Firewind – I wanted to bring back the focus on the band like I did 15 years ago. I want to bring all this energy back…

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Firewind’s self-titled album was released getting good feedback from the music press in general. A few weeks back in the heart of the lockdown in Greece Yiannis Dolas talked with Gus G after he gave the album the first spins. The interview revolves around the almost break-up of the band, the change in the lineup, the style, the new songs and the future. In a time when uncertainty prevails and every prediction for what’s coming seems doomed to fail the Greek guitarist is determined to take the situation in his own hands.

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Rockpages.gr: What will be the first thing you will do once the quarantine is over?

Gus G: Um, to tell you the truth this is situation is exactly the same for me like when I come home from a tour. What do I mean by that? that when I’m not touring, when I’m not traveling I am sitting at home chilling. Okay, what has changed is that I do some outings, maybe weekly, to see my friends, or my parents. I don’t feel particularly imprisoned. In general, I like staying at home anyway …

The big bet is how our normal life will come back to what it was before the pandemic. That is, for me personally, how live shows will evolve. Because we are talking about mass gatherings. I do not know how much the world economy will suffer, because there will definitely be some impact. Will the clubs we used to play endure? Will they afford it? How long will they be closed? What the world will be like, the psychology of the people so that they can go back indoors and watch a live show. Eventually, things will return to normal, but how long will that take and when will this happen? and when we go back to normal how much are we going to be affected by all that? what all that will leave behind? For me this is the big  question. If we don’t play live for a year it’s not the end of the world…

Rockpages.gr: Also, there are many who are wondering what will happen in the summer. That is, there are festivals that have been announced in theory, July is far away (ED, the interview took place in April), but if a band for example, cancels its current tour, what will happen? Will they only play live in June in Greece? or somewhere else;

Gus G: That’s hard to say… I don’t know how this is going to happen I really can’t see anything happening in June… do you know what’s going to happen? it is very difficult to make any predictions at this time. Maybe all this would be okay, but again the psychology is weird. At the end of the day are you ready to attend a festival that will have 10,000 people? In an open space, would you take a chance? Even if they tell you it’s OK. This is one thing; the second version is that nothing happens and everything will be fucked up this summer.

And I’ll take it a little bit further. I see that some promoters announce shows for September, or planning for October. Do you know that even then it will be okay?

Rockpages.gr: Not only that, but there are already concerts that are scheduled for then…

Gus G: Yes, some are scheduled for then and some that have now been canceled will be transferred…

Rockpages.gr: If we assume that you are planning something for October when everything will be OK, and for example the weekend 22-23 (random numbers) there are already three shows scheduled… what will happen? Will there be 15 concerts in one weekend?

Gus G: Look, it’s going to be tough when you start, that’s for sure. It’s going to be chaotic for sure… I was reading an interview yesterday that said that maybe we will see bands return to small spaces again. Little ones… little little clubs that will be crowded, but maybe this intimate thing will happen again… you know a little bit. Everybody going to a place with five hundred, or a thousand people. That can happen, I don’t know…

It’s a new reality, it can definitely be for a while. Yes, for a year or two, and then I’ll get things back to normal. We’ll see. We’ll see … I hope for the best, and it’s good to have a little awareness of that and do what they are asking us to do.

The only positive thing, if you can say that there is something positive in a pandemic with so many deaths around the world, is that in Greece we have reduced it quite quickly.


Rockpages.gr: Well, you are once again at a crossroads; that’s what you said yourself. How many times in total have you reached such a focal point in your career?

Gus G: Emm, one definitely in the “Allegiance” era, in the transition from “Forged By Fire”, one was definitely back then. Another one I would say took place three years ago. Although, that wasn’t what you’d call a crucial point. The return of Firewind in ’16 and ’17 was a bit like “let’s go and see what happens”. “Immortals” was very crucial. I wanted to see what would happen to Firewind then, after four years of absence. If I didn’t see any signs, I might not have continued. Fortunately, everything went well.

