Guitarist Gus G will be known to many as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist for eight years, but long before he joined up with Ozzy he started a band called Firewind. On 15th May that band releases a new album through AFM Records simply called “Firewind”. If you include a 1998 demo release, it is the tenth studio album to be released by Firewind. Over the past twenty years Gus G has also released an album with Ozzy, three solo albums, three albums with Dream Evil, three albums with Mystic Propecy and two albums with Nightrage; as well as contributing to numerous others.
I recorded an interview with Gus on 3rd April and we chatted about Firewind and the new album, as well as the current Coronavirus crisis, his solo work, a potential instrumental album and much more.
That interview was originally broadcast on the Friday NI Rocks Show on 10th April, but at that point we could only play one track from the new album. It was repeated again on 15th May; this time with three tracks from the new album. The latter Show is now available from our MixCloud page - https://www.mixcloud.com/NIRocks/interview-with-guitarist-gus-g-from-firewind-ozzy-osbourne-etc-15th-may-2020/
The interview has been typed up and posted below.
Playlist (15th May)
JEFF SCOTT SOTO – Stand Up (Live)
SCREAMING EAGLES – Stand Up and Be Counted
GASOLINE OUTLAWS – Psycho
LA GUNS – Crawl
WITHIN TEMPTATION – Entertain You
BEYOND THE BLACK – Wounded Healer (Ft Elize Ryd)
CHAOS MAGIC – Desert Rose
LOVERBOY – Notorious
ROBIN GEORGE – Heartline
HEAVY PETTIN – Rock Me
SILK ROAD – Just Like That
VEGA – Don’t Fool Yourself Again
ROSCO’S RIOT – Sweet Midnight
FIREWIND – Overdrive
Interview with GUS G Part 1 (7 min)
FIREWIND – Rising Fire
Interview with GUS G Part 2 (10 min)
GUS G - Fearless
Interview with GUS G Part 3 (9 min)
FIREWIND – Welcome to the Empire
GUS G – Letting Go
OZZY OSBOURNE – Crucify
DREAM EVIL – Hail to the King
MYSTIC PROPHECY – Dust of Evil
JORN – Life on Death Road
NI ROCKS – Hi Gus, thanks for taking some time to talk to Rock Radio NI. Before we chat about the new album, can you tell us how you’re coping with the current Coronavirus crisis? And do you have a message for the fans out there?
GUS – Yeah, I’ve been staying at home. I’ve been locked in here for about three weeks now, or a little bit more. I don’t know; I’ve lost count of the days! It’s very important that we all stay inside and that we do what we are told; so that we can flatten the curve and try and prevent this from spreading. The numbers are insane already. We just got to make sure we do our part. I think that is all that we can do. This is a time really to be responsible about this; in my opinion. It’s a good opportunity for everybody to get some downtime and maybe relax and not have to worry about too many things right now. The main thing is to connect with the things that you maybe wanted to do, but never the chance to. Or spend more time with your family or whatever loved ones. I just hope everybody is staying positive and staying healthy; that’s all there is to it right now.
NI ROCKS – Exactly! Keep following the rules and doing what we’re we’re supposed to do! The new Firewind album is being released on 15th May through AFM Records. It’s the band’s first album with new singer Herbie Langhans. Had you known Herbie previously and what led to him becoming the new singer?
GUS – Actually, I didn’t know him; it was a suggestion by the label because I contacted them back in December and said I’d need somebody for the new record. They told me about Herbie and I didn’t know the name, but when they sent me some links and I checked them out, I immediately remembered him from hearing him with a band called Sinbreed about eight years ago. I was like, wow, that’s the guy! I remember he made an impression on me back then because when I heard him I thought this guy would fit so well for Firewind. But, back them, we went on a hiatus and I forgot all about that. It’s kind of strange that his name popped up now, but AFM Records put us in touch and we started working almost immediately.
NI ROCKS – Just last month it was announced that keyboard player Bob Katsionis had left the band after about 15 years to work on other projects. Was he involved on the new album at all and will you be replacing him or staying as a four piece?
GUS – He was involved just a little bit. He co-wrote one song with me, the song “Orbitual Sunrise”, we did together. And we actually kept his keyboards on that track, so he plays on one song. The rest was mainly done by me. We are not going to be bringing in a fifth member for the live shows, as of now. We will still be using Bob’s keyboards, but we’re going to use them on a track. This is like a restart of the band so it’s a restructuring. I wanted to continue as a four-piece for various reasons and we used to be a four-piece when we first started out anyway. It’s a bit like a return to form.
