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Army Of The Immortals


Архив интервью | Русская версия

The life of Greek guitarist Gus G. has always been full of events, and that’s why it’s not the first interview that our webzine and me personally have done with him. This year, however, has seen an even bigger of events related to Gus than usually. First of all, his band Firewind returned after a four-year hiatus with a new concept album, “Immortals”, and a new singer, Henning Basse, whom you should recall from Metaium and Lingua Mortis Orchestra. Then, and this was the main reason for our conversation, Firewind will do their first ever shows in Russia very soon (May 5 in St. Petersburg, May 6 in Moscow). Moreover, right in the course of this conversation I got to know that Gus will no longer be playing with Ozzy Osbourne, whose guitar player he had been for a total of seven years. Naturally, the interview turned out pretty intense, with a lot of interesting information about the life and work of this guitar phenomenon…

This interview got postponed for a couple of days because you were suddenly invited to jam with Graham Bonnet…

Yeah, I’m sorry I had to reschedule. Graham was in town, and I got to meet him because the promoter is a friend of mine. We sat down having a coffee, and Graham said, “Hey man, why don’t you come down tomorrow and play with us a tune or something?” When Graham Bonnet asks you to jam, you don’t say no to that! (laughs)

Yeah, of course. But how was it like? Did you enjoy it? Do you intend to continue your cooperation in any form?

It was really cool! I’m a fan of his, I love the Alcatrazz album with Yngie, MSG’s “Assault Attack” is one of my all-time favorite albums… We actually got to jam the title track, “Assault Attack”, it was really cool. It would be nice to do something with Graham in the future, you know. I definitely have made a new friend now, and it would be nice if we get together to do something.

OK, let’s now discuss what your’re doing with your main band. I saw Firewind in 2013 at the Sweden Rock Festival with Kelly Sundown Carpenter on the microphone, but he never became a full time singer of the band. What was the reason? Why did you decide to start a solo band instead of keeping Kelly in Firewind?

Well, Kelly quit actually. We didn’t expect him to quit, we did a whole world tour with him in 2013, and actually Sweden Rock was part of the festival run that we were doing. After that we did Australia, and we had a great time there. I was really excited about that, and when we came back, I was already starting to write some material. I sent it to him, and then he just wrote me an email one day, saying “Listen man, I don’t wanna be the guy who replaces other guys, I don’t see myself like that…” He just wanted to do his own thing. We had to respect that decision. He was just not the right fit for us.

At that point I was also a bit tired about changing singers in Firewind. I was already writing a lot of material for a possible solo album, and I was working with Mats Leven on some other stuff, so I thought, “This is the right time, this band needs a break”. We all felt in the band that we needed a break, because at that point we had reached the dead end and didn’t know what to do anymore. We had lost our singer earlier that year, and the touring singer didn’t work out. I just thought that I needed a break to clear my mind from Firewind.

In the end it was a really good decision for us, because I got to do solo albums, and in a way, it gave me a new path, almost like a new career. I got to capitalize on the name that I’d built all these years, and also it made me clear my mind about how Firewind should continue for the future. I think things are a lot healthier today for us.

What makes Henning Basse the perfect choice for Firewind? How did your cooperation begin?

Actually Henning toured with us 10 years ago, I don’t know if you know about that. When we did the album “Allegiance” (2006), he was our touring singer for most part of that tour. Apollo (Papathanasio) would always quit between tours, he had to go back, he had a dayjob, and we never knew what to do with him. Henning – we called him “the fireman”, he would always come out and put out the fire. (everybody laughs) So we knew him, he was a good friend, he’s a great frontman, and our fans loved him – I remembered that from the times he toured with us. In 2015, I called him up again, because I needed a “fireman” for my solo tour. (everybody laughs) He helped me out for a couple of gigs, it was good to see an old friend again, and the next thing you know is we’re touring together, I hired him to do my solo tours in Europe, we did a couple of more tours, and then we started talking about it. He was still looking for a band, we were still looking for a singer, and I think it was just perfect timing for both of us. It was perfect time for Firewind to start back up again, and it was a great opportunity for Henning, because he had been looking to join a steady band for many years. He loved the band, and, like I said, he’s a really good friend.

