When Ozzy Osbourne parted ways with long time guitarist Zakk Wylde in early 2009, many people thought he was losing it. When he replaced him with a relative unknown, people thought he’d pulled a page from his Diary of a Madman. The key word here is “relative” unknown; you see, Gus G. had already forged a name for himself within the inner circles of rock via his band Firewind. In fact, what most of those doubters didn’t realize is that Gus was already well on his way to being considered one of the great guitarists of our time, not only by his fellow axemen, but also garnering the distinction of being named one of the Top 3 Guitarists in the World by Japanese magazine Burrn! Approximately a year and a half later Gus G. is out “burning” up the stage every night with The Prince of Darkness, and did I mention he’s a comic book hero too? Here’s how it all went down when I had Q&A with the man destined to become a living legend…
AWAY-TEAM: Congratulations on the release of the new Firewind album, “Days of Defiance”, which by the way is a fantastic album…
GUS G.: Thank you very much!
AWAY-TEAM: …and also on being named the new guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne…
GUS G.: Thank you very much. Thanks.
AWAY-TEAM: …we’ll talk some more about that, but first I want to talk a little about Firewind. I’ve described your sound with Firewind as sort of a “melodic speed metal”, that harkens back to the days of the great 80′s metal bands. If you had to describe Firewind’s sound to someone who has never heard you before, how would you describe it?
GUS G.: I would say it’s melodic heavy metal, yeah. Ya know people like to put tags on music, like I know for example we’ve been tagged as a power metal band, and that’s not the case. We almost feel like it’s a bad thing to be called a power metal band these days, because it’s not fashionable. But I’m thinking we are not even power metal, just because we sound “European” or we have fast double bass on some of our songs, that doesn’t mean anything. I think it’s just, our roots come from traditional rock or heavy metal, like you said from the 80′s and the 70′s. We’re just like a traditional heavy metal band, but with modern elements.
AWAY-TEAM: There were a few influences that were highly discernable on the album. For example, there seemed to be a lot of Iron Maiden in songs like “Chariot” and “SKG”, and a great deal of Scorpions sound in the track “Broken”. Who were your strongest musical influences growing up?
GUS G.: Well, you’ve actually named two of them. I mean, um, we’re all big Maiden fans, and you can tell that on a song like “Chariot”. I love the ballads that the Scorpions made, and I guess it’s natural for me to write a bit in that vain as well. So some of the stuff I do will remind you a bit of early Scorpions. Uh, you know, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, all of the great bands of the 70′s and 80′s really. Thin Lizzy. These are the bands that we really look up to.
AWAY-TEAM: So what was the first song or album that you heard that made you pick up a guitar and start playing?
GUS G.: Actually it was Peter Frampton, the album Frampton Comes Alive. My dad had the album at home, and he was playing it, and when I heard him do the talk box thing in the song “Do You Feel Like I Do” I was like “Wow, the guitar sounds like a robot”. So then I wanted to play the guitar. I must’ve been about 9 years old or so, and that’s when I asked my dad to get me a guitar. He got me a guitar and about a year later I started taking lessons.
AWAY-TEAM: Earlier this year you guys (Firewind) were featured in an issue of the Eternal Descent comic book series. Comic book artists often take artistic liberties when drawing a real life person into a fictional world. What, if anything, would you change about your character in the comic book if you were the artist?
GUS G.: Oh I don’t know, my imagination is not that wild to be honest. (laughs) So I can’t see myself in a comic book, so I left that up to the artist who’s a really talented young guy Llexi Leon. He made it super cool man, we all had super powers. I think mine, because I have a flame tattoo on my right hand, he turned that into a super power so whenever I would get pissed off or anything my hand would go on fire, and my guitar as well. (laughs)
GUS G.: And I would just burn the fuck out of people or something. So that was pretty cool. Plus he made me a little bit more muscular which was cool. (laughs)
GUS G.: It was a year and a half ago, when his management sent me an email asking me if I’d be interested in the gig, and if I’d go out and audition. And that’s how it happened.
AWAY-TEAM: So you actually had to audition for him? What songs did you have to play?
GUS G.: Um, ya know, a bunch of his classic songs like “Bark at the Moon”, “Crazy Train”, “I Don’t Know”, “Suicide Solution”, “I Don’t Wanna Change the World”, “Paranoid”, stuff like that, ya know. We went in there and did about six or seven songs.
