With the release of Gus G.'s first solo album "I Am The Fire" getting closer, we had a chat with him for the new album featuring numerous guest musicians, as well as the future of Firewind and his cooperation with Ozzy.
Hello Gus, how are you?
Hello Nikos, I'm very good, how are you?
I'm great. I had the luck to listen to "I Am The Fire" for a while now, and I have to admit that it's a very different album to what I expected, which was an instrumental guitar album…
Yeah I know, you are not alone! (Laughs)
(Laughs) What was your goal with this album?
The main question I asked myself was what kind of album I would like to make if I ever did a solo album. I was sure I wasn't going to make a traditional heavy metal or power metal album, because I have Firewind for that. I also knew that I didn’t want to make an instrumental album like most people expect from me, because I find it a little boring personally (laughs). Even though I am a guitarist I don't listen to many guitar albums, I think they're a little boring, I mean the idea to make ten-twelve instrumental songs, I thought it wouldn't be that popular, it would target only some guitarists, and the whole idea came when I started writing some songs and some ideas I had which weren't that fitting for Firewind, they had acoustic guitars, more mellow, more hard rock songs, classic rock. I started composing some songs with Mats Leven, and there the idea came that they could be great for a solo album. Later I did a song with Jeff Scott Soto, so I got the idea to make an album like Slash does, with many guests, so this is how I started it.
Since this album is much more rock than Firewind, was this a side of you that you wanted to explore for a while now, but Firewind weren't appropriate to do so?
For sure, yeah, I wouldn't be able to put more classic rock or blues elements in Firewind's music, Firewind is a band with a history, we already have a career, a certain sound and our fans, there wasn't any reason to ruin anybody's expectations because I wanted to play something else right now, so I preferred to do it with a song bearing my name only. This might have to do with the fact that I have other influences too, I wanted to play more bluesy stuff, more melodic, not so much heavy metal this time.
Were there any ideas that you had for Firewind but later decided to use for "I Am The Fire"?
The only two songs that I thought would be good for Firewind are the two instrumentals, "Vengeance" and "Terrified", to be honest they are much more technical than songs like "The Fire And The Fury", but in the end I thought that the album is varied, there are a lot of guests, so why not include two instrumental songs, I knew this wasn't going to be everybody's cup of tea, but I know some people expect to hear this stuff from me, so instead of doing twelve instrumental songs I did two and included them in the final album.
It's a good balance for sure…
Yes, something like that indeed…
You had various guests on the album, all great musicians, what was the criterion for choosing each one of them for the respective songs?
At the beginning my main partner was Mats Leven because we've known one another for many years, we had played together in Firewind and I wanted to continue with him, he started the whole thing, so to speak. I am a huge fan of Jeff Scott Soto from the Malmsteen days, we are friends and we did a song together. Moving on, to be honest the man who brought many guests and suggested many names, was Jay Ruston, the man who mixed my album. I didn't have anything in mind, so I was moving one step at a time, I wasn't sure what I wanted, I knew I had some songs which weren't fit for Firewind, something different, I wasn’t hearing any particular voices on some songs if that's what you are asking, I just asked for Jay's opinion, he brought some people he knew and I admired, like Billy Sheehan and David Ellefson. Michael Starr is a also a great addition because I really love his voice, I was a little hesitant at first because let's be honest, Steel Panther is not the most serious band in the world (laughs), but I like them very much and I generally think it was a nice change for Michael as well, singing a song that doesn't have to do with girls, cocaine, pussies and all that stuff…(laughs)
(Laughs) Indeed his voice fit greatly the song…
Very much! He has this Dave Lee Roth style and he is great at it.
Was there any musician that declined your invitation?
The only musician who didn't decline but just didn't have the time because he was just finishing the latest album was Dream Theater's James LaBrie…
I didn't expect that, and I have to tell you that I'm a big Dream Theater fan!
