Gus G. (Firewind) keeps his fire alive

After joining countless bands, playing as a guest soloist on countless albums and rubbing shoulders with a legend as the replacement for Zakk Wylde in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Gus G. is finally getting his solo break. It was bound to happen one of these days – but for Gus G., it was a matter of finding time in his busy schedule, and to collect enough songs (written with the help of vocalist Mats Levén, known for his work with Candlemass and Krux, but also formerly with Therion and Yngwie Malmsteen) to make up a record.

In the following interview, Gus G. talks about this new solo album, its conception, the music it contains, the musicians and vocalists featured on it, etc. It was also an opportunity to ask him about the departure of vocalist Apollo Papathanasio from his main band, Firewind, about which he confesses: “Things were already going down in 2007”. Being part of a band full-time can be complicated indeed – even when you want to hire as talented a singer as Mats Levén…

« I’m the kind of guy who never stops […] I put a lot of passion into my art, my music and whatever I do. »

Radio Metal: Throughout your career you’ve played in many bands and projects but hadn’t released a solo album until now. What convinced you that this was the right time?

Gus G. (guitar): Well it was more like I felt like the time was right. Firewind was gonna go on a break, because we had finished our tour and we knew we didn’t have many touring commitments in 2013. We were looking for a singer so we decided to take it easy for a while and take our time choosing the next guy. And Ozzy was busy with Black Sabbath so… I also happened to have some ideas that wouldn’t really fit on a Firewind record. It was more hard rock ideas. So I thought I should work on this, you know?

These past few years, you have been in the spotlight for playing with Ozzy Osbourne; do you think that because of this, many people are waiting to hear your solo project?

Well, I don’t know, I guess so. I mean everybody’s been asking – even before, in the earlier days – everybody was asking me to do a solo album and of course after Ozzy a lot of people were saying that they would like to hear me doing a solo thing. I guess it’s fairly a natural thing to do, you capitalise on the success of the whole thing and the attention that I received from doing the Ozzy album and tours. But for me, to be honest, I didn’t really feel that way. I didn’t really plan on doing this, it just happened for me. It was more like I had just written these songs and I needed to get it out, that’s all. I didn’t do this for anybody and I didn’t do this to prove anything to anybody. I just did it for myself. I mean, along the way the album was becoming very strong so that’s when I started thinking “well, maybe I should do something about it and actually talk to my record label about this.”

The album is entitled « I Am The Fire », is this how you feel about yourself? Like you have a fire burning inside?

Well, you know that song is really about feeling motivated and it’s about passion. It’s about having that passionate fire about anything you do in life and whatever goals you set in life. That’s the meaning of that song, and I’ve always felt that way about myself. I’m the kind of guy who never stops, I always keep going and I always work hard for what I do. I put a lot of passion into my art, my music and whatever I do.

Despite having played many different styles in the past, you managed to show some new sides of your musical personality on this solo album; such as rather hard rock and classic rock songs. Was it important for you?

Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do basically. I thought if I was gonna do a solo album and if that had to be something heavy metal then there was no point in calling it Gus G., I would call it Firewind. So this was like an opportunity for me to explore different sides of my background. I grew up on classic rock and blues rock as well, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to write more in that style.

« I should just shut up and play the guitar because that’s the best I can do.” [Laughs] »

Although there are plenty of guitar licks, this is not a typical guitar hero solo album like we could expect from a guitar player. Was it important for you to keep a strong focus on the songs in order to be recognised as a songwriter before a guitar hero?

Well, I’ve always written songs, I have always been a songwriter as well as being a guitar player. For me, the idea of doing an instrumental album wasn’t really appealing. I think it’s pretty boring to put out an album with 12 instrumentals. That sounds like backing tracks or you’re just doing solos all around. I just like to have vocals in my songs. I mean of course I love instrumentals, but not too many. I love having vocals, and I like writing catchy songs that have heavy riffs, heavy or strong hooks, so to speak. That’s the way I’ve always written music.

Mats Levén sings on four tracks. Did you want him to sing on so many album tracks because there was a good connection between the two of you during the Firewind tour 2011?

