GUS G. – The Quest
Following the issue of March 2014 outing I Am The Fire – the debut full-length solo affair from Thessaloníki, Greece-based guitarist Gus G., of Ozzy Osbourne and Firewind notoriety – its mastermind immediately entered subsequent songwriting sessions with collaborator and Adler / Lynam vocalist Jacob Bunton, penning several tracks which were ultimately kept for future use.
“Shortly after the record came out, I did four shows in the US, and then after that, I went straight into the studio with my band,” Gus remembers. “We cut like six songs in three days. We had the full band playing together live in a room, which is something that I had never done before. That was cool. In regards to the other tracks, I just had a lot of demos and a lot of riffs gathered and piled up anyways. I just sent them to different singers again, like Mats Levén (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen / ex-Therion), Jeff Scott Soto (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen) and Elize Ryd (Amranthe), and that’s how it came together.”
The axeman authors compositions for several endeavours, perhaps causing difficulty as to where resultant tunes are eventually placed. “I just find out in the process really, in the way that I do it,” he shares. “Obviously these days, if I do something that’s a bit more speed metal sounding or more power metal sounding, I know that it’s gonna be a Firewind track. When I do a more rock thing thing though, like a more modern rock kind of thing or a classic rock type of vibe, I know that it’s gonna be something for my solo thing. My solo thing is just straightforward rock ’n’ roll, hard rock, or whatever you wanna call it. I don’t know. It’s definitely heavy rock.”
Such comments suggest Gus’ solo musical style is set in stone. “Who knows, man?,” he wonders. “You take one day at a time. I don’t think too much ahead about the third record or the fourth record. We’ll see where I am at when the time comes to write some more new songs.”
Several of the riffs featured on July 2015 follow-up Brand New Revolution were composed in years previous. “Some of the riffs go way back, actually,” the axe-slinger highlights. “The song ‘Come Hell Or High Water’, that was like a jam that I had for three or four years – it was just laying there in the vault. What else?… The title track ‘Brand New Revolution’, me and Jacob Bunton wrote… Some of the song, I actually wrote in Las Vegas when I was writing with Kevin Churko. I went there to do the song ‘Long Way Down’ for my first album, and then we made another riff together which was half-finished. Then I went back home and finished that with Jacob.
“I wanted to include ‘Brand New Revolution’ on the first record, but then the record company said ‘No, no, no… Don’t put that on the record.’ I was like ‘Okay. Whatever,’ but I knew that that was definitely gonna be on the next record, and I liked the title of it. I kind of instantly knew what my next album was gonna be called. The song is about a revolution, obviously (laughs). It can mean whatever revolution you want it to mean. Jacob Bunton wrote the lyrics for that one.”
Albeit not centrally devising Brand New Revolution’s lyrical content, the aforementioned content included Gus’ involvement. “Sometimes I discuss with a guy if we should do a certain lyric,” he divulges. “For example, there’s a song on the record called ‘Generation G’ which I wrote with Jeff Scott Soto. I said to Jeff about how I had read an article in a magazine about Generation G being the new wave of Greek immigrants – with the crisis and everything now – that are going to other countries. This is the second biggest wave ever – since the 60s – of Greek immigrants leaving the country, and I wanted to write a song about that. I said to Jeff ‘We should write something like that, about the Generation G.’ That’s what that song is about.
“Then there’s the song ‘Behind Those Eyes’, which is about people who deal with depression and addiction, and stuff like that. Jacob did a really good job with the lyrics for that one. There’s a lot of good meanings in the songs; the lyrics have strong messages where people can just translate and make it their own, and I like that. That makes it more personal for the listener. A song like ‘One More Try’ or ‘Come Hell Or High Water’ is just about saving your loved one from whatever it is.”
