Though Gus G
has been playing for years in Firewind
as well as participating in projects with Dream Evil
, he was still a relatively unknown entity. Three years ago he got a call from Ozzy Osbourne
to join his band and after landing the gig as Zakk Wylde
's successor all that changed. Club gigs have turned into stadium extravaganzas; music manufacturers come knocking at his door; and the focus on him as a guitarist has grown exponentially. And what that means is there has been a renewed interest in Firewind, the band he started more than 10 years ago. They have just released Few Against Many
, their sixth album, which brought together not only the group's heaviest textures but their most modern as well.
Gus G spoke about the new album and what life was like pre- and post-Ozzy. His performance on the Few Against Many album was remarkablecombining speed and attack with lyricismand listening to his playing on Ozzy's Scream
album left little doubt that he was more than capable of steeping into the huge shoes left by Zakk Wylde. Still he wondered why he was chosen for the gig and not someone else. He described those feelings here openly, articulately and humorously. But to understand how Gus came to that point it seemed important to find out where he came from.
UG: What was the Greek metal scene like back in the day?
Oh, there was not much of a metal scene here back in the mid-90s when I was starting out. There was bands and stuff but nothing really significant. The only band that was around and still keeps going is a black metal band called Rotting Christ. Back then the only notable guitar player from my hometown was Marios Iliopoulos with whom I formed Nightrage later on. He was the guy that took me under his wing. He took me with him to Sweden and that's where I got my start with Fredrik Nordstrom and Dream Evil.
Marios Iliopoulos was an important musician in your life?
I learned a lot from him when I was like a teenager and stuff and later on when his band split up and we started playing. But that was really it. And to this day he's like my closest friend anyways. Marios used to play in a band called Exhumation that was like a death metal/thrash death metal band. So we had the same guitar teacher and me and him used to hang out a lot. I had my own influences as a guitar player and did my own personal searching and that's how it developed really.
You attended Berklee College.
For me going to Berklee College at such a young age was a good excuse to leave the country and go to visit another place and see what's going on outside of Greece.
But you left after just a short time?
Yeah, I only stayed there for a couple weeks. I thought it was pretty boring [laughs.]
You didn't think there was anything there for you?
Well, it's not like I knew it all. I did have formal training beforeI knew theory, harmony, ear training and all this stuff. So I'm like, Well, if I'm gonna be paying a lot of money to go back and do all these academic studies and waste four years out of my life, I'd rather invest some of that money into trying to do a record or getting a band together.
Before Firewind came together you had recorded with several other bands like Nightrage and Dream Evil?
Yeah, like I said I went to Sweden with Marios and then I met this producer, Fredrik Nordstrom who owned Studio Fredman and lots of famous metal bands recorded there like Arch Enemy, Dimmu Borgir, In Flames and all those guys. He wanted to do a band because he was a producer for a long time and he had a lot of songs and he wanted to put a band together. He found me basically and he liked the way I played and decided to give me a chance. We formed this band called Dream Evil and that was really kind of my like my jumpstart in the music business because that band took off immediately in Japan and Europe. That's when I did my first shows and released my first couple of albums.
Did you already have Firewind together?
At the same time I still had Firewind of course but Firewind started in a totally backwards style and way. It was more like an mp3 kind of band; there was no membersit was just me. I was just sending my demos to David Chastain in Atlanta, Georgia and a small labelLeviathan Recordsand basically David was the first guy that believed in me and my Firewind demos and helped me put a band together.
You'd done a fair amount of recording before Between Heaven and Hell, the first Firewind album. Do you think you were able to take those various pieces and create a unique guitar style?
Umm, funny you should say about this now because when I released that album a couple years ago I went back and listened to it again. And I'm like, Wow, I can hear some of the signature licks that I still do. I didn't know it at that time. At that time I thought I probably sounded a lot like Yngwie Malmsteen for example. But you're right, there was definitely a character in there and I was only like 20 years old when I did that. You do your first album and spend your whole life really writing it and kind of perfecting it or something but it really is only the start. But there was something special about that first album indeed.