Yeah, that’s how it started, you know! Because when we did that tour in 2011 we talked about doing something together. So actually if it was entirely up to me, I would have kept him in Firewind, because I thought he really fit with the band, but… [Stops] But anyways, I had all those rock ideas and riffs that I sent him and I knew that I wanted to do something with Mats. Actually, the fact that he and I wrote these 4-5 songs together really helped me realising “ok, now I can actually do this, I can put the songs into a solo album.

The album features two instrumental tracks with two different bass players: Dave Ellefson and Billy Sheehan. Why did you choose these two bass players in particular for these instrumentals?

This was an idea of Jay Ruston, the guy who mixed my album. He just suggested Sheehan because he mixed the Winery Dogs and I said “of course”, you know I’m a big fan of his. So he reached out to his managers, we played him the song, he loved it and he just played it. The story with Dave Ellefson was that Jay texted one day and he asked if I wanted to play solo for Dave Ellefson and Frank Bello in their new project called Altitudes & Attitude and I said “Yeah, fuck yeah” – I mean I love both those guys – and then I said “Can Dave return the favour and play bass on one of my tracks?” and that’s how it happened.

How did you choose all the other musicians and singers who appear on the album? Was it just similar opportunities or did you already have ideas in mind from the start?

It was really opportunities. I didn’t really know who I wanted on the album. I had no concrete plan, you know I had the music but I didn’t really have the people. I mean obviously I had the songs with Mats, I knew that and I had also done another track with Jeff Scott Soto called “Summer Days”. But then I didn’t really know who else to invite and I met a lot of people through Jay Ruston and he suggested a lot of people and helped me out. Also my record label Century Media suggested a couple of people as well, for example the collaborations with Devour The Day and Alexia Rodriguez came through Century Media.

Have you thought about singing yourself, on at least one song?

Yeah I thought about it, but then I was like “Well I have so many great singers on the record, why bother? I should just shut up and play the guitar because that’s the best I can do.” [Laughs]

But you can actually sing, can’t you?

I can, yeah, but I usually do backing vocals, I don’t really do lead vocals. But maybe I should try someday, who knows?

And who wrote the lyrics for the songs? Is it you or their respective singers?

It’s mainly the singers, yeah. I did have some song titles, or I would tell them sometimes what the song should be about and stuff, and people would write the lyrics and send them back.

« Spiritual Beggars is a perfect band for [Apollo] […], they only play maybe two weeks every year or something and then he can take some time off from his job so that he can go out and be a rockstar for two weeks. [Chuckles] »

You said that you wanted Jay Ruston to mix the album because of the job he did on The Winery Dogs album which sounded warm, big and not digital. Do you think too many albums sound too digital and not natural enough nowadays?

Yeah, I think so. Especially in heavy metal, a lot of stuff sounds very processed and very edited. I’m not saying that my record doesn’t have edits or whatever, that it’s not digital, but Jay somehow manages to cover that up very nicely and he gives the album that full frequency range and gave it that low end it needed, that ambience. But at the same time it still sounds modern, and that’s what I liked about his mixes.

On another topic, last year, the departure of Apollo from Firewind was announced due to him “not being able to keep up with the band’s touring and promotion schedule”. Do you think this has anything to do with his involvement in Spiritual Beggars?

I don’t know you’d have to ask him. I don’t know.

You guys haven’t talked about this as all?

I haven’t spoken with him for at least a year.

Ok, but what did he tell you about him leaving Firewind?

Well he said that he didn’t really want [stops] because you know he always drops out of tours, whenever we have long tours he always said that he had to stay home. He just wanted to keep his job back home. He was a teacher in a school, a music teacher. He wanted to have his day job and he didn’t want to tour that much. Spiritual Beggars is a perfect band for him because they don’t do so many tours, they only play maybe two weeks every year or something and then he can take some time off from his job so that he can go out and be a rockstar for two weeks. [Chuckles] I think that’s what he wanted to do. But we do this for a living, we do this full time.

Earlier, you said that if it was up to you, you would have asked Mats Levén to join the band. What prevented this to happen?

