FIREWIND (Gus G & Apollo Papathanassiou) INTERVIEW
Being the lead guitar player for the living legend that is Ozzy Osbourne must be the dream of every young guy who ever decided to pick up a six string. Greek guitar hero Gus G has managed to successfully live that dream while having both his feet firmly attached to the ground and without sacrificing his solo career with the much loved outfit Firewind in the process! On the night of the band’s first ever headlining sold-out show in London, I met up with both Gus and frontman Apollo Papathanassiou for what turned out to me a fairly short but quite enjoyable chat revolving around the band’s latest full-length release “Days Of Defiance”, Gus’ participation in Ozzy’s current tour and both bands’ plans for the future!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Hi guys! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. It is a great pleasure for me to be interviewing a group of very successful fellow-countrymen! Your last album “Days Of Defiance” has been receiving many rave reviews and that must be quite pleasing, seeing as it comes right after a release as important as “The Premonition” (2008) – a very strong and equally impressive album!
Gus: Yes, our last two albums got equally great reviews and it feels good when we get recognised that way and you get quite a lot of people around the world saying good things about your music – it is indeed a great feeling. It is very satisfactory.
• I am a massive fan of “The Premonition” album, and to me that album made sense as being part of an escalating musical process and, as with most bands, it made me feel that you had reached a stage where things cannot become any better. The new album is really growing on me – I am not sure yet, as I am still going through the process of getting to know it, whether it’s going to top your previous effort but I can see many similar elements such as the strength of melodies and also your vocal performances, Apollo, which are once again top-notch! I have to personally congratulate you on your work there.
Apollo: Thank you.
• From your point of view how do you see/find the difference between “The Premonition” & “Days Of Defiance”? What did you do differently in the studio in order to come up with such a result?
Apollo: Actually, the thing is with the vocals that I had more time to figure out how to do things. Everything was more scheduled and it is easier when you don’t have the pressure to create something. In that sense there was a big difference between “The Premonition” and “Days Of Defiance”. With “The Premonition”…the time was not there as we had to do and deliver the package faster than we did with “Days Of Defiance”. So it’s better to have time to do things.
• Is it fair to say that, when comparing the two albums, the “Days Of Defiance” record would not have sounded the way it did had you not gone through the process of recording “The Premonition” first?
Gus: Well, I always feel that each album you do marks where you are at, at a certain moment in time, how your feeling are and where you are as a band and that you need to make that step in order to move to the next one. We could not have made that album two years ago, you know. “Days Of Defiance” is where Firewind are in 2010 or 2011 now. Stylistically I don’t think that we are playing anything much different from what we did in the last two albums. We certainly did have, as Apollo said, more time on our hands and we got to…we eliminated the stress and that really helped us in getting more creative and producing really great performances from each and every one of us in this album. That was the one main difference, you know, but like I said before, the music kind of like remains the same in a sense – our roots are still there. We are just trying not to repeat the mistakes that we did in the past and make it as painless as possible because recording an album is a painful procedure.
• Once again, one thing that really makes Firewind stand out in my opinion is this ability to record different types of music. I mean, you have everything from classic Hard Rock to the heaviest up-beat stuff. It is kind of strange asking this kind question but I will do it anyway: of all the different styles of music that you play, which is the one that’s closest to your heart? Would it be a power ballad or a stronger, heavy, crunchy composition?
Gus: It’s hard to pick one out because I think that Firewind is that band and one thing that’s fantastic about this band is the fact that we are able to jump from a ballad to a Speed/Thrash Metal track and then back into an instrumental composition or into whatever – a mid-tempo, Hard Rock or an atmospheric keyboard Rock song, and then back into a Speed Metal song or something. I like all moments, you know? I like to play fast personally, so (laughs)…I like the fast songs a lot, but not to leave the other stuff aside. I believe that there is a very big bonus for the band that we can do that, so I am not going to pick.
