He’s got the fire
Since the first time I saw this guy dazzle a crowd with his string-acrobatics at Madison Square Garden with Ozzy, it’s been an interesting ride to follow his whereabouts and his undying fire and passion.
There was the Ozzy thing. Then the Firewind thing with numerous lineup-changes. During the 3 years that I’ve travelled all over the globe to see Gus with Firewind, there have been at least 3 vocalist changes, a bassplayer- and a drummer change.
And every little detail reinvented the band. There was a different dynamic for each change that kept things fresh and interesting.
When Gus started having thoughts about trying his wings as a solo-artist, it sounded like the perfect timing. He’s pretty much always been a “solo artist” in one way or another, but now was the time to make the world discover what he can do.
He’s not just “Ozzy’s guitarist” or the leader of Firewind.
He’s Gus-fuckin’-G! :-)
I’m pretty sure that “I Am The Fire” with its melodic, heavy sound will find its way to an even broader audience than Firewind.
There will be plenty of reviews of this Gus solo-debut out there, so I’ll skip that for now. However, I was very curious to hear more about the journey that led to the “I Am The Fire”.
So here it is – straight from “the horse’s mouth”:
G: I’m flying to Sweden tomorrow to shoot another video with Patric and then I go on a European press tour in England, Germany and France. All the interviews are starting on Monday.
Are you getting bored yet, getting the same old questions…? :)
G: You know, no not really, cause this is different. It’s a new album, a new project – I can still take it, I can still answer shit another thousand times, haha!
When I talked with you at Sweden Rock a few years ago, when you were with Ozzy, the question about a solo album came up, and back then you seemed pretty reluctant to the idea of making a solo album. What happened along the way that made you reconsider?
G: A lot of people have been asking me about a solo album, and I’ve been thinking about it because my A&R at Century Media was on my ass about it for years. After the Ozzy-gig a lot of people around me wanted me to capitalize on that. You know… “You should do something with your name when you take a break from Ozzy”.
And I thought about all these things, but to be honest with you, it didn’t really hit me until I started writing songs with Mats after the Firewind-tour that we did with Mats back in 2011. Him and I go way back and we always talked about writing together. So when I started writing a few songs with him I thought…. “Hey…this could be a solo album…!”
I was just thinking that the songs you wrote with Mats, are the best ones on the album. You have a great chemistry and work well together. There’s something about those particular songs that sticks out.
G: Oh, I definitely agree! All the stuff that me and Mats did is really good material and and it’s surprising cause they came together really fast. I would send him stuff when I was on the road and he would send me back a melody or a chorus to my missing riff or whatever, and the song would be there. It was a really good chemistry from the start with him.
Obviously there’s a bunch of people on your album, and you can either do it the Yngwie way and write everything from beginning to end or you can actually collaborate…How did you do the rest of the album?
G: For me, the big question was…what do I want to play if I do a solo album? What’s the music going to be like? Cause it’s not going to be called Firewind. I realized from the start that I didn’t want to do an instrumental album. The way that I always wrote, even in Firewind, was that I always have the music, and then I gave it to the singer and they’d come back with the vocal line and the lyric, you know. That’s how it worked with Mats and Jeff Scott Soto for instance, on this album.
So you don’t usually write that yourself?
G: No I don’t. I mean, I have ideas and I will sing them the ideas, but a lot of times I just want them to surprise me. I like that. I guess that’s kind of my motivation. When I have a cool riff, I just want somebody to put something good over it and make it a great song. I guess that’s a very old-school way of writing.
When I listen to My Will Be Done, I’m thinking… you might as well have written the lyrics to that.
G: The thing is… I didn’t write a lot of the lyrics on the album but most of that stuff really is like statements of mine. I know it’s a bit silly but it’s statements of where I am today and stuff that I went through. I’m not sure if it’s all simple coincidence, but…
When I talk to the singers what I want to write, I will tell them that maybe the song should be a love song or it should be a breakup or this and that, and give them ideas. Sometimes even song titles. And they will write around that.