Are you one of the crazy Dream Theater fans as well?(Laughs) To be honest I'm not so big of a fan of Dream Theater, I like them of course but I'm not crazy about them, of course I listened to Images And Words when I was a little boy and I love James' voice. I wanted him on the album, but he was very busy because he was making two albums almost at the same time and I talked with him at a period when he was very busy and nervous, he wanted to do it a lot, but there is still a chance that we get together and work on something in the future. We've talked many times, I know he wanted to work with me, and why not work on one of his own albums in the future, I don't know, everything is possible. This is the thing with musicians, you know, everyone is always touring, we always have something to do and it's difficult to find someone available.
Mats Leven is on most of the songs in the album, did this partnership come after you toured together with Firewind or did you want to work with him even before that?
Yeah the idea came when we were touring with Firewind, when he came to help is in 2011, I even wanted him to continue with Firewind as a permanent member…
This is reasonable given that he has an amazing voice…
Yeah indeed, I'm a fan of his since the "Facing The Animal" era with Malmsteen, I knew him from Sweden where I lived in the past, I generally think he has an incredible voice and I knew that Apollo wouldn't stay in the group, the guy would cancel a tour every year, and I thought that Mats was the perfect choice. Anyway, these are politics and not everything is my decision but everyone must be happy, so at the time we decided not to continue with Mats. But we’ve been friends for 10-11 years, so we kept in touch and decided we would do something together in the future, so because I had told him that I would do a solo album sometime, we started writing songs.
I know that you decided having Jay Ruston for the mixing process because you liked The Winery Dogs album's sound, so is he who suggested Billy Sheehan who is a member of theirs?
Yeah, he suggested Billy Sheehan, Dave Ellefson, and he also suggested Jeff Friedl, the drummer from A Perfect Circle, he generally brought me in touch with amazing musicians.
Do you have any funny stories from the recordings of the album, with anyone of the guests?
Look, I was there when we recorded the drums in Los Angeles, we had a great time the three of us at the studio. Moving forward, because there were so many guests, everyone wrote his own parts at their own studios and I returned to Greece, and recorded my guitars here.
Are there any touring plans for "I Am The Fire"? You are doing some shows with Uli Jon Roth which I think is kind of like a dream for you, isn't it?
It is definitely a dream because he is one of my favorite guitarists of all time, everybody knows that. The tour starts in Greece in March, with Uli Jon Roth, Jorn Lande and Mats Leven, this package is exclusive for Greece and Cyprus, and then there will be a world tour, we'll be in Europe in May, not with Uli Jon Roth but with my solo band. Plans will be announced soon.
What kind of setlist can we expect from these shows?
This is something I'm working on right now, I definitely want to present many of the album's songs, there will probably be some references to the past, we'll see, I haven't thought much about it.
Tell me honestly, did you ever imagine as a child listening to Uli Jon Roth's albums that the time would come that you would tour together?
This is crazy, for sure. Everytime I think of Uli, because I know him and we've been friends for many years now, every time I meet him I think the times when I was in my room and I was 14 years old, studying the solo from "Pictured Life" or "Catch Your Train", so it's definitely something amazing for me.
Let's talk about Firewind now. I would like to ask you about the singer issue. Kelly Sundown who toured with you is another incredible singer, have you asked him to join the band permanently, or is the position still open? He was announced as a touring member but there haven't been any announcements ever since.
At the moment I don't have an official statement about this, about the singer but about Firewind as well. We are on a break for the first time after 10 years and we don't know what we are going to do exactly, we haven't talked about it. The tour with Kelly went great, he really helped us at a very difficult time because he had contractual obligations for the tours and Apollo had left us once again with no notice and frustrated, so Kelly saved us from this situation, he did a great job, but after all this we all felt we needed a break, we didn't want to force ourselves to get in the studio too fast once again, so the whole thing is still open for conversation. There are no ideas for new songs or anything, not even a conversation about it. When we do have new songs for Firewind we'll talk about who will sing them, personally I want to try and write some stuff with Kelly, but as I told you there is no official announcement yet.
