George Kollias: Priest Of Speed

He shakes his head at the memory. “I did a lot of head-drumming back in the day because we were living in an apartment, and we didn’t have enough money to rent a studio. So the first ten years of my ’playing’ was mostly like ear training and no drumming, but it got me to the point where I could play for any class of metal band, professionally. Importantly, too, I was very serious about it from the first year, even if just in my own head, and from the age of 13 or so I could play some insane songs, like Slayer’s – I mean really tough songs.”

George Kollias

Kollias’ Setup

Drums Pearl Reference Pure (Piano Black)
1. 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2. 14" x 6.5" Snare
3. 8" x 7" Tom
4. 10" x 8" Tom
5. 12" x 9" Tom
6. 13" x 10" Tom
7. 14" x 14" Floor Tom
8. 16" x 16" Floor Tom
9. 14" x 12" Tom (left side)
10. 12" x 5" Snare

Cymbals Sabian
A. 14" AAX Stage Hats
B. 8" Chopper
C. 7" Signature Max Splash
D. 20" AAX Metal Ride
E. 14" HHX Evolution Mini Chinese
F. 17" AAXtreme Chinese
G. 17" AAX Dark Crash
H. 8" Hand Hammered China Kang
I. 10" HHX Evolution Splash
J. 17" AAX Studio Crash
K. 10" AA Mini Hats 10 (half open)
L. 12" AA Mini Hats 12 (closed)
M. 18" HHX Power Crash
N. 22" AAX Metal Ride
O. 18" HHX Evolution Chinese
P. 19" AAXtreme Chinese
Q. 13" AAX Stage Hats
R. 18" APX Ozone Crash

S. RhythmTech Ribbon Crasher
T. Pearl Tambourine “foot snare”
U. Roland KD-7 Kick Pad

George Kollias also uses Vic Firth SGK (George Kollias Signature) sticks, Evans heads (EQ2 Clear on bass drums; HD Dry Coated on 14" and 12" snare; G2 Clear on 8", 10", 12" and 13" toms and 14" and 16" floor toms; Hydraulic Glass on 14" tom (far left); G1 Clear on all Toms/Floor Tom resos, and Hazy 300 on both snare resos), Axis A Longboard pedals on bass drums, electronic kick, foot snare, and ribbon crasher; Pearl hardware (Eliminator Hi-Hat stands, Roadster Throne, OptiMount Suspension System), Axis E-Kit Kick Triggers, Alesis DM Pro module, and Extreme Isolation Headphones.

All this practice, mental or otherwise, is still aided occasionally by a metronome, though Kollias’ feelings about that device are ambivalent. He has, he says, a “daily relationship” with the metronome, like when Nile rehearses in the studio and also when he does clinics. “Of course I use it, but I try not to use it. When I was younger I was forcing myself to practice with a metronome, and now I force myself to not practice with a metronome. I think my inner clock is good enough, and I just go for the feel and groove.”

Nile’s immense world tours keep the band on the road for months at a stretch, and the players’ health and well-being are prime considerations, too, as they’re in it for the long haul. Kollias’ doctor harshly warned him about the importance of warming up before performances. “If you perform everyday and play so much for months and months, then you get a little bit lazy,” he says. “Picture going out onstage and from the first song playing 280 beats per minute, single kick or double kick. Sounds very athletic, yeah, but the fact is, I was being lazy by not stretching before playing, and developed tendonitis in my leg as a result. You need to warm up and stretch just to save yourself.”

There are other physical ailments that, as every drummer knows, are just par for the course, like blisters and cramps. “Whatever happens, you have to just keep going,” Kollias laughs. “You can’t tell the crowd, ’Hey guys, I’m sorry, I have a cramp, let’s take a break!’”

Triggers: The Necessary Evil

Onstage, Kollias’ drums and miking setup are near identical to the gear employed in the studio. On most songs he plays the Pearl Reference Pure series, and he also has the new Reference II set, which he uses for clinics and for his DVD projects. His drum techs in Europe and the U.S. are always on hand to get his massive setup ready and able, and to deal with sundry weird jobs like figuring out how to cope with … melting beaters?

He laughs again. “I played with the plastic ones for years, but the problem with them is, when you’re onstage doing all these, like, miles of double-bassing, they melt and stick to the heads. So recently I began using felt. The plastic ones have a little more punch, so I can hear my kick louder, but I got so tired of the sticky thing, I got rid of them.”

Kollias is only so picky about his drums’ tuning, which he keeps wide open, with two obvious exceptions. “I like as much super-natural sound as possible, so yeah, I fine-tune to pretty low tuning, except we tune up the kick drums.”

The kicks are triggered off the heads for Kollias’ trademarked zillion-bpm footwork. No doubt, Kollias is ungodly speedy even without the triggers, but even he’s got to have a little help down there to get the full bullet-spray effect. “I’m not a big fan of triggering, but when I play metal I always use triggers,” he says. “Triggering for death metal is a necessity. I mean, if you like triggers, you have to use triggers; if you don’t like them, you still have to use them. There’s so much crap talk around about triggers; people think it’s cheating, etc. But they don’t understand that triggering is not only to show off a superfast drummer’s skills, it’s also for the band – the band needs the kick drums quadrupled or whatever so they can play the riffs.”

In the studio and onstage, Kollias likes a combination of organic and synthetic patches for his triggered sounds. “Everybody has already used the same digital or synthesized samples, and we use some of them, too. But in the studio we always mix them with acoustic things. In my studio here in Athens I use the Shure Beta 52 and the Beta 91 and mix them to get a lot of boom and punch and as much naturalness as possible.”

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