If you follow in the footsteps of the likes of Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde, then you certainly have to bring the goods to the table. Gus G. arguably does just that, having contributed quality metal material to the globe for almost the last decade under the Firewind banner. Hopefully, the globe will get to hear Ozzy Osbourne singing some tunes penned by Gus G. in the not so distant future - that would spice up proceedings, for sure.
Firewind's sixth studio album "Days Of Defiance" was issued on October 25th, 2010 in Europe through Century Media Records, its North America release occurring a day later through the same record label. Recorded in the group's own studio in Greece, the album was mixed and mastered in Finland at Sonic Pump studio. Production was handled by the group themselves, with keyboardist Bob Katsionis overseeing engineering.
"Days Of Defiance" is somewhat influenced by the current political and economical crisis sweeping through the globe, and is the first Firewind full-length to feature Michael Ehr, of Uli Jon Roth and Metalium fame. Once again, Gustavo Sazes designed the cover artwork. Shot entirely on green screen, the music video for "World On Fire" was directed by Patric Ullaeus of Revolver Film Company.
On August 21st, 2009, it was confirmed that Firewind founder and guitarist Gus G. had joined the ranks of the Ozzy Osbourne group, replacing longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde. This would culminate in Gus providing guitar parts to June 2010's "Scream", Ozzy's tenth studio album, following on from performances at events like August 2009's BlizzCon and September 2009's Sunset Strip Music Festival event.
On October 28th at 14:30 GMT, Firewind / Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Gus G. telephoned Hit The Lights' Robert Gray to discuss "Days Of Defiance", and Ozzy Osbourne.
UG: Hello?Gus G.: Hey Robert - it's Gus, man.
How are you Gus?
I'm fine. How are you?
I'm doing well. I've been listening to 'Days Of Defiance' - pretty good.
Would it be alright if I began the interview?
How did 'Days Of Defiance', Firewind's sixth album, come to fruition?
We took our time writing 'Days Of Defiance'; we didn't rush. We wrote a couple of songs on the road in 2008, songs like "Embrace The Sun" and "Heading For The Dawn". Apart from that though, we basically waited until the touring for 'The Premonition' was done. We then took a break, and then we got together and wrote stuff together, comparing ideas. We spent the first half of 2009, working on the songs and arrangements. Around mid summer, we then started recording everything and basically took our time doing it.
Did your commitments to the Ozzy group delay 'Days Of Defiance''s release at all?
The good thing with 'Days Of Defiance' is that it was recorded before I stepped into the Ozzy situation. I started working with Ozzy on the 'Scream' album towards the end of 2009, but the Firewind record had already been recorded by then.
In what ways did the current global economic crisis - in Greece especially - influence the mood of 'Days Of Defiance'?
The financial, economic crisis is a general phenomenon; it's hitting almost every country right now in the world. You can see people complaining and voting and protesting. There was a little bit of that vibe on a couple of songs, especially on the first song "The Ark Of Lies". It's all about that, really; it's all about people not trusting in any political or religious leaders anymore. 'Days Of Defiance''s title actually came from one of the lines in "The Ark Of Lies"; it's mentioned on that first track, and actually, it's also mentioned on the last track of the record as well ("When All Is Said and Done"). It's cool that the first song and the last song on 'Days Of Defiance' feature that line.
"The good thing with 'Days Of Defiance' is that it was recorded before I stepped into the Ozzy situation."
Would you say that 'Days Of Defiance' features a dark, rebellious mood?
On a couple of songs, maybe. Maybe musically 'Days Of Defiance' is a bit darker, but lyrically speaking, maybe on a couple of songs we talk about these things but this isn't a concept album. There's other topics on there as well; for example, "Heading For The Dawn" is about us and our fans, us travelling the world and playing to our fans. There's other stuff as well; there's songs with positive messages like "Embrace The Sun" and songs like that, so 'Days Of Defiance' isn't all dark and gloomy or whatever.
You explained how "Ark Of Lies" is about people not trusting institutions, institutions they feel have lied to them. Is there anything specific on that song Firewind is referring to? That people are being lied to about?
