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Interviews   

FROM FIREWIND TO OZZY, GUS G UNDERGOES CROSS-EXAMINATION


Ozzy has always had a particular relationship with his guitarists. The deep devotion these guys nurse for him is astounding. « As long as he need me, I’ll be there! » says Gus G, who just recently joined the ranks of the Prince of Darkness. Zakk Wylde himself used to forever repeat this mantra, like a soldier making a pledge to his general. Maybe that’s due to the wad of notes that goes along with the job, or Ozzy’s “living legend” status (well, you get the drift). Or maybe it’s both.

The certain thing is that Gus G’s position in the madman’s band will have a major effect in his career, just like, on a lower scale, the arrival of his buddy Apollo in Spiritual Beggars (« he is getting his name out there more »). And he’s fully aware of that: « I am doing an interview with you right now! » After reading this interview, we’ll let you decide whether or not his choice was more strategic than artistic. Gugus called us to talk about his new high responsibility job – replying not without dishonesty to our, let’s face it, sometimes straightforward questions –, but also about his baby, Firewind, and the band’s new album, the sixth, Days Of Defiance.

We hand over to you, soldier!

« We are not the kind of band that made it with just one album or on the third album. […] Once you reach the top too fast there is only one way you can go and that is down.« 

Radio Metal : Yesterday you were playing live in Paris with Ozzy Osbourne how did the show go?

Gus G (guitar): It was great, it was fantastic!The crowd was really great.

There was a story going saying that Ozzy had suffered from burning few days before this concert because he fell asleep in a tanning booth. Was the show at some point compromised because of that or was it really nothing serious?

I don’t know where you read that but it was a lie. Ozzy had some pain in his back. I think it is an old problem or something from when he had a bike accident. He had a terrible back pain and it also hurt him in the ribs. His daughter told him to take a few days off and that’s what he did and now he is back in shape again.

The new Firewind album is called Days of Defiance. Do you feel that today’s world is an everyday challenge to live in?

You never know what’s coming up. Parents used to say to kids “go to college, get a fucking degree and get a job so you can be safe” But what is safe? All the big companies are closing down, there is no jobs any more, there is a big recession happening so you never know what is really going to come up so yeah it is coming down to just plain survival.

Overall the album is a little more towards a heavy and darkest side as we can hear on songs like The Ark Of Lies or World On Fire it sounds also a little rawer, less polished compared to your previous albums. What in fact motivated this approach?

We had a discussion with Nino Laurenne from Sonic Pump Studios and he told me everybody sounds the same especially in melodic and power metal band. Everybody is sounding the fucking same! Everything is too compressed. When it was time to mix the album we thought we should do an album with more raw sounds and mix the album analogue and get a bit more rougher edge, rougher sound in there. I thought he was right, we shouldn’t sound like everybody else. However that’s what happened to us on our last album: we were very polished, we had a lot of compression and on the end  result we lost a lot of the drums on the mix and so on… We were not really happy. We needed this time a production that was more stripped down with more dynamic and organic songs.

On the composition side what motivated the more heavy and darkest side of your music?

I don’t know! I guess I was just a bit more angry so I made more angrier riffs and songs. I cannot miss the heavier vibes that we had on our previous albums. I wanted to have a couple of tracks like that again like Worlds on Fire and The Ark of Lies, that’s where it comes from probably.

Nevertheless the album still contains some lighter, more  uplifting moments such as Embrace The Sun or Heading For The Dawn. we can hear there was a clear will to evolve with this album but it still feels like you didn’t want to go too far away from what it is expected from Firewind, as if you were retaining yourself somehow. Why did not you try more radical evolution opposed to this more progressive evolution?

I really want the album to sound like Firewind, it is what we do, it is the sound that people know. I just wanted to capture all the elements of the past albums into one album and really solidify and  establish a Firewind sound and style with this album. We are not the kind of band who is gonna experiment or coming with a totally different album. We leave that stuff for bands like Opeth, we don’t belong to that category.  We are a metal band that what we play .

