We are living difficult times, as the coronavirus outbreak has forced most countries to take strict lockdown measures. During the home isolation, Firewind’s new album, “Firewind”, came as a gift from god. Guitar hero Gus G (ex-Ozzy Osbourne) and his Greek legion are punctual at their rendezvous with the heavy/power metal fans all over the world, offering us good new music. Myth of Rock met Gus G via Skype, since both the magazine’s editor and the Greek guitar master were self-quarantined at home, and a nice, interesting interview took place. We had a lot things to talk about – members out, members in, new album, old tours, new tours, power metal etc. And yes, we also referred to Ozzy Osbourne!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
Hello, Gus, I am Dimitirs, how are you doing?
I am fine, Dimitris, thank you. I am at home now.
So you are in Thessaloniki, Greece. Are you at home, because of the lockdown in Greece, due to the coronavirus pandemic?
Yes, of course.
How are you spending your free time at home?
Well, things are pretty good at home until now, haha! … Look, I usually stay at home, when I am not travelling for business, for example. I just sit back and relax, with my wife and my cats! We exercise a lot, we watch movies, stuff like that.
Do you listen to any albums, new releases or classic albums?
Hmmm, not so much … Of course, I listen to some music, especially on Spotify, but I mainly write down some music ideas, I always come up with new riffs and stuff. On the other hand, this week I had been very busy with the promotion of Firewind’s new album, and interviews, I don’t have any free time right now, this week. I have a job to do right now, haha!
What’s your opinion about the lockdown?
I agree with this lockdown, of course, it is something that has to be done. To be honest, I had smelled the whole thing from the beginning, when the new coronavirus hit China. I understood that all this was serious, as soon as I heard the first news from China. I was watching all the posts on Twitter, all the available videos. Besides that, I recently established a new company with guitar magnets – the factory, where these magnets are manufactured, is in China and it was locked down during March. People from the factory were telling me how serious were things there, so I was sure from the beginning that this virus may also come here in Europe and that the government may have to take this quarantine measures. I am happy that here in Greece all the strict measures were taken from the very beginning, before it was too late. We see that the virus infected cases are at a low level, if we compare the situation here with the situation in other countries. Let’s hope that the number of the cases stay low and this will end soon.
Yes, hopefully! Gus, Firewind recently toured with Queensryche. How was this experience for you, touring with this iconic metal band?
Yes, we toured twice with Queensryche, firstly last summer and secondly, last November, these tours went really well and all the shows were great. For me, touring with Queensryche was a dream that came true, because I grew up with Queensryche - they belong to the classic metal bands and here in Greece, it is essential to listen to Queensryche, everyone who has a “metal” education should listen to Queensryche! There is no chance that you go to a Greek rock club for a drink and you won’t listen to Queensryche at a certain point! It was a great experience to tour with Queensryche, they treated us very well, I can say that these guys are possibly the best guys we have ever toured with. They were cool with everything, there was no ego and the typical behavior that you usually come across, when one band is the headliner and the other the support act. There was a total respect, to the point that we were telling them “OK, guys, thank you, you don’t have to be so kind!”.
Let’s go now to Firewind’s recent line-up changes – Bob Katsionis (keyboards, guitar) and Henning Basse (vocals) aren’t anymore members of the band. What has happened?
I will continue from where we just left the conversation, from the recent tours with Queensryche. Although the shows were great, there was tension inside the band, there were strained relationships inside the band during all this period. What is more, all the music had been composed and all the guitars and drums had been recorded in the summer (2019). All these months though, until December, no vocals were recorded and I didn’t see any desire, neither from Bob nor from Henning.
Yes … On the other hand, it was obvious that Bob had a hard time with some things. So, from all these and from conversations that we all made, I was beginning to understand that the team wasn’t going anywhere, at that certain point. There were some more conversations, I made my thoughts and we agreed not to continue together. I could see that Bob wanted to focus on his music productions, on his recording studio, all the things he is doing, I could see that all these activities satisfied him more, he didn’t want to travel that much, he had enough of it all these years, I can understand him. It was the best for both sides to end it here, I didn’t want Bob to be unhappy, I didn’t want both of us to be sad, so sometimes it’s necessary that we go on separate roads.
And what about Henning?
The same happened with Henning. He was facing some minor health problems, which somehow distressed him a little, he didn’t know, if he would continue and for how long he would continue. Anyway, we had to make this conversation, and when we returned from our last tour, I made my decision, it was obvious that this couldn’t continue any more, it was almost impossible. Unfortunately, I was the one who should make this decision. It was a decision which was connected with a bigger decision – what should I do? Should I continue with Firewind, at any cost, making all the necessary decisions and all the line-up changes or should I end Firewind?
Ohh, you had even the thought of dissolving Firewind?
