My year in rock – 2014 retrospect
It’s that time of year again – when it’s time for me to look back on the past 12 months to summarize what I’ve been up to. It’s been a rockin’ year for sure, although it didn’t start out that well.
My year in rock started tucked down in bed at my friend Blackie’s house in Nashville, Tennessee. I had a bad fever and a touch of the flu after visiting another friend in Florida two days before, Kevin from JOP (Jon Oliva’s Pain).
[The first blog of 2014:]
I missed the gig I had planned to go to on New Year’s (Blackie and her bf Ronnie, both from a band called Liquid Courage), but at least I got to see former Savatage-frontman Damond Jinya do his thing with his tribute band Kuzin It in a club before I left.
[Left – Damond with Savatage Right: Blackie, me and the ladies, at the club]
I loved this!! Great cover, well sung, awesome!
It was a fairly slow concert month in January, as always. I did an interview with Gus G for Sweden Rock in January and I think that was pretty much about it, musicwise. Yes, a VERY slow month.
February served the rock’n’roll table at Amager Bio in Copenhagen – first with the PARTY BAND number ONE: STEEL PANTHER (February 14th)!
A week later it continued with ROYAL HUNT taking on the stage. I went cause I love the drummer’s style, Allan Sorensen. He’s absolutely amazing. As it turned out, so was the singer – D.C Cooper. Holy shit…
March was the month when things started to move a bit. Gus G had just released his first solo-album “I Am The Fire” and was kicking off his solo tour with a few shows in Greece with Uli Jon Roth and Jorn Lande – and Mats Levén fronting his own band. I flew down to Thessaloniki which I almost consider as my second home nowadays, met up with my friend Suuded from Germany, and checked out the show.
Had a great time in Greece – as always. Was great to see Gus and the others, we went to this rock bar after the show which is almost a tradition every time he plays in his home town.
The day before the show, we visited Firewind bassman Petros in his bar Emerald – really cool rock pub. He served us the best booze in town, personally. ;)
But the loud music makes it almost impossible to hear what anyone is saying so after maybe 2 hours everybody left to get some well deserved sleep.
A few days later I was on a plane over to Manchester, UK, to check out the Steel Panther show there. That was all I did – for a change. No interviews, no parties, no nothing. Just fly in, see show, fly home.
The week that followed was graced by the super awesome Danish rockers D.A.D! My friend Henny and I made a roadtrip to Gothenburg and had a great time, getting slightly intoxicated at Hard Rock Cafe – and I hit on the Swedish prince, Carl Philip, literally. I wasn’t looking, as usual, and he and his “gorillas” were passing me on the sidewalk where there was a construction area and not much room. I wasn’t looking and thought “why do I always have to be the one who moves??” so I pretty much shoved the prince, when my friend whispered to me who it was. Whoops…
The cool thing was that he went to Hard Rock as well – and ordered a burger that he enjoyed while Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society was playing from the video screens all over the restaurant! The Swedish prince ROCKS! :) And he’s handsome too – for a short haired prince. ;)
THIS is what I call rock and f***in’ ROLL!!
In April, I got a message from Iréne on Facebook – she used to sing with female rockers Modesty Blaise, a band I used to manage back in the day, and that was reallyyy a long time ago. We lost touch but reconnected thanks to social media. :)
She invited me to come over to the studio where they were recording a tribute to our old friend Andy Pierce from the band Nasty Idols who passed away last year.
It was so great to see everyone again. Sometimes it’s like time stood still, we all had a great time and Andy’s positive spirit was with us the whole time.
And that takes me to MAY and the months that followed that were super-busy concert- and travelwise! Let me catch my breath a little bit here before continuing to part TWO of 2014, cause there’s a lot – a LOT more where this came from. :D Keep checking!!
The Metal Gods (but not THOSE “Metal Gods”…!)
I took a short little roadtrip from Malmo up to Halmstad yesterday (approximately 1,5-2 hours) to see an All Star-band featuring ex-Firewind and current Spiritual Beggars-vocalist Apollo Papathanasio. One of my favorite singers, without a doubt – a Swedish version of Tony Martin. Can’t go wrong with that!