• What about you, Apollo? You recently had a stint with Spiritual Beggars and that must have been a really good experience and, again, even then people commented on your vocal approach. Do you think that this experience kind of helped bring new elements into the music of Firewind, something that perhaps sometime in the future you can use as a weapon in the Firewind ‘arsenal’?
Apollo: I think Firewind has its own…identification, if you know what I mean. We do what feels most right to our hearts with the music of Firewind. With Spiritual Beggars, we use and follow a more 70s style of music and elements, something that I don’t have to use in Firewind. Maybe I could use some parts…you know, in Spiritual Beggars I have a low register, but in Firewind we just give it all in another way and we have this balance between, as you talked with Gus before, from ballads to fast songs, to mid tempo – we can combine all those things and still keep a certain balance. So I do not think that I am going to use anything…my historical singing background is more Blues orientated like Whitesnake and I still use some such parts in Firewind.
Gus: Yes, indeed. We do use such elements on our records.
Apollo: Yes, we do but in a higher level, you know? Just so that it fits Firewind! So, I don’t think that I have to compare these two bands because these are two different styles of music we are talking about. I can sing with this style in one band and with another style in the other, so I don’t really have to mix styles in each band.
• Ok, I see what you mean. Something else that’s really interesting about the new album is that it was the first time in the band’s career where we had a single (note: “World On Fire”) being released in digital format only on the Internet.
Gus: Yes, it was indeed the first time that we did a digital single only.
• What was the reason behind such a decision? Is it also going to be released in a ‘proper’ format?
Gus: No it will not…I guess that this is a sign of our times really. It doesn’t make any more sense to release maxi singles because there isn’t a market for it. A few years ago we released singles in Greece and we were like on top five of the national charts top ten or whatever and then the sales started becoming less and less, so in the end, you could only sell a couple of hundred copies and be like number one or something, you know? And then that thing simply vanished, not only for us that play Hard Rock but also for mainstream acts, you know? So, I guess that the sign of the times is that people buy stuff from iTunes, the physical thing is going down more and more, and I guess that the labels decided to do it digitally only this time round, which I don’t think that is a bad idea. It’s all about promoting your work really and if that’s what it takes to do it these days then that’s what you’ve got to do, you know?
• This is a little bit of a double-edged sword in the sense that Metal fans are renowned for being loyal and for wanting to have the right format for their record collection back home! They are collectors, so I am really curious how they will react when one day we are going to know that the new Firewind album is only going to be…
Gus: Probably one day, you know, the new Firewind album will be counted as how many hits, free hits, is has on YouTube, or on a fu*king website, you know? It will not matter anymore how many people actually bought it! It’s gone to another level now! When you’re an artist, you don’t…selling an album doesn’t mean sh*t anymore – you have to sell the whole thing! It’s equal as to selling a drumstick with your name on it or selling a guitar pick or selling a guitar, a DVD or a shoe with your logo on it! The music now is part of a greater picture you know? Whereas before it was the main thing and the rest kind of came with it! So, this is where things are today and…I don’t know – I guess that what we are doing is kind of like being caught in the wrong time here but it doesn’t really matter, you know? You just got to be happy about playing your music and the fact that we still get the chance to travel around the world, make a living from it and have fans coming to see us in clubs or festivals wherever we play is amazing! As long as that thing doesn’t go away I think that we will be in a good place, you know?
• I have to ask one Ozzy Osbourne related question which I am sure that you expected at some point, which is important as I feel that it is related with the whole Firewind thing. When you started your career, Firewind was the means of releasing your music, your solo project. Then, you went around performing with different bands and then came back and decided to focus exclusively on Firewind…
Gus: I kind of did things the wrong way around! At first we were like an MP3 band; me a label guy from Atlanta helping me, Dave Chastain, helping me with various session musicians and I always had…my secret dream was to get Firewind to be a real band, but it was just not happening at that moment. So, we did a couple of records like that and the reason why we started to get real band members to join was because our records started selling well in Japan! They offered us a tour there, so that’s when things started – that’s why I said that we went backwards! It took me a few years to find these guys and so…sorry what was your question?
