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Interview with George Kollias

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George Kollias is a world renowned and much accomplished drummer from Greece. He is best known as the drummer of the American Death Metal band, Nile. He is also a very sought-after drum teacher and conducts power packed drum clinics all over the world. WTS caught up with him for a tête-à-tête, where he spoke at length about his drumming style and techniques and his inspirations. Read on to find out where India lies in Nile’s and George’s future plans…

WTS: Expression in drumming has to do with dynamics and the idea of ‘playing with feel.’ How do you incorporate this into your drumming style?

George: For death metal, there’s not enough dynamics, you’ve to be very solid and as less dynamic as possible. For other styles of music, of course you need dynamics, you know, it’s a big point of the expression. For example, if you are playing jazz music or folk music, you gotta have lots of dynamics always. For death metal, not so much. It’s a different style, we need more speed and stamina instead of dynamics. And I always try to approach any style I’m playing in the best possible way.

WTS: A lot of drummers want to know why you use one pedal to play blast-beats when there are double bass pedals available.

George: Well, umm, the main reason is, because of some of my favorite drummers when I started playing. Like Pete Sandoval from Morbid Angel, he was doing wonderful blasts. The truth is, where I grew up, in a small town about an hour from Athens, there were no metal drummers. I didn’t actually know two feet blasts, so I had to do one foot blasts. When I learned the easier way, it was too late, because I was too fast already! (laughs)

WTS: We’ve noticed that you use your wrists instead of swiveling the sticks in your fingers when playing quick. Is there any particular reason for approaching speed-drumming this way?

George: Yeah, that’s another reason, you know I was looking upto old school drummers, like Pete Sandoval, Dave Lombardo, Igor Cavalera. I grew up (listening) to these guys, and back in the day everyone was mostly using wrists. So till today, you have these drummers who are using mostly wrists for speed. And its again too late cos, you know, I can go as fast as I can with wrists and there’s no reason to change anything right now. But the main reason again, like the one foot blast, is that I didn’t know the other way! (laughs) I just wanted to play traditional metal.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: Have you ever drummed using wrong techniques and incurred injuries because of it?

George: Umm, never. I got few injuries here and there because of playing too much or not warming up. You know, we go on tours so much and I have to warm up everyday and somewhere in the middle of the tour it gets a little bit boring, there is no room to warm up. So, I’m like “You know what, let’s go without warming up.” That’s quite wrong for metal. Yeah, so, I’ve had few minor problems here and there and that’s only because I didn’t warm up.

WTS: So, your advice to prevent any such injuries is to warm up before playing?

George: Yeah, these days I’ve a personal doctor and what he suggests, and which I always do, and I don’t have a single problem since, is to stretch. So, he gave me a couple of stretching exercises and everything works so much better, you know. For death metal, you have to warm up and stretch a little bit, and it’s a different kind of music, you know. If I were playing a jazz gig or something, I would never warm up – it’s just different for metal.

WTS: So, do you play at jazz gigs as well?

George: Not gigs, but I practice, I practice a lot. I actually have a trio, but we don’t play so often and we have no plans for shows. It’s for fun and, you know, to develop a better technique, become a better drummer. That’s basically for fun and for myself.

WTS: You’ve learnt from the great Yannis Stavropoulos. What is it that you can share as the crux of your learning? There are a lot of drummers out there who envy your technique and style!

George: We did some rock drumming and we did some jazz drumming. When I started the lessons with Yannis – it was just a year, you know – when I started the lessons, I was already a well-known drummer here and I was fast to play in any band. So, what he basically did was, open my mind to new drumming techniques, new drumming approaches, different styles- jazz drumming or, you know, funk music and also, he helped me so much in how to become a teacher, how to understand what I’m doing and how to explain how I came up with my own exercises and stuff. He was also a huge part of my DVD. We were watching my exercises and he was giving different names (to them), suggesting different things. So, basically, he’s my older brother right now, he’s my mentor. We always hang out, talk drums. Today this is actually what I need. He always helps me out, man, always.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: About your drum kit – would it be right to say that it’s built for a rather ambidextrous approach?

