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It’s Not A Competition

George Kollias  /  Featured Stories / Sep 26

Growing up in Corinth, Greece, guess how many drummers there were in my city?

None. I was the only one.

I had to figure things out myself. This was around 1990, so there was no YouTube – all I had was cassette tapes and vinyls. I had to learn skank beats and blast beats and try to understand what a metal drummer does. 

My family had no money back then, so I spent a lot of time practicing on couches and chairs. I’d hit the floor with drumsticks. The police were often called to my house because I’d practice double bass by tapping my feet and the lady downstairs didn’t like that. 

(I finally met her a few years ago and she asked me what I’d been doing to make that noise. I told her I’m a professional drummer! She’s able to laugh about it now).

I wanted to become a player for a band. Sometimes I’d play through Sepultura’s Arise album four times in a row. I eventually had a studio over my mother’s store and I was allowed to practice there because there were no houses nearby. Because I could play when the store was closed, I’d go until 6 in the morning.

The first life-changing moment for me came when I decided to move to Athens. My brother already lived there so I stayed in his apartment for a few months. I remember calling Efthimis, the lead singer of Nightfall (one of the most famous bands in Greece) to tell him I’d moved to his city.

He asked me if I wanted to join his band.

“Yes!” I said immediately. 

He then told me that we’d be playing at Wacken in Germany in two weeks.

What?

george kollias nightfall
Nightfall

If you aren’t familiar with the festival, it’s huge. I was a fan of Nightfall and already knew the songs, so even though I was unrehearsed I was able to pull it off. When the time came, I played in front of 10,000 people and even had a drum tech! I felt like a professional and I really wasn’t expecting this. 

It only took one text message to take me from playing small clubs to playing Wacken in front of a huge crowd.

After recording two albums with Nightfall, I decided I wanted to play more extreme stuff, so I formed a new band called Sickening Horror. Imagine being from a town with no scene, and you don’t know what level you play at because you don’t hang out with any drummers. It was a big surprise coming to Athens and having 15 people at a Sickening Horror show jumping on me and asking for lessons, to play on their album, to join their band. 

I was able to do stuff not many others were doing, but I had no idea. I was like, why is this happening? Maybe I’m lucky. Maybe I have good ears?

In 2003, Sickening Horror opened for Nile. It was the first time I ever saw a professional death metal drummer playing blast beats in front of my eyes. The way I was hearing these beats on albums was 16ths between the right foot and left hand. I was like, man, these guys are so fast. I have to get faster. 

george kollias sickening horror
With Sickening Horror

I pushed and pushed. And when I got to Athens, people asked how I played with one foot so fast. 

I was like, “What do you do?”

It turns out most drummers were playing blast beats by splitting up the notes between two feet – half of the job. 

But when I saw Tony Laureano playing with Nile, I knew I wasn’t crazy. He’s doing it the way I do. With one foot. 

A year later, I got an email from Karl Sanders, the main guy in Nile, who’d seen clips of me playing. Out of nowhere, he wanted to get on the phone with me. 

He asked me to join the band. 

I can still feel the reaction I had. I was like, oh my God, this is happening.

And before I knew it, I moved to the States. We toured pretty much every country in the world. I started doing clinics. I’d never called myself a professional musician because I thought every professional musician was starving. I thought I’d do it as a hobby. But when I joined Nile, I had to quit everything else after three months because I wanted to do everything drumming could give me. 

I was ready to commit to the instrument. 

People started referring to me as one of the fastest drummers in the world, which is good and I enjoy it, but it’s turned into a competition in a way. If I search really deep in my heart, there is always a will to play fast and technical. But the BPM war that we face playing death metal is a joke. If the band is fast, you have to play fast; there are no shortcuts. 

I was pushing myself because of the music I wanted to play – not to become the fastest drummer.

For me, it’s all about drums and leaving as big a legacy as possible (in the extreme metal genre, of course, but I do have other projects playing fusion, progressive and funk). After I spent the first 10 years teaching myself how to be a metal drummer, I was lucky to find a jazz teacher, Yannis Stavropoulos, who’s still my mentor to this day. 

I remember growing up in a town with no drummers to hang out with, and suddenly I was with Igor Cavalera on the other side of the world. Now I’m friends with drummers like Dave Weckl and Stanton Moore and I have huge respect for them. 

It’s always the music that drives me. If your goal is to make money and pay your bills playing death metal, I don’t think it’ll happen. But if you do it for the music, maybe it will happen – it did for me.


George Kollias

NILE

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