Firewind - Gus G

Firewind - Gus G

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I had the luck to interview Gus G. during his time with DREAM EVIL and later on I got exposed to FIREWIND. The first thing one will notice when talking to him is how grounded he is, being completely strange to what we call ‘rockstar attitude’. To my mind, Gus is a hard working guitarist and everything he has achieved is due to his work ethics, dedication and – of course – his love for making music. So, a couple of hours before his show in Bradley, IL, we had an extremely nice discussion and I believe his responses totally reflect his honest and BS-free character. Keep on reading...


Firewind - Interview

How did you decide to go on this short and small clubs tour?
Basically, I wanted to start from scratch because this is focused on my solo project. I wanted to do something really underground and this is what I told to my agent. So, we booked a small number of shows just to see the reaction and get the feedback from the people. I had only toured in Europe with the album, so I wanted to do something here in the States before closing the cycle of this.

How did the album do in the States? I mean, did it go as you had been expecting to?
No, it didn’t go as I was expecting. On the other hand, the reviews were very good and the fans really liked it.

Personally, what I liked with album was that although it had some modern finishing touches, the Hard Rock backbone was there. What did you have in mind before writing the music for this?
First of all, I want to say that I’m totally satisfied with the music in the album, if that’s what you’re asking.

Well, I wanted to see if you had something in mind, some short of direction.
My intentions were to write an album with a more Hard Rock character as compared to FIREWIND. I mean, FIREWIND have more European Power Metal sound, so in the solo album I wanted something with an American sound. I wanted to mix the old-school with the modern but without sounding retro. I mean, I didn’t want to be just another band trying to be retro by growing mustaches and wearing bell-bottoms but still are 19 years old. I am not saying they are bad because there are some excellent bands out there - I’m just underlining what I wanted to do.

So, you had more degrees of freedom, compared to FIREWIND…
In the case of FIREWIND I think we got trapped inside the boundaries that we created. And I am saying this in a positive way because when you create a specific style of music that people like and love, then you play for yourself but also for them.

You’re basically saying that FIREWIND have grown beyond your personal wants, right?
Yeah, I mean I tried to change the band’s sound but I did not get a good response.

Still, I think the latest FIREWIND albums were awesome.
Well, you are the minority. Most of the fans want to hear specific things form the band.

But doesn’t this restrict you songwriting?
I guess it does and this is why FIREWIND had a break. I felt that the band had become more like doing business and less having fun.

This sounds to me totally strange because in the end of the day we are talking about your band and your creation. So, how does this change and gets out of control?
I wouldn’t say it got out of control - I guess I gave more attention to what some people were saying about the band and also you see the numbers also things happened inside the band with Apollo leaving the band. We did try with another one but it didn’t work out, so I got to a point that I felt tired. After all, I have been doing this for almost fifteen years. I mean, after seven albums there is nothing more to prove. When I was younger, I had a vision to get the band in a higher level and prove its worth. So, once I did that, then the problems came. There were some in the band who were thinking that FIREWIND will never become like BLACK SABBATH and this is totally being unrealistic about things. I know that I may sound too negative but to me, this is all about being realistic.

I don’t think you’re being negative because I absolutely agree with being realistic about this, especially when it comes to music making in the days we’re living. And I think that people should be listening to this because there are lots out there who need a wake-up call.
Exactly. After all, I could had said to you that everything is great...

To be honest, I would not believe you…
Yeah. On the other hand, the band has a solid fanbase with many supportive fans and this is why I want FIREWIND to keep going. To be perfectly honest with you, if there weren’t the fans and their support, I would have stopped FIREWIND. This was also the reason I wanted to do a solo album to get away of it for a while and try something different. And this is why the albums came out so different and fresh.

Does this mean that you won’t do another solo album?
No, I’m not saying this and rest assured I will do another solo album. After all, between the two projects, I have also other work to do, so if I will be clever about it, I can have one year with FIREWIND and the next one with my solo works. This is a common thing among musicians nowadays.

Yes, especially if you consider the really tough economics in the music making…
Sure, but it is not only that; by doing so you are presenting different works and you are not being single sided. The music industry has changed and people are expecting from a musician to be able to do other things. Like actors do; there are those who are dancers, singers and even cook, if you know what I mean.

Absolutely; the days with musicians surviving by being in one band are gone.
Only the older and well established musicians can do this.