Do you think that Apollo leaving the band was the reason you took a break or did you think about it before that because of your heavy touring schedule?
Apollo leaving definitely played a big part in that. We had already booked the next tours and Apollo left at the middle of the tour, so I honestly felt very tired with all this, because he did it in the past, both in 2007 and 2011 when we had Mats, and in the past where he had Henning (Basse). In general, we all felt very tired with this, so it was a good reason to take a break, 10 years in the band, we had our main singer leave and after seven albums we thought that there was no reason to hurry and get in the studio, like we did in the past. So yes, it was perfect timing.
Did you also feel tired with the musical side, or just tired of touring?
No no, we weren't tired of composing or touring, this is my whole life, I'm never tired of doing it. It was mostly psychological, in the sense that you invest in a person and he fails you repeatedly, and at this point in my life I didn’t want to deal with it, I decided to do a solo album. I decided to get away from all that, not abandoning the band of course, and as I said the band will continue, we'll just do an album when the time is right.
Did all these hardships inspire you for the album?
For sure, yeah, I was inspired from all that. Generally this album was a cathartic experience for me and I was in a dark period in my life, not only from a band perspective but personally as well.
I think that the album being somewhat unpredictable shows that you weren't afraid to defy all expectations and express yourself freely, at least that's what I got listening to it…
It's just like you said, this is probably the most artistically expressive album I've done for quite a while. Not that I don't express myself on the other albums or that I didn't put my soul on them, but this album had something extra, maybe it has to do with all the stuff I went through during the last one and a half year.
So, let's talk about the Ozzy gig. Choosing you I guess was another dream come true…
(Laughs) Dream? What dream? I don't think that any guitar player dreams that one time he will play with Ozzy, I personally didn't have this dream, it was like, I don't know…
Yeah, I mean this is something you can't expect, especially growing up in a country like Greece, do you ever think "I will once play with Ozzy or Metallica"? I don't know anyone who says that. (Laughs) Now the way my story went I hope that kids will have such crazy dreams because they can come true.
Given Black Sabbath's comeback, are there any plans for a new album with Ozzy in the future?
Ozzy wants to do another solo album, that's for sure. As far as I know he has a contract for three more solo albums, so I don't know when he will finish them, if he'll do them and If I'm going to be a part in it, but I certainly know that he wants to do one more solo album. When is it going to happen, I don't know, because these are his decisions, Sharon's and the whole management's. Now, Black Sabbath have great success and I'm very glad they did this comeback, so we'll be waiting. They've said they're thinking of doing another album, other days they come out and say that this is the last tour, you know how they are…(Laughs)
I'm sure there is some marketing talk behind that…
Look, from what I know about Ozzy and from the little time I've spent with Geezer Butler, it's not a marketing thing, those people just say what's on their minds, and it depends on what they are feeling at that particular moment. So I don't know, we'll just wait for news from Ozzy.
I would like you to share with us the craziest thing that you've experienced while working with Ozzy.
Personally, nothing crazy happened to me, I had an amazing time, the crazy thing was being there, waking every day and being there. I played in the arenas with him, travelled with him, spending time together and it was a great experience. As everybody knows, Ozzy is an incredibly amazing guy, doing pranks and he is very fun in general, it's not possible to be with Ozzy in the same room and not laugh in the first minute.
Is there any other big name, artist or band that you would like to work together in the future?
Hmm, I like a singer called Grace Potter, do you know her?
Yeah, I like her voice a lot.
I don't know how "big" of a name she is of course…
I'm asking generally, not necessarily a very famous artist…
Yeah, I really like Grace Potter, I would definitely like to do a song with her at one point, she has this classic rock, country element in her voice, I personally consider her the new Janis Joplin.
That is a strong statement! (Laughs)
Indeed it is! (Laughs)
I would expect something more mainstream as an answer, to be honest I didn't expect that answer!
