Firewind’s Gus G.
Interviewed by EvilG
Transcription by Murphy / Live Photos by Hanntu
On the day of Firewind’s Chicago show of the TYRANNY AND BLOODSHRED tour 2008 I got to speak with guitar whiz Gus G. He was running a bit late, but such is the case with a travelling band dealing with tight time schedules, setups, sound checks, and interviews. I spoke with Gus about touring in North America, guitar playing, song writing, etc.
You’re playing a show tonight?
Yeah, we’re playing in Chicago tonight.
Chicago, cool. Okay, I’ve got a bunch of questions lined up so I’ll just jump right in.
Obviously you toured North America last year and now you’re back here again.
So are you noticing that more people are coming specifically to see Firewind?
Yes, actually we’ve been seeing that. We’ve been seeing that we’ve made certain fans in the last tour. Especially on the East coast where we’re at right now, cause the tour we did last year was East coast and Mid West only so we see that there are some Firewind fans coming to the shows especially for us. We see them wearing the last tour t-shirt and stuff. It’s a very nice feeling actually.
I saw you with Firewind last year when you did a headline show in Toronto.
Okay. You were there?
Yeah I was at that show.
And that’s when you had Henning from Metalium filling in on vocals. I went really early cause I was like “wow! They’re playing a club show in a big city like Toronto”. I figured the place was gonna be wall to wall people.
No, not really.
Well, while there was a decent crowd I guess, but considering the size of the city I was assuming there’d be more people. I was wondering, do you find that you pull less people in certain cities like Toronto or something?
Umm, well you know sales wise we’re not a very big band in America. We’re a very small band to be honest and we didn’t know….we were just trying it out. We didn’t know what we were gonna pull, probably gonna be like 20 people but it was like 200 people, you know? So…..it depends on the expectations you have. So we didn’t know what to expect. That’s the thing, and I don’t know how well that show was promoted. I don’t know nothing about it. We just went there and played.
It’s obvious with more promotion then maybe more people would have come. Maybe not, you know? I don’t know if we sell any records in Canada for example so for us it was a very new thing, so we return now and try to capitalize on that and that is a good thing.
Right, definitely. Henning did a great job filling in with you guys in Firewind. Do you think you’ll ever have a chance to work with him again on something else?
You never know. I mean we love Henning, and he’s a great vocalist. Really good, professional and we are professional and if we have a chance to work with him, if I have a chance to work with him on other projects someday, yeah I will.
Your new album, The Premonition is awesome. Did you write the material for this while you were on the road or do you sit down between tours to do most of it?
Yeah, it was like between tours. There was some writing that took place between tours. We were….that way you are more focused instead of, you know, writing on the road. At least it works for us that way.
When you write, do you write your songs alone or do you bring them together in more of a jam type of setting?
Ah…sometimes I write alone, sometimes I write with Bob (Babis "Bob" Katsionis – guitar/keys) together, sometimes I write with Apollo, so it’s a combination.
I assume it obviously must have made things a lot easier this time, since you had the same line up for the album.
Yes, yes. That helped a lot yeah. I mean we were more relaxed and, you know, the songs came out more naturally.
Do you ever, when you’re writing, dig up old riffs that maybe you wrote when you were a kid and re-work them into the new material or do you start with a clean slate every time you work a new album?
Ah no. I start with new stuff. I just jam on my guitar and see what comes out you know.
How many things do you end up throwing away that you end up writing? Is it like you write twenty songs and use ten?
It’s hard to say. Sometimes I write more songs, sometimes I write just enough. It depends on the situation actually, and how inspired you are and all that stuff.
So how inspired did you feel for The Premonition? (laughs)
We wrote actually much more songs but we ended up throwing a few.
Yeah, there were some B side songs available and I believe there was some traditional Greek song that was not allowed to be used or something like that I’ve been reading about?
Is there any chance that you can perform it live?
Yeah! I think we can play it live but we can’t really use it on the record so when we get back to do some headline shows we might play it actually.
Do you ever write guitar solos that might be at the edge of your playing level and you think when you’re writing it, “man, this is gonna be really hard for me to play live”?
Well my purpose is on each album to play stuff, that will be challenging for me to do live. That’s the only way I can get better, you know?
When you’re writing, do you write both guitar parts or….
Yeah, yeah I do.
When you’re writing solos, how do you usually come up with things? Do you usually come up with things by ear, just by listening to your riffs or do you have a new technique or a new run maybe that you’ve been working on separately and you say “Gee I’d like to fit this into a song”.
