A while ago I was fortunate enough to interview George Kollias for Heavy Music Magazine (www.heavymag.com.au). If you’re unfamiliar, George Kollias is best known for his work as an extreme metal drummer for the band Nile, but he’s also developed a reputation as an educator with his two DVD's on the subject of extreme drumming (Intense Metal Drumming parts 1 and 2) and his recent series of books, the first of which is entitled 'The Odyssey of Double Bass Drumming: The Beginning.'
The level that he has reached in his playing, not just with his break neck speeds but also his precision and creativity, has been crafted over many decades, with steely focus and a never-say-die attitude.
As it happens in a lot of interviews, you never get to put in everything you’d like to, so I’d like to show you some other insightful things that Kollias had to say on the subject of his early days, hurdles and his work ethic so that we all might be able to take something away for our own pursuits.
So where does this kind of persistence come from?
“I wasn’t lucky when I was a kid” Kollias began “I had 0 support, this is what made me more hungry. I got my first kit when I was 10, which made me more excited, then I had other problems, like there was no crash cymbal, so I started playing drums and rehearsing using hihats as crash cymbals.”
Being so young in a country where equipment is really pricey can be a deterrent. But for Kollias this only fuelled his passion.
“I think going through problems for the first 10 years made me really hungry, so when I’d go and rehearse with a band, I’d play with much more passion than if I had a custom drum kit from the beginning. I did most of my practice on my living room couches and chairs. I think if you don’t have it all from the beginning it’s really important”
I think it’s fair to consider Kollias a successful musician, as being able to pay the bills with such a niche style of drumming is an incredible feat (or feet?). I asked Kollias to elaborate a bit more on what he does to make a living.
“I’ve been doing online lessons five years, I have 35 students right now. I keep saying, living for music by having a band and doing shows is a cool thing, but there’s so many other directions. You can do teaching, drum camps, session work, there’s so many things to get involved with and to be honest, if you want to make a living out of music, you gotta do 10 different things, unless you tour with an arena band. For example after I finish this, I gotta go record another band then tomorrow I have a special guest gig in Greece, then Sunday I start another album for another band. But I love it! I get the chance to play with so many different people, if I get bored with death metal for a bit, I go get another gig.”
Most of the time when I conduct interviews, I tend to centre my questions around a few key things. I try and take the opportunity to find out some of those things that got those people to where they are, particular decisions they made or people they met. For Kollias, it’s just grit determination.
“Just going for it, it’s what I do. If nobody knew me right now and I wanted a gig with a band like Megadeth for example, I’d make a video, make sure they got it and break their balls till I got a reply. If I believe I can do it then I go for it. This is the most important thing. There’s so many great musicians who are like ‘I know some people who might recommend me.' No one will recommend you, why would they? Say Megadeth asked me if I knew anyone for drums I would just say ‘Yeah, me!’ It’s a huge gig, I wouldn’t give it away. I may not do that, I love to support the drum community, but a lot of people would, they wouldn’t just hand you something. For example the endorsements, nobody helped me. It started with axis, I sent an email and they agreed to help me right away and then Vic Firth, they were difficult in the beginning. They said they were busy, but I knew I was a good card for the company so I kept insisting otherwise I’d just work more. If you believe in something, you have to follow your dream and push it as much as you can.”
It might be a harsh reality, but the truth is, the world doesn't owe you anything. While that could be taken negatively, if you took this on board you would suddenly realize that you can only rely on yourself and that you are in control of your own destiny. The less you wait for others, or expect something to come your way, the more you will drive yourself towards where you want to be. Maybe take a leaf out of George's book, take charge and go for it.