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Interview conducted April 12 2017
Interview published April 21 2017

"It's like we're always in search of that perfect song."

Firewind/Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Gus G. came to Stockholm for an acoustic performance as special guest to Steve Stevens and Metal Covenant locked in an appointment before the show to talk about the Firewind album Immortals that was out in January this year and to also propose some questions in the region of his current situation of working with 3 different projects side by side.

Tobbe: Firewind's new album was out in January and what made you choose to make a concept album this time?

Gus: Well, I mean, it's something that we hadn't done before. When it came to the lyrics we were like "Well, what do we do now?" and we've never done a concept album, but we've talked about it, so now is the right time. And the music felt more epic this time and we've talked about doing something of our Greek heritage. So it was just like all the pieces kind of like fell together.

Tobbe: Today there's more focus on the guitar playing in Firewind, I think. More than in the beginning, so is this just a natural progress for you?

Gus: I think there was always a lot of focus on the guitar in Firewind. I mean, in the past, you know, I co-wrote a lot with our keyboard player [Bob Katsionis] so maybe there was a lot of more keyboards involved. I mean, there is a lot of keyboards on this record too. It's not like we've stopped doing keyboards.

But I think the whole philosophy about this album was "Let's do more of everything.", so bigger production, more layers of stuff, not hold back, more epic arrangements and that also meant more solos, more guitar parts, so I didn't really hold back and playing simpler stuff. If I felt like, you know, making a song busier on the guitar front and then add more stuff, I did it.

Tobbe: So how far could you actually take your guitar playing within the frame of Firewind then?

Gus: Well, I think that remains to be seen. I think only the future can tell. I always try to push myself with each record, so hopefully it'll get even better next time.

Tobbe: And you have a new singer, so what's the difference between working with Apollo [Papathanasio], who made 4 albums with Firewind, and Henning [Basse]?

Gus: I mean, Henning is a new guy, but he is not so new, because we've known him for 10 years. He was our touring singer 10 years ago and he was my touring singer for the solo band a little bit as well. So he is a friend. Henning falls into the same category as Apollo in style of singers. You know, he brings a certain energy. He brings a little bit of a different heaviness and he's more suitable for what we're doing today.

I think about Henning as more of a power metal singer, you know. Whereas Apollo had a little bit of that Dio meets Coverdale, Henning comes more from the Halford kind of school. So, I mean, both of those guys are great singers. They both have great influences and they can both sing anything they like. So it's just a blessing to have another fucking great singer to front this band, you know, and he can do all our back catalogue without a problem.

Tobbe: Dennis Ward has contributed to the album quite a lot, so tell me about his participation through the whole process.

Gus: Well, the whole idea with him was to co-write stuff, so I reached out to him to co-write, 'cause I'm always looking for co-writers. I usually do the music and then I write with a singer or producer. I did the music and he did the lyrics and the vocal melodies. Especially now even more I needed help, because we decided to do a concept album.

So I needed somebody to help me put all those ideas that we had into context. But Dennis is a very talented mixer guy and engineer as well, so I said to him "Hey man! Since we're doing this together you might as well just record and mix this thing as well.". You know, "We can take it to somebody, but you understand this project and you co-wrote it with me and you understand it better than anybody. You should just do it.".

Tobbe: So what will this album be able to do for Firewind in the long run?

Gus: The critics are talking about one of the best power metal albums of the year, which is pretty amazing. I expected to get a lot of shit with the singer change, but a lot of our fans are saying that this is one of the best albums of our career and we believe that in the band as well. So I think in the long run it's gonna be remembered as one of our true highlights and I'm happy about that because we really needed this strong comeback album after 5 years.

Tobbe: 5 years is a long time. Longer than ever for Firewind.

Gus: Yeah, it is. We used to put out records much sooner, but, you know, with the singer change, and then we needed a break, and my solo career started taking off a little bit, so I was busy with that.

Tobbe: A Firewind record or a solo record. What makes you decide which kind of record to make?

Gus: I think it depends on the material. With Firewind I know where my heavy metal ideas are gonna go and where my traditional heavy or power metal ideas are gonna end up, whereas as solo it's a different thing. It's still heavy, but it's more of my rock side, I would say. And if I do some 80's crazy instrumental thing it's probably gonna end up on a solo record.

Tobbe: When you're writing a song, do you know instantly if it's a solo song or a Firewind song?

Gus: The way that I do it is I just write stuff and then I'll just decide later. You know, I have, like, a folder with all the riffs and all the ideas in there. It more or less speaks for itself. Okay, there's gonna be times where I'm a little bit gonna debate some stuff that's similar and can end up in either project, but for the most part anything that's gonna be very, I guess, epic or has fast double bass on it is gonna be a Firewind track.

Tobbe: You're playing with Ozzy since 2009 and is there a possibility that you go back to him kind of full-time now when Black Sabbath has kind of put an end to its activities and you have to leave Firewind and your solo stuff behind a little bit?