NI ROCKS – If you include the 1998 release, this is the band’s tenth studio album. What led to the decision now to release an album simply called “Firewind”?
GUS – I thinks it’s basically the reasons that we just spoke about – Bob leaving the band and the switch of singer. That made me sit down and think that this was the time to rethink and restructure the band, and basically do a new beginning. Almost as if you’d pressed a restart button or something on a device. This was the whole philosophy behind it . I sat down and thought how would I want it to be if I was going to start Firewind again today, but with the knowledge and experience that we already have. It just seemed right to have a self-titled album at this point, since we didn’t do it on our debut album. Now was the time.
NI ROCKS - Where was the new album actually recorded and who did you work with in terms of production, mixing etc?
GUS – We tracked drums in Germany, at HOFA Studios in Karlsdorf, near the Frankfurt area. I did the drums there for my last solo record that came out two years ago, “Fearless”, and I like that studio. It’s a really good room and there’s a great vibe there. A very nice room for drum recording; good acoustics. Dennis Ward, who I’ve been working with the last few years, engineered the drums. So we’ve got a really good drum sound. For guitars and vocals we all used our home studios, because everybody has home studio set-ups. Herbie had the same and I have the same here. I’ve been doing the last few records like that to be honest, it’s just much more convenient and stress free. For mixing we used Tobias Lindell, the Swedish producer and mixer. He lives in Thailand and mixed the record in Thailand. That was a pretty fresh production that we got. A fresh sound and really nice new approach.
NI ROCKS – The first single from the album to be released was “Rising Fire”, which we’ll play next. Can you tell us something about that track?
GUS – “Rising Fire” is a good song to be radio broadcast, because it’s catchy, but it’s also heavy and has a big hook. It’s sort of made sense for it to become the first single. It’s also a good presentation of the current status of the band. Lyrically it’s a song about over-coming problems and obstacles that we all deal with.
NI ROCKS – Three of the tracks on the new album are linked lyrically – “Orbitual Sunrise”, “Longing To Know You” and “Space Cowboy”. What can you tell us about those tracks and the link between them?
GUS – There was a discussion regarding lyrics when Herbie came into the fold and I said how about doing a little bit of a small concept...I was not sure at that point which way to go about lyrics. If we were going to continue with, like the previous album “Immortals” was a full on concept record, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to do that. I didn’t feel that the music on this new album needed a concept. By anyways! I dropped the idea to Herbie and he started writing a few songs about it. Basically, it was his idea – an astronaut orbiting around the earth and travelling in space. While up there his feelings fall on mankind, earth, nature and things like that, and of course the ballad “Longing to Know You” is about him missing his family. Probably things that everybody feels and thinks about, but through the eyes of a lonely astronaut.
NI ROCKS – As you mentioned, the previous Firewind album, “Immortals”, released in 2017 was a concept album. Would you be keen to do another album like that, focused on a specific story or issue?
GUS – It has to come out naturally. We discussing that with the guys, even after we did “Immortals”, because we realised that it worked. The fans accepted it well and somehow it was a little bit easier doing it. Once you decide which concept to follow, the music sort of called for it. There were all these discussions, but once I started making the material I realised that it didn’t really come out naturally for me to make another concept record like that. In the end, I can’t force something, It just doesn’t come out like that; it would be fake. So I just kept on doing what I felt like doing. It’s obviously still a Firewind album. The previous record was very focused on that epic, power metal thing, without having any of those...what do you call like, three minute sort of catchy tracks , if you know what I mean. The stuff we used to have in the past; it was more catered towards a different direction. But anyways, it didn’t come out like that this time and that’s ok. Will I do something like “Immortals” again in the future? Yeah, why not; but it will have to come out naturally so to speak, and I would need to have the right material.
NI ROCKS – Track 8 on the new album, “Overdrive”, has a slightly different feel to it than the normal Firewind track. Is there a specific story behind that song?
GUS – Musically it’s nothing new really. There are lots of those types of beat in heavy metal, but I had this kind of anthemic, sing-a-long type of vibe; like a classic metal track. Something that would remind people of, I don’t know, something like Accept or Saxon or the classic 80’s metal stuff. Think of it like that – if “Holy Diver” and Sabbath’s “Headless Cross” had a baby, maybe this kind of track would come out (laughs). I told Herbie about this and he said how about we write a song that’s like an anthem to the fans, and to celebrate heavy metal and our music. It’s nothing new. Many bands have done that, but we didn’t have one of those tracks up until now. We thought if it’s done well, it’d be cool. I thought originally that it would end up as some sort of bonus track, but it came out so good and we thought it gives a little different touch to the album, so let’s use it.
