There is quite a contentious subject in my house, a feud that has gone the distance… Who is the Greek Freak? For my NBA obsessed hubby, it is Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks forward. For me, the Greek Freak is Gus G. With an impressive CV, walking the stages with the likes of Arch Enemy, Ozzy and Dream Evil, Gus G is as versatile as they get. As a hired gun, with assassin precision, he never misses his mark. However as an artist he created Firewind as his outlet. Firewind not only gave Gus a creative opportunity to showcase his supreme guitar skills – it also attracted the likes of many in the industry who just had to get a piece of the Greek Freak. Firewind has been a consistent source of eighties steeped power metal for over twenty years and just like wildfire, is continuing to spread…
The one thing keeping you busy right now Gus is launching this self-titled album – and I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a lot, however humour me – with so many bands postponing releases, what made you ultimately decide to push ahead with the release? “I must say, I was the most sceptical out of everyone. I was calling the label every day ‘are we still on schedule? Are we still going to do this?’ [Laughs]… There are two sides to it, one is to be, OK, let’s just postpone, wait – see when a good time is. Or, you just continue. Even if we release the album in August this year – we still can’t tour. We might as well go on as planned. We figured that people will need to hear something, now is the best time to release, maybe now more than ever. Touring wise – the year is done. Not just for Firewind, but everyone. We thought, let’s continue with our plan, our campaign. Maybe it will keep people company, maybe we’ll have more of a chance for people to check out the album without the everyday world madness. My only concern was the distribution – can we ship records? Here in Europe, shops are slowly reopening”.
Take us through the album, where was your main focus? “You know, this album has such a weird story – the lockdown was just the icing on the cake of how weird this process was for me. We started recording last year, drums were laid down last August. I was writing, it was business as usual – writing the follow up to Immortals  – and there was some really cool stuff in there – I realised it was going to be a different album. Then we had this tour with Queensrÿche in Europe and suddenly things were not really feeling great within the band anymore. A lot of internal issues, we were not on the same page so to speak. It became apparent to me during the tour that people will probably need to move on and do their own thing and I would have to face the changes that were coming up. It was a big question, a big crisis in the midst of the production, because we had the music down but no vocals, no lyrics, nothing. Our producer was helping us, my co-producer Dennis [Ward] was helping but he was hired by Helloween and moved to Hamburg and he was busy with that and I was left alone to my own devices really. I realised; well, do I want to continue this? – it was that kind of crisis. Is this band going to continue? Yet another line-up change? I really had to sit down and think. Anyhow! Last December I decided to completely restructure the band. Started searching for a new singer who could complete the album, co-write with me and of course commit to a world tour. Basically to join the band. Our keyboard player (Bob Katsionis), stepped down – he hated touring and didn’t want the lifestyle anymore. Crazy stuff, just crazy. It was a lot of big changes, but it was one of those things – if I stopped now, if I
stopped right now and gave myself six months to think about it, I won’t continue ever again, I won’t bother. Strike while the iron is hot, you know. Let’s do this now, let’s get somebody,and I knew it was going to be a shock for our fans, it was a shock for me. I decided to continue, I knew that the album was good and I reached out to our record label, to find a singer – we would continue as a four piece, without keyboards. So it’s like a return to form, we started out as a four piece on the first two records. And enter Herbie [Langhans]. It was cool, I mean, losing band members is like losing family, that was the hardest part about letting go but at the same time, I was excited for a fresh start. The most important aspect that made Firewind what we were was building the band around me to showcase my guitar playing and also having a great singer next to me to complete it, it’s almost like a classic blueprint of a hard rock band, focused around a good guitar player and a frontman”.
You mentioned the label hunted out Herbie. What was it that drew you to Herbie, what zazz did he bring? “When I first heard him, I didn’t remember his name, at all [Laughs]. I’m not
sure I had even heard his name before. Actually I was surprised because when we announced him our fans went ape shit about him! That was a really nice feeling – our fan base really knows their underground metal. All the bands he’d been in, all the obscure stuff he sang on. I was happy about this. However I had heard him sing with his band Sinbreed about eight years ago and I remember listening and thinking, my god this guy is so great, he would be so great for Firewind. But then I didn’t hear about Herbie or Sinbreed for years. The label sent me these links, I checked them out on YouTube and I’m like wow, it’s that guy!! It was crazy. I asked to be put in touch with him, I knew immediately, I kid you not, this would be the guy for Firewind. I’m just glad it worked out because aside from the great vocals, you have to make sure you have a writing chemistry. I mean, first of all it was great that he could write! Our previous vocalist didn’t write anything so I needed to have that back in the band – a solid co-writer”.