By the time you get to the second album, Burning Earth, the original drummer and bass player have been replaced by Stian Kristofferson and Petros Christo respectively. Did they impact on the sound of the band at all?
Well the thing is by that time it was still like an mp3 kind of band. I just found those guys and was basically sending them my demos and they would record their parts in their hometowns or countries. I mean Petros was from my hometown so that was like the first real member that joined the band and he's been in the band since then. But with Stian he was a guy I met on tour and he was looking to do some extra work. His main band was Pagan's Mind and I just basically sent him my demos and he recorded everything in a couple of days and sent it back. He was a great drummer but there was no real work with the rhythm section if that's what you mean.
Burning Earth did sound different than Between Heaven and Hell.
That record's significantly heavier than the first one. I was listening to a lot of thrash and death metal at the time and I think that kind of came out in the music. Even if you look at a song like The Fire and the Fury [instrumental] it's pretty heavy.
Burning Earth was a pretty fast and heavy track.
Yeah, there's all that stuff in there like a lot of speed metal and extreme stuff but done in a melodic way so to speak.
Though you obviously had a lot to do with the first two records, Forged By Fire is the first album that you took a real hands-on approach to producing?
Yes, you're right, yeah yeah. This thing is after Burning Earth was released we got invited to play in Japan for the first time because we were doing well over there. That's when I realized I don't have a band and I really need a live band. My first attempt to put a lineup together was the same guys that recorded Forged By Fire so we did Japan and we went back home and started putting new songs together and that whole thing resulted into Forged By Fire. And that was actually the first kind of bigger step for us to get a name in Europe because that was the first album that gave us our first European tour. We went out on this European tour with this band called Hammerfall and they were pretty big in Germany at the time and we were playing like arenas and that was great. We really got out there and switched from Leviathan Records to Century Media, which was one of the biggest metal labels. A lot of exciting things were happening for the band so it was an important record for us.
Forged By Fire was also the first record to feature Chitral Somapala on vocals.
What really affected me with Chitty's voice was he reminded me a lot of Klaus Meines of the Scorpions. I don't know why thinking about it now. Thinking about those songs those are pretty heavy songs on that album as well and some pretty serious speed metal on that album. Chitty did a really good job but pretty soon we realized though we didn't really click together as musicians; it was a very short-lived collaboration you know. Everything was done through trial and error really: I put a band together to go on tour and then I did a record with that lineup. Then I realized, Hey, these are not really buddies that I grew up with. It's just guys that are very talented musicians. But it doesn't mean that you're gonna get along if you go on a tour bus for a few months together. That was pretty short-lived but I still think it was a good album. It was an important album like I said but I think the big change happened with the next album.
That big change on Allegiance is Apollo Papathanasio replacing Chitral on vocals.
Here's the funny thingI originally asked Apollo to join us on that first Japan tour cause he was my first choice. Apollo turned us down because he was in three other bands at the time so my second guy was Chitty. When Chitty left the band I said, I'll give Apollo one more chance. I'll give him one more call and see what he's up to. And this time around he was not in three bands anymore and he was looking for a new band. Sometimes things are just meant to happen.
So you think Apollo was the missing piece in Firewind?
I think so, yeah yeah. Not only is he one of the greatest singers in our style but I think he's a very gifted songwriter and me and him work really well together putting songs together.
When Apollo sings it sounds like he's American or English. You cannot hear the Greek accent at all.
"You do your first album and spend your whole life really writing it and kind of perfecting it or something but it really is only the start. But there was something special about that first album indeed."
He does, yeah, he does have that quality of singers like Dio and David Coverdale or Chris Cornell. You hear that kind of metal in his voice. You know what I mean?
Absolutely. Mark Cross also joined the band on drums and replaced Stian. Was it frustrating having this swinging door of players coming and going?
