Niko Bolas on the Working Class Audio Podcast
Niko Bolas is my godfather. Before I ever thought about playing drums or even thought about music, I knew him as the fun guy that came to visit my mom, dad and I when I was a kid. It wasn't often because we lived far away, but I always looked forward to seeing him.
As I grew older and lost my relationship with my father, Niko became more present in my life. He checked in with me more regularly, and as I began to play drums he encouraged me a lot. As I fell into drugs and began to develop drug problems, he was loving and supportive of me as very few of my family members were.
I didn't really understand it back then. He was a serious cat in the music industry and he was at that point, probably fifteen years or so into his sobriety. I was unaware of it in my youth, but I suppose I'd kind of set my life trajectory straight towards him, and my parents couldn't have chosen a better man to be in my life in that capacity.
So, fast-forward to my young twenties. I've decided to take the dive and pursue a career in music in Los Angeles. Niko's there and ropes me in from time to time and gets me to hang with him at whatever studio he's cutting a record in. In a different life I would've followed his footsteps as an engineer/producer, but I chose not to follow that path for the sake of drumming. Now, as a drummer, this ended up being a big deal. He gave me a chance to hang with, watch studio performances by, and in some cases become friends with guys like Vinnie Colaiuta, Jim Keltner, Steve Jordan, Billy Ward, Charley Drayton and several other great drummers. These guys are literally the best of the best, and being in the studio with them to watch them work has been a priceless benefit to my life as a musician. But this is really just a surface thing, and not comparatively important to who he is to me.
The real unpayable debt I hold to Niko started in '06, when my father died. I was cutting a record with a band I was with at the time, called The Atma. Niko was producing it. We were recording at a great studio in Van Nuys called Stagg St. Studios. He and I were talking about my dad, who neither of us had talked to in a long time, so he decided to call him. Coincidentally, my mother-in-law picked up this call just after she found my father dead, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It was devastating, and I'm just grateful that I was surrounded by great friends and had Niko to help me through it. I was already an alcoholic at this time, but I really fell into it hard after that. And Niko was there every step of the way. He was non-judgemental when I was fucking up and making a mess of things. He helped get me in counseling. He introduced me to a lot of great people in the program when I got sober. All the years since then, he's helped me in every way he could when I needed it. He's been a light in my life when things were dark, and a foundation of support for me in the hard journey of being a working musician.
As I've grown older and spent more time around Niko, I've learned that I'm not special in this respect. Niko is this person for so many people. He has played a mentorship in many young musicians' and engineers' lives and is as deep a friend as you can get. Last year when my son came into this world, we decided to name him Niko. He's seven months old now. I'll be ten years sober next month. I live a thousand miles away from my godfather now, but he's still one of the most important people in my life.
Whether you're an audio engineer or not, even if you're not a musician, listening to this podcast is worthwhile. Sure, I have a bias. But Niko is a rare human being that has such a profound wisdom that is grounded in self-effacing humor. It's always illuminating listening to him talk, and it's also rare to catch him doing interviews.