FIREWIND/OZZY GUITARIST GUS G. INTERVIEWED BY SARCASTIC/JEWISH BLOGGER AXL R.
I know what you’re thinking: “Axl got in a room with Gus G.! He must have asked him all about Ozzy and Scream, right?” Actually, no. When I interviewed Gus G. in August, it was, of course, impossible to forget that he was Ozzy’s guitar player — for one thing, he was in town to do Ozzfest, and for another, he was staying at one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever seen, in a suite bigger than the apartment I grew up in, and I had to fight with paparazzi just to get inside the hotel.
But as you know if you read this site regularly, while I’m thrilled that his gig with Ozzy has gotten him lots of extra attention, I’m not really that interested in Scream, and as I understand it, Gus didn’t really have anything to do with the writing of that album anyway.
So while the topic of Ozzy naturally came up during the course of our conversation, what I really wanted to discuss was Days of Defiance, Firewind‘s absolutely epic new — and arguably best — album yet. And, of course, Gus was only too-happy to oblige me.
After the jump, read what Gus had to say about the creation of Days of Defiance, how he writes his guitar solos, Firewind’s lyrical content, dealing with all the extra attention he’s gotten since joining the Team Ozzy, and more.
I know you guys took a slightly different approach with this album than you did with the last one, where you went to a studio with Fredrik Nordström… This time you recorded from home and you self-produced, right?
Yes, yes. We got more involved with everything ourselves. We did it ourselves. We all have nice home studios and we recorded all the guitars, bass and keys there. We still used another studio to do drums and vocals, but we spent a lot of time in preproduction and took our time. We didn’t really want to stress about [the recording], because we wanted to have the best possible result. One other thing that we changed is that we moved away from Fredman Studios, where we mixed all our other albums. We went to another studio in Finland called Sonic Pump Studio [to mix this album].
Besides the stress factor, was there a reason why you decided to take a different approach this time out?
We just wanted a slightly different sound. We wanted a bit more raw, a bit more organic sound. Some of the guys in the band felt that the last album… the mix was not as good, and you would lose some of the drums in the mix and the guitars were too loud all the time. We lost a lot of those dynamics. In the beginning, I didn’t really see that, but in the end, after having many listens to the album, I kind of started to see the point. So we thought, “Okay, let’s make a change. Let’s get a more stripped down sound – a more in your face kind of sound, where you can hear every instrument loud and clear.” That’s what this album is all about, really. It’s just five guys fucking playing.
I know you’ve self-produced a lot in the past, but do you ever find it hard not to have an outside point of view? Or is it easy for you to be objective about your own work?
I co-produced this album together with Bob [Katsionis], our keyboard player. The thing is that I find is that whenever I trust my gut feeling, I’m always right. It seems that so far it has worked out like that. This is who we are, and this is what my music is with the rest of the guys. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where I have somebody coming in and changing things around too much. We never really thought about getting a “real” producer. It could be interesting, but on the other hand, I’m just too hands-on with things when it comes to Firewind.
You said you spent a lot of time in preproduction. Something that I was really curious about, as a Gus G. fan, is how worked out are your solos in advance of going into the studio? And how do you go about writing your solos?
It comes from jamming. I do a few takes jamming, and maybe one random take will have a very cool intro or some lick in the middle that I’ll keep. That’s how I construct solos.
Usually the solos that I do for the demos, for some reason, are the best that I come up with. [laughs] On every fucking album. For some reason, when I go in and change it, it doesn’t come out as good as on the demo. You know that feeling… “On the demo, that solo was amazing. Why didn’t I get it the same way?” So most of these solos — about seventy or eighty percent — are from the demos.
When I’m [doing the demos], I’m more relaxed. I’m more in the creative mood. It’s not like I have to be in the studio and nail it down and all that stuff. So that’s when the good ideas start flowing. I kept most of it the way it is. But with this album, I went into the studio and tried to re-created that feeling. I tried to step it up a notch on the actual recording and do it even better.