Not really. It's good that people can interpret the song's lyrics in their own way. If they're something that can appeal to you on a personal level, I think that's even better actually. You might like a song while growing up and you think the lyrics are about something that appeals to you, and then you find out that it was maybe about a gay couple or something (laughs). From your own standpoint, you can interpret them the way you like if you can of course. 'Days Of Defiance' doesn't really talk about just political stuff - it's also about the people's mentality as well. In general, it's really about following and actually being part of a mass, being a sheep just like anybody else. Even if you're still not happy with situations, you still vote for the same people. You still wait for that something special to happen, but in the end, it's a fucking world of corruption we live in. We feel like we're an island, but we're just slaves to the system. There's nothing really political about that; it's just everyday life really, that's what it is.
'Days Of Defiance''s lead single is "World On Fire".
Yeah. "World On Fire" was actually one of the first riffs that I wrote for 'Days Of Defiance', and we jammed on it during rehearsals at least a year a half ago. It's a really cool song, and we worked really hard with the vocals. We had the music down and that was the easy part, but with the vocals, "World On Fire" was one of those songs we had to rewrite acoustically a few times to get the right chorus and the right lyrics and everything and the right lines. I think Apollo did a really great job on that one.
In what ways would you say 'Days Of Defiance' is heavier than past Firewind albums?
'Days Of Defiance' is as heavy as 'The Premonition', maybe a little bit heavier on a few tracks, but I think what makes this album even heavier is its raw production. We have a different production and a different sound this time. We actually moved studios; we didn't mix with Fredrik Nordstrom this time, but went to Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki, Finland. We had a different approach to 'Days Of Defiance'; we wanted it to be less polished, a bit more stripped down, and a bit more organic. I think it really fits our music this mix, and it actually made our music sound heavier.
Does 'Days Of Defiance''s mix possibly better reflect Firewind in a live situation?
Yeah. It's a sound we can actually pull off live as well, because it isn't layers and layers of effects and production and tricks and stuff like that. 'Days Of Defiance' is actually just like five guys playing - you can hear the dynamics of the band. It's a good thing, because we can actually take all these songs onstage.
In terms of 'Days Of Defiance''s mix, you said it's less polished, more stripped down and more organic. Is that a template Firewind can use in recording future albums?
It's hard to say how we're gonna feel in the next couple of years from now when the time comes to do another one, but I think what we did with 'Days Of Defiance' is really good. I definitely see us going a bit more into that direction, but it's not like musically anything has changed that dramatically or something. When it comes time for the next one though, we'll see. Who knows? Maybe we'll change direction, but maybe we won't. We'll see.
You've gone on record as saying your guitar playing on 'Days Of Defiance' is better than your guitar playing on past Firewind albums. In what ways do you feel your guitar playing is better on this full-length?
I just felt that I wasn't so stressed, because we recorded everything in our own studio really and we kind of did it ourselves. I didn't have that clock ticking, that "Oh, I only have a few more days to finish all guitars". I just recorded whenever I felt I was ready. It's actually a relief to know you're not paying tons of money every day to record in a studio. You're playing whenever you feel like playing actually, and I feel more creative that way. I think there's a little bit of that little extra thing on our playing on 'Days Of Defiance' compared to the previous ones. Not to put any of our previous albums down though, because they're really good and I'm still proud of them. I don't think I'm just speaking for myself actually, and I should speak up for the rest of Firewind's members as well because I think everybody captured their best performances yet on this album.
If I name some components of your guitar playing on 'Days Of Defiance', could you provide me with your thoughts on those individual components?
First of all, could you provide me with your thoughts on 'Days Of Defiance''s rhythm guitar?
Yeah. I'm very pleased with my rhythm playing; I think it's really tight and clean, but at the same time, it has that dirtiness to it as well - it's really heavy. I like my guitar tone on 'Days Of Defiance' as well; my guitar tone really bites on this one, so I'm very happy with it.
And the soloing?
With soloing, I actually feel more relaxed when we do demos. I come up with the best ideas when we do demos, actually. Lots of those solos I kept originally as they were in demo form - I played them again of course, but I kept the original ideas because I couldn't beat them. They were probably as good as they were gonna get. I kept that mentality for some of the songs, and I actually realized I'm very happy with it.