I was also playing in three or four other bands and at the time and that was the summer I did the tour with Arch Enemy. I decided, I had the chance to join Arch Enemy now fulltime or I can just go back home and put a really good band together and give it one last shot. Because I was tired of having revolving singers and musicians in the band. So it was like, I was thinking I'm gonna go back and gonna put together the greatest record ever. I'm gonna put it together and I'm gonna get a bunch of guys that I really like and I think are really cool for this band. If something happens, cool, and if it doesn't then I'll probably quit this and see what I'm gonna do next.
So you were close to giving up with Firewind?
Seriously that's what I was thinking. Maybe move onto another band. It was one of those things where there was magic happening in the studio when we were recording and mixing it. It was happening. Then I went to Century Media and convinced the label that, This is the album and this is what's happening. And they were like, Well yeah but you guys need to start touring and you need to keep a band together now. I was like, Well that's it. We'll put out the record and see what the reaction is. And unless we start getting the right tours then I'm not really gonna bother.
Finding the right tours was important?
We put out the record and got a really great response in Europe and everywhere and then we started getting offers for big festivals. Then we got an offer to tour with DragonForce and they were really happening at the time. It was one of those things where it was a make it or break it record. That was really the record that put us on the worldwide map so to speak. It didn't break the band big but definitely we started making a name out there and started getting heard more. That was the record that also gave us our first North American tour. So we did our first world tour with that record.
This same lineup appeared on Premonition, the next album. You produced this with Fredrik Nortstrom?
Yeah, it was me and Fredrik basically engineering and mixing and he would throw out ideas. But it was mainly me and the guys.
Having the same lineup over the course of two albums must have felt good?
It was a relief for sure. Premonition continued with Allegiance and our sound obviously changed with more keyboards in there. You know what? We started doing a little bit of a different style by that time because we were still playing heavy but we were also doing all these hard rock songs. A lot of people were really surprised in the beginning. They were like, You're a power metal band. You can't really do hard rock songs and you can't do mid-tempo stuff. You can't do more blues stuff. And we're like, Why not? It was kind of like a risk we took but that kind of a sound gave us our identity and we continued that with the Premonition.
Mercenary Man was a heavy rock song with great guitar harmonies.
That's a heavy Thin Lizzy kind of vibe song. There's a real Thin Lizzy vibe on that song and almost like a Celtic melody. And on that record there's also really heavy stuff like Into the Fire. There's all kinds of stuff and actually Premonition was our most successful album of all so far.
Was it really?
Yeah yeah. We did also a heavy touring schedule followed after that.
You also did that heavy cover of Michael Sembello's Manicac. How did that happen?
Well that was kinda like a late night thing in the studio. We were all there and then Bob said, What about this song? And I went like, Well, cool. Without even thinking I just went into the kitchen in the studio and went in the control room and set a click and set up a new recording session and started jamming the guitars on top. Then Mark went in and started doing the drums and we kinda put it together right on the spot like late night. And it came out just like that.
Do you listen to a lot of non-metal music?
Yeah, I do listen to non-metal stuff of course. It doesn't matter. There's good music and bad music and that's how I see it. If I think a song is good, it's good and it doesn't matter. I can like a Michael Jackson or Lady Gaga or Madonna song or whatever. If it's good music or a good composition, I give credit where credit's due and I can enjoy that.
Then Days of Defiance comes out in 2009.
Sorry about that.
Mmm. You know? We actually did record everything in 2009 but we kind of like put everything on ice with that record because I had just joined Ozzy's band.
So Days of Defiance had been completed when you left to play with Ozzy?
Let me think where were we with that? Yeah, the writing was completed.
When did you start working on Ozzy's Scream album?
I think we recorded Days of Defiance in the fall of 2009 and that's when I started working also on Scream with Ozzy. So we were not sure what we were gonna do about it. I really wasn't so much hands on with that record as I would have liked to be because there was a lot of things in my mind. I didn't really know what was going on and where I would be needed with Ozzy and all that stuff.
Days of Defiance did come out in 2010?
So yeah, we put out the record actually in 2010 like a year later. We really sat on it for quite a few months.