Yes, this thought came to me.
So, what kept Firewind alive?
I think that I still have things to say, things to offer with this band. And Firewind’s new album proves that. I knew that we had a really good new album on our hands – as I told you before, when I made up my mind about the line-up changes, the new album was already written and partially recorded. I knew that we could overcome these changes as a band. So, if Firewind deserves a final effort, this new album should be this effort. I believe it is a very good effort. On the other hand, this is my band! This is the band I started, when I was a boy! Others may consider their band as another job they just should do, a job they would get rid of, because they are bored. I understand that, people change. Firewind has always been a big part in my life, so … , it isn’t something that you can easily dissolve.
How is your relationship now with Bob and Henning?
Our relationship is very good! I was talking with the guys the day before yesterday, haha! The most difficult point has passed, the difficult point is when you have to make some important conversations. We are very good friends, especially Bob is almost a family to me! We were almost sixteen years in this group! I know Henning very well too, although he had been an external partner, a touring member. He had been in Firewind since 2007, he has sung with my solo band too, we are friends all these years. As soon the aforementioned conversations were made, as long as things got clear and everyone chose his next step, there isn’t any problem, there isn’t any reason not to have a good relationship.
Herbie Langhans is the new singer of Firewind. How did you come in contact with Herbie?
Firewind’s label, AFM Records, brought me in contact with Herbie. When Firewind’s last tour was finished, I spoke with the label guys, I informed them about the line-up changes, and they told me about Herbie. They sent me some links to listen to him. Although I didn’t know him as a name, when I listened to Sinbreed, I remembered him. The first time I had listened to him was in 2013, when Sinbreed was getting more popular, and I was impressed by his voice. I had even then thought that he would be perfect as Firewind’s singer.
How would you describe Herbie’s voice to the ones, who may haven’t heard of him before?
Well, Herbie has a special vocal tone. We have also written in our Press Release that Herbie may remind some people, who are familiar of Firewind from the very beginning of its career, of our first singer, Stephen Fredrick. Indeed, Herbie is somehow reminiscent of Stephen, they both have a raucous voice. I personally have some likes and dislikes, as far as voices in rock and metal are concerned, I like certain voices, certain voice styles. All the singers we had in Firewind had their own personal style, but all of them had some common characteristics in their voice. I think that Firewind differs from most bands of the power metal genre, most power metal bands have a common style of singers, they all sound the same, you know, haha! I believe Herbie has a special voice.
Is Bob going to be replaced?
And how are the keyboard parts going to be performed on stage?
There will be pre-recorded tracks of keyboards in our live shows. I believe that things will now be somehow easier with these keyboard tracks, because there had always been a “worry” in some songs, which featured small guitar parts and small keyboards parts or didn’t feature such parts. I mean, we, Bob and me, even then, had discussed the possibility of using pre-recorded keyboard tracks on stage, so that Bob is concentrated on his rhythm guitar parts. There had been these conversations and now that Bob isn’t in the band anymore, we are ready to realize these plans, as far as the keyboard parts are concerned. I think that I can reset our songs on stage, so that they sound the way I like.
Firewind has a new singer and a new album. Do you believe that a new chapter opens in Firewind’s book?
Yes, that’s what I want to believe.
How would you like this chapter to be/to sound?
Look, I am satisfied with our new album. I believe that the “Firewind” album represents where Firewind is right now, musically speaking. The chemistry between the way I compose, the sound of my guitar riffs and Herbie’s voice, is undeniably strong, I believe that we are at the point where we should be. I am absolutely satisfied, I believe that the new album has a great variety, it contains elements from our past albums, without copying certain songs, you know. In the new album you will find classic heavy metal elements, power metal elements, some speed metal parts, some hard rock parts, the big ballads, the production also sounds more modern than before. This new album combines all the essential elements! I would like to continue that way, but I don’t know what kind of songs will I come up with in two, three years from now, I don’t know which project will I have then on my mind. Time will tell. I believe that now we are at a very good point right now.
I always believed that Firewind where are the cross point of classic hard rock, traditional heavy metal and power metal. I assume that you agree with me!
Yes, I agree! Songs like “All my Life”, “Space Cowboy” have hard rock elements, the song “Rising Fire” is a hard rock song, but at the same time, we are much heavier than a hard rock band. Well, we are a metal band. But we sound too much hard rock to be power metallers, haha!
Why did you decide to name the new album simply “Firewind”?
I think that after all the things that happened, it was logical to do so. Our philosophy was to make a restart, a makeover. It was like saying, “… I started this band at my twenties, if I restarted this band at my forties, how would I like this band to sound now?!”. I thought about everything, I put all the clues on the table, and I chose our new album to be our eponymous one. I took into account that we are a quartet again, that we have such a voice again. This was our approach, we made a reboot and this was the right album to be our eponymous one. We did that on our ninth album, since we hadn’t named our debut “Firewind”, haha!