• …well, some people, myself included, are kind of worried that when you got the gig with Ozzy Osbourne, we would have Firewind becoming a side project again. Then we see Apollo getting involved with Spiritual Beggars and that’s when we become really worried, you know? Now that Firewind are getting to a good place, we would hate it if that momentum were to stop, you know?
Gus: I see.
Apollo: I am just thinking that many people play music but they also have a job back home. Maybe you could make such a comparison that Gus playing with Ozzy is the second job that he has and when he doesn’t get involved with that job, he plays with Firewind. I think that you can compare that with any kind of job. I am working too when I get back home, but when it gets to Firewind and when it’s time I go out and play with them!
• So, it’s all about keeping that fine balance between touring with Ozzy and having free time for Firewind, right?
Gus: I think that doing a tour with Ozzy is a big commitment, you know? It’s a big tour and you play in stadiums and arenas everywhere and obviously when I am there I have to do that. But the thing is that when that tour ends that’s when our schedule starts and when we start rolling our machine, then that’s the main thing, you know? There’s always time enough to keep everybody happy and do everything, you know? I like what we do now, for example, with the first ‘phase’ of the album. What we are doing is that we are doing some selective gigs; we are doing a London gig, a New York gig, a Tokyo gig and we are playing all the big places, all the big centres of the world, you know? That’s kind of cool, because we have been touring nonstop since…
Apollo: …since 2006!
Gus: Since 2006 we have not stopped touring! We have played in every fu*king club of the world, you know? This is like a cool thing for us; it’s great to get out and play cool gigs like that and obviously, you know, I am going to finish the Ozzy tour and then we are going to go out again, so…yeah! It keeps everybody happy, everybody busy and the bottom line is that, you know, a band like Firewind is only benefiting from a situation like that! It’s really putting our name much higher on the map, you know?
• Gus, your personal contribution to Ozzy’s “Scream” album was not big in terms of creating the material…
Gus: No, I came in last and my job was simply to play the guitars because the songs were already there, so…
• Is that something you reckon is going to change in the future if, let’s say, you decide to record a new album with Ozzy?
Gus: Yeah! I would like to write for him! I have already started writing stuff for him, you know? But, you know, Ozzy doesn’t make albums that often, you know? It could be a few years before we do a next one, you know, and Ozzy is also in that sense, if you compare Firewind being like a back burner, Ozzy’s solo career has been like a back burner for many years as well, because he’s doing Black Sabbath, he’s dong books, he’s doing movies, he’s doing a lot of things. So, I am sure that after this tour he’s going to take a break from his solo stuff. We will keep on writing, but he will take a break and he will do his thing whether it’s called Sabbath or it’s called whatever – the Osbournes, you know? It’s good as it keeps everybody busy!
• Guys, on my way here I saw a massive queue outside the venue and as far as I know this is a sold out gig today. Now, to have achieved that in a country like England where this kind of sound is quite a difficult thing, so you must have done something really great there.
Gus: We have worked hard here for years! We have been touring here since 2005 and keep on coming back – many times!
Apollo: We have played short gigs.
• You have opened for bands like Stratovarious if I remember correctly!
Gus: We have opened for Stratovarious and…
Apollo: Grand Magus.
Gus: We have headlined our own tours, we have supported bigger bands, we have done a Dragonforce tour, a Stratovarious tour, we have done Download, we have done Bloodstock…we have done almost every Metal festival there is here! We play gigs from small towns, we have played in London a million times, so this is a good come-back for us here and this is very successful – the first time we get our own sold-out show here! It’s a good day for us (laughs).
• Guys, I was just given the signal to end this interview here! Do you want to give a message to our subscribers, your fans here in the UK and also the people who are going to listen and read this interview?
Gus: Happy New Year! (laughs)
Apollo: Happy New Year!
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