The new Firewind album, “Immortals”, is recorded with an outside producer for the first time in many years. What made you invite Dennis Ward (bass player of Unisonic and Pink Cream 69, also a famous producer and mixer), and not do it all by yourself, as before?

I needed a co-writer first of all, because I always co-write in Firewind. Even on my solo albums I co-write with a lot of different people. I the past I used to co-write a lot with Apollo. I’m good at doing the music and arrangements, but I’m not so good with lyrics, so I needed someone to help me with lyrics, and Henning is not a guy who writes lyrics. I had some old demos from 2009 for a project with Dennis Ward that I had started working on, but this project never happened actually. I re-visited those ideas, and I realized that those songs are really good, they would fit really good for a Firewind album along with the other ideas that I had. Anyway, I got in touch with Dennis, and I asked him to help me with lyrics and vocal lines. Dennis is also a great singer; he’s a great bass player and songwriter, but he sings really good as well. Basically it was just me and him, trading ideas back and forth. And when it came to lyrical messages, he asked me what I wanted to do about it, and I said that it would be really cool if we did a concept album, because it’s something we’d never done before. That’s how the whole idea about “Immortals” started.

Touring and recording with Firewind and your solo band – how much are they different? I mean, you are the main songwriter and the founder of Firewind, so how much of a departure was it for you to go solo?

It was cool, because I got to write with different people and collaborate with different singers. I got to explore more of my hard rock side and make some more radio rock songs, just modernize my sound a bit, kind of like redefine my sound, or show people my other side, like, “Hey, I can do this kind of stuff as well, not just power metal stuff”. It was a really nice experience for me. I didn’t expect that there would be offers for me to go out there and tour, but slowly I started getting some offers, and I started going out. It’s a different kind of freedom, because I don’t have a steady band for my solo stuff, I play with different friends and different people. In a way it’s a little bit more liberating, because I don’t have to rely on other people so much. People that come to my solo shows, they come there to see the guitar playing, they know that I’m gonna provide a great band for them. It’s been a cool experience, something different, actually.

As you mentioned, “Immortals” is the first concept album in the history of Firewind. And its topic surprised me a bit because you did an interview for our webzine in 2010, and you said that you’re not much into history. What made you dedicate the whole record to Ancient Greece?

I have to be honest, I’m not really the most educated person about history, but most of us in the band are Greek, so this is our heritage, this is the stuff that we grew up hearing about in school and all that. Even though, as I said, I’m not the most educated person, I know about these things. In my country, we have such an amazing, long history, and like I said, it’s one of those things we haven’t done before with the band. That’s why I needed an outside help from a guy like Dennis Ward. I said to him, “Listen, it’s a good idea to do this about our Greek history, but I don’t know how to make a concept album. (laughs) I need you to come, put down these facts, put the pen to paper, and then present it to me somehow”. I was not responsible for the lyrical part of it, but I think it really fits with the material that I had this time. My material was a bit more epic, and a bit faster, and a bit grander, if I should say it, it was just perfect timing. Sometimes you need perfect timing to do a project like this, because it’s pretty demanding, for me at least, because I didn’t know how to make a concept record.

I wonder if you have heard the two Greek-themed albums by the U.S. band Virgin Steele – they are called “House Of Atreus Act 1 and 2”. If yes, what do you think about it?

Of course, I know Virgin Steele! I don’t know their music that well, but I know that they talked about Greek history. Bands like Manowar have done it in the past, bands like Sabaton always talk about history, and they have had some songs about Greece, too. We thought that all these bands from other countries talk about our history, and it’s respected everywhere we go around the world, so I said it would be really unique if there was an album like this, but coming from a Greek band.

What do you think about the present-day situation in Greece? Are you interested in politics?

Actually, I’m not interested in politics. (laughs) If you turn on the television, it’s just one sad situation, and you cannot look too much into that. Of course, I try to keep up a little bit, but I just prefer to live my life in my own little world, in my own bubble, just making music, trying to think positive and taking every day as it comes. The older people like our parents watch the news too much, and I told them, “Don’t watch the news too much! They like to terrorize people.” And I don’t like to pay too much attention to that.

I spoke with you about 10 years ago about the situation on the Greek metal scene, and you said that it took you a very long time to get a fully Greek line-up of Firewind, because Greek musicians were not hard working and motivated enough. Has the situation changed since then?