How do you see now the previous Firewind album, “Immortals”?
I still like it very much, I believe it is one of our strongest albums. It didn’t have the commercial elements, the hit songs that our older albums had, for example “The Prominition”, however, the “Ode to Leonidas” song is a classic Firewind track, an important moment on our setlist. “Immortals” was a strong release, from its first to the last note.
Did you compose all the tracks of the new album?
Yes, except one song, “Orbitual Sunrise”, which is co-written by me and Bob Katsionis. That song came from one of the music ideas that Bob had sent to me. All the other songs are composed by me.
What about the lyrics of the new album?
This time I also wrote some lyrics, I had many years to write lyrics. Three new songs have my lyrics, “Rising Fire”, “Break Away” and “Perfect Stranger”.
I know that three of the new songs are lyrically connected. Can you give us some details?
Yes, there is a sci-fi concept story in three of the songs, in “Orbitual Sunrise”, “Longing to Know You” and “Space Cowboy”. The idea came to me, when I was discussing with Herbie about the new songs and the subjects of their lyrics. I told him about the story I had on my mind, and he started writing about this space cowboy, this astronaut in every song! So, I asked him for more details, and he answered me that he had come up with a bigger story, a concept – how was this astronaut watching Earth, nature, humanity and our emotions from his spaceship, through his eyes while alone in space. What I like most in this sci-fi trilogy is that the lyrics are again sociopolitical, they refer to human emotions and not to a space trip of the astronaut, to his space odyssey perhaps, haha! It is very interesting to see which are the feelings of a person who is up there.
Very interesting! The new album production is yours, Gus?
Yes, I produced the album.
To what things did you pay attention, during the production process?
First of all, I would like to note that I had a partner in the album’s production - Dennis Ward was the co-producer again. I wanted to pay attention to the drums sound, I liked very much Dennis Ward’s drums productions, so we went to a German studio (Hofa Studio), where Dennis usually works, we recorded the drums there. In general, I didn’t want the songs to be loaded with several tracks, I wanted them rawer, but at the same time not totally naked. There are various tone colors like in the previous albums, there are many layers in the vocals and the guitars. The final mix was very important, it was done by Tobias Lindell, who gave us a very powerful, punchy and big sound. I also like Tobias’ work, because the sound isn’t plastic, like in many new metal releases. The mastering was done in Sweden.
You have a scheduled North American tour with Symphony X and Primal Fear for May and June. How are you feeling about it? (editor’s note: when the interview took place, we had no news about the Symphony X tour with Firewind and Primal Fear, which was finally postponed, due to the coronavirus pandemic).
Let’s see what is going to happen, I don’t know. Currently, we can’t even get our visas, because the American Consulates are closed. I wonder why there is no announcement yet about this upcoming tour. I am eager to see which will be the final announcement of Symphony X, since they are the headliners.
Apart from what will finally happen, are you happy that Firewind will tour with Symphony X, this classic prog/power band?
Yes, of course, I always wanted Firewind to tour with Symphony X, of course we aren’t a prog metal band, but I always admired them. I believe we would be a perfect touring pack! It would another great tour for us! Let’s see what will finally happen. Hopefully, if the tour is cancelled, it will take place some time later.
Yes! May I ask you two Ozzy Osbourne questions, Gus?
Yes, of course!
Have you listened to the new Ozzy album, “Ordinary Man”? Do you like it?
Yes, I listened to it and I like it. I think it has many good moments, what I like the most is that the album is very emotional. Ozzy expressed his emotions through the lyrics and his performances. Of course, two or three songs of the new album are excellent.
A hypothetical question. What would you do, if Ozzy asked you to rejoin his band?
I would surely accept his invitation! I would like to play again with Ozzy! I miss all the times with him, the tours we made, everything! All these moments were happy, but, you know, all this thing was more of a Zakk Wylde thing, he has been twenty years with Ozzy. I am not here to take anyone’s place, it is Ozzy’s decision what will he do and who will be his guitarist. To be honest, I believe that my time with Ozzy has finished, what was going to happen has already be done, it isn’t possible that something like that may happen again. Besides that, I think that I have already gained everything I had to gain from all this thing. Ozzy has already given me everything he had to offer me, and he gave me so many things! I thank him so much.
Finally, Gus, I would like you to send a message to all the fans, who stay at home during these hard times!
Please, stay at home, until all the cases, all the victims fall down to zero, until we get rid of this virus. It is difficult for everybody, but we have to do this. We are living in hard times, we have to be positive. We have at least music to keep us good company!
Thank you very much for your time and answers, Gus!