Writing sessions for Brand New Revolution spawned several leftover tracks. “I did a couple more instrumental tracks that I didn’t think were good enough…,” the composer begins. “Not good enough, but sometimes you don’t finish a song that quickly. The ones that came together quicker, those are usually the ones which stick with me, but there were a couple of instrumentals that I was working on that didn’t get finished. I have a folder in my computer where it’s just like a lot of riffs, so I have a lot of stuff still that’s been unused. I don’t know where they could end up.”
Gus crafting instrumental numbers naturally leads to the prospect of a wholly instrumental full-length. “Never say never, but it’s pretty unlikely at this moment,” he stresses. “I don’t see myself doing an instrumental record, but you never say never. If it happens, it happens, but I’m not a big fan of instrumental albums except the really classic ones that I grew up listening to. The Shrapnel albums, the early Joe Satriani albums and Steve Vai. Passion And Warfare (September 1990), Surfing With The Alien (October 1987), and Rising Force (March 1984), and stuff like that. That stuff’s been done. It’s just hard to raise the bar when it comes to that – it’s hard to top those. I don’t listen to new guitar players who do instrumental stuff, because there’s almost no point. A lot of the guys just create backing tracks for them, and they solo over that.”
Nevertheless, Brand New Revolution is inaugurated by instrumental cut ‘The Quest’ “It’s just a highly technical track,” the mainman comments. “It’s just one of the songs where I push myself as a guitar player. I tried to push myself to the next level, really. I thought it was one of the ones that was cool enough to be on the record, good enough. I put it as an opening track on the record really because I know a lot of people kind of expect me to do that, like you asking me now about possibly doing an instrumental record. I think when people just think of a guitar player’s record, they automatically think of an instrumental record. I just wanted to hit everybody hard with the opening track; I think it’s a good opening track to just hit everybody in the face, and then move on with the rest of the record, which are several minute rock songs.”
Albeit hesitant to record a wholly instrumental record, Gus is seemingly adept at writing instrumentals. “I think the reason why they’re all probably special is because I focused on making one or two really good ones, instead of making ten or 12 instrumentals,” Gus judges. “You get bored pretty easily with that. I didn’t wanna have that, just for the sake of doing an instrumental record. If some day I can manage to get ten really killer instrumentals – like ‘The Quest’ for example – then I’ll definitely do an instrumental record.”
‘The Quest’’s acoustic outro boasts a Spanish flavour. “I’m a big Al Di Meola fan, and I think a lot of that comes out in my playing as well,” the musician observes. “I think he became like a role model for all those guys, like the Shrapnel guys. Everybody’s gonna tell you that they listen to Al Di Meola; from Vinnie Moore to… I don’t know… Zakk Wylde. Everybody listens to Al Di Meola. He made some really groundbreaking records in the 70s like Elegant Gypsy (1977) and Casino (1978), and those are landmark albums for guitar players. He was like the shredder before the shred era started.
“It’s just stuff that I grew up with. It’s records that you get into when you’re young. I remember my dad exposing me to a lot of stuff like Santana, Pink Floyd, Al Di Meola, and stuff like that. I used to listen to a lot of that stuff at home, so I think that that becomes a part of your background when you’re young.”
Brand New Revolution – generally speaking – acts as a continuation to predecessor I Am The Fire. “Stylistically, it’s not very far away,” Gus critiques. “I think it’s heavier, mind. There were riffs on the first one as well. There’s a lot of guitar of course, but this one just got a bit heavier for some reason. I don’t know. It just came out like that.
“Maybe it sounds like a bit more of a band effort this time as well, just because we recorded half of the record as a band. We had a good direction, a good sense of where to go, whereas the first record was just me gathering a bunch of ideas and then sending them out to different people. Now, this is becoming a bit more focused and honed down, if you know what I mean. It sounds a bit more focused. There’s a closer group of collaborators on this, like Mats, Jeff, and Jacob.”