When he was with Firewind, I would catch a whole bunch of shows each year, but after he left, the gigs have become a lot more infrequent. Just one-off shows here and there that you really need to keep track of 100% not to miss them..!
But we call eachother here and there and that’s when I get a little update on the “latest news”. The last time we spoke, he mentioned these two shows, a very unpretentious event at a local rock bar. Well, hallelujah! Like I had to think long and hard about that (not!!). I went! When I arrived it was really hot in Halmstad and lots of people on the streets.
It didn’t look like there would be a lot of people in the club at first, but that’s pretty common for summer indoor-gigs. There aren’t many people at those. Most people I know are out of the country in vacation now. But, as it started getting closer to showtime, the place was almost full. Not only full, but full of enthusiastic people. :) At some point when Apollo was looking at the crowd, he just laughed and went: “I think I know every single person in here!” I bet he does!
From what I heard, these guys never had much time to rehearse as they’re busy doing other things, so if you consider that, it was awesome. And for me it was like Christmas! It’s not every day you get to hear one of your favorite singers, sing songs by OTHER bands that I like (and SONGS that I love)! JUDAS PRIEST! WHITESNAKE!
The setlist was as follows:
And it was a cool lineup too – dudes that know their business:
Apollo Papathanasio – vocals (Spiritual Beggars, Firewind)
Chris Amott – guitar (Arch Enemy)
Ludwig Witt – drums (Spiritual Beggars, Grand Magus)
Pär Wallmark – bass (Last Tribe)
I loved the whole concept of it – small show, not widely advertised maybe, the guys in the band and the choice of songs. BINGO!
After the show, I just hung out for a bit, talked a little with Apollos wife. Not easy to have a conversation in all that noise but what can you do. :)
I had to get going, it was getting late and I had a bit of a drive ahead of me, so she went to get him for me. I’ve left gigs before without saying bye to an artist I know, but because the guest list was super duper mega exclusive (so few people on it, it was ridiculous) and I was on it, I at least wanted to wave and say bye-bye before leaving.
Anyhoo, Apollo came out from the backstage area and said he wanted to introduce me to “the guys”. The only person left by the time we got there, was Michael Amott (Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars) who wasn’t in the band, but was talking to someone. Instead, we ended up checking out some photos from Thessaloniki, Greece on Apollo’s cellphone that I was in, and didn’t know about. :)
“Have you said hi to the guys yet?” he asked. I said that I hadn’t seen anyone, and it was okay, they don’t know who I am anyway, haha!
“That’s exactly why I want you to meet them”, he laughed. Well, I guess there’s some logic in that! ;)
Chris Amott and Per Wiberg (keyboards, Spiritual Beggars) were outside talking, so I was introduced to them. Didn’t stay long there though, driving in the middle of the night after having been up since 4 am, is usually not a good idea.
So – I took off. The whole show is on video by the way. Will be up here later, but here’s just a little preview! There will be one more show on the 19th – so guess where I’ll be THAT day? :D
Guitar Universe – final destination…!
It was slightly different getting up in the morning only to transport myself from one side of town to another – from one situation to another. From the Metal God to a guitar-gig.
I was still in Kensington where I had spent most of my day at Sony Music’s office, listening to the new Judas Priest album and talking to “The Metal God” himself, Rob Halford. NOW, I was checking out from my fancy Kensington high street 4-star hotel, to take the tube over to Angel station (funny – the song “Angel” by Judas Priest was in my head the whole time…!)
It was pretty easy finding my new hotel. What I didn’t realize was that it was right down the street from the venue where the Marty/Gus-gig was taking place later that evening: O2 Academy Islington.
I always pick hotels that are as close to the venues as possible, but this had to be a record! It was literally maybe 20 steps from the back door of the venue…!
I found a familiar face, Andy, sitting outside in the sun just chilling. It was the calm before the storm. Chatted for a minute or two, then I left him to just enjoy the few minutes of peace he would have that day, and went over to my hotel to check in.
After an hour, I went back out again, thought I would find something to eat, but after a short stroll around the block, I couldn’t find anything that I was in the mood for, so I went back to the venue.