There is a part in the song Embrace The Sun just after the chorus that really reminds me of the Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Weber. Is it intended or is it just a coincidence?

Yeah it was a little bit intended; we wanted to have a kind of an operatic vibe.

Are you fan of this musical piece?

Yes, I like it, it is good.

Days of Defiance is self produced. What pushed you this time to do without an external producer? Do you think you have now gained enough experience to handle every aspect of your music yourselves?

We just did not want to be stressed in studio. In the past, we were in brand studios and we were like “oh fuck we have two days left for vocals, one day for guitars and blablabla ”. We just wanted to be in our own home studio and not care about the time. We would be done whenever we’ll be done. That’s enable us to capture really great performances by every member on this album.

Firewind is at his sixth album but many heavy metal fans still look at it as a pretty new band. Do you think Firewind has developed too fast for the audience?

I think it is good that we are still developing. We are not the kind of band that made it with just one album or on the third album. We have slowly progressed but we are still making progress, each album is bigger for us. I like that because it leaves space for us to reach the top and we still have a long way to go. It keeps things exciting for us. Once you reach the top too fast there is only one way you can go and that is down. I think we are happy to be still on the way up.

« I said to Apollo that it was really a good opportunity for him so I’m glad he did that because it is a really good band! They play very nice Hard Rock in a seventies style and I think it is good also for Apollo because he is getting his name out there more.« 

Firewind has a new drummer called Michael Ehré. What happened with Mark Cross?

Nothing, it was just time to move on with somebody else. Mark had different thoughts and different ideas for the band and I had different ideas too. He was not happy with the way we were going. I just thought it was better to move on.

We don’t know too much about Michael. How did you meet him and what convinced you that he was the man for the job?

Michael plays with Uli John Roth and Uli Roth is a big influence on me. I jammed with Uli Roth in a music festival in Frankfurt two or three years ago… Michael was playing the drums and I thought he was a great drummer. When the time came to find a new guy I thought of Michael and that’s how I connected with him. I asked him if he were interesting and he was.

Firewind have had many line-up changes over the years. Do you think that nevertheless it tends to stabilize itself?

Yeah we have had the same line-up for the last five years. Even if we had this drummer change, four of us are still the same. There are the same guys since the album Allegiance. Sometimes band member change is unavoidable. I always thought that every changes is for the better because each new musician brings something new to the table and brings his own input and style. Having new blood in the band is exciting.

You replaced Zakk Wilde in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Apollo has replaced JB in Spiritual Beggars, I guess we can now expect Michael to replace Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater…

Who knows? (laughs) It is a funny question. Being so busy with Ozzy the past year, I said to the guy “I’m gonna have a year with Ozzy on the road so, you will have a lot of free time so do all kind of projects you want to and when the time is arrived I give you a call again and we will go on the road with Firewind.” That was the situation with Apollo, he got an offer from Spiritual Beggars. This band don’t do albums very often, it was like their first album in five years for them. I said to Apollo that it was really a good opportunity for him so I’m glad he did that because it is a really good band! They play very nice Hard Rock in a seventies style and I think it is good also for Apollo because he is getting his name out there more.

Actually are you not afraid all these three bands ( Spiritual Beggars, Ozzy Osbourne and Firewind) respective activities will step on each other? Are you not afraid that in the end Firewind will be the band suffering the most from that?

I don’t think so.

Apollo lives in Sweden, you now live between Los Angeles and Thessaloniki, your new drummer is German. How does the band manage to meet each other and to work together?

You seem to be very worried about how we manage to do it. The main point is that we can make it. We are having a new album and we are going to play shows. So it does not really matter where I live or where somebody else lives or if they are playing in other millions bands as long as we have Firewind and we can play. That is all that matters and that is what all fans should care of.

