Home Interviews Firewind Guitar maestro Gus G talks to Fiona from MPM

Firewind Guitar maestro Gus G talks to Fiona from MPM

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Hi everyone. I had  the pleasure of interviewing Gus G,  front man with the melodic metal band Firewind, and I can safely tell you he is a really cool guy. Not only that, but Gus is also very considerate because I had an issue with during the day and I couldn’t make the interview at the agreed time and he happily rescheduled without a fuss or complaints.

To me, that says a lot about the kind of person Gus is –  courteous, professional and a genuinely nice guy! We had a great chat about his career and a little bit about the C word which is all around the world, and of course Firewind’s new self-titled album due for release on the 15th of May (check it out- it’s a proper belter).  I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I did talking with Gus

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Fiona

Well hi, how are you? Are you and yours all safe? How are you coping with old coronavirus lockdown and things and impact on the band?

Hi! Yes, we are all good thankfully. It’s a different world now, no vaccine so who knows how this will play out.  

All the tours are cancelled  as you know. I have saved for a rainy day so I would rather stay home and stay safe. I can do some work at home because life is not just about travelling and doing shows and staying safe is more important right now.  Something like this puts things in perspective and you reflect on what is more important right now.  All of a sudden everything that was before has just stopped.

This is the second time you’ve been interviewed by Metal Planet Music. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and Firewind.

We are an international melodic metal band and I am based in Greece. I’ve had the band since 1998 and the first album came out in 2002 so we’ve been around for a while. As for me, I am the guitar player and main man of this band really. Many people may know me from playing with other bands I suppose, the most famous was with Ozzy for a few years.

What inspired you to put Firewind together and how did you manage having a solo career and working then with another band

I had Firewind long before Ozzy.  We were already five albums in when I was hired by Ozzy and we had a really good following especially in Japan and in some pockets in Europe.  The band was doing well and we had momentum happening. When the offer came in to play with Ozzy, I had to take that. The band took a bit of a back seat for those two years but that was ok because there’s a bigger picture there.

After the whole Ozzy thing and the touring, I went back to my own band because that’s just what you do.  Firewind also had a hiatus in 2013 and I started making solo records, which was more like a cathartic experience and experimenting doing other things.  So all of a sudden I had two of my own bands myself and Firewind.

You collaborated with Alissa Whyte Gluz on the Together at Home live stream organised by Lady Gaga and the WHO recently.  How did that come about?

I’ve known Alissa for a number of years and she emailed me and asked me if I wanted to do something together like a live stream or an acoustic session.  Originally she wanted to do it for her own fans and her own subscription-base but then in the midst of all of this she was contacted by World Health Organisation representatives or whoever were putting this together.

This all happened while we were preparing a set list and we had to figure out how we were going to get work people to do a livestream because the technology is not up there yet. There’s always some latency and it’s not going to be in sync. I wasn’t sure what they wanted us to do but we did it for Alissa’s fans and we just played music for those who wanted to hear it. It went down really well and it was really nice. We had about 2,000 watching live at the time which was really great.  We’ve talked about doing a few more things but we haven’t got around to it yet.

So is there a future collaboration for something bigger?

Yeah! We’re talking about doing part two of that because we had been rehearsing more songs than what we played. Maybe we will write a song but you never know how these things will work out because I know she is working on her solo record.

Speaking of riffs and solos you have a new album coming out on Friday, called Firewind. How come you were back to a self-titled album even though you have been around for several years.

We’ve never done that before and also if you never have, there has to be a reason for it!  There have been various incarnations and versions of the band and changes with singers.

This was one of those times as well and a little bit different. It’s really important for me as we had gone through line-up changes in the middle of production, the keyboard player quit and we had to let the singer go because it wasn’t working out on various levels. So this was kind of like a crossroads or a reincarnation for me and I had thought about should I just stop and finish it all or splitting the band up.

We were a troubled band you know with an awful lot of line-up changes but I made the decision that I wasn’t ready to give it up. This is the time to reimagine and reintroduce the band and have a second coming so to speak.  If I was going to start a band today that’s the philosophy I would adopt as in how would I actually do this. This is the record and here is Firewind yet again!

A kind of rebirth – here’s Firewind in 2020 in the midst of Corona and we are hitting you right in the between the eyeballs!