AWAY-TEAM: So now, you’ve gotten the job, and you come in during the middle of the recording of the Scream album; for someone like yourself who’s used to having a large amount of control over what goes into an album, what was the creative process like? Did they give you as much freedom as you’re used to? Or did they just say ‘Here you go, play it like this.’?
GUS G.: No, they didn’t tell me how to play really. They told me “Do what you gotta do as a guitar player. We need alot of your guitar in there.” Because when I walked in all the songs were already written of course, but the guitar work had been done by Kevin Churko the producer, who is not really a guitar player so it sounded a little bit weird. Ya know what I mean? Like very processed and stuff. So they were like “Make it as real sounding, and as heavy as possible. Just do what you do. We want Gus on there.” So like I said, while alot of these songs were not my songs, I thought it was very challenging to be involved in a different project for once. And try to make my mark as a guitar player on songs that I didn’t write. And secondly, it was cooler than ever because I got to play on an Ozzy Osbourne album.
AWAY-TEAM: With that being said, you’re following in the footsteps of some legendary guitarists in guys like Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads, and Zakk Wylde. Those guys all had their own unique sound, when your playing their songs do you try to put your own stamp on them? Or is it more like, those guys were so good it’d be sacrilege to change their sound?
GUS G.: Well, as a fan I don’t like to change stuff they did. Because we’re not just talking about anybody’s song, this is the bible of heavy metal man. This is what shaped the sound of hard rock and heavy metal for all the rest of us to follow. So it’s not like I’m gonna go in and do my own version of “Crazy Train” or my own version of “Paranoid”, ya know. That’s not gonna happen. But you know, Ozzy and Black Sabbath songs, these songs came from jams mainly, and there’s always a little room for the guitar player to do his own little fills and tricks here and there. I definitely do my own thing, but without really interfering with the song composition if you know what I mean.
AWAY-TEAM: Zakk Wylde has been highly complimentary of you, in the media especially. Have you had a chance to meet or talk with him yet?
GUS G.: No. I never got to meet him, and I would really like to. I really want to thank him for saying all of these great things about me, because it means alot to me. I mean Zakk Wylde is an icon, and someone I always looked up to growing up. He was one of my guitar heroes, and just to hear a guy like that saying all those great things about me is amazing. It’s awesome, and I really appreciate all of his support. He’s really cool with me about that. He’s really given me the platform I need to go out there and do my thing. He’s been very nice, and I’ve always had the best thoughts about Zakk, ya know.
AWAY-TEAM: That’s really cool to hear. Now, your first show with Ozzy was last year at Blizzcon; what was the moment you stepped back and realized “Holy shit! I’m really Ozzy’s guitarist!”?
GUS G.: (laughs) Yeah, that was definitely the gig where I was thinking about all of that. Even the rehearsal, everyday I was like “What the fuck? Where am I?” And that didn’t really end after Blizzcon, it still goes through my mind every other day. I’m like “Wow! Look how things turned out!” This is not something you can expect to really happen in life. It’s beyond any biggest honor a guitar player can have in heavy metal and hard rock. I mean, I was happy I was playing with my band, and when this came along I was like “Wow! Really???” When they called me for the audition I went in there and was like “I’ve got nothing to lose. At least I can jam with ’em and it’s a story I can tell my children one day.” But who would’ve ever thought that I would be in his band, and working with Ozzy for over a year now.
AWAY-TEAM: You mentioned being a fan, as a fan what was your all-time favorite Ozzy or Sabbath song?
GUS G.: You know, that is a problem actually, because he has so many great songs, I just love ‘em all man. I love doing the Ozzy stuff on stage, I love doing the Sabbath stuff. He has so many great songs on all of his albums. I mean, I love the Diary of a Madman stuff, I love the stuff from The Ultimate Sin that we’re doing. There’s more songs that I love that we’re not even doing, ya know. We’re playing two and a half hour sets every night, and to fit it all in we need at least four to four and a half hours to fit all of this material in there. He has so many classic songs that you just can’t possibly fit in everything.
AWAY-TEAM: So what was the most challenging song to learn?