Actually, the song with Jeff Scott Soto, I had the music and the working title for my demo was Summer days and that’s because I wrote the song on the last day of summer, in 2012. I had moved into my new house and I remember I set up my studio that day and picked up the guitar – and wrote that on my 12-string guitar. We were gonna call that Summer Days. It was summer, you know, August 31st or something and then Jeff wrote the lyrics around that title. It’s like a nice summer anthem!
He’s a great singer- I love the mix of everything on the album!
G: Yeah, actually Jeff was the first guy on board and once I had that and the materian with Mats, it gave me the idea to do a slashed type of album with different people.
How did for instance Billy Sheehan end up playing on this album, and some of the other musicians?
G: A lot of the people, I actually didn’t know. They came either through the label or through Jay Ruston. I had Mats and Jeff, and obviously I knew Tom Englund from Evergrey, from the days I lived in Gothenburg and stuff, but I was missing a lot of musicians – bassplayers and drummers…
I first wanted to play bass on the whole record myself cause I love playing bass, but the next thing for me was “I need to find somebody to mix this album and talk to him about ideas”.
Cause it was hard for me to produce this record myself as I didn’t know what I was gonna do. It’s not like I was making another Firewind-record, I’m learning as I’m going along. It’s just myself now. I had no label, no bandmates, no nothing…
So when I met Jay, and he started asking me “do you have like a drummer and stuff…?” I was like “uh…no…”
So he suggested people like Jeff Friedl from Perfect Circle, and I met many of his friends, musicians: Jacob from Steven Adlers band, Marty O’Brien… And going back to your question about Billy Sheehan, he was another guy that he brought up. “What do you think about Billy?” And I was like “Fuck yeah!”. So he hit him up right away and Billy was like “Yeah, let’s do it!”.
There was a lot of stuff like that, a lot of stuff came through Jay. He’s kinda like an executive producer, I’d say.
You just brought up two things I was going to ask you about, one of them being the question about producers. What’s your take on producers in general? Cause you have a history of doing stuff yourself – is it a financial thing or you just don’t trust other people to interfere with your music?
G: It wasn’t a financial thing, especially not now. If I wanna do something, I just do it. But the thing is that I’m so used to doing my own records and I’ve worked with producers, so I know that sometimes… You know, when you give a job to a producer to produce your album, he will take initiative and do things that HE feels is “the right way” to go about. And… I’m not like that at all! Lol!
I mean, as you know, I’m the kind of guy who … Well, to put it this way, I know what I want and I know what I like or don’t like. So I knew from the beginning that I needed a guy to make a killer mix but not really tell me what he thinks of it.
The idea with that album was to be totally free of any sort of advisors... People that I have to please, people that think it’s their project… you know. That’s why I didn’t search for a label until later, cause I didn’t want any A&Rs or label bosses telling me what they think. It was just like… I’m gonna do this album – and whatever. If somebody wants to put it out, cool, I just didn’t give a fuck.
You never felt that a producer might bring out the best in you, stuff that you might not have thought of yourself, especially at this stage..?
G: As a producer myself, I know that selfproducing is obviously a hard thing, but this record was a bit easier in terms of the musical part because I pushed myself to write different things. I asked myself: “Should I have any heavy stuff on there, or maybe just a lot of acoustic stuff, or what if I do mellow stuff and see what comes out of that…Do I wanna do a groovy, mid tempo kind of song? Something a bit more “Zeppelin-ish”? I just wanted to do it like that. Stuff came out that I wouldn’t have put on a Firewind-record, necessarily. I guess… I’m not really a producer but I went along with it and produced myself that way.
OK, I understand. I figured maybe it was was another statement, that producers can’t keep up with you or bring something to the table that might be useful to you in this new situation.
G: Oh, no no! I mean, the only song where I used a producer, that we produced together and co-wrote, was Long way down, which I went to Vegas and did with Kevin Churko. But again, I didn’t go in there with a song. We just went in there and started from scratch. It was not an “all me” type of song, it was a combination of four writers. That’s cool too, I wanted that experience as well, going into a studio and writing a song in a day with two or three different writers you know…. Kind of like they do on pop records. It was an experience.