You are the new guitar player in Ozzy Osbourne band but you are following the footsteps of legends like Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde. Do you feel any pressure from the fans or even from yourself?

There is always pressure in show business and especially when you are playing in a big lead like this with Ozzy Osbourne, but I think I have managed to do fairly well so far. The fans’ responses have been very nice, everybody embrace me so far and really accepted the change. The world wide reviews we have gotten has been killer! This new band is really good and we are putting on great shows every night. Ozzy is very happy, we are getting great reviews from everywhere like the New York Times to all the measure metal press and other type of press. We are doing our job very well, that reflects outside as well.

Did you witness any increase of interest in Firewind since you joined Ozzy Osbourne?

Yes of course, I am doing an interview with you right now! (laughs)

« No I think I did the best I could under the situation that was given to me. I did not write any of the songs. I just walked into a situation where everything was finished. I just did my part, it was to put of my own sound as much as possible but on somebody else’s songs. I am not the guy responsible if the riffs sound like Zakk Wylde because somebody else made them.« 

Your integration in Ozzy’s band created a kind of feud between Ozzy and Zakk Wylde. Zakk was pretty virulent in his statements and, even though he calmed down, he still joked this summer about learning that you were the new front man in Black Label Society. How did you feel about this? How did you live this little confrontation since you are at the centre of it?

It is not really my business, it is between Ozzy and Zakk, it has nothing to do with me. If it would not have been me, it would have been somebody else. I have nothing to do with it, I did not do something to Zakk Wilde. Somebody just called me to get a gig and I did it.

It must have felt uncomfortable for you…

It did in the beginning because I am a fan of Zakk Wylde as well. But obviously he has been very nice to me about it, he said great things in the press so he really understands and that’s great.

While listening to Scream we barely recognize your guitar sound and even your guitar style compared to Firewind, it is much more heavy. Apart from the solos it does sound a lot like what Zakk Wylde accustomed us. Were you somehow frayed to meet some requirement? Do you feel your usual playing style was a bit constrained?

No I think I did the best I could under the situation that was given to me. I did not write any of the songs. I just walked into a situation where everything was finished. I just did my part, it was to put of my own sound as much as possible but on somebody else’s songs. I am not the guy responsible if the riffs sound like Zakk Wylde because somebody else made them.

Who made them?

It was Kevin Churko, the producer.

Ozzy stated he wanted to change his guitar player because he felt his songs were being to sound like Black Label Society. Isn’t it a little bit ironic that in the end your guitar parts sound much like Zakk’s? In that regard would not have it been wiser to let you re write some of the riffs?

I think it is his decision to choose what would be wiser or not. It is not for me to judge or you or anybody. I think he knows best what he likes because he is the boss. Nevertheless, I will not agree with you that the guitar parts sound like Zakk Wylde.
I think it is totally different from what Zakk is doing and maybe you should listen to Black Label Society (note: thanks for the tip!) and see how different that sounds. But it is what it is. He made that choice and I was fine with that because for me it was great to be in that situation and that’s all really.

Do you know if you are going to be able to put a little bit more of your creativity on the table with Ozzy’s up coming albums?

We will see when we cross that bridge.

But would you like to put more of your creativity?

I’d love to! But we will see there are a lot of things to do now …. We are still on a big world tour. So when the time comes to make a new album we will see what happens.

How would you react if he tells you that you can do nothing?

I don’t know what will happen, in one year from now, in one year and a half from now maybe, I will want to do it maybe I won’t. It doesn’t make sense to make scenarios right now, it leads to anything and it is not really an interesting answer for anybody.

Do you feel this collaboration could be a long time collaboration like it was with Zakk Wylde ?

Of course! I think so, as long as he wants me to be there I’ll be there for him.

Interview conducted in september, 2010, by phone.
MySpace Firewind : http://www.myspace.com/firewind
MySpace Ozzy Osbourne : http://www.myspace.com/ozzyosbourne



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