NI ROCKS – There are eleven tracks on the album. How does the band approach the song writing process? Do you come in with the songs almost complete or do the other guys get involved. How do you do things?
GUS – With the music, I write it all more or less. It’s always been like that. In the past Bob was involved a little bit, and like I said he co-wrote with me “Orbitual Sunrise” on this. The rest is just me. I do all the arrangement and stuff and sometimes I come up with the title that inspires people to write lyrics. I’m not involved with lyrics so much. Usually the singer will be responsible for that. On this record though, I wrote lyrics for three songs maybe, or four, and the rest was Herbie.
NI ROCKS – Was there a track on the album that changed considerably from first conception to final recording, or which perhaps took longer to get exactly how you wanted it to be?
GUS – Some songs sort of write themselves and other songs just take a while. The way that I write these days is that I have a lot of stuff in a folder on my computer. I just put riffs there – unfinished riffs – and then I pick them out again and continue working on them. A good example of a song that was completely dissected and redone was the final track on the album called “Kill The Pain”. That’s a song that I had written back to 2005 on the “Allegiance” album sessions and I recently discovered it on an old computer of mine. I was like wow, where did that go and why was it never used. There were a couple of great riffs on there. So, I basically used the riffs that I liked and redid it. Actually, I had a little bit of writers block there when we were in the studio. I ended up writing the solo parts and jamming it together in the studio while we were tracking drums, together with Johan. That song was strange because it was the oldest idea that I had used on this record and it ended up having the newest riff idea that I wrote in there! Almost like a full circle from 2005 to today.
Another song, “Welcome to the Empire”, was one of those that I thought was originally going to be an instrumental. It was destined to be an instrumental because it was such an interesting and busy guitar track and I thought it was going to end up on a solo record. But somehow it didn’t click and a couple of years later we put vocals on there and I came up with a final melody. I construct songs like that. And then there were songs like “Longing to Know You” that I wrote in fifteen minutes - it just came to me. It’s really strange with song writing; you never know.
NI ROCKS – You mentioned your solo albums earlier. The last solo release was “Fearless” back in 2018; which you recorded with (drummer) Will Hunt and vocalist Dennis Ward who also played bass. Your previous solo albums had featured a number of guest singers. Why did you decide to work with just Dennis on this one?
GUS – We had the idea of just trying the trio set-up as a band, with Dennis playing bass and singing, instead of using guests. Since me and him co-wrote all the material, we thought why not, let’s give it a chance. We realised that it would be easier as a touring band as well. My solo efforts are not just studio projects; I go out there and I tour with them. It just made sense because we looked at the bigger picture. Dennis has a great voice and he did all the demos anyway and he even wrote all the lyrics and melodies on the previous album, “Immortals”, for Firewind. He and I co-wrote a lot of stuff and we thought why not bring this out as a power trio and do the record like that. It was a good thing and a good decision I think. We were able to make the record and support it as well on stage.
NI ROCKS – We’ll play a track from the “Fearless” album now. Do you want to pick a track and tell us why you picked that one?
GUS – For the sake of having a little bit of diversity, maybe we can play the title track “Fearless” which is an instrumental. It’s one of my favourites and it’s one of the songs that people seem to enjoy lots when we play live.
NI ROCKS – As we mentioned, the last solo album was released two years ago. Have you given any thought to the next one and would you be likely to work with one singer again or go back to having guest vocalists?
GUS – Well it’s a good question that you bring up. I’m considering, finally making... I’m not sure that is going to be the case, but I’m going to tell you now anyway since you asked. I’m thinking of making actual a full on instrumental record next. I think I’ve done a whole lot of collaborations already and I’ve tried out the trio thing and I think I’m kinda ready now for that guitar instrumental album that more or less everybody has wanted me to do for a number of years. And I always said no (laughs). I think I needed to really get a lot of these things out of my system first and try a lot of those things. I think I’m ready to try that one out now. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me and when it’s going to come out. A lot will depend on Firewind as well and what happens with the band and how much we can tour, and how the album is received. I’m slowly compiling ideas for possible instrumentals and an instrumental record. I think it will be a good time to let my guitar be the voice.
NI ROCKS – That would be great to hear. We mentioned the Coronavirus crisis earlier and it is obviously having a big impact on musicians with tours being cancelled. When things finally get back to normal do you try and start again from where you left off and rearrange those tours or what are your plans for getting things get back to normal?
