Gus G Talks Collaborations on New Firewind Album, Brotherhood of Ozzy Osbourne Guitarists
Ozzy Osbourne and Firewind guitarist Gus G. was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He discussed the latest album from Firewind, Immortals, his approach to writing for three bands (Firewind, Ozzy and his solo career) and shared a hilarious story about taking sleeping pills from Ozzy. Check it out in the chat below.
How are you?
Oh, I'm fine, thank you.
Well, it's really great to see you.
Yeah, you, too, always a pleasure.
I know you've got a ton of stuff going on with all your many projects. Let's start off with the new Firewind album. It's called Immortals. It's the band's eighth studio album and it's a concept album based on Greek history. What was the most challenging thing about making history fit in a musical framework?
I always thought that like if you're talking about historic battles, the perfect soundtrack to that would be heavy metal. So I think it fits 200 percent. I mean the tough part is to actually tell the story and put it in songs. I mean, I didn't... honesty I didn't, this is my first concept album I ever made and I didn't know how to do that.
So I turned to a co-producer who co-wrote the album with me, because lyrics is not my forte. I do the music, so I co-wrote with this guy called Dennis Ward and I told him what my concept and direction was and it's about — we specifically talk about two battles, ancient Greek battles, in 480 BC, the battle in Thermopylae, or as you probably call it, Hot Gates and Battle of Salamis. You might have seen the movie 300, so it's about that battle, King Leonidas against the Persians.
And the Spartans, these 300 brave Spartan soldiers, so that's what it's all about, so...
It makes sense. Your music is very epic sounding and it sounds like that.
Yeah. It's epic, it's melodic and it's power metal. And we're a Greek band and we thought all these years, "Well, all these bands have talked about that and Greek history is so well respected, the heritage and everything, everywhere we go and why don't we do it our way and then what better if a Greek band tells the tale through an album like that??
So Henning Basse has worked with you for several years, but Immortals is his first album with Firewind, correct?
What makes his voice a good fit for the album and this band?
Well, Henning is, at least in Europe, he's considered to be one of the best singers of this style, this genre. And he was the touring singer for us like 10 years ago. Whenever our old singer would drop off tours, we would call Henning. We'd called him 'The Fireman.' He would come and put out the fire whenever we were in crisis on the road.
And when our singer, the previous singer, left, we just... we were on a hiatus for three years and then I hooked up with Henning again and he was still looking for a band and we were looking for a singer. And the guy's just an incredible frontman. He's a good friend of ours. So it was just as simple as that.
What makes work with a collaborator fulfilling for you? I know this is the first time that you've worked with an outside like co-producer.
Yeah, well, for me, on all my albums, I've used co-writers. In the past, it was either the previous singer or in my solo albums, I collaborated with the various producers or other singers, co-writers. So I'm used to doing that. I think it's good to have ideas coming out from other people, then I think that it enhances the music and it can make the song better.
So in this case, yeah, like I said, we had a concept in mind and we needed somebody could be able to help us with that, because I could do the music, but I was not so good with lyrics. Like sure, I could throw ideas at him and say, "Hey, maybe we should do this and that," or song titles and stuff like that, but I'm not the guy for the lyrics. I just never touch that. I always work with singers. And Dennis is a good singer, as well, besides a great producer, so I would send him the music and he would send me the demos back with his vocals and we went from there.
What the differences, creatively, when you're thinking about an Ozzy album, a Firewind album and a solo album?
Well, obviously, Firewind is a power metal band, that sounds... I mean it's... that sounds very different from what Ozzy's doing. It's still, of course, heavy metal, but I know exactly, like the minute I come with an idea that has a lot of fast double bass or it sounds very epic and has all these twin harmonies and stuff, I know it's not going to be an Ozzy idea. That's going to be probably end up on a Firewind record.
Now a lot of my solo stuff that I did, some of it is heavier and some of it is more modern rock or classic rock style and a lot of that stuff could very well be on an Ozzy album. In fact, some of those ideas that I use on my records were originally written with Ozzy in mind. But this follow-up album from Scream, it's been taking... it's taken up seven freaking years, now, so we're still waiting. So I mean, it's like, you write some songs, and I'm like, "Well, I'm going to use it here and then we're going to make some other songs if Ozzy ever asks me for ideas." There's no shortage of riffs. Let's just say that.
And I mean, talk about what it's like for you. I know you've been in that band for a while now, and you're pro. I've known you for a long time. But do you still have those moments where you're like, "Oh my God, I'm playing for Ozzy Osbourne?"
Oh, of course I have those moments. I think about it all the time, still. I've been there for eight years for him.
Do you wake up and go, "Am I really the guitar for Ozzy? Okay, yeah."
Yes. Yes. I still ask myself, I'm like, "How the hell did this happen to me?" And I don't know, it's one of those things that you never really, I think I told you that so many times, right, it sounds so cliché, it gets boring. I mean, I don't know. I think every guitar player would tell you that. It's not something you really expect to happen in your life, you know what I mean? It's like, I was just content being there with my band and doing my thing and then all of a sudden, this comes up.
