20 years have passed since the release of Firewind’s first album, “Between Heaven And Hell”. Since then the band released another eight, two live recorded, changed five singers, became a five piece, toured around the world several times winning a highly appreciated place in the global metal scene. Let’s not forget as well the huge honor for Gus G, which was joining Ozzy Osbourne’s band, which also created friction in the band. This very important period from 2002 until to today is celebrated with the “Still Raging” shows in Athens and Thessaloniki on September 30th and October 1st respectively. That’s why we talked with Gus… Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: It’s been 20 years since “Between Heaven And Hell”, what do you remember from the process of writing the songs, the production, the recordings. What would you change? What would you do differently? What were your feelings when the first Firewind album was going to be released? Anxiety? Fear? Excitement?
Gus G: I was so young back them. I started making the demos in September 1999 while I was living in Sweden temporarily with the help of some friends. I remember that those times were very pure and I was meeting musicians in Friedman studio and some of them took me to their place, where they were living with their families and helped me as much as they could. Whenever I finished a demo I’d send it to the record companies straight away waiting for their feedback. Leviathan Records believed in me from the beginning. But, after 2-3 years thing got a bit weird and it was going really slow.
I’d like to change some things, that’s for sure. Like going to a professional studio to record the guitars instead of my bedroom with an 8-track. Or, I’d like to have been present for the drum recordings and interferes in some things. But, this album was made with no budget. Maybe that’s what makes me so proud about it. Before its release of course I was very stresses, but excited as well. I didn’t know what was going to happen, or even if anybody would give a damn. Fortunately, thousands of Japanese “gave a damn” and the album sold well in Japan. I never saw that coming. And that of course was crucial for the next steps, collaborating with EMI, acquiring some money and making the next record.
Rockpages.gr: When did you feel that you were “between heaven and hell” in your career?
Gus S: Several times. When I was younger there was all this uncertainty about my career, the band I was dreaming of making. But, those were more carefree times. Later on, I was involved in much more difficult situations, like in 2005 when I accepted the offer of Arch Enemy and at the same time our singer then left, because he didn’t want to wait for me. The rather eventful “Apollo era” where he used to leave the band in the middle of the tour going AWOL for months… even in late 2019 when the band collapsed once again after touring with our childhood heroes, Queensrÿche, and I had to finally take a serious decision about going on, or breaking the band. And there were moments like that where there was too much stress, uncertainty, big financial risks etc., things that people could not know about that.
Rockpages.gr: Which songs are you going to play on the shows? Will you include songs from all the albums?
Gus G: We’d like t play a long setlist covering the entire history of the band, plus playing some song from the self-titled album for the first time ever.
Rockpages.gr: How does the 4-piece lineup of the band perform the songs that originally were played by a 5-piece?
Gus G: So far, so good. We’ve modernized Firewind a bit with the recent changes: the keyboards are on a track, we are using click tracks and we are all wearing in-ear monitors, which gives you remarkable possibilities. Apart from being able to handle some effects and tracks to enhance the sound it’s great to use click tracks… we sound tighter than ever! Also, you have the possibility to take the visual part of the show several levels further, like synchronizing the lights with the music, add visual or even special effects.
The truth is that coming out on stage with one member sort was a challenge. Before that we used to rely on the abilities of my duo with Bob, which resulted in being lazy. That’s something I didn’t like. To re-imagine Firewind as a 4-piece was the right challenge at the right moment.
Rockpages.gr: I noticed that on some of your last shows you didn’t play “Fall To Pieces”, which is one of your most classic songs, but you did play “Between Heaven And Hell”, which is one of the first ones. Which would you say are the trademark Firewind songs that it’s impossible to leave out from your setlist?
Gus G: I think we didn’t play it one show only. Of course, there are some songs that you just have to play live. More or less our setlist is based on those. We’ve got nine albums so far, if we only play the singles, that’s 18 songs. You will always leave some out, but we try to add even one or two of the “obscure” ones. Also, Herbie has to cover material coming from 4 different singers. That’s not an easy task and his voice doesn’t fit on every song. So, we have to consider this as well. I want the band to play at 110% of performance, as well as confidence.
Rockpages.gr: The self-titled album was released in the midst of the pandemic. Was this a good thing, or not?