You and Dave Ellefson are playing on eachothers records. Did you do that in the same session…??
G: Actually, David was the last guy on board, cause I had already played bass on that track, but then one day I got a text from Jay during the mixes of my album, and he said “Do you wanna play a song on Bello’s and Ellefsons project?” and I was like “Fuck YES!” and he asks“What do you want for it?” I said: “Nothing – I want David to play on my album!”
So that’s how that happened.
We did another one of those things with Jeff Scott Soto, he co-wrote a song with me on my album and I gave him one of my songs, for HIS album.
Everybody wins – cool! :)
G: Yeah – it’s kinda like…the brotherhood of heavy metal.
Have you used real drummers on all songs?
G: It’s all drummers. It’s Jeff Friedl, playing on the whole record, Daniel Erlandsson of Arch Enemy is playing on the instrumentals and….actually, Long Way Down – that is a drum machine.
There’s a lot of programming nowadays…
G: Yeah, I think Kevin does a lot of stuff like that, programmes a lot, but the rest of the record is Jeff Friedl playing.
Obviously, every time an artist puts out a new record, people are gonna ask what’s your favorite song on it? But, maybe there’s a song or a few songs, that have been particularly fun and/or challenging to record. Is there anything on it that you thought “that one was really fun to do”?
G: It was just a fun record to do in general. For me, I wrote all my parts and composed 95 percent of the stuff when I was doing my demos. So basically what I did when I went into the studio is that I just replayed everything through a proper amp.
But if we’re talking about CHALLENGING, I think the instrumentals were very challenging for me. I kinda outdid myself this time. I pushed myself to play harder, more difficult stuff, I even had to practice all this stuff when I went into the studio to be able to play it.
And when I had to learn these songs NOW I was fuckin scared shitless! How the fuck am I gonna do this live?! And then I started practicing those songs just standing still. Cause it’s easy to play when you’re sitting down, but when I stood up and tried to play those songs, it sounded like a fuckin’ five-year old kid who had grabbed the guitar for the first time! Lol! Oh my god, I’m horrible! I ‘ve got to get it together!
Those are pretty technical, those two instrumentals, they have definitely pushed the boundries for me as a player. I mean, NOW I can play that stuff very easily, but that’s just because I practiced a lot. I liked that.
Are you gonna avoid playing those songs live?
G: Nooo! Hell no! We’re gonna be playing those! I look forward to playing it because now I can do it! Now I’m gonna start playing them even harder because now I’ve mastered them. I can take it to the next level now.
That’s funny, so many people probably think that Gus G can play anything easily – and you’re telling me that you were scared shitless playing your own songs. :)
G: Those instrumentals… I mean, you know how Firewind sounds, those two songs are probably closer to Firewind and what Firewind sounds like, and when I wrote those, I thought I was gonna save those for the band later on. But then in the end, I was like… What the fuck, it’s a solo album and I should be allowed to have whatever the hell I want on it. If I want a fucking country song on it, I should be able to!
Hahaha! I’m looking forward to that – that would be interesting!
G: Yeah – Greek country songs…!
Were there any artists that you asked to participate that for any reason couldn’t or wouldn’t do it?
G: The only guy that I was talking to, and he really wanted to do it, so we are saving this for later, cause we want to work together, is James LaBrie. I just caught him in a very bad time cause he was finishing up not one but TWO albums, at the same time. He was really up for it, but he had to finish his solo album and another one with Dream Theater, but we talked about doing something in the future together. You know… there will be another album.
That’s another thing that maybe Firewind fans are wondering – if this goes well, are yuou ditching Firewind?