Yeah! I think the Greek metal scene has grown a lot since then. Nowadays it’s not so much a taboo to be a band from Greece and play heavy metal and tour Europe. There’s a lot of bands that are doing it. Maybe guys like me and bands like us have inspired a younger generation to go out there and do this and realize that if you wanna do something in music, it has to be a full-on dedication, a 100 percent commitment, and not just something that you do on the side. I think a lot of musicians realize that now here, and they see that it IS possible to make it happen. I think we have some really good bands coming out of Greece in the last few years.

The previous Firewind album, “Few Against Many” (2012), featured a song that you recorded together with Apocalyptica (“Edge Of A Dream”). How did you come up with this idea? In general, what do you think about the idea of mixing classical music and classical instruments with heavy metal?

First of all, I love classical music! I’m a big fan of guitar players that have done such attempts, you know, Ritchie Blackmore and Yngie Malmsteen. I love the neoclassical style and all that, and I’m a big fan of Apocalyptica, too. I love what those guys are doing, it’s very unique. Regarding that song, Bob (Katsionis), our keyboard player, obviously wrote that on the piano. He showed me the demo, and I was listening to it, and I said to the guy, “Hey man, it would be nice if we had some cellos over this. You know it would be even better if we go really big on this, and we get Apocalyptica to play it”. Everybody was laughing at me, they were like, “Yes, dream on!” I was like, “Hey man, it doesn’t hurt to ask, maybe it happens”. So we had our management reach out to their manager, we sent them the track, we told them about it, and they liked it, and they played on it. As simple as that, actually. (laughs)

Speaking about collaborations – I was looking on the Internet whether you did any guest appearances in the past three or four years and did not find any. Why is that? I’m sure you get a lot of invitations to do a guest solo or anything like that.

The last thing I did was for Doro’s record (“Raise Your Fist”), and it was five years ago or something. It’s funny that you mention this, because this year everybody has been emailing me and calling me about this guest stuff. I’ve already done quite a few this year - since I started working with Dennis Ward, I played as a guest on his Place Vendome album, and I did one for Mat Sinner for his new album, and I have just done a few solos for Jorn Lande’s new album. W actually co-wrote a song, I gave him one of my songs for this upcoming album (“Life On Death Road”), that’s coming out in June. I also played some stuff for Angel Vivaldi, a great guitar player from America that we toured together last year. Actually I think I’ve done too many guests solos for this year. (laughs)

I guess there is a surge this particular year, because there was nothing like that from you last year or the year before.

It comes and goes, it depends. I have a lot of friends in this business, and they call me up now and then every few years and ask me to do stuff. If I have time, I do it. Maybe before I didn’t have so much time. If I’m too much on the road, if I have a busy year, I have to turn down some stuff. Of course, I like to help out my friends and jam with everybody, but then you cannot do it for everybody.

Last year it was reported that you started a new band called Allegiance of Rock with Mats Leven of Candlemass and Jon Leven of Europe. Can you say a few words about it?

It’s actually a fun thing that we do only in Sweden so far. Me and the promoter of the Stockholm Rocks festival - in Stockholm obviously – came up with this idea to get together with some musicians there in Sweden and play material from the bands that we’re connected with – some Ozzy stuff, some Europe stuff, some Yngwie Malmsteen stuff since Mats and Anders Johansson (drums) were there. Now we have Ronnie Romero from Rainbow, and we’re gonna be playing some Rainbow stuff. So far it’s like a fun little project that we do in Sweden, we get together once or twice a year in Stockholm and we do some gigs there. It’s nothing we have taken too seriously to bring internationally, because we’re all so busy with our bands. We’re actually playing on a cruise next month, it’s called Silja Rock Cruise, it goes from Stockholm to Helsinki and back, and we’re gonna play a gig there together with Saxon. I think we have just got some offers to do some gigs in the fall in Sweden and Norway. It’s one of these thongs that are just fun, we just get together for a weekend or two weekends every year, we have some beer, we play some covers… Who knows, maybe some time when we have some time off we will be able to make some music together, that will be kind of cool.

I guess it’s a question you get asked by every interviewer, but that’s something that most of our readers would want to know. Have you had any contact with Ozzy or his management after the end of Black Sabbath? Are there any plans or ideas or discussions about you going forward with Ozzy?