When you received that first call from Ozzy what were you feeling?
I was like, I have nothing to lose. I'll go down there and audition and what's the worst that can happen? I don't get the job and I got to jam with the man privately. It'll be an amazing story of a lifetime to tell to my friends. You know? And guess what? I got the job.
You got the gig.
I got the gig and everything changed. I didn't know what I was in for. It's not like I was totally unknown or something. I already had a good idea of the music business and what was happening and already had a career in Europe and Japan for a few years. But this was like 100 levels up you know?
You had obviously been an Ozzy fan and knew all of his music.
Of course. A big fan of Ozzy and a big fan of Sabbath.
What was that like stepping into the shoes of Zakk Wylde? Were you nervous? Excited?
I had all these thoughtslet's say I had good days and bad days with things like that. There was days where I was like, What the fuck are you doing? You're gonna get killed out there. People are gonna fuckin' hate you and it could be over very soon. And then there was days where I was like, Hey, fuck this. You've got nothin' to lose. Even if you do fuck it up and you are the worst one of allwhich you will be probably as history will showI said to myself, At least I will be one of the dudes that got to do this. At least I'll go down in history somehow [laughs.] At least everybody will know my name.' It's better to do that than just struggle forever and not see any fucking light out there.
So you thought that even if you failed to get the gig with Ozzy, that would bring some notoriety to you.
I'm like, I'll just give em my best shot. I'll hit em as hard as I can. And generally I'm not the kind of guy who is a quitter or anything so I'll try for my best. It is intimidating getting into that guitar spot with the guys that were there before you. And you know that people are used to seeing for example Zakk with Ozzy for 20 years. I knew they were not gonna accept it easily and all that stuff. With all that said it's been really good actually. All of Ozzy's fans really gave me a chance, man. Not only Ozzy but Zakk as wellhe really supported me.
Do you remember the actual audition with Ozzy?
Oh yeah, of course. I remember it like yesterday, man. We played six songs: Bark At the Moon, I Don't Know, and Suicide Solution. We did Crazy Train, Paranoid and I Don't Wanna Change the World.
Were you able to get beyond your nerves and play really well?
Yeah, I think I did pretty well because I knew it sounded right right when we started playing the first notes of Bark At the Moon. I knew that. Cause I remembered when I started doing the solo, Ozzy turned around and looked at me like surprised. I remember that and I was like too shy to look. I just caught him with the very tip of my eye. I was like, Oh fuck, he's looking. But I knew what I was doing. I knew the songs very well and I knew that I had owned it playing-wise. So I'm like, Fuck it, this is your chance. Do it. And I remember when we did all those songs, he just turned around and said, You're fuckin' great, man. It was a tense day you know.
Hard to imagine. Was it a completely different dynamic than playing with Firewind or did you feel like you'd been there before?
It was a little bit of both like you said. First of all because it felt similar in the sense that I come from that school of guitar and heavy metal. So it's not like I was in a strange place that I didn't know. You know what I mean? I grew up with these songs and I knew what that gig has to sound like and has to be all about. At the same time I was like, Whoa. What the fuck am I doing here? I'm just the guy that plays with his own little band. Why me? So it was a little bit like that.
It was a little bit of a battle between the head and the heart?
I understood how it should be and I knew I could do it and I knew I could pull it off. And then I was thinking like, Wow, why me? I'm just the guy that played with Firewind, a little band from Greece [laughs.] I'm very confident what I do in my own zone with Firewind and then all of a sudden I'm getting called up to do this. And I have to fucking be a fucking giant onstage now.
Did you have to make any radical changes to your playing or your sound when you joined Ozzy?
There was no radical changes. It was just getting everything better and dialed in. Because when I was with Firewind before, I was taking care of everything in the band and still do. I'm very hands on with everything. But there was very little time to spend trying to try out new and different pickups; try out this amp or that amp; or that pedal. There was no time really to do all that when you're taking care of everything. There's no management and there's nobody and there's no big team behind you. I'm like a totally D.I.Y. guy and in my generation really you gotta do it yourself otherwise you're gone. And when I joined Ozzy then obviously all the manufacturing companies started calling up.