Other musicians to have contributed to Brand New Revolution included Firewind drummer Johan Nunez and bassist Marty O’Brien, rounding out the band as it were. “Jo is my bandmate in Firewind, and so when I needed a drummer to tour steadily for this project, I called up Jo because he didn’t have any other gig,” the performer explains. “He’s just an amazing drummer. Marty O’Brien is someone that I met through Jay Ruston, who mixed my first record and then engineered this one as well – Jay mixed the first three tracks of the record. Marty toured with me in the States, and so we went together in the studio. Marty played on half of the record, and the other half I played bass on.”
Augmenting the music section was largely a pool of vocalists who returned following appearances on I Am The Fire. “I just continued writing with those people,” Gus reasons. “Usually I’ll have a demo, and I’ll just send it to somebody if I think it will fit somebody’s vibe. I’ll just send them a bunch of riffs, and be like ‘Hey… What do you think?’ Usually, they’ll hit me back with some vocal lines over it, and that’s how we’ll create the songs.
“I toured with Mats a lot in Europe and I toured with Jeff in the States, and Jacob is a really good friend of mine. Me and him just started co-writing a lot of songs together, We wrote the song ‘Just Can’t Let Go’ on the first record, and then when I did US shows, his band Lynam were opening the shows. For some reason, some people are just closer to me. We work well together, and we write songs very quickly, very efficiently, and very easily. I like to work with people like that.”
Listeners will naturally gravitate towards certain vocalists, favouring certain vocalists over others. “People have different tastes,” the axeman acknowledges. “You can’t listen to everybody, what they say. I think the first record was a record where everybody appreciated the different style that everybody brought onboard, but I didn’t judge the new record by that. I just judged it by the material. It all comes down to that; if the music is good enough, if it’s performing well enough.”
Gus would like to collaborate with other vocalists in the future. “A lot of people,” he underlines. “We’ll have to see. There’s always talk about writing with more people and doing stuff, so we’ll have to see what the future holds. I don’t have anyone specifically in mind right now. I knew I wanted to do a song with Elize, because I’m a big fan of her voice. I really love what she does, and so I was happy that I was able to get her for this track. I think it’s one of the strongest tracks on the record.
“I co-wrote that with a producer in LA, named Matt Dauzat. It was just an idea that I had. I sent it to him, and he finished the whole song with vocals, lyrics and everything. It was a song that I had Elize’s voice in my head for from the start. We had the song demoed out and Matt Dauzat’s wife Heather, she’s also a great singer. She sang the demo, but then I sent it to Elize. I said ‘Are you interested in singing that?,’ and she loved the track. She just did her version of it, and sent it back to me. That’s how that happened.
“The track is in the middle of the record and has a female voice, but it’s such a different track compared to the rest of the record. It’s a bit more of a produced track with a lot of effects, a lot of production on it, whereas the others on the record are a bit more stripped down and with a rock ’n’ roll style – with a band in the studio. It divides the first part and the second part of the record nicely.”
Albeit harbouring intentions in writing the track ‘What Lies Below’, the axe-slinger didn’t really harbour any intentions when initially embarking upon a solo career. “Just writing the songs that I wanted to write,” he reflects. “It was more of a cathartic experience, the first record. I was going through a lot of shit personally, and so was the band. I just to take a break from everybody and everything, and just did this music. I didn’t do it to really start a solo career; I did it just because I had to get this music out there, somehow.”
One might assume the lure of a solo album contract might’ve prompted Gus to pursue a solo path. “When I started out, I didn’t even tell my record deal I was doing this,” he clarifies. “I paid for everything in advance on my own. I funded the first record by myself, and just finished it the way I liked. I took it to Century Media because they’ve been my label for many years, and said ‘Hey… This is what I’ve got.’ Of course, they were really excited and stuff, and wanted it.”
The songwriter’s working relationship with Century Media has existed for a number of years. “Yeah, especially in Europe,” he comments. “Things have not always been great with America. In America, I’m releasing it on my own label this time – this record – because we didn’t do things the way we should’ve the last time around, I think. I don’t think a lot of my fans in the States even knew that I had a solo record out. I think they’re going through a lot of changes in the States, but their German office is very solid. They’re like a legendary label; they know how to sell rock and heavy metal music, and I have a great A&R guy there that’s always supported me. I know the team there, and they know me. They signed me when I was 21-years-old, and now I’m 35 (laughs). Almost half of my life, I’ve been there.”