So did you find that working from home made it easier to retain that relaxed, creative feeling for the actual recording?
Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely more relaxing. On every album it’s, “Oh, four more days for guitars, three more days for guitars.” Then somebody else is waiting to record, and obviously we want the vocals to be really good, so now it’s like, “Oh, we only have six days for vocals.” I didn’t want that to happen this time. Even Apollo [Papathanasio] took his time [with the vocals]. It took him three months to finish all of the vocals.
He didn’t record every day. He would go in a couple of days a week, whenever he felt right. Some days didn’t feel good for his voice, and he would leave it. So we had that luxury to do it that way. We spent quite some time, but on the other hand, there was no rush really.
How long overall did it take you to make this one?
We started working backwards. We had all the session files from the recordings- – from the demo recordings. Then Apollo did all his vocals on there. Once those were done, we went into the studio and started tracking the drums.
Yeah, yeah. We were kind of recording totally backwards.
Was that a creative decision or a logistical one?
We just wanted Apollo to be 100% ready this time because on the last couple of albums… he did a great job, but there were always a couple of songs that were missing lyrics and vocal melodies. We would do it at two o’clock in the morning in the studio and everybody would be tired. We didn’t want that this time. I didn’t want it. He got to finish up everything this time. We got to be really ready. Every song has to have incredible vocals in it, and great hooks and finished lyrics and all that. So we spent a lot of time with that. That really took… there was on and off recording for three months during the whole summer of 2009 basically. In the Fall, we started tracking drums for a couple of weeks.
I was still the fastest of all the people that recorded the album. It took me about seven or eight days to do all the guitars.
Oh wow. All of it?
All of it.
I was pretty quick, but at the same time, I was pretty ready as well. I knew what I was going to go in for.
So we finished up everything — recording, mixing, mastering — about January or February of this year. I was also involved with the Ozzy record. I waited for that thing to come out and started doing promotion for that. Now that the tour is rolling, we felt it was a good time. We actually had thisalbum in the can for awhile.
I think it’s awesome that more people know about Firewind now because of your work with Ozzy.
Yeah, it’s a logical thing. If we released it back in February, we couldn’t have done many things with it. Now I have the opportunity to go out and promote it properly and book some shows for the band and all that stuff.
Some people were actually surprised that Firewind wasn’t on these Ozzfest dates. Was there any talk about doing that?
No. For me, the way that I see it, it’s two separate things. Ozzy is Ozzy and Firewind is Firewind. I wouldn’t want to go into that situation where Black Label was on every fucking Ozzfest. I’m not saying that it was bad for Black Label. It was great, but this is a different situation. My band already existed for about ten years before [I started working with Ozzy]. We have our albums, we have our fan base, and we’ve done our tours. We can stand on our own and can do it. If they ever asked us to be on Ozzfest, it would be cool. I didn’t really even approach them for that.
Are we going to get to see you guys tour the States soon? [NOTE: At the time of this interview, Firewind’s upcoming North American mini-tour hadn’t been announced or even confirmed yet. – Ed.]
Actually I’m in talks even at this moment. We’re talking about us doing a short tour in November in the States and Canada. So we’ll see how that plans out. It’s a pretty good possibility for us to come over and do some show.
I’m dying to see you guys come back.
We haven’t been here since 2008.
Yeah. We only got twenty or thirty minutes onstage, so it’ll be nice to do a proper headlining show.
Totally unrelated, but… How involved are you with the lyric writing for Firewind?
Me? I’m not really the lyric guy. I always end up writing a couple of songs or helping out here and there. Sometimes Apollo gets stuck with that, and we all help him out. Even Mark [Cross], our ex-drummer, helped out with some lyrics and stuff like that. Mainly it’s Apollo’s job. It’s mainly him. I think I wrote the lyrics on one song on this album, and that’s “Ark of Lies,” the opening track.