To be honest, I’m kind of bored of watching them play the same music like they did 20 years ago. Sure, it is great to see shows, but musically I believe they have nothing to say.
Unfortunately, and something that bothers me in Metal is that the music is all about nostalgia. And keep in mind that Heavy Metal is not that old. I mean, it is not like Classical music with 400 years of history but with 60 years. And you’ll see this tonight; when I will play the Ozzy songs, everyone will go crazy but when I will play my solo stuff, then you’ll see only those ten guys who bought the album having fun. I am not complaining, but I’m just describing the situation.

Personally, I’d love to hear only your solo stuff but I do understand this. And speaking of Ozzy, how do you feel what the sign outside the club reads ‘the guitarist of Ozzy’? I mean, you are not only that, right?
Well, I am the guitarist of Ozzy (laughs) but seriously I totally understand what you’re saying. And you are not the only one because there were comments about this in the social media by saying “you are not just that, you have other stuff”. But, if you want to advertise this and get more people inside the club, especially those who have no idea who FIREWIND are, then you need to do this. After all, there are more people who know Ozzy than me and to be precise, Ozzy is even more popular than the President of the US. On a serious note, I avoid using Ozzy’s name when it is about FIREWIND and my solo work but I do understand what the promoter’s intent is.

Anyway, this is was out of my curiosity. You got Henning Base in FIREWIND, so how did you choose him? Was it because he has been singing for FIREWIND in the past?
I heard lots of singers but there was no one with a special voice. I always liked Henning’s voice and also he is a great performer. Whenever we played live with him, he proved that he can sing the entire FIREWIND backcatalogue, so we reached a point that we realized that we had a singer all along. So, what happened was that two years ago when I needed a singer for a show that Mats Levén couldn’t do, so we worked again with him and remembered our previous collaboration. He told that he hasn’t found a band to work with for a long time, so it was the most logical decision to make.

Great, although I had the impression that you would work with Mats Levén, even though he has CANDLEMASS too.
Yeah, he is in CANDLEMASS but the thing is that we had tried to write to songs with Mats but it didn’t really work, because the sound was changing too much. And this is contrary to the fact that the tour we did with him went great. At the same time, I think that Henning is a better fit for a Power Metal band like FIREWIND. He is something between Bruce Dickinson and Dio, while Mats is more Hard Rock and has some Robert Plant in him.

This is why I was thinking that you’d work with him.
Yeah, but I also wanted to separate the two projects. After all, we are friends, so there are no personal reasons choosing one than the other.

In my review on the latest FIREWIND album, I was talking about how you are bringing more Hard Rock in the music and this is why I was sure you’d be working with Mats.
The next FIREWIND album will be a pure Power Metal one.

Have you started writing songs about that?
Yes, I have. Basically I have been collecting ideas during the last few years. And the reason for this is that I wanted to make an album whenever I had enough good material. I don’t want to push this anymore because the cycle of album-tour-album-tour...

[interrupting] …It kind of burns you out, right?
Yeah, exactly. Now, I just want to make a new album whenever I have something new to say. I have around 7-8 songs ready and hopefully during this summer we will enter the studio to start recording. The plan is to release this sometime close to the end of this year but - as you might know - nothing is set in stone when you’re making an album.

You have also announced a European tour, so do you think the release of the new FIREWIND album will happen then?
Well, the intent is to do this but as I said, you never know.

What are those special guests that you’ll have for this tour?
I have no idea, we are still talking about this.

And what does this 'special setlist' mean?
(laughs) Well, I wanted to name this tour ‘same setlist four years later’(laughs). Seriously now, the idea was to play songs from “Premonition” and “Allegiance” which are our best-sellers but we will definitely include songs from the entire FIREWIND backcatalogue and this is what the special show is talking about. We may choose some more obscure songs and also put a couple of new ones.

Is there any chance to see this tour coming to the States?
I don’t think so.

Does this mean that you’ll release the album and then maybe consider bringing FIREWIND back in the US?
We’ll see but I don’t see this quite possible. But you never know. What I think FIREWIND need right now is what people call as ‘safe album’ and be for those who like the older albums. This is not a band to experiment right now.