Rockpages.gr: I was reading this recently and I was thinking about how marginal this point you are mentioning now is, to continue or stop completely…

Gus G: This was the third time and it was probably the most serious. Because, I’m not 25 anymore. Okay, I am not that old, but this year I’m going to be 40. I’m thinking about things… that if, for example, the band doesn’t work, what will I do next? Because, I have to secure the next 10 years, 15 years in my career. You know, you think about it for a bit and then… you go back to what you know (laughs). I’ve been doing this since I was 18-19 years old, it’s my band, and one way or another we always overcome difficulties. I manage…

Rockpages.gr: What you say “if it doesn’t work out for me, I’ll stop” sounds harsh. Because Firewind is your band from a young age, as you said. It’s your life…

Gus G: Yeah, but maybe I am putting myself through all this, maybe it’s not there. What can I tell you? Firewind is a band that has fans all over the world and I think we have always had the support of the people. The thing is, if you make a good album, if you have a collection of 10 songs, people are there and will support you – some of them at least.

Rockpages.gr: You also mentioned that at some point the sound changed from what you wanted it to be and I guess you meant that keyboards gained more ground. When did this happen? How did you find out and how come you didn’t react, since you are the leader of the band?

Gus G: Look, the truth is that this idea of ​​changing the concept – I’m taking you back to 2004- was mine. I asked Bob (Katsionis) to join the band, I wanted to bring more keys to our sound. So, that was my decision.

After five years, I wanted to go back to something more guitar-oriented, to give more emphasis on the guitar. Of course, having a player like Katsionis in the band you just can’t press the “Mute” button. The guy is very talented and has a lot to offer musically. Just what? When this discussion came to the table, that Babis has these thoughts, for me it was the most appropriate time, the focal point to do a “reboot”, a restart. To rethink a bit I’d like Firewind to be if I had a second chance. That was it.

Rockpages.gr: I imagine that as soon as the keys leave, the sound immediately becomes heavier…

Gus G: Look, as you heard on the record, the keys aren’t completely missing. Where I think we should have some keyboards, I will put it, at least what I can play myself. I didn’t have anything against keysboards, I didn’t want to completely eliminate them from the band’s sound. Many times in the music I write I hear the keys somewhere. But, not in the same way as this arrangement we had in the past. Guitar plays a more primary role and at the same time the riffs sound differently if you don’t have many keys to overshadow them.



Rockpages.gr: I imagine that the balance of the set will change in the live environment as well. Obviously, there will be no guitar solo / keyboard, the duel that you used to do. Will the keys be played on stage, or will they be pre-recorded?

Gus G: Keyboards will be heard through a recorded track. In some small places where we have some keyboard parts that will be there, but we will not have a pre-recorded keyboard solo without having a keyboardist on stage! Anyway, the duels you say between guitar and keys were in 2-3 specific places and that was all. I think it’s going to work allright, I’ve thought about it a lot.

Rockpages.gr: Is this an opportunity to play some older songs?

Gug G: Definitely! Yes, I would like to bring some songs from the past from the first 2 albums because I think Herbie’s voice sounds a lot like Stephen.

Rockpages.gr: Was this intentional? Were you aiming to find a singer whose voice sounds like that, or was it a coincidence?

Gus G: It was pure luck, I’d say. I generally listen to some vocalists and in my own ears they other match to what we do, or not. I mean how I want the vocals to be heard. With Herbie I was really lucky. I remember hearing him 7 or 8 years ago with Sinbreed, not even knowing what his name was and going “wow he would be perfect for Firewind”. It was the time when Apollo left and we toured with Sundown (Ed, Kelly Sundown Carpenter, 2013) and we even played at a festival with them in Spain. Our record company suggested him and even though his name didn’t ring any bells, as soon as I heard him singing I remembered exactly who he was. It was a voice that had stayed in my memory since I heard him for the first time.