George: Yeah, yeah, it’s an extreme metal drum kit, a big one. You know what’s interesting – lately I’ve been interested in the smaller drum kits. So, to me when I wanna have fun, I’m usually practicing on my small kit, which is like one tom, one floor tom, right cymbal, high-hat, that’s it. Very very simple. But for metal I’ve to play this big drum set. When you tour, there are too many things to worry about, too many cymbals, we’ve to carry too much of gear all the time. You gonna have atleast two drumsets if you’re going to have some serious practice.

WTS: Can you tell us more about your drumkit?

George: I use three floor toms, that’s two on the right side and one on the left. I use two snares – one 14 inch, my main snare, and one 12 inch snare. Two kicks 22/18. That’s it for drums. It’s all Pearl. I have a Pearl Masters Premium and I’ve my main kit which is Pearl Masterworks, that’s custom made drums. These days I’m expecting my new Pearl Reference Pure. This is the brand new model from Pearl based on the old successful Reference series, but I think the new one is better and more versatile to other styles of music as well. Like I said everything is from Pearl! I play Sabian Cymbals, Evans drumheads, and I play Axis pedals. I also use Extreme headphones and have been playing Vic Firth drumsticks for 22 years or so! (laughs) And right now, right next to me I’ve my new signature drumsticks, which, you know, we’re working on new prototypes at Vic Firth. So, my personal signature drumstick is one the way right now and I think it will be ready in about a month and released. Something, I’m really really proud and really really happy.

WTS: Will you be bringing those to your next show in India?

George: I don’t know if they are gonna be ready, but I got some prototype here. We’ve got 3 different models which I checked and we develop my own signature model, but the stick I was using in the past, and I still use, is the Vic Firth 55A, which, of course, has my signature on. But, I don’t know whether my signature model will be ready by then.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: While looking at the picture of your drumkit, we see a lot of Sabian AAX and HHX series cymbals. What is it about these series that draws you to them?

George: Well, the AAX are studio cymbals. They’re versatile and you can play any style with these cymbals. So, that was my first approach. The HHX series, they are more smooth and dark, (which I use for) more dynamical purposes. Like I said, I use stuff I would use for other gigs as well. So, my drumkit looks metal, but it’s not only for metal. You can play rock music, you can play, not jazz music, but many different styles on it and this is what I do also. Last two months I did some recording sessions for some really weird different bands, like I played for a punk band, I played for a band – they were progressive like Porcupine Tree stuff. So, all the time I was using (the same cymbals) for more sound options and that’s the reason I don’t use AAX metal crashes, because they’re only for metal. So, my crashes are (the ones on which) you can play different styles. Cymbals are never enough, never enough. You can have 50 cymbals and you will need more, that’s for sure.

WTS: Who among the current crop of extreme metal drummers do you follow and admire?

George: Extreme metal drummers? To be honest, nobody. I kinda lost interest for extreme metal drummers, because we do so much, we talk about this so much – I teach extreme metal class and all these clinics all over the world. So, what I really need is different drummers. Do you understand what I’m saying? I mean there are many great extreme metal drummers – one is Dave Haley from Psycroptic from Australia. I really like Jade Simonetto from Hate Eternal – this guy’s a monster. Romain Goulon from France – these would be my favorite extreme metal drummers. But, what I really need for my playing is to approach different drummers. For example, the last year I practiced a lot with Benny Greb, Chris Coleman. So, these are the drummers I’m watching and and trying to get into the sounds they do, mostly and not so much about extreme metal drummers anymore.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: You started out playing music at a pretty young age. What got you into music? Was your family into music?