For some reason, I am not quite happy hearing you saying this. It’s like that you’re doing something that you don’t really like. I mean, you tried to do something different and people didn’t like it, so you have to…
[interrupting] Well yeah, but I am not saying that I won’t like the songs in the new FIREWIND album. I mean, if I didn’t, then there would not be a new album.

Definitely but I’d prefer to see you do exactly what you want.
Because it would have a good response from the fans. After all, it is very difficult for me to go back to the time when I was 23 years old. I was making different music back then, compared to what I’m doing now.

Well, we are listening to different music than we did when we were teenagers.
You are right but the FIREWIND fans want to hear the music I was making when I was 23 years old.

Ok, I don’t want to turn back our discussion to the same topic…
Sure, but what I am saying is perfectly honest. Still, the album will be well-played and well-written. Like I said, I have been working on this for the last three years, so it will be something very good. If I didn’t believe it would be good, then we would not do it. After all, we could tour without it. We want to make a great FIREWIND comeback album and musically it will be inside the boundaries this band has set from the beginning. I don’t think what I am saying is bad but it is perfectly honest. FIREWIND have created a specific sound and have a specific fanbase, so the music has to be close to that.

Got it and although I don’t quite agree, I definitely understand what you’re saying. Do you have anything from Ozzy’s camp?
Oh nothing because he has shows with BLACK SABBATH for this year. But really I have no idea if there are any plans.

I have one more question for you Gus, before wrapping this up; although, it is not an actual question but more like a thought that I have since I have been following you from the very beginning. You started your career with Chastain, then you joined DREAM EVIL, you put together FIREWIND, you joined OZZY and then you reached a point to release solo albums. So did you have a plan to achieve all this?
The short answer is no. I mean, if you check some past interviews of mine, you’ll see that I didn’t want to make solo albums because I believed there was no interest for albums made by guitarists aside from the well-known ones. But in 2009, my life changed when I joined Ozzy and on top of everything, this gig gave the opportunity to make a solo album.

What you’re saying is that you didn’t have a plan…
As you know, I only wanted to have FIREWIND and after finishing the gigs with Ozzy (because this will not last forever), I want to continue with FIREWIND. But things changed and I did the solo album. Now, after all this turmoil, I believe I am in a good position and I have several options. I can present my different musical characters, if you know what I mean. I feel a lot happier now that I did this solo thing and I have a great appetite to go back to FIREWIND.

I think this is the best way to close this interview, Gus. Thank you for taking the time to talk to METAL KAOZ.
Of course, and thank you guys for your interest. Please, enjoy the show.

Hi Gus, thanks for doing the interview via the phone.

No problem Dimitris after all health comes first, so take care of yourself.

 

Thanks, but let’s get into business right away; so my first question is about the recent tour in Canada. The weather was pretty harsh, right?

Indeed it was! We were in the middle of a snowstorm but we did make it to the venues in Montreal and Toronto, and the shows were great. There were a lot of people in both shows.

 

That’s awesome. Let me ask you the obvious question; is Apollo out of the band or this is something temporary?

No, this time Apollo is out of the band for good.

 

Was this a joint decision or did he just say “I quit”?

This was entirely his decision. But we had problems with Apollo in previous tours when he had to step out, so now we realized that he can no more follow the band’s schedule. He has some issues back home with family and his job, so a heavy touring schedule was out of the question. I think he will continue with SPIRITUAL BEGGARS and do some occasional shows and that’s all.

 

So, being in a band as a full time member is not an easy task, right?

No, it is not. Things are not as good as most people think. This requires many personal sacrifices and of course a lot of time away from home. Anyway, I think this was the best decision for Apollo.

 

And was this the best decision for FIREWIND too?

I think this was the best for FIREWIND too, since having someone who is not able to follow the band by falling behind is not something one can work with. So, we need to find someone who is able to keep up with the band’s schedule and this is way better than just having Apollo for some shows. This is also not good for the fans.

 

Did you have enough time to find a replacement singer or did this happen in a short notice?

This time we had plenty of time since we knew about Apollo’s decision since November. So, we listened to some singers and we decided Kelly Carpenter was the best choice for FIREWIND, at least for the time being. And up till now, Kelly has done a great job.

 

I know Kelly from his days in BEYOND TWILIGHT where he did an amazing job. I think his singing style fits FIREWIND like hand in glove. Is it in your mind to keep him as permanent singer?