What are your thoughts on the melodies prevalent on 'Days Of Defiance'?
I think they're killer (laughs). They're melodies you can sing along to.
Is that an important element for Firewind?
It's important to me that we have melodies which have the right hook, melodies that stick after the first listen. I really wanna be able to have that in our songs, melodies that remind me of the old Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. When you heard them, you thought "Wow", and that catches them right there with the first listen. That's the kind of vibe I want to recreate as well.
What are your thoughts on the more technical guitar playing prevalent on 'Days Of Defiance'?
Usually, our songs are not really very part-y or technical or something, but there are times where we can actually shred and we can showcase that. You can really hear that on a song like "SKG", which is the instrumental of 'Days Of Defiance'. "SKG" showcases everybody's musicianship really, and that's why that song exists. We put that song together just to show off our skills in a way, and it's good. Musicianship is one of the strong aspects of the band, and we should be able to do it if we feel like it sometimes.
What do you feel Michael Ehr - Firewind's new drummer - brings to the table?
Michael is a great drummer, a really tight drummer, and a very professional guy. He's got a great tone and great feel, and plays very musically. We're very happy to have him onboard. He's a great guy.
Would it be ok if we touched on Firewind's past albums?
Yeah, sure man.
If I name each of Firewind's albums, could you share me your thoughts on each one?
Firewind's debut full-length was released in July 2002, titled 'Between Heaven and Hell'.
I really like 'Between Heaven and Hell'. They were weird times for me. The album was actually just me and a bunch of session musicians, and I was writing songs for many years until I was offered a record deal. These were my first songs; I recorded everything in my bedroom on my little eight-track because there was no budget. To this day, everybody tells me "Wow, your guitar tone is killer and great. How do you do that?". I said "I have no clue. I just put a microphone in front of my speaker, and pressed "Record"". I didn't do anything, really. I just played. I think 'Between Heaven And Hell' is a good record; there's a lot of fire in a lot of the songs, and you can hear that energy. I really like that record.
"Maybe musically 'Days Of Defiance' is a bit darker, but there's other stuff as well; there's songs with positive messages."
Its follow-up 'Burning Earth' arrived a year later in November 2003.
Yeah, 'Burning Earth'. 'Burning Earth' is also a really good record; that record is a perfect mix of heaviness and atmosphere. 'Burning Earth' is when I really started adding some keyboards to the band's sound, and bringing in more atmosphere. The album actually has some of the band's classic songs when it comes to the setlist, the live setlist. We still play a lot of songs from 'Burning Earth', songs like "I Am The Anger" and instrumental track "The Fire And The Fury" - which is a fan favourite for some strange reason. Yeah, I'm very proud of that record too. We still used the same singer that we had on the first one, which was an American guy Stephen Fredrick. After 'Burning Earth', we were offered a tour in Japan, and that's when I realized that "Hey, I need a real band, and not just a bunch of guys that I don't know". We were exchanging mp3s and making records like that. After that record, I tried to get more permanent members in Firewind.
Third album 'Forged By Fire' was issued in Japan in January 2005, followed by its release elsewhere in July of that year. That album was the first Firewind full-length to be issued by Century Media Records.
Yeah. 'Forged By Fire' was our debut on a bigger label. We left a small label which was Leviathan, and then we went to Century Media. Like I said, after 'Burning Earth', I went in search of a stable band lineup. That was my first attempt, really; we had a new singer named "Chity", and we had a drummer from Norway, Stian from Pagan's Mind. 'Forged By Fire' is actually our first record with Bob our keyboardist. Yeah, that's a good record. It has big moments and good songs on there, but I felt that the record was put together too quickly. Nevertheless though, 'Forged By Fire' was an important record for our career because it got us onto a bigger label, and that's the record that we did our first European tour for, which was with HammerFall and Lordi.
July 2006's 'Allegiance' was the first Firewind album to feature Apollo Papathanasio on vocals.
