Gus G. is a guitar virtuoso and has already established his status in the music scene. On top of this, he is the mastermind of FIREWIND that – by the way – have released “Firewind” that METAL KAOZ already considers their best album (so far). But this is not all; Gus G. is a down-to-earth guy, driven by his love for making and playing music, who does not give ‘cookie-cutter’ answers. Here in METAL KAOZ we love Gus G. and FIREWIND, and therefore it was pure delight to have the following Skype session to talk all things FIREWIND...
Hi Gus G. and welcome to METAL KAOZ!
Hi Dimitris, how are things in the US? You are also following the ‘stay-home’ order, right?
Yes, absolutely. Anyone who can work from home does so, and in fact, today they announced that one has to wear a face mask to go to the grocery store.
Yeah, I know, the same thing is happening here in Greece. It seems like in the US the number of cases has been increasing faster than in Europe. In fact, I am afraid that it will take more time for the US to start seeing significant decrease.
How did you make the decision to cancel the US tour? I mean, was there any official mandate to cease all touring?
First of all, it became clear that there will be no touring the moment they started closing the venues. In our case, the announcement came from SYMPHONY X’s management.
Well, I was wondering if the management received any official advice / guidance before the closing of venues was announced.
Oh, I see. The US tour was not ours per se; SYMPHONY X were the headliners, so we had to wait from their management to make the announcement. However, the US embassy and consulates in Greece had been already closed and therefore we knew that there would be no way to get Visas, but FIREWIND could not make such an announcement. Even if the decision to proceed with the tour had been made, I knew that FIREWIND could not have been part of it. We had done nothing as far as booking flights / hotels and hiring crew. And to answer to your question, there was no official guidance and this is why you see everyone pretty much improvising.
Yeah, slowly but steadily all the bands started announcing the cancellation / postponement of their touring plans.
You have also to consider that not all countries have the same rules and ways of approaching this dreadful situation. And in the US, this is almost happening with the different States. So, I guess this is what SYMPHONY X were waiting to see; for example, how many shows would get cancelled and then decide accordingly.
I suspect with all this uncertainty there is no point of discussing about rescheduling the tour for 2021, correct?
Well, the idea is for this tour to happen next year, but really, who knows? No one knows how this situation will evolve and it is not only touring. I mean, not even the doctors can predict when the vaccine will be made available. Still, the music industry will get a massive blow because it has to do with social gatherings. I mean, you can control how many people can enter a shop, but how can you do this for concerts?
Unfortunately, no one knows what will happen after we have gone through this current crisis. The only sure thing is that life will not be the same afterwards.
Absolutely, and it will be difficult to get back to being normal because some will be scared to get out - for the first months, at least.
Let me ask you this; are you ok getting onboard an airplane?
If there is safety, of course I will. I mean, if the virus goes away, then I will. There is always the danger of ‘catching something’ when you are traveling through different countries. This is a risk that you know that you are taking. The issue is to find the vaccine, especially for those who have preexisting conditions and for the older people.
I think we should change the subject and start talking about music.
Yes, let’s do it.
It was kind of funny when I was prepping my questions for this interview, I found myself making a note to ask you about the new singer (laughs)…
Most probably you will be asking about the new singer every time I release a new album (laughs). Although I hope not... (laughs)
Maybe it is about to time to realize that there will always be a good chance that every album will have a different singer? What’s your take on this?
What did I tell you the last time we spoke? Do you remember?
We talked about Henning Basse and you said that you felt FIREWIND have found a singer to keep. You sounded confident that the band would move forward with Henning. I am not sure what is going on with FIREWIND; is it because FIREWIND do not release albums more frequently? I don’t know. You should know better…
To be honest, I don’t know either. I thought a lot during the end of 2019 because the future of FIREWIND looked really promising. Last year, we did a lot of shows, we toured with QUEENSRŸCHE and it felt like the band was in a rising course. There was the plan for the next album and then the offer for the tour with SYMPHONY X came, so yeah, things were looking really good for the band. I was ready to start this cycle all over again because when we released “Immortals” it was like "one step at a time and not plan ahead". And frankly, I did not like that approach but I accepted it because there were some members in the band that did not feel confident with the band. However, when things got on track and things started looking upwards, it became apparent for some in the band this “one step at a time” situation was more convenient like being part-time in the band - I don’t know. Even though the shows were great, the situation in the band was not the best. I am not saying that we were arguing or fighting each other, but the band did not look happy. Maybe it was only because we did not share the same vision for the band. I am talking about the vision I had for FIREWIND from day one - this has not changed. So, we reached a point that decisions had to be made and this included the singer too. Although Henning had some health issues and for this, he did not feel confident on his future with the band.