Yeah, sometimes if I come up with a cool lick, so I’d include it sometimes if it works in the song. If not, then I’ll leave it. And you know, I like to be….I like to improvise when I do the solos, so all my solos are created from improvisations. So I keep the best part and then put it piece by piece together.
So then I guess after you do a take and you’re happy with it I guess then you have to go back and listen and say “well what did I play exactly”?
Sometimes it can happen yeah.
Do you write out the music or tab or anything for your solos or do you just keep them in your head?
I keep it in my head. I don’t tab anything or write down anything. If I want to remember something I just record it.
On your previous album, Allegiance, you had Tara Teresa guest on the song “Breaking the Silence”.
That was quite a popular song for you guys and I was wondering, is there a chance you can maybe have another duet with her sometime?
Yeah it would be nice. I mean it’s not in her plans right now. I think she’s just had a baby, so I think she’s not going to be doing music for quite awhile. Maybe she will, I don’t know. We were thinking actually of next time we’re in Scandinavia or something, bring her out and play some shows with us. That would be nice.
Right, for sure. It seems to be a fairly popular thing these days to have the male/female duet vocals in metal and on rock songs….
Yeah I know it is but for us it just kind of happened because we had trouble with that song and we were just not happy with the vocal lines and lyrics. So we asked her, she’s a friend of mine from Sweden and I asked her “can you help us out with some lyrics here?” And it wasn’t meant to be that she was going to sing it. She was just going to write for us. Then she came back and she sang the melodies and stuff so we said “Wow! Why don’t you try to sing together with Apollo?” And then that’s how it came together.
I’m sure a lot of people from here in North America are talking to you about the “Maniac” Cover? (laughs)
Yeah, everybody yeah! (laughs)
Well when I first spun the album I hadn’t read that it was a cover and I just saw the title “Maniac” and said “oh, they got a song called maniac.” And then when it cut in with the keyboards I said….
Yeah, it was maniac, yeah. (laughs)
I’m like, “this can’t be Maniac! Can’t be!” and then it started and “whoa!” It was really cool. It’s cool that you took like a catchy, 80’s pop song and gave it the rock treatment.
Yeah, I mean it was a smash hit back then so….
Yeah. My question was, were there any other really cheesy, 80’s pop songs that you tried out and it didn’t work or that you considered?
No, we didn’t try. It was just this one you know. We decided on this one and we went for it.
Do you think this could maybe be a theme? That maybe you guys will every now and then pick some really unusual song and give it a metal treatment like that?
Yeah! Yeah you know, that was the whole idea behind the maniac thing so maybe we’ll try it again with another song.
Have you thought of any so far or that’s not on your mind right now?
Nah It’s too early. We just got out of the studio you know.
So do you play that one live on tour?
Not yet, no, because I mean we are doing 30 minute sets so there’s really no time to sort of cover it and no point. But on our headlining shows, yeah we’ll play it.
The tour you’re on now is with two bands that are from the extreme side of metal. Do you notice much closed mindedness from any North American areas where people think that Firewind aren’t heavy enough because you don’t growl out the vocals or something?
Not at all actually, not at all. I think that the Americans are very open minded when it comes to crossover packages like that. And they enjoy to listen to different types of music. So far we’ve only been gaining new fans.
Do you notice there’s a different fan make up when you have that kind of show as opposed to when you were touring with say Kamelot?
I don’t know man, metal fans are metal fans. I think that the metal fans of Kamelot are more like into the gothic side of things as well you know? So you get a lot of girls with, you know, with a lot of eyeliner or something. (Laughs)
Actually you know, I think that this tour suits us more than the Kamelot tour but umm…maybe just my opinion. Maybe because we’re not really a soft band. We’re actually…we’re too heavy for traditional bands and, you know, we’re obviously too soft for a death metal band, but I think we’re suited better with a band like Arch Enemy.
Besides the obvious activities of playing live and doing sound checks and doing stuff like this, interviews, just what do you do basically when you’re on your to pass your time kind of thing?
Ah…I’m on the internet a lot. I try to keep in touch with what’s going on back home. And basically, play guitar. Stuff like that.
Do you do practice and warm up a lot before shows and stuff like that?
Not a lot but I try. I try every day.
Do you do the tourist thing when you’re in different cities and visit different things or do you have time for that kind of stuff?
I try actually. I try. If I’m in a city that I’ve never been before, yeah. I try to go into town and see a few things, you know. Go get a coffee somewhere and yeah, just walk around a little bit.