George: No, no, not at all. What happened was I started listening to metal when I was seven. So, it was very natural for me to pick up an instrument a few years later.And what I did was I picked the guitar when I was 10. I still play the guitar, you know, I own three guitars here and I write music all the time. I always wanted to start drumming as well cos, I don’t know, it was cool? I don’t know. I always had the rhythm inside me, I wanted to get involved with drums. But, it was the money issue mostly and I couldn’t get the money to get my first drumkit, which I finally did when I was twelve and from that day I’m just a drummer. The main reason was I wanted to play metal, that’s it. Now there are more, but back in the day I just wanted to play Metallica, Sepultura, Slayer songs, that’s it.

WTS: So, what are your earliest memories of metal?

George: Yeah, it was a guy from Canada. He was a lot older than me and older than my brother. I remember then he had just moved to Greece and, this is a small town, in Korinthos. And, I remember me and my brother were at his home listening to music. He was into metal and we were learning and we were listening to Judas Priest. And we were like, “Oh my God, this is so fucking cool. We gotta follow this style, we gotta listen to this music.” And, next week or so, my brother and I bought AC/DC’s Flick Of The Switch album. That’s pretty much the beginning for me and then Iron Maiden and Metallica and everything.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: Having handled drumming duties on three albums so far with Nile, what is it about Nile, as a band, that keeps you going with them?

George: When I joined the band, the band was big enough, but not as big as we are today. To me, it was my favorite extreme metal band. So, to start with, I joined the band because it was my favorite band. That’s it. And why we keep going on? Because we fit together, we communicate very easily, we have fun, we are friends. You know, I think it’s the whole package, it’s what we do, we have the chemistry. I think that’s the most important thing. No matter how great a musician you are, if the chemistry is not there, it doesn’t really work and, thankfully, with Nile I found some good chemistry.

WTS: Is Nile recording any new material right now?

George: Right now, we are working on the new Nile album. We will probably get into the studio around November, December or January. That would be my fourth album with Nile.

WTS: From a drummer’s perspective, what is it that you think forms the primary component in Nile’s music? If someone was asked to drum for Nile, what attributes do you think he/she needs to have?

George: Nile is traditional death metal, so you gotta be able to play all these wonderful blasts. You gotta be able to play double bass drumming to a certain level, to a certain beats per minute. You gotta be able to play ‘cruiser’ extreme metal beats, you know. For example, no matter how fast are your beats, you gotta be able to keep it going, so you gotta have great stamina. There are so many fills, there are so many odd signature meters, you know. In ‘What Can Be Safely Written’, there’s a time signature that’s very weird, like a 30/16 on a breakdown and what I do is I follow the 30/16 and I break it down to groups of 3s. So, there are some rhythmic illusions going on in Nile’s music. So, in a few words, you gotta be able to play fast, you gotta have a good technique. Some drummers are faster, some are more creative, it depends. Nile has a little bit of everything. This why I really like the music.

WTS: Any plans for Nile to come to this part of the world?

George: We already tried three times to get to India and we failed three times. Right now, I’ve managed to come there myself. Everybody in the band is really happy atleast I made it. We actually agreed for a short tour very soon, that would be definitely within the next year – to come and do Singapore and all together, and maybe we will be able to come to India as well. Because, the last time we weren’t able to come to India was because the cost was too much for the band to fly to India – they were asking about $30000, you know. So, that’s too much money, but if we are touring in Singapore – very close to India – then it will cost us 1/3rd the amount to come to India and we can make it, and we will make it. We really want to get there. We have so many fans in India, we get so many mails. You know, this is something we talk about so many times. So, in a way, I’m happy it is happening, in a way atleast, with this drum clinic.

WTS: You started teaching drumming quite early – how has this worked in tandem with touring and gigging?

