more, and I am a Sabian freak for sure… I got HHX, Hand Hammered, AAX, APX, AA….whatever you can imagine!
You use two ride cymbals; what are the advantages of the two surface riding concept?
George: Well, it’s a very simple approach actually, been able to play hand to hand patterns to your Ride cymbals without messing up your sticking by going on your main Ride cymbal on the right side. I always loved it and I’ve had 2 rides on my set up for many years as well. It gets even better when the Ride cymbals are slightly different, for example I use a 20“ AAX Metal Ride on my right side as my main Ride and I have a 20“ AAX Metal Ride on my left side. That 2 inch difference really makes a difference on the Ride tone and sounds great. They have to be just slightly different but still very close!
Drummers that got me into it was Gene Hogln and Richard Christy, which were always some of the big favorite drummers for me. There are also many more having super cool 2-Ride licks like Nick Barker and many more.
What do you think of incorporating bomb shells, boat propellers or saw blades into a drum kit for getting unusual sounds?
George: Ha ha ha, no. I mean I never did so far. Some other drummers did and for the saw blades for example, since I joined Nile I always get that question since their previous drummer was using them. I use 2 ride cymbals, and this is the reason Tony had the blades on, same tone and purpose so I was already able to play the songs that have Double-Ride Licks since I was using 2 Rides.
What I’d like to experiment with, but not having ON my drum set, would be various world percussion. I am coming from Greece and we have a huge history and tradition in Percussion. Most of them are custom made, and it’s quite hard to get them, but I am on a research of getting some and use them in my solo project album. I am not an expert on how to play them but I got what it needs just in my head from listening.
Are you interested in developing new drum and cymbal models for Pearl and Sabian?
George: This is something that isn’t up to me, but in any case I will be asked then of course I’ll do it! This will be something I really-really want! I am so happy I belong to these companies. I am a Pearl and Sabian collector and I have multiple set ups for other things I play. They are just the best out there and there is so much variety that keeps me buying gear all the time, ha ha ha.
Do you use the same drum set in the studio and live?
George: With my previous Drum Company that wasn’t possible cause they were a small company and they couldn’t support me on Tours. Now with Pearl I get the support I needed and I am REALLY happy about it! Of course, now I will be using the same drums I am using for the studio, and it’s very important for me to know that i am going to be using what I already play all the time.
In my studio in Greece I use a Masters Premium set right now and there is a new custom Masterworks on the way, too. These kits will be used for all my personal recordings, clinics here in Greece, as well as in many Videos/Online Lessons and of course my next DVD.
Is your DVD „Intense Metal Drumming“ already released?
George: Yes, my DVD is out not for quite some time but the reviews from big magazines are just starting to show up, and so far they are all great. I am really happy about that too! Intense Metal Drumming is a very honest DVD and shows a lot. I tried to go around different aspects of drumming and gave as much as I could. There are sections that everybody was waiting for as well as some other things that nobody thought I’d come up with, which was really cool!
The DVD is almost 4 hours long, has 6 very important chapters, and it contains so many exercises and concepts that will take a couple years for somebody to go through all these. Of course, there are solos and song performances in there as well. Like I said people always enjoy watching what they really like on you.
I did all the work by myself and this is why it’s really hard for me to distribute it. This DVD took me so much time and work which is not even funny…but still I love it and I am happy it’s out. I have plenty of things more to give, and I already started writing down my next DVD, which will be released somewhere around 2010 from a very well known label. First though, I want Intense Metal Drumming to do it’s circle since it’s still a fresh release.
For my next DVD, the main goal will be to blow Intense Metal Drumming away if possible and give A LOT more in there….we’ll see.
Right now, my DVD is available on my website. Anybody can get it by going to my website:www.georgekollias.com
Do you like playing drum clinics?
George: I love it. Clinics are a whole different story than playing live, even when you play along to your songs in there. There is always a good amount of crowd watching you close and carefully. It’s pretty tough to stay focused, not to mention it’s very tough to talk to them since everybody stares at you and most (if not all) are drummers, ha ha ha, very stressful. I am always trying to give as much as I can to my audience, from exercises and tips to answering their questions as well as play some of their favorite songs since they want to SEE that closely in there. I am trying to be myself and explain everything I do. I think people like it and get a few things for their playing. That’s all that matters to me.
You have a great free educational section on your website; do you also teach drums in real life?
George: Yes, I’ve taught drums for about 10 years. I was always into it though. I always wanted to sit with my drum buddies and share knowledge, you know? When it comes to drums I can’t stop talking…
The last 3 years, I’ve been teaching in Modern Music School in Athens/Greece, so teaching for me turned more professional by just entering the MMS. This school is so great. All the Greek great dummers of any style are there and we are doing a very good job in my opinion. I strongly believe the students of Modern Music School are very lucky since all the teachers there are a) Great teachers and b) super cool people. That makes communication and education so easy and so much fun!
As for my website, yes I have some exercises there that anybody can download for free and work. These are some „must do“ concepts and exercises and they helped many drummers so far, as far as I know. Right now, we are updating this section there and I have many more to upload, some more difficult ones which will make people sit down and practice a lot! Practice is a fun (and important) part of drumming. This is why I always make sure to give stuff that will be fun to do and will drive all drummers directly to the point.
Are there any goals you want to reach drumming-wise?
George: My goals in music are simple: first i want to be able to play the best I can for my personal satisfaction and second to be creative as possible and write better music. This is the main thing for me, and I believe these must be everyone’s goals too. Why work hard if you don’t really believe in something? And like I said, I mostly do it for me. Whatever I do and whatever I come up with in music is what I really feel.
I am trying to get involved with other concepts and projects, just for fun, and it’s working quite well so far but I need more. I want to be as relaxed and creative as I am playing with Nile and this is something really tough to achieve. The more I play other styles the more it affects my playing in Metal as well. It means that drumming language is pretty much one. You just have to know when and where to talk and how….ha ha.
What are your musical plans for the next two years?
George: Plans for the next couple years?…Promoting our new album with lots of tours is one of them. I also plan to do as many clinics as possible worldwide. Right now I have another huge company by my side (Pearl Drums) and things getting easier for me to do clinics anywhere. Other than these 2 which were always my first priority, I work on my personal album which I guess if everything goes the way I want concerning my free time, it will be ready to release early 2010. Last, I have also started writing down my second DVD. I’ve got so much material I am trying to put together and organize it a lot better too. This DVD will be out around late 2010, and I already have an offer from a huge Label to release it. I just want it to turn much-much better than Intense Metal Drumming. Now I know much better on how to move in there plus I also know the quality will be extremely high this time! Lot’s of plans….lot’s of work, fun never stops!
Be sure to visit www.georgekollias.com