Rockpages.gr: Have you thought of any names from the past?

Gug G: No! I think it would be a big mistake. Not musically, but as a general decision, because there was a reason the whole story didn’t work then. I know Stephen Frederick wanted us to do something, but he can’t tour. Not even then. He’s a man of different age, he’s an older guy, so the band couldn’t go out with him on vocals. Apollo left the band because he didn’t want to tour anymore, so why try something like that?

I never saw Firewind as a studio project… If we’d started like this, with the inention to just release records and not play live, then it would make sense, but that’s another approach. That way you could do all the reunions you want. But, we are not a studio project.

Rockpages.gr: What Michael Schenker does, however, was great, to have all his singers on his albums.

Gus G: Yes, the latest is also a nice album. That’s a nice idea, but Michael Schenker did it already (laughs)!

Rockpages.gr: The album made me go to the ‘80s and early‘ 90s hard’n’heavy. I was also impressed that it was not instrumental; it must be the only one that is not instrumental.

Gus G: No! Neither did “Few Against Many”…

Rockpages.gr: Ooops! you got me there!

Gus G: (laughs)

Rockpages.gr: Do you want to tell me about 2-3 tracks that I singled out? “Breakaway” for example…

Gus G: I also think it’s one of the album’s strongest cards. Overall, the album had a bit of a weird history because I wrote the music and some tracks ended up differently than the original. We started working with Dennis Ward, as in “Immortals”… basically I write the music, I do the orchestration and Dennis writes the vocal lines and lyrics. Because Henning (Basse, the band’s former singer) doesn’t write… Obviously, when we started writing we were with the previous lineup. “Breakaway “is one of the songs Dennis has done with what we call dub-Lyrics, you know… choruses and melodies only and I would say “yes” or “no” to him and then we would actually finish up the lyrics on the spot. Along the way Dennis started working with Helloween on the album they are currently making, he is a co-producer, so he has moved to Hamburg this production actually took longer than they would have expected, leaving us a little behind, hahaha! There was a small conflict. So, at some point I decided to write lyrics to some of the songs. “Breakaway” was one of them. What Dennis and I did were “Breakaway,” “Perfect Stranger,” “Rising Fire” and “Welcome To The Empire.” I kept some of Dennis’ lyrics and ideas and wrote the rest myself.

To tell you the story of the song I must say that it was an older idea that I for an instrumental in my solo album, but I knew it sounded too much like Firewind. I thought that with nice vocals it would be a very strong track on one of our records. So, I finally made the decision to put vocal melodies and that’s what happened. Lyrically, he talks about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that soldiers suffer from. These were some of the lyrics written by Dennis and I picked them up and developed them for no particular reason. Oh, and it has a two-minute guitar solo in there… hahaha! ”

Rockpages.gr: “Space Cowboy”…

Gus G: Dennis helped a lot in that as well, although the idea was Herbie’s. You know it’s one of those Scorpion-esque ideas I have. From time to time we have some songs like that one flying out there. It could be a bonus track, but after the final result, Herbie told me that it’s a pity we didn’t put it on the album and it will only be available in Japan and I finally agreed. The company wanted us to put it out as a single. I don’t think it’s purely a Firewind song. Maybe if we were in the ’90s it could be a big radio hit. But, lyrically, it belongs to the trilogy we have for an astronaut and his stellar journey… “Space Cowboy”…

Rockpages.gr: The album sounds fresh in an idiom, such as ours, where you can hardly hear anything that will impress you from the beginning. And don’t say that this reminds me of one or the other. It also reminded me of no other Firewind albums.