Can I include this in the interview?
Yes, you can. I have discussed this with Henning and he has said that it is OK to share it. I need to make it clear that my relation with the guys who left the band is very good. We did not argue and we are still talking to each other.
I am sure that people understand that being in a band and being friends are two different things.
Exactly. After all, we have grown up and we are not kids anymore. With that being said, I feel that I have been a bit of unlucky with the people I had worked with; I mean, I have not found the people who are willing to invest in the band as much as I want, and to have a long-term plan for the future. It is what it is.
So, were you aware that things would not work out with Henning?
Yes, I was aware, but really the situation with him was not moving forward. The thing was that I had to make the decision to part ways as friends and move on.
How fast did you find Herbie Langhans? Reading the press release, it felt like you watched a couple of Youtube videos and that was it.
Oh yes, I did find him rather quickly. I asked AFM Records first if they had anyone in mind and they mentioned Herbie. I did not know him by name, but the moment I clicked on the video and read that he was in SINBREED, I remembered him because I had been impressed in 2013, I think. We had played with SINBREED in a festival in Spain but I had not met him. So, we started talking and I explained the situation because we had to try him on the old material and see how we could write together. In fact, I was missing having a songwriting partner; as you know, Dennis [Ward] wrote the vocals and the lyrics for ”Immortals” because Henning did not write. It is great having Dennis doing this as well as be the producer / co-producer but really this is not his band. I wanted the type of cooperation I had with Apollo [Papathanasio] with whom I was writing songs.
I watched Herbie live with AVANTASIA last May and, in fact, he lead-sung a song and I was really impressed by his vocals and stage performance. I was really happy to see him joining FIREWIND.
Yes, we are also excited to get him on the lineup. The moment I heard him singing the FIREWIND it felt like he should have been in this band from the beginning. I have no idea why we went through all these singer-changes. Regarding if he will stay in the band, for a long time...
[interrupting] I think it is better to not talk about this.
Yeah, you are right. This is also on him because there is nothing for me to make sure he will stay. I have always been crystal clear with the vision I have for the band, from how to work and all the way to the economics. There are no surprises in the band and whoever joins the band knows everything. On the other hand, we are getting older, and the moment you hit 40 - 45, you start to question your life choices and think about the future. We are not youngsters anymore to say "let’s get into a van and raise hell" (laughs).
What was Herbie’s contribution in the making of “Firewind”?
The music was ready and we had the vocal lines for 3 - 4 songs. Also, I had written the lyrics for songs and that’s all. And Herbie did the rest; he wrote the vocal melodies and the lyrics for the remaining songs. Dennis helped as much as he could. Finishing the album was a joint effort but we really wanted Herbie to add his own input and indentity in the album.
Did you name the album “Firewind” in some way to reintroduce the band to the fans?
Absolutely! During the situation with Henning, Babis [Katsionis] expressed that he no longer wanted the touring musician’s lifestyle, so to me, this looked like the opportunity for a restart and this is how we approached this album. I came to the realization that there are things in life that you have and you don’t to lose; it can be your house, your career or the record label and the fanbase. Things that you have worked really hard to get and you do not want to risk losing them. I was questioning myself whether to try and change things or just even call it a day. Maybe, I had to reach this point and realize that I wanted to move on without these guys. Life goes on and everyone makes their own choices.
Going through all the interviews I had done with you, I could see how things were changing; for example, the band’s sound has changed, and in fact, it feels that now you have those Hard Rock elements I was hearing in your solo works. To my mind, FIREWIND have move a bit away from the classic Euro Power Metal sound.
And in this, having a singer like Herbie helps a lot. He has a wider singing range.
Yes, he does bring that to the band. He does not have a single-side voice and you can say that his vocals have all the elements FIREWIND have in all albums without copying the old stuff.
Yeah, for example in the album there is “Space Cowboy” followed by “Kill The Pain”; two songs that are different to each other.
Exactly, and this was my hesitation; release either an album with mismatched songs or an album that has an extra spice that is not frequently found in Metal. Anyways, I decided to take the risk and change the band and have some sort of a reboot.
Then, there is “Overdrive” and even though the press release mentions Dio and BLACK SABBATH, I wanted to add...