Yeah. 'Allegiance' is the first record where our lineup stabilized. Not many people know this, but at that point, I thought "I'm sick of all the band member changes. I'm sick of not much happening with the band". I was a member of so many bands, so I thought "I'm quitting every other band. I'm gonna focus on Firewind, and I'm gonna give it my best shot, and if nothing happens with this record then I'm just gonna quit and start something else - a new band maybe". 'Allegiance' was a make it or break it record, and actually, for some strange reason it worked. The album got great reviews, and then after it was released, we got an offer from DragonForce to tour all over Europe and the U.K.. Things started happening for the band. 'Allegiance' was the record we did our first world tour for; we played our first American tour, we played all over Europe, and we started touring a lot in the U.K.. We started doing lots of big festivals, so 'Allegiance' was a breakthrough album for us, a very important record.
Had 'Allegiance' tanked then, it was very much possible that Firewind would've split?
Probably, yeah. I remember the guys were asking "So what's happening? What's happening?". I thought "We're not going on tour unless we get the right tour offer. We need to have something done right this time. I can't just go out and book the band on a bunch of tours that make no sense". I really wanted us to get noticed. I think if that one hadn't worked out, I probably would've disbanded Firewind and started something different.
Would you say Firewind is in much healthier shape nowadays?
Yeah, of course man. We've come a long way since then. Firewind actually grew from a support band to a headline act; we've done our own tours, we've had way more experience, and the band has built a solid fanbase around the world which is still growing. We're the kind of band that takes small steps every time with each record, and that's a good thing because we keep growing.
Firewind's fifth full-length 'The Premonition' was released in March 2008, preceding 'Days Of Defiance'.
'The Premonition' was also a very important album because we expanded on what we started with 'Allegiance'. It's a really high quality record; I remember the critics in the beginning weren't sure if we could top 'Allegiance', but after a few months everybody gave 'The Premonition' a few listens and everybody started saying it was our best record up until that point. We actually embarked on a pretty long tour for that one as well, and it was even more successful. This whole thing resulted in the release of a DVD, which was called 'Live Premonition'.
Would it be alright if we spoke a little about your involvement in the Ozzy Osbourne group?
How did you come to join the Ozzy Osbourne group?
I got an email from his management about a year and a half ago. They asked me if I would be interested in coming down to audition, and of course, I learnt a bunch of songs, went down, and did the audition. It went great.
When you received that email from Ozzy's management, did you have to take a second look so to speak? Because you possibly couldn't believe your eyes?
Oh yeah, man. I didn't sleep for two days (laughs). I was freaking out.
Once you auditioned, what happened from there?
Once I auditioned, they actually asked me if I wanted to come back and play with Ozzy at an event, which was my first gig with him. It was BlizzCon, which was in Anaheim, California last summer. BlizzCon is a convention organized by Blizzard Entertainment, the company that publishes 'Warcraft' and video games like that. That's where we played.
How did playing with Ozzy at BlizzCon in the summer of 2009 lead to you playing on 'Scream'?
It was a day-to-day situation, really. After that, I went home and then as soon as I got home, Ozzy's management said "Ozzy has another event, the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Can you come back and do that one?". I replied "Sure, of course", and I went back and did that one. While I was in L.A., I went down to Ozzy's house and he played me his new record - 'Scream'. He said "I'd love to have you record some solos", so I listened to the material, played some solos, and then went back home. Nearly a month or two passed by and Ozzy's management contacted me again, saying "We like what you did, and we'd like you to actually record everything from scratch and do all the guitars. Not only the solos, but all the rhythm tracks and everything". It was a day-to-day thing; they never really forced me to do anything. They just played it by ear.
What was your approach to providing guitar parts to 'Scream'? After all, the Ozzy Osbourne group has been around for a number of years and has had many other guitarists in its ranks.
I wanted to maintain the classic element, the Ozzy sound obviously, and I wanted to have a little bit of guitar playing from the past on there. I wanted to have a little bit of that vibe on 'Scream', but I also wanted my own stamp on the record as well, and make it sound like the new chapter of Ozzy, the new era of Ozzy - because it is. That was my approach; being respectful to who's been there before me and to his past, but also making my own mark. I didn't get to do any writing, but I don't think that was necessarily bad because I think it was a very challenging situation for me, to play on an album and put my stamp on music that I didn't write. All things considered, I think it came out really great. There are a lot of great songs on 'Scream'.