During the 30 minutes that followed, I managed to steal a few minutes from the busy crew guys and a few band members who had been out for a walk and were about to start load-in. :)
There were two fans outside the club with plastic bags full of records, and I was wondering if they were there for Marty or Gus. Turns out, neither. They were there for Mats. They had every single CD he’s ever sung on…! And there was……a LOT. :D
Jo came off the bus, looking slightly dazed. So, while the load-in was in progress, I went inside the O2 with Jo and Or. They went looking for the dressing room, while I decided to just find someplace to make myself invisible, stay out of the way and just be a “fly on the wall”. :D
During the hours in there, I watched two sound checks, by Marty Friedman and Gus G, a video shoot for Marty’s new video and a “lesson”/rehearsal thing with Herman Li from Dragonforce who was going to join the guys on stage later that evening.
[Marty shooting a video] I bumped into Marty out in the stairwell. He smiled: “Oh, hi! You take good pictures. I like your photos.” I figured he probably must have liked them, cause I’ve seen a few of his updates that included some of my pics. I’m glad he liked them. :)
It was crazy hot inside so I went outside and found Or (bassplayer for both bands) there too. When Jo came out he immediately went: “Let’s go get some food!”. Food was the keyword. I was starving! So off we went.
Found a Vietnamese restaurant nearby, the menu sounded good, prices reasonable. And best of all, free WiFi (was pretty much the first thing Jo asked for, haha!).
I don’t exactly remember what I ordered but it was spicy…! And then we couldn’t quite figure out the currency (three people from 3 different countries, with the wallets full of various mysterious currencies, not necessarily the kind that is accepted in that particular country…!).
When we got back to the venue, the doors had already opened and there were people standing at the barriers, so I took my place there too. Last gig, thought I’d get a few pics and vids.
The opening act, Primitai, was okay. Never heard of them before – but they were alright. I remember thinking they had a good drummer. He didn’t look like a “powerful drummer” but he hit pretty hard and I liked his style.
Next on stage – Gus G. It was the perfect ending to my Guitar Universe tour, cause if I compare the level of energy at the first show in Tampere, Finland, with this one in London, it was very clear how much the band had grown into a true unity and what they were able to deliver.
Jo Nunez, drummer extraordinaire, impressed me more than anyone on this tour, funny enough. He’s always been an impressive drummer, but now he’s a full-fledged showman and entertainer as well.
He’s up there killing his drums every night but he’s gone from being a quiet guy that was almost invisible on his first tour with Firewind, to this mohawk-adorned, cool madman that’s spinning drumsticks, throwing them up in the air, challenging the crowd to make more noise, standing up behind the drum set letting his presence be known… He’s probably one of the best acquirings Gus has made for his band. :)
All I can say is: Jo-sus Christ!
Same goes with the new aquaintance, the bass-master from Israel: Or Lubianiker. Make no mistake, maybe people will take him for a shy and quiet guy seeing him offstage, but once he’s up there, he’s definitely not making any excuses. Just like Jo, he was working double-shifts, playing for Gus and Marty on the whole tour, keeping a steady and reliable rythm section for both guitar heroes.
While I guess that most of the guys in the crowd were guitar-geeks, I’m sure that there were some pretty impressed bassists there as well, who were checking out Or’s dexterity and experiencing total bass Or-gasms… (yeah, pun intended. ;D).
Mats Levén is a given frontman, he certainy has the pedigree to prove it too. He’ll sing whatever you throw at him, and he will do it well.
And Gus G himself? What can I say- I’m running out of adjectives! He was in a good mood which led to a more intense communication with the crowd.
The ONLY thing I would want to see more of from Gus, is an Yngwie-style guitar-pick rain during his set, to “feed” the hungry guitarists in the front row.
Those dudes down there would kill their own mothers for one of his picks…! More of that, and I think the “guitar geeks ” would walk on pink clouds for DAYS.
Cause needless to say, there are mostly guys in the crowd. How do you get more girls to the shows? My suggestion, from a female point of view, would be simple: Bring the “hair-fan” next time, it’s gonna work (well, it’s always worked for Steve Vai)! ;)
Other than that, he plays like a god. Always. I liked the songs from his solo-album before the tour, but I’ve gotten new favorites as I’ve kept hearing them live over and over again. “Eyes wide open” for instance has been stuck in my head for days already!