Gus arguably accrued many more fans Stateside in his guise as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, making the potential market for debut solo effort I Am The Fire greater. “I was hoping for that too, but a lot of things have to happen for a record to be successful,” he ponders. “It’s not just putting it out there, and posting on Facebook or Twitter about it, and everybody going apeshit. It’s not only that. You have to have a big strategy behind it – how you’re gonna market yourself, how you’re gonna brand yourself – especially going out with a new project. How you’re gonna sell that, and how much you’re willing to spend to create awareness.
“I’m sure all record labels know that, but these days the record business is dying, really. Everybody’s playing it safe, which on one hand I understand, but on the other hand, being the artist you want everything and more, so you’re never happy. This time around, I just wanted to do it all by myself. I’m fortunate enough that I have my own record label in the States and I have a big distributor, so I can promote this the way that I want to without really having to argue about it with anybody. I go through Dismanic, and my distributor is eOne.”
Dismanic / eOne is co-ordinating the US issue of Brand New Revolution, which was recorded with Jay Ruston. “I co-produced ‘What Lies Below’ with Matt Dauzat, but the rest I produced,” the mainman discloses. “The first batch of songs were done in Los Angeles in October 2014 at Clearlake Studio, and then the other half was recorded I think in… January 2015, or December of 2014. In Thessaloniki, Greece, at a studio I work out there at a lot. That’s in my hometown.
“Basically, Jay’s idea was to get the band in the studio, to do it live this time. He said to me ‘You know, man… You have so much energy onstage with the band, we should get you and the guys in the studio jamming these songs out. Capture that energy,’ and he was right. We did that. He brought some great ideas.”
Longtime collaborator Gustavo Sazes designed the cover artwork for Brand New Revolution. “He’s created a lot of the branding you see for Firewind, and for my thing as well,” Gus adds. “It was just going back and forth, talking about what we could do with the Brand New Revolution name. It all started with doing sketches of people in a riot, or in a destroyed city, and all that. Then I got the idea of… He had my symbol up in the sky. I was like ‘Dude, it looks like a spaceship. Why don’t we just create a fucking spaceship landing on earth?’ It was very sci-fi inspired of course, and all that. He did an awesome job, I think.”
A music video is in the pipeline. “I think we’re gonna do a video for ‘What Lies Below’ with Elize – we’re trying to figure out the timing,” the performer reveals. “We’re gonna drop a lyric video for ‘Burn’ in the coming weeks, I think.”
And as well, Gus will tour to complement Brand New Revolution’s release. “We’re putting together the plans for the rest of the year now, to do a European and an American tour,” he details. “Mats Levén is gonna be singing, Jo is playing drums, and Stratos (Karagiannidis) – who played bass on a previous tour – is gonna be playing bass. It generally depends on who is available. If somebody’s available, they do the tour. If they’re not, it’s cool. Somebody else steps in. There’s no fixed set of musicians, really. It’s all just friends.”
As to the status of band endeavour Firewind, the public are firmly in the dark at the time of writing. “There’s not a lot happening,” the musician reckons. “I’ve been working on some new tracks with a new singer whose name I can’t reveal yet, and so we’ll see how it goes. I’m very busy with my album right now, but when touring winds down, I’m gonna go back and start writing with him some more and then hopefully do a new record sometime.”
And the same can be said as to the status of a new Ozzy Osbourne full-length. “That’s not up to me, really,” Gus cautions. “That’s up to him, whenever he decides. I think he has a Black Sabbath thing to do next year again, so we have to wait and see.”
Brand New Revolution was released on July 24th, 2015 in Europe, Australia and South America via Century Media Records. The album underwent North American issue through Dismanic / eOne, with Japanese release occurring via King Records.
Interview published in July 2015. All promotional photographs by Joe Lester
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