By David E. Gehlke
Greek guitar virtuoso Gus G. may no longer be in OZZY OSBOURNE, but his stacked résumé and prolific nature suggest there is plenty more to add to his story — and it likely will be FIREWIND and his solo work from now on. FIREWIND has only recently started the touring cycle behind 2020's self-titled, an effort sideswiped by the pandemic but too important to G. to be forgotten, especially with new vocalist Herbie Langhans hopefully solving the band's frontman revolving door situation. But no matter the frontman or musical climate, G. has steadfastly stuck to his guns and trademark playing style that has established him as one of the few new modern-day guitar heroes.
With the band's self-titled album nearly two years old, BLABBERMOUTH caught up with G. to instead talk about a career that started in Boston and carried him to Europe in the early 2000s. There, he somehow managed to find the time to be in four metal bands simultaneously, only to stick with FIREWIND by the middle part of the decade. Ozzy came calling in 2009, where he capably followed Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde until 2017, but it was the mention of another deceased guitar hero that got the affable G. wondering what it would take to fill such a massive void.
Blabbermouth: What was it like getting to know David Chastain when he came across your demos?
Gus: "It's funny. I only met Chastain in person once. Even when I started touring, he's not the person who gets out of the house much. He only came to a gig once about ten years ago. I've known him since I was a kid through email. I had been sending my demos to David since '98. At that time, I was making instrumental guitar demos and he was the only one who bothered writing back and giving me advice and some tips. I sent it to a lot of labels, but I kept in touch with Chastain through all these years. We emailed back and forth and he said I should get a singer and put vocals over my riffs and that it would be something special. Eventually, he helped me do that and signed me to his Leviathan Records."
Blabbermouth: Did you see yourself as a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai-like instrumental guitar player, then?
Gus: "I started like that because I couldn't find a singer. I made demos like that and developed my songwriting, but I always loved the stuff with vocals. I grew up with MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP and Yngwie [Malmsteen's] RISING FORCE. I loved the blend of a great guitar player and a great singer, but I couldn't find a singer. I wasn't sure at that point what that project would become. I signed with Leviathan in 2000. The idea was to have vocals, though. At that time, the late '90s was a really tough time for instrumental guitar players. Around the late '90s, I was here in the States for a year. It was very discouraging, like, 'Whoa, all these bands like LIMP BIZKIT are coming out.' Guitar solos were not a thing. It was not cool at all. I wasn't going to change because the trend had changed. I soon decided to move back to Europe after my experience in the States. I ended up in Sweden. In the mid-'00s, guitar was happening again."
Blabbermouth: Did anyone ever tell you to tune down your guitar and join a band like KORN instead?
Gus: "No record label guy ever said that to me. I was sending my demos to underground metal labels and they were already releasing bands that were doing their thing, like Nuclear Blast, Metal Blade or Century Media. They always did their thing, even back then. They didn't try to catch up with what was current. They tried to do that later, but at that point, the late '90s, early 2000s, no."
Blabbermouth: Stephen Fredrick turned out to be an excellent choice to sing on the first two FIREWIND albums (2002's "Between Heaven And Hell" and 2003's "Burning Earth").
Gus: "I love those records. I always loved them. I never had second guesses, even though they were rawer and made low-budget. The guitar tones could have been better on them. [Laughs] I'm really glad that Stephen came onto the project and sang. My guitar and his voice made the difference on those albums. That combination was the birth of the FIREWIND sound. I'm really happy that I made those records with him. It was a great start. They have stood the test of time. Even today, they sound pretty bad-ass. We still play songs off those albums. I love them."
Blabbermouth: How do you recall making it work between FIREWIND, DREAM EVIL, MYSTIC PROPHECY and NIGHTRAGE, four bands you were an official member of in the early 2000s?
Gus: "I was very young; that's what happened. [Laughs] I was in these projects before any got signed. I worked with all these different people in Europe and did my own thing with FIREWIND. I wasn't sure what was going to be released. There was no guarantee. None of us had record deals at that time. Eventually, around 2002, all those projects got signed within months of each other. I was like, 'Oh, what's happening now?' I couldn't back off. I just continued. I also wanted the experience. I was very ambitious, obviously. I wanted to write with different people and get that experience. The problems didn't start until touring obligations started coming up. I tried to do it. I tried to juggle all four for a while. I think the time when I decided was in 2005 when I got the call from ARCH ENEMY to fill in for Chris Amott. I came over to the States and toured with them for the Ozzfest 2005. That was a big turning point for me because I saw what it's like to be in a professional band with a crew and management, all that stuff. I saw what it's like to be really dedicated to one thing. The ARCH ENEMY experience inspired me to make new decisions, like, 'Okay, you can't just keep being in four bands and expect it all to work. You have to put your energy and focus into one of these things.' That's when I decided to come back home and quit everything else and focus on FIREWIND. Originally, that was always my thing."
Blabbermouth: The first two NIGHTRAGE albums (2003's "Sweet Vengeance" and 2005's "Descent Into Chaos") you are on are excellent, by the way.