Also, their rendition of Thin Lizzy‘s “Hollywood – (Down on your luck)” was really one of the best so far. There was a drive and an energy in the performance of that particular song in London, that was really contagious.
Then, after the change-over, Marty time! Like I’ve said before, he’s got a very natural stage personality and that combined with his material, which is a winning mix between melodic, heavy and “riffy” instrumentals, simply makes time FLY!
He and his “partner in crime”, Takayoshi Ohmura, are constantly interacting with the crowd, making sure every single person out there feels like a part of the show. It’s virtuosity in every sense of the word, but not in a boring, nerdy sort of way, it’s made accessible and enjoyable for all kinds of people (providing of course that you like music…).
Before I knew it, he was done and it was time for that one last song, that one last little surprise…. Which this time wasn’t only Gus as a special guest, but also Dragonforce’s Herman Li. Yet another fast shredder to add to the equation. Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, here we go!
After the show, I remembered that I was wearing high heels (I usually go to these gigs in sneakers cause I always have to walk a lot, but this time with my hotel being so close, I chose the heels instead). Those things were KILLING me after so many hours or standing and walking, so I figured I’d just go and say bye to the guys and then get a bit of sleep.
Flashed my laminate to the security guy and went to the backstage area.
My original idea was to wait at least 20-30 minutes so the guys could just get a break before people started barging into their dressing room, but when two guys just walked right in, I just went right along with them. What the hell, if nobody else thinks in my unfashionable “considerate” terms, then I’ll just go along with the crowd, lol! :)
It was slightly crowded back there, all kinds of people. Glad to finally have met Sharon from the management as well. She was actually the first person I was in touch with before that Relentless garage-gig in London years ago, and then I’ve seen her name online many times, but never actually met her. So that was nice. :)
Gus was stuck in this tiny production office with people walking in and out. I could only see a bit of his black Converse snakers and hear him back there somewhere – otherwise he was pretty much invisible.
When a handful of guests had left the backstage area I just stuck my head in and asked if I needed to take a number or something. :) It was kind of like in a dentist’s office. “Neeeext!”
He was talking to the guy who’s made Firewind’s cover-artwork and also for the latest solo-album. So as it turned out, the Firewind-symbol silver-pendant that I was wearing, had in fact originally been designed by him.
Pretty cool, you rarely ever meet those people. As always after a show, people just scatter all over the place so I never got to say bye to any of the crew guys, Jo had left to take a shower but it took a while so I just decided to call it a night and leave the area.
It’s been different, but good and I hope there will be more touring soon.
Photos from this gig: https://intherearviewmirror77777.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/guitar-universe-day-2-helsinki-finland/
Reflections on coming home: Welcome to Tour Twilight Zone
50th Gus G-show lies ahead….
The next stop on my personal Gus G/Marty Friedman tour, is Munich and Hannover, Germany.
After that, London. And the London show will, funny enough, be the last date for me on this tour and the 50th time in 3 years that I see this guitar “wonder child” do his thing.
I remember pretty much every single gig and the details surrounding it. The trips, the people, the disasters, the adventures, the trips, hotels, venues, cities, shows….
I looked at the list of shows yesterday just to see if there was anything I might have forgotten. I’m probably lucky because I’ve been blogging about everything, so I tend to remember for that reason.
I have pics, stories and videos from every single place. Except for the Madison Square Garden gig with Ozzy because I didn’t want to risk getting my camera confiscated, so I never brought one.
[THIS was the first thing I saw, and here I am now, shitloads of shows and thousands of travelled miles later…!]
I did get a few clips on my bad mobile phone but those serve only as a memory, not as YouTube-material (I hate clicking on a live video on Youtube only to find that the audio sucks and that it’s been recorded by some drunk, jumping person in the crowd, with his/her BAD phone. Don’t upload it unless it’s at LEAST decent quality…!)
That gig got the ball rolling. The dude with the guitar left me absolutely speechless. I remember sitting at JFK on my way home, killing time, browsing the web for info about the new Ozzy-guitarist. Then I saw a video of The Fire And The Fury and that sealed the deal.