Did you hang up because you think it was a prank call?
No, I didn't. Actually, I knew the person that contacted me, I knew he was working for Sharon Osborne, so...
Yeah. That only happens in the movies.
Well, I think it happened to, I think Richie Faulkner from [Judas] Priest.
Oh, yeah. And he hung up the phone.
He hung up. He goes, he didn't know, he was like, "Yeah, right, mate, yeah, whatever." He hung up. But I knew the person that was working for Sharon, I'm like, originally, I thought it might be something that they were interested to get Firewind over to Ozzfest or something like that. And then they...
You're like, "Wait, what?"
I was like, "Yeah. What happened?" I mean, I don't really drink alcohol or anything, but when that email came through, I was like, I had to take three shots of whiskey just bang, bang, bang, you know? Like hammering them down and then just relax, because, yeah, I was going to have a heart attack.
And Gus, you're a well established presence in the guitar community. What part of the —
I love the way you phrase it, just like.
I mean it.
What part of the kid obsessed with learning to play never goes away?
Well, to me, music is a never-ending journey. It's all about learning something new all the time and trying to push yourself, explore new things, push the boundaries. I try that with every record I make. I try to just get better at a lot of the stuff that I already know and then expand on that. And I mean, I think that's the beauty of it.
Touching back on Ozzy for a second, he's played with some of the most iconic guitarists in metal. Is there a brotherhood among that family of guitar players?
Absolutely. There is. I'm very good friends with Zakk and it's like he's supported me since day one, it's like he's my big brother, and he even let me borrow his guitar on a festival when my guitar's didn't show up, because the airline just, I don't know, lost them somewhere and we were in Hungary and playing a festival. And he was like, "Don't worry, Gus, I'll hook you up with a fiddle." And you know Zakk.
So I mean yeah, there's a lot of mutual respect and, yeah, it's pretty mind blowing to think like, "Wow, these guys." I grew up with their posters on my wall and I learned guitar from them. I mean not really sitting down one-on-one, but just listening and stealing their licks from the records, when I was a kid and learning those songs.
Gus, I know you've been playing with Ozzy for a long time, I've got to imagine that you must have some pretty amazing stories from all these years.
Well, when I joined Ozzy, he's been a silver guy that just drinks his tea and goes to bed and just tells a lot of funny stories. Obviously a lot of the stuff that you people that have read his book, they might know what I'm talking about. But there's been a couple of really funny moments and I don't know, I'm thinking of this one all the time lately, which is in the midst of that Scream tour, I was ... because I was so hyper after the shows, I started ... I wasn't able to go to sleep, so I couldn't fall asleep, so I would go back to the hotel after the gigs and I started going to sleep later and later where I ended up not sleeping, suffering from insomnia, staying up the whole night and then it was day-of and then I would stay up and then I would turn up to the gig tired.
And then I said that to Ozzy and he says, "Well, if you ever need any sleeping pills, I have some, just give me a call." I'm like ... in one day, I'll hit him up about that. So I said, "Hey, boss, do you remember about those sleeping pills? Can you give me one tonight? I really got to get some rest but I'm like my mind is going 200 miles per hour." He's like, "Yeah, sure. Here take this one. It's a light one." I'm like, "Oh, thanks."
Jackie, I kid you not. I almost died. It's like I couldn't wake up. Like the next day, the lobby call was 5:30PM and I think I woke up at 5:15 and I was so stoned, like my head was so heavy, I barely got my s--t together, rushed down to the lobby, jump in the car, go to the airport, jump on the plane. So I sit there, I'm totally like, I don't know where I'm at, and then Ozzy walks in. The minute he looks at me, he goes, "Ha, ha, ha, you're f--king stoned." I'm like, "Yeah, I am, man, what the f--k"
And then the tour manager grabs me and goes, "You f--king idiot. Did you really let Ozzy give you drugs? Like he's — And then it made sense to me, I'm like, "Oh, dude. I took drugs from Ozzy." It's like lesson learned. Never again.
Well, I love that he got a kick out of it after the fact.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. That was a funny moment.
Anything you can tell us about your timeline for either Firewind or Ozzy? I won't tell anyone. Don't worry.
Well, Firewind starts out a tour next month in England and Europe, the Immortals tour kicks off. And then in March, I'm going to Japan with my solo band. I'll be going some dates with Steve Stevens in Europe, actually. I'll be actually playing an acoustic set, because I think he's doing some flamenco stuff and that just got announced. And then we're going to be doing a lot of summer festivals over in Europe with Firewind and I just heard that Ozzy's doing some festivals here, as well.
So I guess you're busy in July.
Yeah. I'll be busy. Yes. Yeah.
Alright, well, I'll be out there looking forward to that and good luck with all that's to come and it's always a pleasure to see you.
Same here, thank you so much.
Thanks to Gus G. for the interview. Get your copy of Firewind's 'Immortals' at Amazon or digitally through iTunes and stay up to date on Gus by following his Facebook page. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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