[interrupting] ...Tony Martin.
Exactly! In fact, the way the drums sound in the beginning, they remind me of ”Headless Cross”.
Yes, it is exactly the same (laughs). But for the drum beat, there is no copyright, because if there was, you can imagine many would have sue for just a drum beat...
Although I was not talking about copying… And when Herbie starts singing, you can notice that he has the depth Tony has or had in his voice. I guess, the Dio references have more to do with the keyboards that you wrote, right?
Yes, I did.
Along with the guitar groove that reminds me of Dio. I have to tell you that l like this album more than ”Immortals”. And one of the main reasons is that I feel that you have more confidence writing music for FIREWIND.
Thank you for saying this. This was a big decision for me to make. I guess there were some things holding me back in the past, and I think I had mentioned this in previous discussions we had; like for example, some did not want to tour in the US among other things. I reached to the realization that there was nothing for me to do to change this. You cannot keep someone involved if he does not want to.
And that’s only natural. I mean, as you grow old, traveling all around the world and playing live can become a burden. It cannot be easy to be stuck in a tour bus for a month or so; this is not easy.
Indeed, it is hard and therefore I cannot blame anyone who says that he cannot do this anymore. On the other hand, this does not mean that everyone else shouldn't do this (laughs).
What do you have in mind for promoting the album considering that this year has been kind of lost as far as touring goes?
This is the next step but as of one we have not decided what to do. We have to start thinking because there will be no touring for 2020, so maybe we have to make more videos and try to keep people’s interest engaged.
But you did manage to shoot the music videos before the lockdown, right?
That’s right, as if I knew that this would happen. We will also release a lyric video like a third single for the album and I believe that there has to be something more. We have some other videos like ‘track-by-track’ and so, but we have to find ways to maintain people’s interest.
What about instructional videos?
You’ve read my mind; with the additional time that I have, I want to film a guitar method, like I did 10 years ago when I released a DVD. Although now there is no reason to release a DVD; this format does not exist. I want to film a video series for different levels from beginners to advanced and some tutorials for some FIREWIND songs. I am trying to find the best platform to release this material; sure, Youtube is an option but I was thinking of starting some sort of a fan club via Patreon and be subscription-based since the content will be for guitarists and FIREWIND fans. I'm adjusting my studio to be able to film all these.
Yes, I think musicians have to adjust in this newfound situation.
Yes, but I had this project in mind long before the pandemic. I started working on the Youtube channel and realized that posting some video ideas you cover part of the audience. Sure, people watch these, but I would like to have some material being exclusive.
Cool ideas, Gus G. What about your next solo album? Do you have any ideas?
For the time being, I do not have something. However, I have a hard-drive full of riffs and ideas and some of those may be for a solo album or for the next FIREWIND album. In fact, the day before, I sent Herbie two ideas for songs, telling him that since we will stay in for some time, how about starting working on new material? (laughs) Who knows, maybe the end of this quarantine will find us being more creative with new music. But I am not thinking for a solo album since after finishing the solo touring, I became so focused on rebuilding FIREWIND hoping that the next 18 months would have been on the road. I have to think and decide what the next day will be about.
What about working with Vinnie Moore? You released a song two years ago, but last time we spoke you mentioned that making an album with him sounded like a good idea.
Right now there is nothing. He is busy with UFO and he also released his solo album and I have FIREWIND.
You had great chemistry onstage though.
Yes, we did, and off-stage too. Who knows, sometime in the future this may happen. You know, if you want to make a project and make it a good one, you have to be able to focus all of your energy. I do not want something rough and not well-thought. It would have been extremely easy to release a quick jamming session kind-of album with Vinnie. But I do not think this would fit us as musicians who have a backcatalague and things to play.
Absolutely. Last question, Gus, and rather light; the word “fire” seems to appear lots in the lyrics of FIREWIND or your solo albums…
[interrupting] ”Rising Fire”, ”World On Fire”, ”The Fire And The Fury”, ”I Am The Fire”...
That’s what I am talking about!
I have no idea why this is happening, I am not doing this intentionally. It is a theme that we like to use, but it's not something we do on purpose.
FIREWIND is the name of the band after all…
You are exactly right, my friend.
Thank you, Gus G. for taking the time once again to talk to METAL KAOZ! Hope to see you soon onstage! Stay safe.
Thank you, Dimitris, you too. See you soon, hopefully next year!