That must have been a huge change to have the companies coming after you.
Obviously I had a very good relationship with ESP guitars and I already had my guitars and I had my signature guitars and I knew what I wanted. That thing was done but then I had the chance to work with Seymour Duncan more closely cause I played their pickups but I didn't know the guys. They sent me a bunch of pickups to try out and eventually we developed my own pickup. Then while I was in the studio with Ozzy, I started trying out different amps and that's how I met the guys from Blackstar. They sent me an amp down to the studio and we did the record and I took it on the road. So I actually had the time to connect with those people, work with them and really kind of like have the time to choose what I like and what is it I want to play. This is my sound and this is my stylewhat is the gear that really fits more for me?
When you listen to your guitar sound on Scream how does it hit you?
I'm very proud and I think it sounds massive. I listened to it the other day, which was a couple years later and I'm like, Wow, it sounds fuckin' massive. It sounds killer. No, I'm very happy with it. It sounds very heavy and you can hear the heavy and the aggression but at the same time you can hear the smooth side of my playing as well. And I like that because I like the heavy and aggressive stuff for example that Zakk does and I definitely have been influenced by that. But I also like how fluid a guy like Yngwie Malmsteen is in his playing and I think that's also part of my playing as well. Being fluid and having a bit of that smooth thing when you're playing those fast runs or that legato stuff. All this stuff came out on that record.
What were the actual sessions like for Scream? Did you feel relaxed? Tense?
It was very relaxed. It was actually done in Ozzy's home studio. He has an amazing fucking studio. You know the guy and his mansionhe has a fucking million-dollar studio. I was working there with Kevin Churko and I was there for weeks. They were like, Just take your time, man, and don't worry about it. We're in no rush. Just get in there and do your thing. Replay the guitars from the start and these are the songs. Put in your style and your sound and change whatever you like. They were really cool about it both Ozzy and Sharon. They were like, We'll check it out all together later and we'll sit down and go through it and do your thing, man.
Your solo on Let Me Hear You Scream was insane.
Oh, thank you. I'm proud of that song actually. That was actually the last solo I recorded for the record because I had already done it. I had finished with the record, I had came back to Greece and then I got a final call. It was like I had already recorded everything and spent five weeks on doing the whole thing and then I go back and I'm proud of it and waiting for the final mix and the master. And then Sharonshe has such good ears as wellsaid, I need you to come back to L.A. to just do this one solo.
That must have been a bit upsetting.
I thought I had it down and she was like, I need you to play it and I know you can do better on that song. And I'm like, What the fuck are you talking about? And then she got me thinking like, Wow, this is actually much harder than I thought. I really gotta fuckin' step it up now. I really gotta play the fuckin' solo of my life. And I said to her, What do you mean? She said, Well we're gonna debut that song. This is gonna be the first song that people are gonna get to hear you. And she was right cause this was the song that a lot of people first got to hear me and find out who I was. She was right and there needed to be something identifiable about myself on that song. I went back and I did that solo and I worked hard on it for like days and days and days. I flew back to L.A. and rerecorded it and then she was like, That's it [laughs.]
Your solo on Let Me Hear You Scream was truly memorable.
"If I think a song is good, it's good and it doesn't matter. I can like a Michael Jackson or Lady Gaga or Madonna song or whatever."
That's when you know you got a really good fuckin' manager. She's the best.
Playing with Ozzy has certainly brought more attention to Firewind.
Oh yeah, definitely. Obviously being in Ozzy's band for three years and doing a world tour like this and an album like this, a lot more people know who I am. A lot of people have checked out like, Oh, this is the guy and that's his band. Let's check out what he's doing. We've definitely got a lot more people's attention so a lot more people are listening now.
You're talking about the new Few Against Many album.
What I also wanted to get across with this record was the guitar playing. I wanted to make a cool guitar record and kinda like take down a lot of the keyboards and bring out other elements that were there before that just were not so noticeable. And that was the heaviness and the groove and I think that really comes out on the new record.
