Gus G is the Greek guitar hero who leads Power Metal band Firewind. If that’s not enough of a mark of quality he’s played for Ozzy, replacing (briefly) Zakk Wylde. The people at AFM Records had a chat with him and published this interview on their website. You can see the original here.
Your new solo album Fearless saw the light of day in April. It’s already your third solo record, what’s new for the listeners this time?
The main difference of this record is that compared to the previous ones… Well, the first two records were more experimental. They were collaborations with different singers, with different producers and different players. Fearless is done actually as a trio set-up, so basically there’re no guests. So, it’s me and Dennis Ward who plays bass and sings and Will Hunt who plays drums… Yeah, it’s a little bit more of a band set-up instead of having different guests here and there all the time.
How does it work with touring as a real band?
Well, definitely I have Dennis is with me out there to play bass and sing. Will was a session drummer for the studio. He wants to be with us on stage but he’s so busy with Evanescence, obviously that’s his main gig, so we have a guest drummer for the tour so far and then we will see if somebody wanna join us later.
What kind of ideas do you fulfill in your solo work that you can’t express in Firewind?
You know, it’s just different stuff. Ideas that sound a bit more hard rockish or ideas that sound a little bit too heavy for Firewind or like a lot of instrumentals that I do now… And obviously in Firewind we have keyboards and on my solo record I don’t have it. It’s a bit more of a stripped-down sound.
Do you have more freedom as a guitarist with your solo work than in Firewind?
Ah… No, it’s the same! I have the same freedom in Firewind since this is also my band, you know. I started that band when I was 18, so I can do the music that I like with Firewind, just right now the band has already its certain style and certain sound and you cannot put all the ideas that you have as a musician into one band that has already a certain history. There’re sometimes some other ideas that flow out of me and I need another vehicle basically to carry on with these ideas. That’s why the solo project comes in.
Vocal duties on “Fearless” are taken by Dennis Ward, the well-known producer & bass player of legendary Pink Cream 69 & Unisonic bands. How did you come to the decision to involve Dennis as a vocalist? And actually it was a big surprise for us to see him as a singer!
Yeah, I know it’s a surprise for everybody because people know him as a producer and a bass player but nobody really knows that he can sing so well. With Dennis we wrote almost all the songs for the latest Firewind album, Immortals. And the way we usually write is: I have the ideas for the music, you know, the riffs, I program the drums, I play all the instruments and then I send it to him and then he basically does vocal lines for the tracks, suggests ideas for me, and then we go back and forth like that. So, we collaborated very nice on the Firewind album and the next logical step was to send him some of my solo ideas. We started writing and we had a lot of tracks, like 6-7 songs when I started thinking who was gonna be the singer while Dennis made all the demos. And he was singing so well already, so we realized that we gonna have a hard time finding a singer to do all this stuff that Dennis was writing and singing. And that’s why he suggested “hey man, let’s try this trio idea and I can play bass and sing”. For him it was a dream come true since he was a kid, to have a trio, and he has never had a chance because he’s always been a bass player. So, for him it was a dream-come-true but for me it was totally different because I’ve never done that before and it was a good opportunity for me to try something different, to set me apart from what I do in Firewind.
Fearless is the first record released via AFM Records label. What was the reason for switch to AFM from Century Media Records, though your band, Firewind, is still under the umbrella of Century Media?
Well, our contract with Century media actually ended with Immortals and I was looking for a new home. I mean I’ve been with Century Media since I was a “kid”, since I was 21 years old and I needed a fresh start, I needed to work with people who are gonna be new to me and I needed to hear some fresh ideas and that’s why AFM came in and you know they sounded very promising. They are a good label, they have a solid reputation. They had good ideas that I liked when we sat down and talked. I decided to give it a shot. Even though it’s a label that would fit more a band like Firewind because it’s primarily a power metal label but they also do some rock stuff as well and they wanted to help me to progress in my solo career as well. We decided to do this album and that’s how we have the new contract, that’s the story.
It was a really cool idea to make a Dire Straits cover Money For Nothing. Why Dire Straits?
(Gus started laughing) You know, it’s one of the songs that I grew up listening and I love it. I’ve always had it in my mind… Last year I was making a list of the songs that I would like to cover. I’ve heard in my head a certain version of that song, I would like to make it much heavier and play it with harsh speed and I decided to record it and to see how it sounds and it sounded cool, so we decided to give it a shot and see how it comes out.
Do you use the same guitars for your solo record as for Firewind?
Yeah, more or less. I had a couple of modern guitars for this record that I don’t use in Firewind. I obviously use my signature models but I’ve used Charvel ProMod guitar on this one for some hard rock parts and less gain. But for the heavier parts I use my main guitar that I also use in Firewind.
Let’s take a look at the beginning of your career. When did you realize that you have to be a musician?
I realized when I was 9 years old and I heard Peter Frampton’s Comes Alive, a classic 1970’s hard rock record. ‘Cos I heard him doing all the talk box guitar, making the guitar talk. That was an instant decision right there that I wanna be a musician. I think the guitar chose me, I didn’t choose it!
And who else did inspire you?
Many guitar players! You know, when I was a kid it was obviously Peter Frampton, David Gilmour. And later all the harder stuff that I saw on TV like Metallica, Slash from Guns N’ Roses but then I heard Black Sabbath and it was also a really defining moment for me how heavy they sound and I really wanted to be able to re-create it, Tony Iommi, Yngwie Malmsteen… So, a lot of guitar players, if I start naming all those people it will be all night long, haha!