Gus: "Oh yeah. I was helping Marios [Iliopoulos] out. For him, he came off another band, his old band [EXHUMATION] and he was very disappointed. We were close buddies and I said, 'I'll help you out as much as I can.' We programmed a lot of the drums and we recorded on an 8-track at my house. We did the first demos together. I really enjoyed playing guitar with him. He was a great guitar player. We made a good guitar team. It was interesting for me to branch out of the melodic thing. NIGHTRAGE was melodic, but it was more down-tuned and more death metal."
Blabbermouth: Were you a melodic death metal fan?
Gus: "I was at that time. I was into the whole Scandinavian scene with IN FLAMES. I was into it. When I was younger, I was into the Florida death metal scene like DEATH and OBITUARY. I was not a massive fan of all those bands, but some of them I really enjoyed, like Chuck Schuldiner [DEATH]. I liked him a lot. That stuff was popular in Greece as well. I went through a phase where I listened to everything and anything with guitar. I was trying to explore and listen to different ways you could play the guitar."
Blabbermouth: Do you consider the "Allegiance" album the turning point of FIREWIND's career?
Gus: "Yeah, I would say. That was the album that somehow put the band on the map. We got a lot more attention in Europe and America, so on a global level. That was the album that we did our first world tour. We did Asia, North America, all over Europe, the U.K. Funnily enough, it was with DRAGONFORCE as well. They were exploding. They had their song on 'Guitar Hero 3' ['Through Fire And Flames'] They took us out. That was our second European tour. We did a tour with HAMMERFALL the year before. The second one was with DRAGONFORCE. They were exploding and we were catching the tail-end of their hype as the support act. I remember you could also sell a few records. We could see the results. One month later, we sold tens of thousands of albums in one month. It was like, 'Whoa! What's going on here? Something is happening with the band.'"
Blabbermouth: That had to be redeeming, especially after leaving something like DREAM EVIL, which had the same potential.
Gus: "DREAM EVIL was also my band. I was a co-founder. Sure, it was [producer/guitarist] Fredrick Nordstrom's thing, but me and him started it. DREAM EVIL was a disappointment for me because that band had all the success in the world. We could see the signs. The band was selling a lot of records. We were getting all these great offers to tour, but the guys didn't want to do it. I was really disappointed. I think at some point when I made that choice, 'I knew those guys were not serious about a career.' I chose to develop FIREWIND instead. I could have stayed with DREAM EVIL, but I don't think it would have gone anywhere. That's the feeling I got. It was just me and Snowy [Shaw, drums]. The other three guys were not [into touring]. They had really well-paying jobs and that safety thing in Sweden and they all had families. I think Fredrick had a lot of kids, too. He was already established as a producer. This was a hobby for him. To me, it was not a hobby band. I didn't look at it like that. At some point, we had a discussion and I remember the guys saying, 'Gus, if you want to be serious about this, you're better off doing your own thing.' I understood that. It was a shame because the band made killer records."
Blabbermouth: To the present with FIREWIND. You've had several vocalists in and out of the band. Do you think you've solved that issue with Herbie?
Gus: "It's been great. He was totally the right choice. Looking back, I wish I had the guy earlier. [Laughs] I think he goes back into the early days, like when me and Stephen Fredrick had a special chemistry. The same thing is happening with Herbie. This is great. I'm really pleased about it. It works out on the road as well. It works well on stage, offstage and for recordings. I'm really looking forward to doing more stuff with him. His background and history help because he's been in bands that were almost there but didn't [make it]. He did many projects with some hype but never went further. Obviously, he's in AVANTASIA. That's his bread-and-butter. In AVANTASIA, he's one of the backing singers. Now, here, he gets to shine differently as the frontman. He can carry the show with me.
"Herbie decided about three or four years ago to quit his day job and become a full-time musician. Not many people do that in their 40s. He has a really interesting story. Coming from a bunch of underground bands for 20 years, working a day job, then all of the sudden going, 'Screw this. I'm going to be a full-time musician.' He's doing really well at it. FIREWIND came around at the perfect time in his life. I'm really glad about all this."
Blabbermouth: There has been some recent talk about an Eddie Van Halen tribute of some kind. Do you think you could handle something like that?
Gus: "That would be very difficult and challenging to do it justice. I don't know who could do it. [Laughs] It would be scary. Joe Satriani is one of the few guys who could pull it off because of who he is. He's such a unique guitar player. Plus, he's done it before with DEEP PURPLE. From a technical point of view, yeah, I don't think I would be the right player because I don't use the whammy bar. I'm playing a steady, fixed bridge. I don't do a lot of whammy bar tricks. I do tapping, but not as much as other guys. Could I do it? Could I learn the songs? Of course. I could do it, but I don't think I'd be the right guy for such a thing. It's scary as a guitar player walking into such a spotlight. It was scary for me 12 years ago when I did the Ozzy thing. I never thought of myself as that type of guitar player, but when Ozzy looked at me and said, 'You're the guy.' I started thinking about it differently: 'Well, if he sees that, then I should believe in myself more.' [Laughs]"