Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Gus G of Firewind and Ozzy Osbourne’s band has just released his newest solo CD Fearless on April 20th. It’s a powerful guitar driven CD with killer hard-rock riffs, bombastic fret shredding, and everything in between. Gus is joined by with vocalist/bassist Dennis Ward of Pink Cream 69 and drummer Will Hunt of Evanescence to create this tremendous CD offering.
Gus once again proves to be a phenomenal guitarist on Fearless, presenting technical skills which exclude all possibility of doubt and a compositional talent that allows his fellow musicians to shine.
I spoke with Gus about the creation of Fearless, how he approached writing it, and some insights into what it was like to join Ozzy Osbourne’s band.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about your writing approach for your solo CDs and how it may differ from your approach in writing for Firewind?
Gus G: When I have an idea that is a bit more traditional metal or power metal sounding then it will end up on a Firewind CD. If I write a rock song or a retro type of song I’ll probably use that for a solo record along with any instrumental music. I never know which idea will come to me first as I collect ideas then pick and choose what will go where based on the music.
Robert Cavuoto: Are you always stockpiling riffs?
Gus G: Yes, I have a folder on my computer with new songs. I’ll even put ideas on my phone if I’m backstage somewhere. I then go back and listen to see what I have.
Robert Cavuoto: Fearless is rich with great guitar tones that vary from song to song. For example, the guitar tones on “Letting Go” is different than “Chances.” Can you tell us about that tonal approach when recording?
Gus G: Usually, I’ll try all different tones when I demo the song and looking for a different guitar sound. I use plug-ins, and there are a lot of tones in there. When we go in the studio, I might use a different guitar. The main heavy tones come from my main set up of the signature guitars and amps, and then we blend it into the mix. If there is a more mellow part, I’ll use different channel or a different guitar with active pick-ups to get different tones. I’ll even use a Strat with a single coil for a couple of things.
Robert Cavuoto: Are you a foot pedal guy?
Gus G: No, not really! My tone is pretty simple, it straight from the amp with no stomp boxes when I record. There is nothing in my signal chain maybe Wah Wah if I want to add that to a solo. All the delays and reverb are added in the mix.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you typically improvise your solos or is that something you work on after the song is written?
Gus G: Usually, I’ll have a good idea of what I want to do before I go to the studio because I do really good pre-production work. Like 80% of the demo is already there. There is 20% left for improvisation and trying different things. The best ideas are usually the first ones. Sometimes it can be hard to re-create the solos on the demos. With this CD I kept a few of the demo’s solos specifically because of their vibe and just re-amped them.
Robert Cavuoto: You have two blistering instrumentals on the CD; “Thrill of the Chase” and “Fearless.” Did you take the same approach for them?
Gus G: “Thrill of the Chase” is a little more free-form as it has the main melody and then key changes that comes around two times with space for me to solo. On the solo cycles, I did different takes in the studio improvising and going for the best feel and kept the best takes.
With “Fearless” there isn’t a solo section per se. The main solo section was a doubled guitar. Everything was worked out on it in advance. They are both very different from that aspect.
Robert Cavuoto: I heard a little Joe Satriani vibe in “Fearless” was that intentional?
Gus G: In the middle, there is a tapping part totally inspired by “Satch Boogie” and even the chorus there is a big singing melody that only Joe can do. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t as I’m a big fan of Joe. His music is very inspiring to me. Even the clean arpeggio intro was inspired by Jason Becker and Marty Freidman. You hear a lot of my favorite guitar players when you listen to these songs. It’s unavoidable and part of who I am.
Robert Cavuoto: You should reach out to Joe and tell him you want to join the next G3 Tour.
Gus G: “Hey Joe, if you are reading this interview, please ask me, I’ll definitely come out and won’t say no!” [Laughing] Firewind opened for Joe about 10 or 11 years ago in Greece. He was so nice. He came up to me and said, “I heard you playing during the sound check, and you are playing just like Uli Jon Roth!” That was such a compliment as I’m a big Uli fan.
Robert Cavuoto: Is difficult to write instrumental songs that evoke emotion or do you leave that to the listener to decide?
Gus G: Yes, and No, I don’t put so much inspirational thought behind it. Like on “Fearless,” it’s a barrage of different vibes, almost like a rollercoaster of beats and grooves. When I compose, I try not to think of all those aspects. Trying to tell a story in an instrumental song is not something I have approached. Joe is really good at doing that as he has been doing it forever. He has concepts for his music while I have always written for vocalists with the lyrics to tell the story.
What I do focus on in my instrumentals is something for the listener to grasp onto whether it is a specific riff or melody. I never start writing an instrumental by thinking it is going to be a backing track to serve my solo purposes. I hate those types of instrumental. My instrumental songs have a beginning, middle, and end.
Robert Cavuoto: You cover Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” and made it heavy, what made you choose that song and what was your approach for recording it.
Gus G: [Laughing] It’s one of those songs I grew up listening to and watching on MTV. It’s a classic riff that everyone wants to play air guitar to. I was looking around for a good cover and realized that nobody had a recently covered it. As I started dialing into it, I was trying to figure out how to make that riff different and still be close to the original. I played everything on the low strings so inverted and transposed it to the low E string; we also played it at half tempo. From there on we just had fun in the studio with it.
Robert Cavuoto: Working with Ozzy Osbourne must have been a tremendous experience when it came time to work on Scream what creative direction did you receive from Ozzy?
Gus G: When I went into the studio all the riffs were written but they didn’t have any solos. Kevin Churko, the producer, pieced the all riffs together but he wasn’t a guitar player. They needed someone to go in lay down the real guitar parts and ad libs. They were very nice to me. Ozzy had a studio in his house, so I stayed there for about four to five weeks. They told me to take my time and do what I think needed to be done to enhance the songs. They told me to just go for it. It was a hard task because everything was already written and I’m not used to working like that on songs I haven’t written. I had the stress of being Ozzy’s new guitarist and would have to put my stamp on songs I really didn’t write. It was a bit of task, but Kevin really helped me, and I learned a lot. It was a great experience.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there a concern about joining the ranks of Ozzy’s guitar linage with Randy, Jake, and Zakk?
Gus G: Before I joined Ozzy’s band, I never saw myself as guitar hero type of guy. Even though the reviews always talked about how my playing was specials, I never saw myself in that role. Before Ozzy, I would never consider taking center stage for a guitar solo. It was something that wasn’t in the cards, “No way that I’m going to do it.” Once I got the invitation, it became pretty serious that had to live up to it [Laughing]. It was intimating for sure and who wouldn’t be in that position. The other part of me said it was my chance and you are here for some reason. Ozzy must see something in you that you don’t see. It’s a chance to play with the man and just do your best. That’s what I worked towards.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you know how many guitar players you beat out for the job?
Gus G: No, I don’t. I recently read that Jeff Loomis of Arch Enemy / Nevermore auditioned for Ozzy at the time.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you have any solo tour dates?
Gus G: We are about to announce a US tour in early May and it will be a cool guitar package. Stay tuned!