Well there is politics about these things. It’s not like I can make a choice… I mean in the end people say that it’s my band and it IS my band but there are other guys and they also have opinions and there’s the label behind us, and the management and… there are other people’s opinions that count as well. Sometimes people choose to play it safe but I’m a bit different, I like to take risks in my career. I’ve always taken risks. I knew that things were not working out with Apollo, even back then; I mean it wasn’t even working out back in 2007: he had always been dropping out of tours and it was the same thing in 2011. Two weeks before the tour, he called and said he couldn’t do it. So for me it was over right there. Like I said, if it was up to me, I would have fired him right there. But the other guys were a bit sceptical about that, they wanted to play it safe. So like I said there is a lot of politics sometimes, you cannot just do what pleases you all the time and I have to respect that there are a lot of people’s opinions.

But who wouldn’t want such a great singer as Mats Levén in their band?!

No, it’s not the fact that they didn’t want him. Everybody wants Mats and everybody loves Mats. We’re all great friends and he’s friends with the rest of the band and everybody, we had such a great time! But the thing is that people think about what the reaction is going to be, what the fans are going to think and all that stuff. You have to think about all these things, you know? But what I said was like if it doesn’t happen now it will happen at some point anyways, and I was right about that. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah, it sounds kind of complicated actually…

Hey man, being in a band is not easy. It is very complicated.

« Maybe [Firewind] is jinxed, who knows? That’s why I’m taking a break from the band to be honest. »

What of Kelly Sundown Carpenter, who replaced Apollo during last year’s American Tour? Would you consider him a candidate as new permanent singer in Firewind?

No, the thing with Kelly is that he just helped us out to do the tour. We had contracts to do an American tour, a tour in Australia, some festivals and he helped us through that but he does his own thing and that’s totally cool with us. He just helped us complete our touring commitments.

It looks like you are having a hard time settling the lineup of Firewind, especially regarding the singer position. Can you explain this instability?

I have no idea man. Maybe I like people’s voices but I’m not too careful on their personalities and their private life set ups. Because you have to be able to do a lot of sacrifices in order to be in a band full time. So maybe I like someone’s voice and I think he can fit with the band but it doesn’t mean that he can follow the band on all the tours and stuff like that. So that’s the problem we had in the past. So, I don’t know! Maybe the band is jinxed, who knows? That’s why I’m taking a break from the band to be honest.

Would you have any news to tell us about Ozzy Osbourne? Scream was now released four years ago, so are there any plans of writing a successor to this album?

I don’t have any official info for you, I’m sorry.

Have you saved any riffs that you thought could be good for a potential future Ozzy Osbourne record?

I have a lot of stuff written. I write music all the time so I have a lot of stuff on the hard drive of my computer. I definitely have a lot of stuff that fits for Ozzy.

The riffs on Screams were written by producer Kevin Churko. Are you eager to beginning working and having your own riffs featured on an Ozzy record?

Yeah, of course! Of course man.

With the Black Sabbath reunion, aren’t you a worried to see the solo career of Ozzy put on hold?

No, I mean you know this is not my choice, this is not my decision. I’m hired to play guitar there. Ozzy is a solo artist and he does what he has to do. It’s always been like that, this is nothing new. I’m a big Sabbath fan and I’m a big Ozzy fan so whatever the boss wants to do that’s cool with me. It’s not my call.

In 2012 you participated to Ozzy and Friends Tour. How did it feel to share the stage with such legends as Geezer Butler, Slash and Zakk Wylde?

Oh man that was great! That was a dream come true tour. It was amazing, just to be on the stage with all those guys, jamming every night. You don’t get to see such a lineup everyday on a tour. That was definitely a highlight.

Will you do a tour as a solo artist?

Yeah, I’m actually touring in Europe in May, with Marty Friedman. It’s a co-headline tour. We’re actually playing in France. We’ll come there in – I don’t remember the date now, but it’s sometime in May.

Interview conducted by phone on Thursday, February 27th 2014 by Spaceman.
Transcription : Natacha.

Gus G official website : www.gusgofficial.com
Firewind official website : www.firewind.gr

Album I Am The Fire, out since March, 17th 2014 via Century Media Records.

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