Exactly! We started working on this before Corona so it is kind of ironic that our keyboard player quit because he didn’t want to tour, and I had been planning lots of tours for this album and now there’s nothing.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter because the band needed to make these changes in order to survive otherwise there would be no Firewind right now if we didn’t have the change in line-up.  Things happen; people grow up, they change and they have other priorities, like family etc and that’s cool.

You mentioned your new singer Herbi Langhans.  Were you pushed into that or did you have him in your sights anyway as a singer for Firewind?

It was actually a suggestion from the label. I checked out some links and I thought this guy was amazing and I had heard him before in a band called Sinbreed about 8 years ago and I remember he was really great. He was not on my radar all these years but Right away I could hear him sing our songs and we were put in touch and it went from there. It all happened very fast really.

There is so much contrast in your album from the beautiful melody in ‘Longing to Love You’ and then ‘Kill the Pain’ hits with a proper punch in the guts and really angry! How did you find it when he joined considering you had the songs already written?

I always try to write the music first and then we add the vocals. Before we go into the studio we already know what the vocal lines are like and we create the demos.  But this time the music and arrangements were there but the vocals weren’t, so it was really weird. I didn’t know who was going to be singing, hear what was going to happen, or how it would sound when he started to sing because we had  zero demos with vocals.

Actually I take that back! We had three songs done with our producer Denis Ward provided who helped me on the previous record as well, so I knew I had three songs with dummy lyrics. When Herbi came in I asked him did he write because I needed somebody to co-write right away so we had to adapt to what we already had. Luckily it worked out because it could have gone wrong in so many ways.

Clearly you knew what you were doing because you wouldn’t have invited him aboard if you didn’t think he was going to suit the Firewind style and brand.

He did try out with us first and sang some of our old songs and then tried some of the new songs so we then worked together on writing a first song, which was ‘Devour’.  I also have good intuition so when I hear somebody, I know if they would fit or not right away. This is such a diverse record as you said you know from tracks like ‘Kill the Pain’ and more hard rock stuff like ‘Space Cowboy’. It was a test to see if the singer sounded like our band with his voice on this new record and it really worked.

Tell me about ‘Welcome to the Empire’. I love the intro but it’s a bit strange and reminded me a bit of Queen’s Radio Gaga!

I think the Radio Gaga song was influenced by that first sci-fi movie called Metropolis. One of the cyborg from the Metropolis movie, the metallic one, is in that video so maybe that’s why you are reminded of the Radio Gaga video because that character is in it as well.

I’m not a huge sci-fi fan but I really loved some of the classics like Blade Runner from the 80s and I wanted to have a little bit of that vibe in it. That song is about the whole artificial intelligence area taking over all of that what man created and it’s been taken over by robots and things.

It was an expensive, demanding video to make because it was two videos in one. We stared with the band sections, which were in a different location and production for that. Then we hired guys from LA to do the effects and they were expensive but they did a great job. We had this idea about two cyborgs playing chess deciding the fate of humanity and in the chess game, every move means something is destroyed!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqEucEmmh70&w=560&h=315]

What about the track ‘Rising Fire’?  Is this about life and difficulties and struggles in life?

Actually it’s about overcoming these struggles and difficulties. It’s basically about the inner strength that we all have to find in order to overcome whatever difficult situations we find ourselves in.

What inspired that one? Was it a personal experience or was it something that just came to you?

Well for me, it’s been a difficult few months. I wrote the lyrics for this and there’s a certain message with this. Like I said, it’s about overcoming difficulties. It wasn’t just about restructuring the band but also finding the will to do it especially as the band has been through a lot in the past. For me it’s not really specific and it’s just life in general. I think people should be able to interpret or make parallels with their own lives, because to me that’s when a song has more meaning to the listener. I’m not describing a certain situation that happened to me.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iEZGCcy31s&w=560&h=315]

You’re a legend of a guitar player known all around the world and you’re only a child really! So on this particular album what has been the most challenging riff for you to write or even to play?

The song ‘Break Away’ is pretty intense to play.  There is the main riff and a fast solo within the riff and it keeps on going. When you are double tracking guitars, adding two or three tracks, everything has to be really tight and it is quite challenging to do overdubs on a technical track like that.

Do you constantly push yourself to do something more complex every time? 

I have to figure it out when I write the next song! I always want to try and get better and challenge myself.  It’s the never-ending quest for the perfect solo that you want to be remembered for and not just the melody, but technically. I mean, how did Gary Moore write a beautiful song like Parisian Walkways or I Still Got the Blues? That’s what’s always in my mind.  I want to write that melody that I can be remembered for some day.