Does it ever feel, when you’re on the road, that this is a job or does it seem like it’s still mostly all about the fun kind of thing?
No, it doesn’t feel like a job because I always remember why I’m here. It’s because I love music. I don’t have to do this. Nobody’s forcing me to do this. I want to be here.
When you’re playing a lot of dates in a row, do you find you have to take it easy with regards to the temptations of being on the road or are you still young enough that you don’t have to be concerned about staying up late and partying it up?
To be honest with you, I’m not really the party animal of the band. I just mainly focus on the shows (laughs). It sounds like I’m an old guy or something but it’s just the way I see things, you know? I don’t really go out and drink. I don’t drink alcohol actually. I drink very rarely and I just try to focus on the show and make sure that we give the fans what they paid for and more. And after the show I just take it easy. Maybe we’ll watch a movie or hang out a little bit and then go to bed.
Is there a release date set for the DVD that you shot for your hometown gig?
No, not yet. We’re thinking about the end of the year but maybe that won’t be realistic. Maybe it’ll have to be early 2009 but we’ll see.
So would it be just that concert or would it be a bit of a history thing and videos?
It will be a lot of things. Hopefully I’ll get…we’ll be able to get all our videos in there, like road movies, interviews, all kinds of things. Maybe some stuff on complimentary shows, like extra stuff.
Yeah, we haven’t been working on that because then the MySpace site came up sp that is the official site more or less.
So you don’t really need another outlet?
Nah. Yeah right now there hasn’t been much time. The main focus is to have the Firewind website and since there is a Gus G MySpace website, everybody’s on there these days so at some point I’ll work on it when I find time.
I’ve seen some of your YouTube videos like Bet Ya Can’t Play This from the guitar magazines and stuff. Do you have any requests for those kinds of things where, more of a guitar fan type of activity where someone wants you to teach lessons or give clinics and that kind of thing?
Yeah. Sometimes I do clinics and stuff like that you know but not very often.
Do you find that as enjoyable as playing live when you’re just dealing with guitar nerds? (chuckles)
Nah. Of course it’s not the same adrenaline rush as when you’re playing a real show but it’s fun to go out there and talk about guitars and stuff like that and meet other guitar players and answer fans questions.
Have you ever been a guitar instructor?
I used to teach a little bit private back home, like a few years back but I stopped doing it. I didn’t find it so amusing.
Well you started out, when you moved to the US I believe, you went to Berkley or something for a very short period?
So the whole schooling thing is not totally up your alley I understand?
Yeah, it’s not really my thing so..(chuckles)
You can learn on your own really I guess.
I mean I took formal training for many years but I just didn’t need any more of it, just, you know, I’m the kind of player that learns….I like to learn more from the street instead of being in school for ten years.
Yeah. I’ve read in other interviews that you attribute some of your development as a earlier guitar player to people like Joe Stump. Who else would you mention as some of the people who showed you the ropes kind of thing?
Ah, definitely my teacher back home and another very inspiring guitar player for me was Marios Iliopoulos from my bandmate from Nightrage. I learned a lot from him and about how things should be done and everything. He was really kind of like my mentor, you know, and we moved together to Sweden back in the late 90’s when I was playing with Dream Evil and also Nightrage.
When you moved to Sweden that was specifically for joining those bands right?
Yeah, because I had Dream Evil in the works and we were gonna record the album and I just thought I would move there and Nightrage was also gonna relocate there so yeah.
Do you find that Sweden is more of a metal locale than other places?
Well I mean there’s a big scene in Sweden, so it’s obvious (chuckles). It was making sense that if I had a band there, it was obvious that I was gonna, you know, that I should go there and live there and play with the band.
When you’re not on the road and when you take your own time do you usually spend all your time home in Greece?
Yeah, yeah. I live in Greece now yeah. I spend all my time back there.
Has your fan base back there been growing a lot as a result of bigger international tours and things like that?
Yeah! Yeah I think so and people sort of realize that, you know, we’re a band with an international career. I guess we’re kind of like the new local heroes there so to say…hopefully (chuckles).
I always find it interesting when a band from their own home country doesn’t seem to be as accepted at home until they’re accepted outside of their country.
Yeah, I know what you mean but… We were not accepted either the first few years. It just started happening recently you know.
Right. Have you been on the charts in your own country?
Right, cool. Well that’s all thanks for your time, the album, and good luck with the rest of the tour.
Thanks man, take care.
Century Media Records (label)