Gus: I don't know. I'm still waiting to hear from them. I don't know what he plans to do. I don't know if I'm gonna be involved with him anymore. I think it's really up to him. You know, if he calls me up I will be there of course, because it's always great to play with him and I know he's not gonna be doing this forever, so even if I have to put my projects on hold I think it's totally worth it. You know, to do another run with Ozzy. But I don't really know what's gonna happen, so I think it's a question more for him than for me.

Tobbe: So when your stint with Ozzy will come to an end, will you pick up another track besides your solo stuff and Firewind?

Gus: I don't think so. I mean, it's hard to say. You know, if I get a really amazing offer… I wouldn't join another band as a side man, like with Ozzy, again. That's not my thing and I like to be in charge of my stuff. If somebody approach me with an idea to form a new band and be a part of it and be a co-owner or something like that, then it depends on the idea, it depends on who is in that, it depends on what's the business part of it, it depends on if the music is cool and all those things. But I'm so busy with my own two projects now that it's like a full-time job and 24 hours a day is not enough for me right now.

Tobbe: Now you're out on an acoustic solo tour and why did you choose to do an acoustic solo tour and, like, not extend the Firewind tour?

Gus: I think April was not booked for us and Henning had some other gigs booked, like some cover gigs, 'cause he's also a part of the Wacken band. They have some house band or something and he had already booked that before. And we were gonna take April off anyways. And then this offer came up, to go out with Steve Stevens, and they wanted somebody to warm up the crowd as an acoustic act.

Normally it's not what I do, but I've done it before. You know, it's a great opportunity for me to hook up with Steve and play. You know, play some more gigs and get to plug in my solo music, but also some of Firewind's and keep me out on the road. Of course you don't say no to those opportunities and at the end we also get to jam electrical and play some stuff together as well and it's a really cool thing.

Tobbe: You've got a lot of songs to pick from nowadays, so when you sit down and try to make a setlist out of your songs, solo stuff or with Firewind, what goes through your mind then?

Gus: I think with Firewind it's a little bit more difficult because we have 8 albums and with the solo stuff we have 2 albums only so it's still at baby steps. But with Firewind it's like we try to include at least one song from each album, but on the last tour we've been playing a lot off the new album Immortals and we actually did 6 or 7 songs plus like a best of off of all the others. You can never please everybody, but we try to compile it the best way we can, so hopefully we please most of them.

There's always gonna be one or two guys that are gonna be like "Why didn't you play that one, bro?". Maybe one day, if we're able to just do a tour where we can play just by ourselves for 3 hours or something like that, we can go out there and play a lot of obscure tracks.

Tobbe: And you've teamed up with James-Paul Luna of Holy Grail for this tour and how did this collaboration come into realization in the first place?

Gus: Well, I've known Luna since last year. My old A&R at Century Media in America was his A&R at Prosthetic Records for Holy Grail. He's a good friend of mine and I said to him, last year, "I'm looking for a singer. Do you have anybody to suggest?" and he said "Check this guy out." and I did and I really liked it and, you know, I just reached out to him and we did this tour in America last year. Yeah, it was a really good feeling and we enjoyed hanging out and playing together, so I just asked him to go out here with me on this run as well.

Tobbe: You've made quite a few guest appearances on other people's records before, so will we see you end up on a Holy Grail record too?

Gus: I don't know. I mean, you know, whenever I have time and if time allows I do session stuff for friends and play some solos on friends' record. I just recently played on Jørn Lande's new record [Life On Death Road. Out June 2nd] and I gave him one of my songs as well. So, we'll see.

You know, sometimes there's not enough time to do all that and I don't want to do too many of that either and I think this year I've already done, like, 3 or 4 guest things, so I don't think I'm gonna take any more. I mean, it's okay. It's easy to sit down and record a solo. It's takes a few hours maybe. But yeah, I have to be careful about that and not spread myself too thin and I have to really like the project that I'm involved in as well.

Tobbe: At this point in your career, is there anything still that you feel is, like, really challenging for you, both as a guitarist and as a songwriter?

Gus: Yeah, man. It's like we're always in search of that perfect song. For me there's always more songs to write. I still feel the need to write more stuff and to put out more, especially as a solo artist. I'm a newcomer as a solo artist and I still have a lot of stuff to do and I have a lot of goals I wanna reach and things I wanna do and explore. And even with Firewind. You know, with the new album I felt excited again after many years. So I think there's still a lot of stuff to offer that I need to put out there.

Tobbe: Maybe for people in general in the end you will be remembered mostly for being Ozzy's guitarist, but if you personally could choose something to be remembered for, what would that be?

Gus: Yeah, just as a genuine person and genuine musician, you know. It doesn't matter which band they will remember me from. Like you say, maybe the biggest audience will remember me as the guy… as the worst player in Ozzy's band. [Laughs] But it will be good to be remembered regardless, you know.

See also: review of the album Immortals

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