G: No, the band is always there, I mean, that’s never gonna go away, as long as we wanna keep playing, keep doing this and we have a lot of love from fans around the world, I don’t think we’re gonna let that thing die, ever. It was just time… You know, after Apollo left the band we had all these contracts to go out on tour and stuff. We had to finish the tour and I don’t like to quit or cancel, so that’s how we got Kelly on board to help us with the tour. But now, after the tour ended it was time to take a break and think about the next step of the band. And that actually gave me a step to do this for real-the solo album.
So the guys are behind you, and cool with you doing this solo adventure…?
G: Well, I didn’t ask for permission haha!
Nah, but I guess you can tell sometimes by someone’s reaction.
G: Yeah! No they’re all cool with it and I think everybody was looking forward to this break. We’ve gone through a lot of singer changes, and all that stuff, and it’s been a lot of good things with that band but also a lot of …everything has been done the really HARD way. So I think everybody felt a bit more relaxed with the idea of taking it easy for a while. I mean, there was no rush for us to go back to the studio this time.
I’ve been wanting to ask you this a long time ago but I never got around to do it. The whole FIRE theme has been with you throughout your whole career….
G: Jesus Christ, yeah I know! And it’s not even done on purpose!
Really? It’s not?
G: No, it’s not! It’s like… Cheesus in my veins hahha! I realized that and thought fuck… I have a song called I am the anger and now the album is called I am the fire. Then I have a bunch of, I don’t know, maybe 15 songs that have the word “fire” in them..
Yeah! I thought that was the idea, or your concept!
G: Not really, no! I mean, obviously I like the whole symbol of fire and it being a powerful, badass thing and everything, but honestly, when I got the lyric from Devour The Day for that song in, I thought…
As usual I’m struggling with album titles, and I was looking for a title. When I saw that I thought “this is really cool” and it kinda connects the missing link for people who might not know that I play in Firewind. I thought… maybe this could be the album title.
I actually thought there was a significance or a symbolism behind the fire thing.
G: Well…obviously, I don’t know if I told you before but I got the name from Electric Sun, Uli Jon Roth’s second album after Scorpions. That second album was called Fire Wind and I love those albums. When I was a kid I thought Firewind would be a great band name and that’s why I named my band that. And of course, we’ve played around with that theme in Firewind for years but NOW this time… when the guy wrote the lyric I was like… I wonder if they KNOW about Firewind…? Or is it the flame tattoo that they saw and thought it would be cool? But I like the lyric and I thought if I’m gonna go out with a solo album – if people know Gus G but they don’t know Firewind, then you kinda have a little bit of a connection there.
It’s almost like an “accidental” marketing thing there, I guess you could say that.
So…now what’s happening? Another video?
G: I’ve actually shot 3 videos already, and we’re gonna be releasing them. The idea was, I didn’t want to stream songs just as audio. I figured, why don’t we just do videos instead? They’re good professional videos, which Patric always does. I thought it would be great to put a visual behind the music. And then we’re going out on tour in Europe – me and Marty Friedman…
Is it gonna be the same band at all the shows or are you bringing in guests?
G: No, actually what I’m doing is we’re gonna be using the same backup band for both of us. It’s kind of a situation for me where I like the freedom of not having a band. I like the idea of just jamming with people. And the songs are pretty easy and rockin’ to learn. I’m gonna do another tour and then have my own band and stuff but these are like co-headline dates so we’re sharing the same band.
I LOVE Marty…!
G: Me too. He’s got a new album out called Inferno how funny is that?! I am the fire – Inferno…?!
I’ve known Marty for ten years, I met him in Japan at one of my tours and he’s one of my heroes. Great guy.
…and here’s where the interview ends. The other things we talked about has since this conversation took place, already become “old news: The “new” I am the fire-video, the Uli Jon Roth/Jorn Lande-dates in Greece and other things that are already in the past.
With this guy, there’s always so much going on all the time, that it leaves your head spinning. Make sure you pick up a copy of I Am The Fire if you’re into cool guitars, hard rock with great sing-along choruses and a modern sound. You know it’s a good album when you can sing at least two or three songs after only hearing them once. :)
Personally, I’m eagerly looking forward to the Marty Friedman / Gus G co-headline tour. What a treat!