Oh, you haven’t read the news, right? The news went out an hour ago. It’s been announced that I’m no longer in Ozzy’s band.

Oops, that’s really big news! Can you comment somehow on it?

Well, Ozzy’s doing a reunion with Zakk Wylde for some festivals in America this summer, and that’s great, I think. Ozzy always gives the fans what they want, and I think the fans would love to see Ozzy and Zakk back together, it’s his classic guitar player. That’s what’s happening for now. I’m also very busy with Firewind and my solo stuff. It’s been great for me, I had a great run with him, I was in his band for more than seven years, it was fantastic, I wish him all luck.

You played with Ozzy in Moscow only once in 2010. Did you manage to see any of the city? How did you like it?

Actually when we were there, I had my 30th birthday, it was on the 12th of September, the day we played in Moscow. I remember we had a nice dinner at the hotel - we were staying in a nice hotel right behind the Red Square. I went outside a little bit there, and became a tourist, because I wanted to see the Red Square and stuff. Other than that, we didn’t do so much sightseeing, it was very quick. I came back in 2013, ‘cause I did a clinic in Moscow, there was this NAMM convention, and I hang out for a couple of days with the Russian distributor of the amps that I was playing there, he’s a good friend of mine. We went to some nice restaurants and nice bars, it was cool. Moscow is a beautiful place, I love it.

Many musicians say that when they do big tours, they do not have much of a chance to the see new cities outside hotels and venues. What about you personally – do you go out a lot when you’re on the road?

You know, that’s true what they say. When you have a schedule, a routine you have to follow, you’re checking out of hotels every day, or you’re traveling with a bus, or you start sleeping late after shows all that, you don’t always have a chance to go out there and do sightseeing, unless you have a day off in some city. Me personally, I’ve gotten to see a lot of the world anyways, because I’ve been around the world many times. At this point I don’t really do any tourist stuff, I’m there to play a show and prepare for that mentally. For me the main priority is to play the shows. If I have a chance sometimes, and if I’m in a place where I’ve never been, and I have a few hours to kill, I try to go out there and do something. But usually when we travel like that, everything goes by fast, and every day you’re in a different country or a different city, you don’t really get as much time as you’d like to be a tourist.

Firewind did four big shows in Greece in 2012 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Firewind, they are recorded on the “Apotheosis Live” album. What are your plans for the 15th anniversary of the band?

We don’t have any. (everybody laughs) We haven’t thought about it. For us it’s a pretty big event that the band is back together and we’ve made an album after five years. We’d like to tour this album as much as we can. Our priority is really to try and play many festivals because we need to get the band in front of a new audience again, as we’ve been away for a few years now, and just keep on playing. I don’t think we’re gonna do anything for our 15th anniversary. When is that, by the way? This is gonna be this year, right?

Yeah, that’s why I was asking!

We don’t have any plans, because for us it’s a big celebration that we have “Immortals” out. It’s a new album, we have a new singer, and everything feels really good right now. To us this is the big celebration. Maybe in five years, for the 20th anniversary, there will be something.

Now that you’re back with Firewind, do you intend to continue doing solo albums in the future?

Yeah, of course! I plan on doing both bands and trying to balance them – maybe one year with Firewind and one year solo and then vice versa. That way each project gets enough break while the other project is out there touring, that way people don’t get bored as well. (laughs) Yeah, that’s the plan right now – to keep making solo records and, of course, make more records with Firewind.

Before we wrap up the interview, can you say a few words to your Russian audience, to the fans who are going to come and see your shows in Moscow and St. Petersburg already next week?

Yeah, man, I’m really excited! Everybody in the band is very excited about this, because, like you said, we’ve been around for 15 years, and it took us 15 years to come to Russia. It’s a really big thing for us, we’re looking forward to our debut shows there. I really hope to see as many fans as possible, and I guarantee that it’s gonna be a really great show. We’re gonna be playing a lot of new songs, and we’re gonna play a lot of our back catalogue that covers all our history so far. I’ll see you next week!

Firewind on the Internet: http://www.firewind.gr/

Special thanks to Eugene Silin (Alive Concerts) for arranging this interview

Interview by Roman Patrashov
Photos courtesy of Century Media Records
April 28, 2017
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