GUS G.: Uh, I don’t know. You know all of his guitar players had some very interesting stuff in there. I really cannot seperate one guy from another because everybody was unique in their own way. Like Jake E. Lee, he was special, he was doing all these weird chords and playing around with harmonics and stuff. Randy, he had all this classical influence and mixed it with heavy rock stuff, and it’s also very interesting to play that stuff. And of course Zakk, his technique was at another level. And then you’ve got Tony Iommi, who’s super, super heavy and bluesy and just plays freeform. So you really need to be a well rounded guitar player to play all these different styles. But for me it’s really a natural thing, because those are the kind of guitar players I grew up listening to. I come from that school of guitar, ya know?
AWAY-TEAM: With the extensive touring schedule you have planned with Ozzy, Firewind has sort of taken a back seat for now. Do you foresee yourself pulling the same type of double duty with Firewind on future Ozzfest’s as Zakk did with Black Label Society?
GUS G.: You know, in a festival, I could see it happening in a festival. We just confirmed a festival for the summer in France, called Hellfest and we’re headlining with Ozzy and Firewind is also gonna be on the bill. So that’s gonna be the first double duty gig for me. I wouldn’t really go out and do it if it was like an arena tour, or a headline tour with Ozzy because I wouldn’t really want to compromise the tour by being tired or anything, playing back to back. But in some sort of situation where I play with Firewind, and then I get a few hours to rest and go play with Ozzy, I would love to do that. What we’re doing with Firewind right now is, we’re doing our gigs in between the Ozzy tours. Because we have a few months off here and there from the touring; and actually the reason we’re not doing that many gigs with Firewind is we’re covering alot of ground by doing alot of special gigs. Covering alot of major territory, we were just on the East Coast a couple of weeks ago. We did New York, Montreal, Washington, D.C., Virginia…and we’re gonna go to Japan in Januray, we’re gonna go to England. So we’re covering alot of ground even though we’re not doing 150 dates or something.
AWAY-TEAM: That actually kinda answers my next question. How do you plan to balance and be able to put your heart and soul into both projects?
GUS G.: I guess I just answered that, didn’t I? (laughs) Obviously Firewind has a new album as well, and I would want to promote that too. You know with Firewind we’ve been touring extensively for the last four years or so, and we’ve played like every fucking club on earth. So we thought this was an opportunity for us to do special gigs, in bigger cities, in bigger venues and be able to promote those gigs better. So actually the fact that I’m so busy with Ozzy has actually worked in our favor, because we were able to better handle our promotion, and better handle the gigs that we are doing. It makes it more special both for us, and for our fans.
AWAY-TEAM: Slash is going to be joining you in January for the second leg of the tour. Can we expect to see you guys on stage together at all? Maybe doing the song Ozzy recorded with him for his album? Or just a good old fashioned guitar battle?
GUS G.: Well, I don’t know Slash personally. I’m looking forward to meeting him. I hear from everybody that he’s the sweetest guy, and I’m a big fan of his as well. I grew up with Guns n Roses, and I love his new solo album. I will definitely be on the side of the stage watching him as a fan, I don’t know if I’m gonna get to jam with him, but I’m definitely gonna be there to watch the show.
AWAY-TEAM: I read in Rolling Stone that this tour could include full performances of the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman albums, in honor of their 30th anniversary. Is there any truth to that?
GUS G.: No. It’s rumor. We haven’t rehearsed a full album to be honest. I don’t know if something’s gonna change before the tour starts, and we’re gonna go into rehearsals and play alot. But nothing like that, that I’ve heard of right now.
AWAY-TEAM: Well Gus, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a great honor to speak with you.
GUS G.: Thanks man.
AWAY-TEAM: Good luck with the new album, and the tour, and I look forward to seeing you when you make your way to Florida in February.
GUS G.: Yeah man, I’m looking forward to it, we’re doing three shows there. I actually have some family down there, my uncle lives in Miami, so I’m looking forward to coming back to Florida, I haven’t been there in years.
AWAY-TEAM: Excellent, I’m looking forward to it as well.
GUS G.: See you there.
For more Firewind, including tour dates and to purchase music, visit http://www.firewind.gr/
For more Ozzy Osbourne, including tour dates and to purchase music, visit http://www.ozzy.com/us/home
Special thanks to Gus G. for so graciously giving me his time, and to Josh Eldridge at Century Media for making it all happen.