You brought in Jason Suecof [DevilDriver; Trivium] to mix the album. What did you want from him?
I just wanted his sound, his style and his signature sounds on this. I thought, How would it be if an American mixed a European band like Firewind? Cause I knew there was more guitar and more groove and more heavy parts this time and even parts that were a bit more modern. Even though we're playing like a classic heavy metal style there was a bit more of a modern touch. I'm like, We need something more fresh. We mix all our records in Sweden and they sound killer but we needed something different this time. After speaking to Eyal Levi and Jason in the studio I was convinced they were the guys that could give us that.
You also have new drummer John Nunez playing with Firewind on record for the first time.
Yeah, Joe Nunez. He was playing with Nightrage who are like our brothers and my ex-band as well. The whole thing with Joe started when he was helping us out on last year's tour because we didn't have a drummer. And Marios said, You can borrow Joe. He'll help you out and he's a big fan of the band. Joe's like 23-years old, he's a young guy and he's an amazing player. It really clicked on the road and it just felt natural to ask the guy come do the record with us.
Wall of Sound opens Few Against Many with a pretty fast riff and guitar harmonies and an insane solo. Did you choose this song to introduce Firewind circa 2012?
Well, I think it really sums up a lot of the elements on the new album for sure. Even though there's slower stuff on there and not everything is as fast as this one or uptempo. But I thought this song had the groove, it had the riffs, it had the lead and it had the catchiness as well. And of course all the classic Firewind elements on there so it was a good mix of all those things to open up an album. Originally I thought that Losing My Mind would be the opening track but then I thought about it again and I'm like, Probably Wall of Sound' would be a better opener.
Wall of Sound was the first song written for Few Against Many?
Yes, that's the one I first wrote. I actually wrote that on acoustic guitar somewhere in some hotel with Ozzy. So I had that riff on acoustic and I had all these riffs and I actually started riffing away on the acoustic. I'm like, Wow, this would sound like this and it would be like a Metallica kind of riff. Then I put it together on a demo so I wouldn't forget it because it turned out to be like a six-minute epic song that just kept building up. It was one of those songs where I knew there was something new about it for Firewind. It really inspired me to move into this heavier direction. Like this could be actually a new kind of sound for Firewind and this could give a new sound for the band. And bring in like I said that new heavy element and more groove-y parts.
It really did set the style for the rest of the album.
Then I sent it to Apollo and I wanted to see what he would come up with and I was really pleased when he sent me the demo back with his vocals. Because he did that almost grungy kind of chorus, which was a little bit like an Alice in Chains kind of vibe. And I'm like, Wow, the guy really gets it so that's how the first song shaped up.
You trade solos in there with keyboardist Bob Katsonis?
Yes with Bob, yeah yeah. There's only two keyboard solo on the album and that's one of them in there. Originally there was no keyboards meant to be there because I had all this riffing middle section and I didn't know what to do with it. I wasn't sure if there should be any vocals or just be leads or maybe just riffs. I sent it to Bob and Bob sent it back to me and he just put that keyboard lead there as he would imagine it. I built my solo actually around his.
Had you ever listened to Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer do that back-and-forth guitar and keyboard soloing?
No, I haven't.
Back in the day Beck would make his guitar sound like a synthesizer and Jan would make his synths sound like guitars.
Oh wow, I should check that out. I mean I've heard of course Guitar Shop but I have not heard him do that stuff. Me and Bob our influences were more like from Rising Force with Yngwie and Jens Johansson doing that kind of thing. Our keyboard duels are more like based on that.
Few Against Many challenged you as a writer?
When I wrote it I wrote it pretty quickly. I had all those riffs and it just hit me. It was funny because I was on vacation on a summer tour break from Ozzy. I actually took my wife out to some island in Greece and we just went out there. And of course like a fucking idiot I just took my guitar with me [laughs.] So my wife was not really very happy with that.