Gus G: In general, I never had in mind to copy something, say to do this like another. I didn’t start with that intetnion, but I’ll say that the only similarity between this album and albums such as “Allegiance” and “Premonition”, is the variety on the tracklist, like those albums had back then. But, the sound is fresh, it doesn’t sound like 2005, it’s today. Of course there is the Firewind identity in there; I write the songs and of course Herbie’s voice sounds like Stephen’s, has some Dio elements thas also Apollo had… So, I’d say that it’s a mix and of course the band’s identity is always there but at the same time, it’s something fresh. The production plays a role. Because Tobias Lindell (Europe, Avatar, H.E.A.T.) made a great mix. It’s modern and doesn’t sound plastic like what you hear in metal productions nowadays. The mix is ​​very punchy, it’s huge. He is mixing loud it grabs you from the beggining. Which, to be honest I thought it was a risk, but I liked the sound he created and his whole approach so much, that I thought this could be our new style.

Rockpages.gr: I would also say that the compositions have many layers, that is, they have a verse, a chorus, various points inside, they have the solo that escapes. It seems to me that every piece has a lot of ideas inside.

Gus G: Not in all of them, but on some of them yes. Judging by the first single “Rising Fire” it is a very simple song it does not even have a pre-chorus, but that also has its beauty and it’s an art to write a song like that. Let’s say the first track, “Welcome To The Empire” is what you say, it has many levels, it has construction and it has some elements that may be new to us. It’s not the classic cut-refrain recipe, quilt-refrain, solo, last refrain, “hello”… it ends with another point completely the piece.

Rockpages.gr: When I listened to “Rising Fire” I was not as impressed as when I listened to the whole album. Maybe because the first single is usually representative of the album, sometimes the opposite happens, so in your case, we’re probably talking about it.

Gus G: “Rising Fire” was supposed to come out as a second single, but at the last minute, we decided to do release it first. It’s probably the most radio friendly song if you like. It is heavy and shows the hardest rock side of the band. But, I will remind you of something else… if you remember correctly in the older years we came out with a first single like “Falling To Pieces”, or “Mercenary Man”… songs that were lighter and more compared to the rest whole album contained. So, it’s a song you would call the album’s “calling card”, that’s what you want to release as your first single. This album has so much variety that it’s hard to find a song that has it all. Perhaps, the song that has it all is “Welcome To The Empire” (Ed which was the second single released by the band).

Rockpages.gr: From what I heard on the album in the first times I played, that one stuck in my mind… and it’s not the easiest.

Gus G: Yes, it’s not the easiest. For me this is the big song of the album and it was clear that this would be the first video. And I can’t hide the fact that the album was called “Welcome To The Empire” until the last minute (laughs).


Rockpages.gr: But, you decided to join the club of self-titled albums that are not the first together with: Metallica, Whitesnake…

Gus G: The Beatles…

Rockpages.gr: Killswitch Engage, Def Leppard, Motley Crue…

Gus G: When they changed singer… (SS and John Corabi replaced Vince Neil)

Rockpages.gr: It’s a club too…

Gus G: It’s (laughs)! Look, I don’t think there was a better time to do that for us. Since we did not do that for our debut and since there have been so many changes, a change in sound, band members… Actualy, it was a new beginning. This is a statement.It’s like starting Firewind today and this is our first album, but it happens to be the ninth (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: So since it is the new beginning, but it is the new beginning of a band that has been in the field for several years and of course you, who are much more. What will you avoid doing from things you did before?

Gus G: I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it because since we started working a pandemic broke out (laughs)! So, we’ve all stayed at home. Basically, I wanted to bring back the focus on the band like I did 15 years ago. I want to bring all this energy back, I wanted to start touring extensively; something that we had problems with the previous lineup, we were not all on the same page on various things. So, I don’t know, we all make mistakes along the way and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. What I had to say when Herbie came to the band I said it from the beginning. Now, I don’t know if it will work with him yet. I don’t even know the guy well enough. If you don’t get on a bus to travel with someone for a few months, you don’t know how they will react because that’s a totally different scenario. From there, I just carry on with the band as I knew it. What I expect from the guys in the band is to be where they are because they want to be in Firewind and because they believe in what they are doing. Because if this doesn’t exist, there can’t be a band!