As a teenager, did you have chance to see any hard rock/metal shows in Thessaloniki or Athens? In the mid-90s there were several major acts touring Greece such as Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Manowar, Blind Guardian, Gamma Ray. Any good memories from that time?
Actually, I did get to see Iron Maiden in Thessaloniki in 95, when they did The X Factor. That was with Blaze Bayley. I was like 13 years old and I was blown away. I didn’t know the difference between the singers and it was a great show. When I was 14, I visited my uncle in the States and I succeeded to see The Eagles when they had a reunion. What else? I saw Yngwie Malmsteen when I was 15 in Athens. But generally there were not a lot of concerts here back then. Iron Maiden, Scorpions… People get more spoiled later on, more and more bands started coming to Greece.
You are endorsing Jackson guitars now. During the times with Ozzy you played ESP guitars. What was the reason to change brand?
It was time for me to move on and to try something else. It was not so much because of the guitars, it was more about the people in the company, to be honest. A lot of people I used to work with in ESP were fired or left the company. I didn’t feel the same anymore. At some point Jackson approached me two years ago and they had some really interesting ideas that I really liked. And you know they have a master builder called Mike Shannon, who is the master builder for Randy Rhoads guitars and stuff. So, it was a real honour to have that guy build a guitar for me. And I really like it. And I liked the guys and ideas they had and how they saw me being a part of the company so… it was a good time for me to move on and try something else! Really!
What could you advise to young guitarists who just start their careers?
Well, I would advise to practice of course, practice their playing and practice the songwriting because you get better the more you do it. And, of course, to be patient. Because it’s a patience game, this music business.
Don’t you think that it’s important not only to have a talent but to be in the right place at the right time?
I think if you’re good enough at some point, you WILL have an opportunity without a doubt. The thing is to be patient enough and smart enough to realize that this is gonna happen at some point. And of course, talent is not enough, you need to have a certain character, to be built for this kind of thing. I think a lot of things play role in having a music career. And of course, you know, taking all the opportunities and building something out of that, seeing down the road, seeing the bigger picture instead of looking for short time.
How much is it important to be not only a good musician but also a good manager of your own career?
I mean, if you have this gift as well… because it is a gift! ok, not a gift, this is a SKILL, that’s the best to describe it… So, if somebody has such a skill, then you should develop it. I totally believe in DIY because nobody would do it better than you. But I understand that most of the musicians don’t have that skill. So they can only hope to find someone who would not rip them off, who would really help them to develop their career. I’m not lucky in fact that I’ve never found such a manager to help me but on the other hand I was lucky that I had a certain skill for the music business. I developed it since I was a kid. I’m very aware of the business part of things. So, next to being a musician, I’m also a guy who’s involved in a day-to-day management of my career, all my business stuff, and, you know, it’s a lot more work honestly. It takes away a little bit of that excitement of being maybe a lazy musician (laughing)… It’s a lot more work, I have to get up in the morning and to do a lot of email work, phone calls and to go to meetings, all that. But on the other hand I love that kind of grind, I love all that. I love the hustle like that. I love to be there when all that stuff happens and to create opportunities for myself. So it depends on what kind of person you are. People really have to realize what their strengths are, what their weaknesses… A lot of musicians don’t realize what are their strengths and what are their weaknesses. For example, I know my weakness is that I’m not good at lyrics. So, I don’t write lyrics, you know. I don’t try to be a fuckin’ poet. I’m a good guitar player, so I’m focused on playing good guitar. And for other things I ask help or hire somebody else.
Could you tell a bit about the different editions of your album? You have some very special vinyl edition for example…
Yeah, we’re meanwhile doing the vinyls, we’re doing three types of vinyls, they are limited, we are doing some limited signed digipack stuff. For that I’m also signing booklets. I think we’re doing a digipack that’s pretty cool and glossy and all that, and also has a guitar pic. All this stuff is available at the AFM Shop, one can find everything there.
What do you think about digital sales and music streaming?
I think this is the future! This is where everything has shifted. Basically, it’s not future, I mean the future is this. It’s already here! When we are talking about physical products, we are talking about a small fragment of sales that used to exist before. That’s why everybody is focused on doing very limited packages for those fans that are willing to pay. Obviously, people should really realize how people consume music in 2018 instead of being bitchy about it, but to embrace it, to realize that ‘Hey! it’s all about streams now, it’s all about the playlists, it’s all about getting added on those playlists, it’s all about people discovering you though all the streaming platforms!’ And it’s pretty amazing! And there’s a lot more transparency. You can really see what your numbers are today. While in the past when the label told you that you sold 10.000 records you hoped it was true. You didn’t know 10.000 or 100.000 maybe and they pocket the rest of the money. Nowadays you can really take control of the situation, especially if you’re a younger artist you can actually do it all on your own. You even don’t need a label. I’m from a little bit different era. I’m a little bit more old school, so I still have a traditional record deal. But for somebody who starts out now all that stuff is probably not needed.
Some people keep saying that they download stuff illegally, then if they like it, they buy it…
But they don’t need to do it anymore, because it’s free! You can listen to something on Youtube or Spotify you can stream it for free! You don’t need to download anything illegally, that’s the thing now! Anyone who downloads something on pirate sites, he’s an idiot! Because they have an opportunity to listen to something online for free! You don’t have to pay for anything today.
Do you use Spotify?
Yeah! I do use Spotify, I do use Apple music. I mean, I travel a lot, I don’t buy CDs anymore to be honest, because I travel all the time and I cannot carry all his stuff. I prefer to stream stuff. But I’m a subscriber. I pay 10 bucks per month and I listen to everything!