Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Firewind will be releasing their new self-titled CD on May 15th via AFM Record. Each time Firewind has released an album over the last 20 years, the brilliancy of Gus G’s guitar playing shines through and this CD will not disappoint metal fans or fans of his guitar playing. There are eleven new songs with powerful riffs, melodic vocal hooks, and blinding guitar solos. For this CD, Gus enlisted the help of powerhouse vocalist, Herbie Langhans, to show the world that Firewind is just as strong as they ever were, if not better!
I spoke with Gus about the new CD, working with Herbie, overcoming obstacles, and why he decided not to call it quits on Firewind after some recent line-up changes.
Gus G: Absolutely! It got to the point where it had to be done, that is why it is a self-titled album. This was a time to re-imagine the band. What if we returned and had to do it over again; this is what it would be.
How did you and Herbie connect and tell me about the chemistry you share?
Gus G: He was suggested to me by AFM Records last December when I was looking for a singer to help finish the album. My manager suggested Herbie and sent me a bunch of links with him performing. I realized that I knew him from Sinbreed as I first heard of that band in 2013. Even back then, I thought he had a great voice and could be a good fit for Firewind. I was very impressed and asked to be put in touch with him. We started talking and it went really fast from there since he was interested in working with me. It’s a special situation with this album as we wanted him to be a part of writing with us, but it was already written. The music was done, but most of the songs didn’t have lyrics or vocals. He had quite the task to complete everything, but he was up for it.
There is a great mix of old school metal and melodic hard rock songs. Was that the vision you shared with him going into this CD?
Gus G: That was the whole point. I told him the first idea might be the strongest, but there might be other ideas where we need to work harder on them. I want to be satisfied with each song as it has to be the strongest it can be. That was very important to me as we are introducing a new singer. I want to not only make a great impression vocally but showcase our ideas and melodies. Ultimately that is what stands out. I was also looking for a singer who was a songwriter like me. Herbie brought in his own ideas and has a great work ethic. He was up in the morning writing lyrics and sending me ideas by lunchtime. We worked really hard all the way up to when we went into mixing. The working chemistry between us was really good.
I know you’re in Greece, where is Herbie located?
Gus G: He is in Germany and I’m in Greece, so we worked remotely. We stayed in touch every day by talking on the phone. We would send files back and forward, which is easier and faster nowadays. In January, right before I went to the NAMM Show, Herbie and the band flew to Greece, where we all met for a week. The album wasn’t complete at that point as we were missing vocals for about five songs. That was the first time we met in person so we did everything like take band photos, shot some videos, worked on some of the songs, and got to know each other. He went back home and we continued to work on the remaining songs. It was almost like I predicted the future. If I wanted to do these videos now after the album was completed, I couldn’t because of the quarantine.
Where did Herbie do most of the vocal recordings?
Gus G: He has a home studio where he can record the vocals in a booth. A lot of albums get created remotely nowadays. I sincerely doubt there are many bands that don’t handle recording that way as they don’t all live in the same city. I think file sharing is normal when it comes to recording. Afterward, you can meet up in a rehearsal place to run through the material. We have been doing this since the beginning. We’ve been a file exchanging band before it was really a thing in early 2000. Back then, we didn’t have as fast of internet speed as we do now.
A song like “Overdrive” seems to perfectly combine your innate sense of melody with raw, guttural power, and great riffs. What can you tell us about its creation?
Gus G: Funny, everyone I have spoken with today loves that song. I probably should make a lyric video for it. It was a song that was very different for Firewind. I told Herbie I was thinking about anthems like “Headless Cross” or “Heaven & Hell.” I was blown away by the first set of lyrics he sent me. I said, “That’s it! It’s perfect!” It suited his voice too. It’s an anthem that celebrates the heavy metal lifestyle and the people who support us. It’s also about us having the drive to continue on and play for the fans. We will be playing this song at our live shows.
How would you describe the musical evolution of the band from Between Heaven and Hell?
Gus G: Looking back at that record, I can still hear elements that define my style. I was 20 or 21 years old and looking back; I realized I have evolved as a songwriter and guitar player. A lot of the qualities were there and I can still hear them.
Was that a conscious decision?
Gus G: It is because I’m always setting goals for myself. I don’t think any musicians will tell you, “I want the next album to be shittier than the last one.” [Laughing] You hope that it can be better, but you never know. We all go through changes and want to try different things. There are a lot of elements from our past albums on this album. You will not hear copies of other songs like “Mercenary Man II.” There are different songs with a wide variety of elements from the past. That is what I think carries us through the future.
Do you still have the same passion for Firewind you did when you first started the band?
Gus G: I certainly do! Otherwise, I would have called it quits when Bob Katsionis left and I had to look for a new singer again. It crossed my mind for a minute or two to put the band to rest. I thought this band is so troubled with line-ups and obstacles. I realized that I still had things to say with this band. That maybe all these changes meant something. During those days, when I was thinking about all those things, it reminded me of when I was a kid putting together my first album. When you are in your comfort zone, you have things you don’t want to lose. We have this band and a wonderful fan base; you don’t want to take too drastic of risks to lose them, sales, or have your record company drop you because the album didn’t do well. So you hold on to them tight. This time there was almost no other choice for me. Either I could scrap everything with Firewind to do something else or go continue and risk it all like I had nothing to lose.
If you ended Firewind, would you put together another band or join another band?
Gus G: I have another vehicle, which is my solo band. It crossed my mind that I should join someone else’s band as a sideman guitarist. I had offers to do that after Ozzy. It made sense to keep doing my own thing. It’s not like I’ll get more recognition by joining another band. Sure the money might be better, but I’m not after that. I tried to figure out what I need to do and decided to write my songs and put them out like I always managed to do.
I have to imagine playing with Ozzy opened a lot of doors. Can you share some of those things that changed for the better?
Gus G: There were a lot of great things that happened, but there were some dangers too. You have to prove yourself to a lot of people when you get that type of spot. It’s the greatest thing in the world yet the trickiest thing. You have to live up to the legend of Ozzy’s past guitarists as you know you are never going to reach. You will be one of the guys, but not really. It’s a different time; it’s not the 80s anymore, I should be myself and navigate through so I can build my own career the best I can. To do the best given the situation and circumstances
Can you share some of the bands that asked you to join them?
Gus G: I don’t want to mention them; they were big bands but not on Ozzy’s level. I kindly declined to audition for bands. I thought it would be better to do my own thing.