GUS – Yeah, right now everything is sort of on hold. We were supposed to start next month in America. It’s not official that the tour is postponed yet – there is no official statement yet, from Symphony X, because we were touring with them and that is their tour, but I don’t see it happening. I don’t know what will happen with that and when it will be rescheduled; if, and all those things. The most important thing now is that the world is a safe place again; and then we’re going to worry about the tours. I’m talking to agents right now and we’re just waiting to see. It’s a little bit of a waiting game to see how it develops, When this is over, of course, we’re going to go back out and do what we were supposed to do. It will hold us back a little, but it’s not just for us. This is affecting the whole industry.
NI ROCKS – You’ve made guest appearances on many albums over years - Doro, Jorn, Jason Becker etc. I sure you must get asked to get involved in many projects. How do you decide which ones to get involved in?
GUS – First of all it has to be something that I like; that’s the main thing. It has to be somebody that I want to work with and that I like. I think that’s the main factor for me really. Then of course, there’s the time factor. There has to be time. If I have time to do it, then I do it. One factor is wanting to collaborate with somebody, liking the music, liking the artist or whatever; and then time. If I’m touring five months out of a year there’s not much time left to write one of my albums and to start doing all these collaborations. You have to be careful with what you pick and choose.
NI ROCKS – Do you have a wish list of people that you’d like to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?
GUS – Off, the top of my head not really. It’s hard to say. There are so many great singers and great players out there. I’d like to work with a lot of people, but it’s hard to just name one or two.
NI ROCKS – You were of course part of Ozzy’s band for many years and recorded the album “Scream” with him in 2010. I thought I’d play a track from that album later in the Show. I have the Tour Edition of the album. Which track would you pick to play and why?
GUS – Which one should we play? Good question! I’m like the playlist maker today! (laughs).Why don’t we play “Crucify”? That’s a good song.
NI ROCKS – Why that one?
GUS – (laughs) Here’s why! Because yesterday.....I had almost forgotten about the track, but yesterday somebody tweeted me the link of a video. I guess that yesterday was the anniversary – April 2nd was when we were with Ozzy in Sao Paulo in Brazil; and back then we had a videographer who was following us on tour and updating daily episodes. So somebody tweeted me the link from that Oz TV thing from back then. I hadn’t looked at it since then – since like nine years ago. They were like small two minute episodes or something, capturing each day or each show. On part of that video I could hear “Crucify” in the background and that song came back to my memory – like ‘wow, that was a pretty cool track’. There you go; that’s why I chose it.
NI ROCKS – Getting back to the new Firewind album. I have the limited edition red and yellow splatter vinyl version ordered for myself from the AFM Records website.
GUS – Oh wow, thank-you.
NI ROCKS - The vinyl formats are an area where sales seem to be increasing still. Are you a fan of the vinyl format?
GUS – Honestly, I was never a big vinyl fan, quality-wise. I think CD is much better quality. I do love the bigger artwork and the item more. Growing up in the early 90’s, that’s when I started getting into music, that’s when vinyl was dying down. I did catch the vinyl era towards the end of it, so I do have that nostalgia myself as well. But honestly, I don’t sit and play vinyl at home. I like the digital sound and the high quality; I think it’s much better. I prefer listening through my studio speakers or whatever, rather than a turntable. But I like it as an item. I think it’s cool and I think it’s good, as a format, that it is back in; as a trend or whatever and that it’s available again.
NI ROCKS – It’s as much a collectable item now, as much as people playing it. People just like to collect them
GUS – That’s the thing. It’s about collecting. Whether you’re a vinyl freak and a collector, or whether you support an artist and want to have something special from them, it’s a great item to have.
NI ROCKS – As I mentioned earlier, the album is being released on the 15th May. Do you know what the next track to be released is, and when that is going to be?
GUS – We are planning to release, at the end of April, one more single. It’s going to be “Welcome to the Empire”. It’s the first track on the album and honestly, was supposed to be the first single, (laughs). But somehow I changed my mind towards the end and decided to go with “Rising Fire” as it was a bit more catchy and more to the point. We knew it was going to be a bit different for some of our fans and they might have expected something else. But it doesn’t matter. It’s something new and something fresh. “Welcome to the Empire” is a really good album representative track. We delayed this a little bit because we’re doing some finishing touches on the video. We wanted to do something extra special for the video so it’s going to take a couple more weeks, but it’ll be out by the end of April.
NI ROCKS – That’s all the questions that I have for you. Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us.