There I was at the airport, running that video multiple times, because I couldn’t believe how anyone could play like that! Just watching that pinky finger move like it was made out of rubber, was fascinating!
On New Year’s Day 2011, I was once again out there on the web checking out more stuff, when I came across info about a one-off gig for Firewind in London, at the Relentless Garage. Within five minutes, I had clicked my way through buying a ticket to the show and a flight ticket to London. :) Didn’t require a lot of thinking.
I remember that day in London as being grey, rainy and cold and I hadn’t booked a hotel. I just flew over, saw the show and went straight back to the airport and back to work.
But the show, once again, blew me away – and the minute I got home, I started checking for more gigs.
The journey has taken me all across Europe for the past 3 years. I’ve flown to places I barely knew existed, I’ve rented cars, driven in all kinds of weather, from one club to another, in the middle of the night, early in the mornings, getting lost… Or using the car as my “hotel” on a few occasions just to be able to afford the trips.
Sleeping in the car is not a comfortable thing usually. It always gets cold and damp in there at night, but I’ve done it because it meant being able to see yet another show instead of spending the dough on hotels.
I’ve visited several cities/towns/villages in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Luxembourg, Greece, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands, Finland, a few states in the US to catch a few of the US shows and last year I took that trip of a lifetime to Australia for the Australian tour. I had a blast in every possible way and it’s a journey I’ll never forget.
And the highlights with all these gigs? The reason why I started doing this was because I was totally blown away by the live performances and the high level of musicianship. But I’m also hooked on the travelling itself, just being on the go to anywhere. I’ve never been much of a stay-at-home kind of person. Hanging in front of a TV works for maybe a few weeks in the winter, but after that I get bored and restless and I need to get on the first flight, train or bus to wherever. It’s usually been to a Firewind/Ozzy/Gus G-show because they simply tour a lot. :) Suits me perfectly.
I’ve gotten to know the guys in the band and their crew, and I love these guys. They are awesome. If I had had to deal with a bunch of assholes it wouldn’t have mattered HOW good Gus or the band was, I would have found some other band or artist to go and check out. I’m lucky that the whole “package deal” has been perfect. :)
As for the highlights from the gigs, I guess I could easily pick a few to put on my Top 10-list:
1. Ozzy – Madison Square Garden – New York City – December 1, 2010
2. Firewind – Relentless Garage – London – UK – January 7, 2011
3. Firewind – Fuzz Club – Athens – Greece – January 14, 2012
4. Ozzy – Malmö Stadium – Malmö – Sweden – June 2, 2012
5. Ozzy – Westfalenhalle – Dortmund – Germany – June 4, 2012
[Steel Panther opening, had a great time with my friend from Germany, Su]
6. Firewind – Mylos – Thessaloniki – Greece – July 18, 2012
[I presented the band with a gold record for their sales of Wall Of Sound, in Sweden]
7. Firewind – Knust – Hamburg – Germany – September 28, 2012
8. Firewind – 8Ball Club – Thessaloniki – Greece – December 15 & 16, 2012
9. Firewind – Rock In Den Ruinen – Dortmund – Germany – April 27, 2013
10. Firwewind – Corner Hotel – Melbourne – Australia – November 3, 2013
There are many more, such as Ozzy at Sweden Rock and Graspop festival, Firewind at Sonisphere, and Kaftanzoglio stadium / Stop That Sound 2310 festival in Thessaloniki, many of the club gigs…. It’s hard to pick just a few but those did stick out for sure.
And now another page is being written, with the solo gigs across Europe.
So, on May 21st, in London, UK, I celebrate that 50th Gus G-gig since that Madison Square Garden gig. Will that mark the end of this journey or will I add another 50 shows to the list? I don’t know. I guess time will tell, but one thing is for certain, it’s left memories that will stay with me for a very long time.
Here are some of those highlights:
Ozzy & Friends – Graspop:
Gus G – my first interview , from Sweden Rock:
Gus G – second interview, from Thessaloniki, Greece:
Stop That Sound Festival in Thessaloniki, with Whitesnake and Judas Priest – a VERY very veryyy hot day in Greece. I almost passed out from the heat.
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!