Gus G: It was good from the point of view that it kept company to some people who listened to it during lockdown. Business wise it was the worse move we could have done. I realized this early on and I tried to persuade AFM no to release it, but they wouldn’t listen. Of course, we had losses in sales, since there was nobody in the offices to make sure that the album was available in our retailers, like Amazon –because “Firewind” was selling out and it would take weeks to put it back in stock. The marketing was poor and the company relied solely on my social media activity. However, it did great on Spotify, which means that people was listening to it.
Rockpages.gr: Do you have some new material? What’s Firewind’s next move?
Gus G: Yes, we’ve started writing some new songs. But, it’s quite early and I don’t know about the details, because after all that we went through I don’t think we’ll be scheduling so strictly again. I can see us releasing some new singles next years, songs that will be a part of the album, but I am not sure when it’s going to be released.
Rockpages.gr: Lately we witness a renaissance in power metal with bands like Sabaton gaining thousands of new fans and being popular, headlining festivals etc. Do you think that this is a good chance for Firewind?
Gus G: Power metal has gone harder, which on one hand it’s a good thing. On the other hand, I see that all the band rely on gimmicks. I totally understand that we are living in a visual dominated era, but still I can’t imagine Firewind dressed up as soldiers, pirates, or painted like vampires. We are not such a concept band, I think all that is fabricated. I want to keep writing music and I will try to present it in the most professional way, without losing my identity. From the on, I am sure there is a chance for Firewind to introduce themselves to a new generation of fans.
Rockpages.gr: As I was walking towards Terra Vibe this summer, I remembered the first time I say you play on Rockwave 2004 under the hot sun. What do you remember from that show? Is the Greek summer a good time to play heavy metal? What can a band that is starting out gain from that type of slots?
Gus G: I remember that I did the most stupid thing wearing a red leather pants with 40 degrees centigrade (104o Fahrenheit)! I wanted to create an impression you see… hahah! Other than, everything happened so fast. I remember it was a decent show, given the fact that it was only our third gig. I am sure that a band can gain a lot from that. A small club feels like another world comparing to a festival. The sound is different, the distance is bigger, even your performance has to be different. You have to make bigger moves so that the people in the back can see you. The timetables are more strict in a festival, you learn how to operate faster and more practical. So, all these are good for your.
Rockpages.gr: What would you say that you gained being a member of Dream Evil, Nightrage, Mystic Prophecy and of course Ozzy, that you also took advantage in Firewind?
Gus G: Dream Evil, Nightrage, Mystic Prophecy were my first bands I was a member, while I was forming Firewind. With all those projects I developed my composing skills, but also got a first taste of the music industry. Things went on a total different level with Ozzy. I witnessed from the inside what is like to be in one of the biggest bands in the world. My life changed drastically and I gained a lot. All those increased my professionalism on how I was presenting my work, as well as myself. Also, they evolved my playing and musical level.
Rockpages.gr: What did you think of the new Ozzy album?
Gus G: The first song featuring Jeff Beck was OK, but “Degradation Rules” with Iommi was unbelievable. What a riff was that? I am waiting to listen to the whole thing impatiently. I am sure it’s going to be great!
Rockpages.gr: This festival season in Greece was marked by the famous “flair incident” at the Iron Maiden show. Did you ever experience something like that? Did something bothered you so much during a show that you went nuts? If not, how would you think you’d react?
Gus G: OK, we all know that Bruce has his issues, but whatever the case he is brilliant and one of a kind. I never had such an experience so far, except from one time at a show that some people in the front row were smoking and blowing the smoke in my face. I asked them to stop smoking and that was it. Nothing happened.
Rockpages.gr: 2002-2022, 20 years in metal. What’s different, what has remained the same? What about the Greek metal scene in that period, what’s different and what’s the same?
Gus G: A lot has changed. Too many sub-genres popped up, as well as new sounds and new bands. Extreme metal has become huge and concept bands are all over the place. Others are dressed up like pirates, others like knights, others like priests… this is the audiovisual experience era. Maybe, playis a secondary role, people first look and then decide if they want to listen. Also, women became a bigger part in metal than before and have offered us great things. I wish all that had happened earlier, but I guess the world wasn’t ready. Still, the Jurassic metal bands (like Scorpions and Maiden) are here rocking. They are true to their heart. No matter how many people complain about that we need them. Although I am sure they will move aside and pass the baton to the new generation.
As for the Greek scene, it’s become international, it’s not underground like in the ‘90s. Greek bands go on world tours, even though heavy metal isn’t that popular in Greece – it never was- but the core is strong and that’s priceless.