Honey, leave the guitar at home.
Exactly. I was like, You go down to the beach, honey. I'll just stay here and write this fucking riff. Right? And here I amit's 100 degrees out here, right? I start up this song and the session file was called Summer Song because it was in the middle of July or something and it was like, This song is nothing like a summer song.
Real thrash mayhem or something with all these riffs and everything and double bass and all this stuff. And like I said I had all these riffs and I don't know how to put it together. I thought about this song for months actually. I didn't know where the song would lead because I had this middle part where it was breaking down and changing tempo and almost getting like a mellow part and then getting back to the heavy part again and building it up. So I was confused about it and then once some of the vocals came in from Apollo, I started rearranging it. So it took a little while to do the arrangement on that. But I think it came out as one of the really standout tracks on the album.
Your solo on the outro was really dynamic because it didn't really resolve until the final chorus comes in.
It's taken over by a heavy riff. It builds up and then this really heavy riff takes it away and then it goes back into the last chorus. It's almost like that song has no solo. You know what I mean? There's the first little short lead break after the first chorus, which is like a really frenetic kind of fast pentatonic lead, which is only like for four bars. And then there's like the ballad part in the song, which is like a melodya melodic solo; a theme. It's not really like a solo soloyou know what I mean? It's more like a theme.
That's what made that part so special is that you didn't go for an over-the-top solo at breakneck speed.
Yeah, and it's good because you don't expect that especially in this kind of track. You would expect full-blown shredding because it's such a fast track and all that stuff. And then you hear a solo inspired by Gary Moore and Michael Schenker and those types of guys.
Edge Of a Dream was another unexpected type of Firewind song: a ballad with piano and strings.
Here's a little trivia for youon that song there are two lead breaks and the first one is actually the Few Against Many melody revisited. Yeah, actually I'm starting out that melody again.
That inside kind of musical idea is cool.
That's Firewind trying to be progressive there [much laughter.] I don't know who we're trying to be but I thought it would be cool to revisit that melody because it was such a cool melody and it was only once there. I'm like, I should put it into another song just to see if anybody will notice.
How did that collaboration happen with you and Apocalyptica doing the string parts on Edge Of a Dream?
Yeah, we were big fans of those guys and we really love their work. I've been really into their last record, Seventh Symphony, and I've been listening to a lot of that. I was like, It would be great to collaborate with them. Anyway I had the demo from the guys and I was like, Hmm, a piano song on a Firewind record. That's interesting. This record is gonna probably surprise a lot of people so why not just go for it and do it? Because it was a great song; no drums in it and just piano. And then I said to the guys, How about we just add some cellos?
They liked the idea of adding strings?
They were like, Cool idea. I said, It would be amazing if we had Apocalyptica on that and everybody started laughing. They were like, You're a fuckin' idiot. They would never do it. I'm like, Why not? Just ask the guys. We got nothin' to lose. The worst thing that could happen is they say no. And we'd probably hire some cello players to do it, yeah? So we just sent the demo to their management and we didn't really expect anything. We didn't hear back from them for a few days and then a week later they say, Great track, guys. We'd love to play on it. That's how it happened.
What really set Edge Of a Dream apart was that you didn't bring in the drums and bass and turn it into a big rock song.
"All of Ozzy's fans really gave me a chance, man. Not only Ozzy but Zakk as wellhe really supported me."
We thought about that as well. Then we were like, That's too fuckin' predictablethe band comes in. We were like, Fuck it. Let's not even go there. Let's just keep it like that.
No Heroes, No Sinners was a heavier ballad with some very hip chord changes. It sounds like you're jumping in and out of keys.
Everything is a different keyyou noticed correctly actually. It's something different because I thought, This could be a disaster for the vocals or every part could be surprising. I'm glad it actually worked out in the end cause we tried different versions on the vocals and we couldn't really write anything.
How did you find a vocal melody to float over those chords?
You know how the vocals came about? Apollo actually had another song and he had those lyrics and melody for another song. He was like, It's not that great but I'll sing that song over your song and that's when it clicked and happened together.