Something to aim for especially in the times we are being in lockdown!  Do  you find it easier to write or are you going crazy and just want to throw everything out the window?

I actually started writing in the early days of lockdown. We don’t have lockdown anymore in Greece and the shops are open and it’s getting back to normal. I’ve been very busy doing a lot of interviews and promos.

I started writing in the beginning and then got away from all that because I didn’t have much time. Usually every summer I write an album. I don’t know why mainly because we only do festivals, one offs, or fly dates so we don’t get on the bus from country to country. Maybe this summer, I’ll start writing again as there aren’t going to be any gigs for a while.

I see that you were booked for the Monsters of Rock cruise in February.  Will it happen do you think?

I don’t know and I haven’t heard anything.  Our American tour was meant to start this week and that was cancelled. I don’t know what’s going to happen or where the world is going to be in February so we’re taking it one day at a time. We have to make sure people are safe.

It must be awful as a musician because you have your life planned one or even two years in advance and all of that thrown into chaos. It’s a huge impact on your personal and professional life.

It is yeah. I try not to think too negatively about that but at least for bands like us, we’re not totally unknown and we still have our fans and we survived a hiatus of four or five years. Since we came back from that we can survive anything.  We will do gigs whenever we can even if it means it’s going to have to be one or two years. We can’t do anything about it so this is not my fight. I’m a guy who likes to do 100 shows a year!

Your album is being released on Friday. Have you any plans for the launch or how are you going to do this?

I have something planned for Wednesday and also may be a live Q&A. I have a live stream for Fender guitars but on Friday I would like to do a livestream to celebrate the album and hang out with some of the fans. I should probably start practicing if I’m to play some guitar for them!

Now that everybody is live streaming, you’re also competing with bands all around the world who are doing the same thing possibly at the same time.

Yeah. I even see on Instagram that everybody’s live all of the time so I’m done with that stuff.  But yes you are right, I will have to set a date and a time for people to tune in.

It’s tough isn’t it?  At least you will have the digital album purchases so it shouldn’t impact on album sales.

Shops are slowly opening in some parts of the world and distribution will still happen. We will always have fans that want to have the physical copy or the vinyl or CD.  I try not to think about it too much because at least we can still reach our fans digitally. We may sell a few thousand records less and even the majority of  people aren’t buying records anyway.

It’s a very tough situation for bands considering digital platforms pay only a pittance .

This may change and the rates that they’re paying artists may increase and that will be really great – it has to change at some stage!  We do pretty ok on digital platforms but it would be nice to be paid better.

Some platforms pay higher royalties than others even if the platform is not as successful as their competitors. It’s hard to predict really because the music industry is always changing.

New platforms, new formats, new social media and now it’s all about live streaming so we have to keep up with the constant changes the whole time. I do wish that musicians would get paid better as the physical format is dying out. But then you shouldn’t expect to make your sole income from making records because they are more like a business card to show people what you do.

The good thing about the internet is that there are so many ways for you to have other avenues and platforms to generate income  as a musician. So there are lots of things you can do depending on the artist’s strengths and what areas they are best at.

The good thing is that you can reach your fanbase directly and find ways to monetize that to get to that audience instead of waiting to sell half a million records to get a gold record and get a cheque in the mail. That’s not going to happen anymore. I never made a record for that aspect anyway.  I would have made my records with or without a label.

That’s inspiring for your fans because it means that you’re doing this purely for the love of the music.

If I didn’t do it for the love of the music, Firewind would have been disbanded years and years ago. You have to choose and really think about it, wonder why is it you are here and what is it you want to do.

I’ve come to that crossroads a few times. I’ve had line-up changes and things going wrong and had to think hard to see if this is what I want to do or if I have to do this. But do I want to do this? Yes! That’s what it all comes down to. If I don’t want to do it, what’s my alternative and does the other option make me happy?  You have to think of all of these things and it’s a tough thing.

We are also very lucky because we still have an audience word wide, which we still really appreciate.  We’re not the biggest band in the world but we have a dedicated audience for years and that’s a good reason enough for me to keep making music.

I have really enjoyed this chat with you and it’s good to hear that you are still planning to write during the summer even with all of these chaos around us

Yeah!  You can’t stop an idea forming!

Will there be any coronavirus theme songs?

I’m not the kind of guy who jumps on that bandwagon, but you never know!

Gus, thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Stay safe!

You too and great to talk with you!

Order the Firewind album here: Firewind official website

 

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