Look, in general I like many musicians, I listen to a lot of music and I like good music in general. Whether it's heavy metal, black metal, rock, blues, I generally like it, I don’t think anyone expected I would do something together with the singer of Eyes Set To Kill who are a metalcore band, or with Devour The Day, but I did and my style is in there, of course those guys brought their own style in and we had this musical marriage. So with the same easiness that we did that, why not play with a blues or country artist, I don't have an issue with that.
I would like to ask you if you felt like the fame you gained after working with Ozzy affected you personally.
Affect me how? Like getting full of myself? (Laughs)
Since you put it that way, yes!
No, I didn't feel full of myself personally, quite the opposite, I think I'm one of the most modest guys in the scene.
Did you feel that Ozzy choosing you was a vindication? As you know here in Greece there are many people who just sit and judge everyone, and there has been some criticism targeted towards you all these years.
For sure, but as you know opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. (Laughs) What made me happy more than anything about criticism, positive or negative what that the whole thing created a reaction, and it is better to have a reaction than having no one talking about you. Positive or negative, I don't really care, when people tell me "You're a god" I don't believe it of course, and I don't believe it when somebody tells me "You're mediocre" or "You're an asshole" because if you believe one of them you have to believe the other as well. You have to believe in yourself and you know if you have worked hard, you know if you are ok with yourself, this is the only thing that matters. All the hard work, the commitment and the sacrifices you've made for your art. People of course have their opinion, some people like it, others don't.
Do you think that your personal publicity helped Firewind?
A thousand percent yes. For starters, we are seeing many more Ozzy tshirts in our concerts! (Laughs) Secondly, most people in heavy metal know the name of Firewind more or less, what can I say, I mean last week I was in NAMM in USA and I was signing with Munky from Korn and he says: "Dude, what is going on with your band Firewind, do you still play?" and I was wondering where the hell did he know Firewind (Laughs). I'm just trying to say that we had many doors open in general, we worked with bigger promoters and we had offers to play in many more places in the world, more tours, the band got much more publicity, it helped. I believe that in the near future this will help even more.
I've been watching you and Firewind on Twitter, and I saw that you have a lot of interaction with your fans, do you think that social media are an important factor for promoting your work?
Of course, because you don't need to rely on anyone, If I want to say something to my audience, I don't need to rely on a company anymore, I don't need to fight with anyone, I'm just writing my message when I want to and everyone sees it, or at least the people who I want to reach to. I also believe that it's important to be in touch with the fans, because if they don't exist, neither do you, it's simple as that, and I generally like this interaction, I'm very happy when I get tweets or messages on Instagram from fans, any questions they might have, comments and all that.
How hard is it to find time for you and your family, having a very busy schedule in general?
You have to ask my wife about it! (Laughs) The truth is that it's hard, this is one of the sacrifices you have to make, you don’t have much time for your family, you lose things back home, maybe at one point you might even lose friends or harm your personal relationship with your family, but you know, it's important to have people who love you around you, who don't make you feel bad about what you do, if you have people supporting you, everything goes well in the end.
Would you like to share your advice for the young people who watch you, admire you and some even idolize you, grab a guitar and say "this is what I want to do in my life"? What would you advise after going through all these experiences?
At first I have to say that I'm very glad if it's me who they see and get motivated. We all need a role model when we grow up, and it's what I said before, I will repeat it, I'm so glad if my example gives hope to younger people and helps them have big dreams, because they can really come true. There are no taboos now, you know like some people used to say "Little Greece, there is no chance someone will notice you". It can happen people! You have to believe in yourself, have a strong stomach and mind, I said mind because you have to set goals and achieve them one at a time, don't get distracted, you need to be very intent, and of course the whole so called "Package", talent, it's all together. This is what I have to say, and also an advice would be not to hurry, you know everything happens when the time is right. It sounds a little clichéd and maybe an advice you'd hear from an elder guy, but it’s a great truth, I know it because I am eager sometimes, even now, but everything must happen at its own time, you have to give many things first, make many sacrifices until you get something back, especially today that the music industry has changed so much.
Thank you so much for your time!
Thank you Nikos!