What are the chords in the song?
It's funny. Like the verse is C# I think and then the pre-chorus is D and moves a half-step and then the chorus goes up to E. So it's like three different keys.
You talked about Another Dimension as being the most extreme song you'd ever written?
I think so, yeah. It crosses over to different styles like thrash metal or even death metal musically speaking.
Talking about different styles, you're playing the Download Festival with bands like Soundgarden and Machine Head. When you hear these other styles does anything rub off on you?
It's really hard when you go to a festival to do your thing. You gotta get in three hours earlier at least and do your warm-up and everything. Then I'll need to stick around or get there earlier to do press and stuff. So there's no real time to see anybody. It's usually a mess. By the time you say hello to everybody and you talk to people and do your thing and play the show and make sure everything's right, by the time that happens eight hours are gone by. You're fuckin' tired and you want to go back to the hotel and that's another two-hour drive and then there's your day. But this time I definitely have promised myself no matter what I'll stick around and watch Black Sabbath. They're playing the same day with us so I'm not gonna miss that.
Are you playing with Sabbath?
I'm doing the whole Ozzy and Friends Tour. I was actually out in L.A. two weeks ago and we were doing rehearsals for that and it was amazing. Slash came down and Geezer Butler and Zakk came down and we all jammed and it was fantastic.
So you and Slash and Zakk will come up and play specific songs with Ozzy?
Yeah, it's basically the Ozzy Osbourne band with the Scream lineup. We go out there and do a bunch of stuff from the Jake and Randy era and like all that stuff. Then Slash comes out and Geezer Butler and we all do a Sabbath medley and play some Sabbath stuff. And then me and Slash go away and Zakk comes out and he does some of his stuff from his era with Ozzy. Then we all join back again at the end and jam on Paranoid. So it's gonna be cool.
Do you have any sense of how metal has changed in the last 10 years when Firewind came out with their first album?
Back then the thing was nu metal, right? You'd have bands like Slipknot or Coal Chamber or that kind of scene. Nowadays that's considered dated [laughs.] Now it's what? Emo metalcore. It's all these fuckin' branches of metal, man. To be honest with you I'm not so comfortable with that.
It's not that I don't think these are not cool bands; there are definitely a lot of cool bands within all these sub-genres. But this whole fucking tagging thing. Why all of a sudden for example does Firewind have to be considered a power metal band? Or have to be considered this and it's only for these kinds of people? And this band has to be a metalcore band and can only be in these kinds of magazines or it's for these kinds of people because they have a certain haircut. Fuck man, heavy metal is not supposed to be about that. It's a lifestyle and a way of life and we should not judge bands or music by whatever their haircut is or if they wear eyeliner or not. If you like it you should like it; if you think it's cool, it's cool.
Back in the day you simply didn't have those kinds of labels.
That's what Ozzy was telling me. Back then when they were doing festivals you would see Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Black Sabbath. You would see the heavier stuff and the more classic rock stuff or whatever it is. Or the more funky bands. You would see CCR and Black Sabbath on the same bill.
The Internet has changed all of that because you can go online and see all these bands on YouTube. Concerts don't seem to be as special anymore.
Yeah, I think definitely the Internet and definitely the way labels or the media have tried to sell their products. Oh, this is for fans of this and this. If you're a fan of Dream Theater and this and this you will like Firewind. If you're not forget about it. You have to be into satanic black metal. Fuck that. I like black metal. What does that mean? That I cannot play with Firewind or play this kind of music? It doesn't mean anything.
Everything else is good with you?
It's all good, man. It's just crazy. I'm leaving on Monday to fly out to Finland to do the Ozzy and Friends Tour for six weeks. And right now I'm in the middle of rehearsals with Firewind so I'm doing like everything at the same time. It's been crazy right now, man [laughs.] And the album's coming out next week [Few Against Many was released on May 22nd in the U.S.] so everything is happening at the same time. But it's gonna be good.
Interview by Steven Rosen