Well, that’s good because then I can ask my question anyway. It seems like… and maybe I’m over-interpreting here… but there seems to be a kind of a political bent to the lyrics this time out. Even the title of the album, Days of Defiance…
There probably is. The funny thing is that I’m not even into politics. But even if you’re not into that stuff, how can you not be concerned about what’s going on? It’s not that I follow what’s going on in the news at six o’clock every day, but whenever I put it on, it’s all bad stuff. People don’t trust anybody anymore. That’s the whole idea of Days of Defiance — because people are revolting. Everybody wants to make a revolution now. It started with the whole bad economy, too much corruption in every country…
Greece especially has obviously had a hard time lately…
Yeah, especially in my country. It’s a tough time. We are where America was two or three years ago. We’re basically bankrupt and had to get a loan from the German banks. It just sucks. I don’t think it’s any better in other countries.
But it wasn’t your specific intent to make a record that addressed these issues?
Not really. It was more about having that rebellious feel, because it goes hand in hand with heavy metal. Heavy metal is about being rebellious and standing against the fucking sheep in the mass. You can also interpret it in a private or personal way. It depends on how you relate to the music, and how you relate to every title. It could be according to your own life.
We’ve dealt with those matters before. Apollo has written stuff like that as well about the human condition and our feelings and how stress affects our lives and all that stuff. We talk a lot about that stuff. Not in a negative way, but always with a positive meaning.
There are obviously some bands — and I’m actually not trying to slam anybody for once — but there are some bands that get off on very negative lyrics about hatred and aggression and what have you. Is it important to you that Firewind’s lyrics have a more positive bent?
Yes. I kind of hate all of this negativity that a lot of bands have — at least metalcore bands or whatever kind extreme music. The music can be great, but then when you hear the whining about how bad life is treating them… you’ve got to do something for yourself. That’s the bottom line. You’ve got to live your life. You have the choice to live it the way you want — at least to a certain extent these days. We always try to have a positive vibe and a positive feeling in our songs. I wouldn’t want anything negative [in the music], even though the titles sound weird when discussing an album called Days of Defiance. It’s not negative, but it’s about rising against something.
Now, besides Firewind, you’ve obviously working with Ozzy, you’ve worked with Arch Enemy, you’ve worked with a really diverse group of artists. Do you consciously have to take a different approach every time you’re working with a different artist or is it always you being you when you go in?
I try to be myself. That’s the bottom line. I try to play the way Gus would play as if he was in Firewind or in any situation. That’s my whole approach really, man. I can play heavier stuff. I can play more rock stuff. That’s a good thing, because I come from the old school as well. I like 70’s guitar players, I like 80’s guitar players, and I like even some more thrashy stuff and all that. I just love heavy metal. For me, it doesn’t matter if the band is called Arch Enemy or if it’s called Firewind. I’m not saying that they’re not different. They are different. At the end of the day, we’re all playing heavy metal. [laughs]
Right on. So to get back to what you were saying before about all this exposure… how are you dealing with all this extra attention you’re getting now? I had to push my way through a herd of paparazzi to get in here.
Yeah, there’s a mob of guys with cameras outside.
Oh, they must know that Ozzy is staying here.
Yeah, it’s insane. The coverage has been great. It has given me a lot more attention, and it’s helping out my career very much. I’m totally grateful for that. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t take things for granted. It’s great that it’s happening right now. That’s all I can say. It’s great. I hope people like what I do. It’s the same situation when I go every night with Ozzy. I just try to play my heart out. So far it has been really good and really good reviews. The shows have been going really good.
Ozzfest has been going well?
Really well. Every show has been packed with 20,000 plus people. It’s great. We’re putting on killer shows. We thought the first night was good, but then the next night in Chicago was even better. Last night in Pittsburgh was killer. Afew more shows and we’ll be an untouchable band. This is a very tight band. Ozzy is in top form as well. He’s really good. He seems great. He’s jumping up and down like a mad man. It’s great.