Sure, we have thought about that, but honestly we have not discussed this with him. After all, this is just the first week of the tour, so it needs time to get to know each other. He is getting better with each show and the band looks tighter every night. But to tell you the truth we are not in hurry to make a decision. We want to be 100% sure when choosing the next singer for FIREWIND and that he will be fully dedicated to the band.

 

There seems to be an issue between FIREWIND and singer…

(laughs) Yeah, we have changed enough singers during the band’s history but amazingly FIREWIND is still on a rising course. I think this is due to the fact the fans love the music first, even though they can eventually get connected with the singer.

 

Well, the truth is that Apollo had been with the band the most time from the rest of the FIREWIND singers.

You are absolutely right. After all, Apollo had been the singer in FIREWIND for seven years and we did with him four out of seven albums. We had a solid lineup for many years and this is why we won’t rush to make a decision about the next singer.

 

Of course, and you have a live album coming out soon, right?

Yes and it is on the mixing stage…

How many songs shall we expect in this one?

We haven’t decided yet. We have many recordings on our disposal and we have to choose the best ones because there are some issues to some of them.

 

Does this mean that you will be re-recording parts that were not that good?

No, because we have a lot of material and we will just leave outside whatever is not good enough. We did not record only the Greek shows but we recorded almost all the shows in the previous European tour with LEAVES’ EYES so we have a lot material to choose from.

 

That sounds like a lot of work.

Yeah, it is a lot of listening. After the shows in December I got in the studio and started listening to all the tapes and picked the best songs to use. A week ago I listened to the final mix and I liked it a lot except from some songs, so we have to put some additional work on this.

 

Do you have a release date in mind for the live album or even a title?

The plan is to release this sometime during this summer and there are some ideas regarding the title but nothing solid to tell you. We are working on the final mix, the cover artwork while being on the US tour, so I think the entire project will be completed after this tour.

 

So, after the US tour there are some summer festival and then what?

There is nothing planned and there is a good possibility for FIREWIND to take a break for a while after summer. I am also working on my solo album that I am thinking of releasing it sometime during this autumn.

 

Will you release this via Century Media?

I have not decided yet but I am in the talks with Century Media for a possible collaboration, but I am open to possible propositions. I haven’t signed a contract yet.

 

Will this contain instrumental music?

It will be half with vocals and half instrumental.

 

So, do you have singer for this?

I have singers… (laughs) I have already recorded some songs with a couple of singers but I cannot tell you the names. I want to have everything confirmed before making announcements. What I can tell you is that there are some surprises here.

 

How many songs shall we expect in your solo album?

I have completed 11-12 songs but I most probably have to write some more because I am not sure if all of them will make it in the album.

 

And what about the music; how would you describe it?

It has nothing to do with FIREWIND and it is more Hard Rock oriented. To give you an idea I’d say that if FIREWIND is more DEEP PURPLE then this one will be more LED ZEPPELIN.

 

That sounds very interesting. You also performed in a Jason Becker benefit show and shared the stage with Uli Jon Roth and Steve Morse among others.

Yeah, this was a benefit show to support Jason Becker with his medical bills. This was a great experience and I had the chance to meet Jason and this family; amazing people. It was a moving experience and the show felt more like a family, despite the fact I did not know everyone.

 

How did the show go?

It was sold out and as I heard from Jason’s friend this was the one of the two benefit shows that they made money out of it and helped supporting his treatment. From all the shows that had done in the past they did not make a buck.

 

That’s awesome indeed. Now let me ask you about Ozzy; do you have any news from this camp?

There are plans and some ideas for the next Ozzy album but everything depends on the BLACK SABBATH schedule and on Iommi’s health condition. But I have no other input on this; it’s like taking things as they come.

 

Let’s go back to FIREWIND; I imagine that you are using a specific setlist since there was not enough time to rehearse many songs, right?

Well, in this tour we are playing 40 minutes sets and this is very good for us. It’s a long time since the last time we did 40 minutes sets apart from festivals. We have two songs from “Few Against Many” and a ‘best of’ from the previous albums. This tour gives us the opportunity to play in front of different crowds that have no idea about FIREWIND. And this is the reason why we chose this tour and make a crossover in different audiences.

Ok, Gus, these were my questions and I have once more to thank you for taking the time to do this.

No problem Dimitris and I’m sure we will meet again, because you always come to FIREWIND shows. So, get well!