With the process, where did Herbie come into it all? And what challenges did he encounter? “I think it was a tough task for him, to be honest – I mean imagine being called and asking ‘Look, we want you to be the singer. The album is written, everything is done; music, arrangements. We need vocal lines and lyrics for seventy per cent of the album. So you have six weeks to finish it all and go on a world tour’ [Laughs]. It was a tough task, though Herbie did great. Each day he was sending me stuff. Really strong work ethic. A lot of collaboration plus he brought in his own elements and style. It was a very demanding project but he came through it. He didn’t complain, like not once. I apologised to him [Laughs] ‘I’m sorry for what I put you through, I promise the next album we’ll do it from scratch. Not like this’ [Laughs].
At least you know that under the pump he can excel! “Correct, yes, and this is important”. Overall with the album, where do you feel you excelled? “To me, when I made the album, I just felt strongly about the material. I wanted to make the best Firewind album possible. I knew that we had to follow up with something as strong as Immortals, as it was really well received by fans and critics. And I asked myself, do we continue down the path of epic power metal? Should we make another concept record? But the music wasn’t flowing out of me like that this time around so I just went with my gut. Just write what I think is cool and I will worry about the lyrical concept later, let’s just have great music, great arrangements, that’s where it all starts – a great piece of music. Of course I always go into writing with the same mindset. As a guitar player I want to one up myself and have the best solos up to now. I always want to challenge myself, reaching that next level if possible, I always strive for that”.
With the new vocalist, the chemistry booming, your mindset when entering a studio – where did you push the envelope with this album? I mean both musically and also any areas where you pushed yourself “I worked really hard with this. The whole under pressure situation I was facing with this album, it really made me aware – like on Immortals, I really relied on producer Dennis Ward. Basically I handed him the music and let him produce everything around that. I worked hard for that album but I kinda relied on the producer – for the first time in many years, in the past I produced all my own albums but, working with somebody else, like its not getting lazier but you know you have a very talented person behind the desk, Dennis wrote a lot of the melodies and the lyrics and he would shoot stuff back to me for approval. Whereas now, I was on my own. We started writing with Dennis but in the midst I was on my own. I had to oversee everything, not just playing the guitar as the best I could; and the tracking and the production stuff was there, but with the lyrics – I wrote lyrics for the first time in many, many years. I reached a point where I was like, fuck it, you know – if no one else is going to do it, I’ll do it. So I oversaw everything and working closely with Herbie every day, we worked really hard on little single details and even to the last minute, right before we went into mixing I would record some little bits here and there on the guitar. It came through in the end, there is something fresh, something extra on this record compared to the previous one”.
This momentum the band is on – the new blood, the fresh boost of energy has you looking forward to the future and longevity of the band? “Yeah, it’s important. You mentioned the longevity of the band, it’s important to be consistent with releasing stuff and being out there. The fact we went on a hiatus for five years prior to the release of Immortals, that was a mistake, I feel we lost a lot of ground there. That’s why I wanted to continue. I’m like, well, I have this music, I have to put it out – regardless if half of the band is leaving me; Firewind is a brand that is bigger than any member. The fans that know the band, who follow the band – a lot have stuck with us through a lot of lineup changes so I figured if the music is good and undeniable we can continue to push forward with their support”. There are many pros with lineup changes, new skills and experiences – it’s all about adapting and evolving. “Absolutely, I agree and I think Herbie fits perfectly with our style. The fans have embraced him and accepted him as a great replacement”.
The band would be itching to get out and tour with a new album, a new lineup – fans would be salivating. It’s just unfortunate. What are plans to promote this album as the plan B –
quarantine package. When we are all allowed outside again, what scale tour are you thinking? “The plan was to do a long world tour. We were going to start in America with Symphony X next month – that is now postponed to 2021. Do Europe, Japan and Australia – there were two European and three American tours – it was going to be lengthy. All that is done. Anyone in the touring business knows – hurry up and wait – so a lot of the times plans go awry anyway. We’re used to it in a way but waiting a year to tour an album, yeah it’s not ideal, but this is what we have to work with. The good thing, we have the internet, the social platforms, a lot of creative ways to keep in touch with fans and to put out content. Content is key here”.
Holding back the touring – you can imagine the anticipation from fans… “Yeah I want to think that people will be really excited when we’re all allowed to go back into venues”. Have you thought about this – when we’re back at gigs, do you think people will still record things with their phones or will they appreciate the moment even more so now?”That is a really good question and will be very interesting to see – I hope so, I’m with you on this Gus, let’s promote this, make it a world wide thing “I don’t mind when people take a few photos here and there, but like it’s gotten to a point where people are living through their phones. Now we are because it’s the only window to the outside world, but hopefully when we get back to real life, to the old life – maybe we’ll all appreciate this up close contact even more”.
We’ve been denied so many moments in 2020 so I am on the bandwagon for moments!
Firewind is released on May 15th.