George: Well, I started teaching drums way before I joined the band. And then I joined Modern Music School and, now I’m drum instructor in Modern Music School in Athens – actually, worldwide, because our school is pretty big, we have like 70-something schools worldwide. So, sometimes we teach in different places. Last week I was in Germany teaching for the professional program of our school. It’s pretty tough with always touring and sometimes my students have to wait. But there is another way, they are lucky to have a touring drummer as a teacher instead of just having a teacher. Because, I tour different parts of the world and I can advise in different aspects and I think they like it even though it’s hard on everybody.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: We see that you’re actively driving learning in metal drumming – what prompted you to make the instructional DVD Intense Metal Drumming?

George: The only reason I did was because of my love for music and for drummers. I wanted to share what I have and this is what I was doing online with my forum, this is what I was doing when I met fans – always talk drums, always share what I have. So, I wanted to be little more professional and little more serious, and release a DVD, which I did, and which, thankfully, went very well. And, right now, actually, I’m getting ready to shoot the new DVD to be out in January 2012.

WTS: Any other activities or ventures that your fans normally don’t know about?

George: These days I’m really busy. I did 4 albums for different bands. Actually, most of them were guest albums, like one song or three songs or whatever. I’ll be doing the new Cerebrum album – it’s a band from Greece, very technical metal. I’m working on the Nile songs and working on my solo project, which I think will be released early next year as well.

WTS: Give us some info about your solo project.

George: I got eight songs so far, everything is metal, black metal, it’s groovy in a way, it’s pretty fast as well. The music is almost ready. I’m working on the lyrics when I’ve the time. I don’t know when I’ll be able to record, but the sure thing is Eric Rutan from Hate Eternal wants to do the mix. So, Eric’s gonna be a big part of this CD. And, I’m gonna have many other guests – guitar players to play the solos. Everything is gonna be me, I’m gonna sing, I’m gonna play everything, I’m gonna write everything, except the guitar solo which I’m gonna leave to some guest guitarists.

WTS: Is this your first trip to India?

George: Yes.

WTS: Do you have any idea about the metal scene here in India?

George: I do have an idea because we have many fans there and I heard about a crazy crowd, the huge metal scene, and I’m very excited and I can’t wait to come there and play for you guys. I think it’s going to be a great clinic.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: Give us a bit of info on the drum clinics you do. What can we expect in the drum clinic?

George: Well, I’m gonna be playing Nile songs for sure. It will be kinda like a show. I’ll present a few Nile songs, maybe a new song, let’s see. I’m gonna play some of my songs, maybe a few solos -depends on the time we have and the feedback we have from the crowd. And, of course, I’m gonna share some exercises and tips for the drummers. And, the main thing – and this is actually why we do the clinics – is for the drummers and fans to be able to communicate, come see and talk to you. In general, we’re gonna have a great great time.

WTS: What would be your advice to young budding drummers – the most important message you would like to give?

George: Get a teacher and get serious. That’s it. It is simple because most of the metal drummers are lazy, nobody is going for a teacher. I see with my students. When I was on my forum online everyone was like “Oh I wanna study with George, I wanna study with George.” And when I launch my online lessons I’ve only 20 people. So, yeah, I would like to see serious drummers. No matter where you are, there is always a great teacher. You gotta go there, you gotta pay him, of course. Because, you know, he will spend his time for you. If you wanna do it, do it the right way – find a teacher, open your mind to different styles of music, you know, be a drummer in general – not just blast beats, you know. That would be my message.

WTS: Anything else you would like to say?

George: Well, just looking forward to getting to India. I’m really excited. I’ve talked with many people, I get so many emails. So, I think it’s going to be a crazy day there. I’m really excited to see your beautiful country, and I’m really really looking forward to come there. I’ll be here this time for just one and a half days because there are many clinics before and after the one in India. I wish I had more days, but, unfortunately, I’ve to stay for one and a half days only. But, you know, it’s enough for me. I just wanna say to everyone, try and come for the clinics, meet me there, let’s have some fun, let’s talk all things drums. I’ll do my best to deliver one of the best shows you ever saw.

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