"On 'Scream' I wanted to maintain the classic element, the Ozzy sound obviously, and I wanted to have a little bit of guitar playing from the past on there."
When the time comes for Ozzy to record another album, can you see songwriting opportunities arising?
Oh yeah, man. I've already started writing stuff for him, and we've already discussed the possibility of doing another one. We've been jamming on some riffs, and he's really excited about them. Hopefully, we're gonna get to do that after this world tour ends. Hopefully we'll take a break, and then we'll go back in and do another record. Ozzy's been talking about going in and doing the next record like they were done in the old days, like the first two albums (September 1980's 'Blizzard Of Ozz' and November 1981's 'Diary Of A Madman') were done; getting the actual band together to jam, and doing it together. I think if we had the chance to do that, we can create a really killer record.
When does Ozzy's current world tour end?
I think we're scheduled to go on up until next summer.
So really then, it's more than likely that the Ozzy Osbourne group will get together in 2012 to make a new album?
It's too early to say. Who knows what will happen? What I'm telling you right now is stuff we more or less discuss backstage when we're hanging out and so on - there's no real, official plan. What I know is we're gonna have a bunch of tours coming up in North America, and then we're gonna go to South America, and some summer festivals have been just announced for Europe. Once we get all that stuff done and out of the way, I'm sure we'll have a bit more of a concrete idea of what's gonna happen in the future. If you ask me, I'd love to regroup sometime in 2012 and do that, but it's not up to me. I know Ozzy has a lot of other projects as well.
Yeah, that's true. What do the riffs you've written with Ozzy in mind sound like?
It sounds like heavy metal (laughs).
How would you compare these ideas to those on 'Scream' though, an album you didn't write for?
It's hard to say; they're just me basically making riffs so far, and grooves and stuff like that. They're definitely a bit more traditional, and not as modern as 'Scream' was. They're a bit more back to basics, back to the roots. You've heard me play with Firewind and a bunch of other bands, so you know what my style's like. They're definitely not like melodic speed metal or anything. They're more in the vein of old Ozzy.
I'd definitely be interested in hearing that, whenever it may publicly surface. When you perform with Ozzy live, how do you approach playing guitar parts that you didn't originally play? That say Zakk Wylde or Randy Rhoads originally played, for example?
I like to stick to the originals, and how these songs were recorded. I don't change them too much. Obviously, there's always space to do a little bit of your own thing in there, but when you're playing a song like "Mr. Crowley" or "Suicide Solution", there's not much you can change. They are what they are, and it's the same with the stuff Zakk played on, be it "No More Tears" or "Mama, I'm Coming Home", or if you do "Bark At The Moon". These songs cannot really change from what they are, and you shouldn't really bother doing that. You should treat the classics with respect.
Finally, what do you feel the future holds for Firewind?
Things are very exciting for Firewind as well, because we're going to America next week. We're gonna do a short tour, we're gonna go to Japan in January, and we're gonna do some European shows in December and January. There's a lot of interest in getting the band on festivals as well. The band's getting a lot of press right now, and a lot of good reviews.
Are you finding juggling your commitments alright?
Oh yeah man. I feel blessed that I can do both. What should I say? I'm the happiest guy in the world right now (laughs). I got my own band and I'm also in Ozzy's band, so it doesn't really get any better.
Well you're the hotshot new guitarist now, aren't you Gus?
I don't know. I guess so. That's what people say (laughs).
(Laughs) Do you have a message for the fans?
Thanks everybody for reading this and supporting me. I want to thank all the Ozzy Osbourne fans for giving me a chance and for being so nice to me, and also I want to thank all our Firewind fans for sticking with us and for keeping supporting us. I hope everybody enjoys 'Days Of Defiance', and just keep checking our website for tour dates either with Ozzy, or with Firewind. I'll be out there playing (laughs).
Thanks for the interview Gus.
Thanks man. Take care.
And you as well.
Bye.Interview by Robert GrayUltimate-Guitar.Com 2010