Gus G (Interview)
Parents are handed newborn children, authors are furnished with freshly printed books, and musicians are presented with CDs swaddled in liner notes and shrink-wrapped jewel cases. Just before this interview started, Gus G was given the first of many copies of Fearless – his exceptional new solo album, reviewed in full here…
I’m told this is the first time you’ve actually seen a physical copy of the album – is that correct?
How does it feel to actually have it officially ready to get out there?
I feel really good, actually. It’s an exciting feeling every time you get a CD. I can’t wait to see the vinyl too.
I mean, once it’s out there, you can only hope that people will like it. First of all, you can only hope that people will check it out, and then as an extension of that you can only hope that people will enjoy what they hear.
Then you’re just expecting that feedback – negative or positive. As long as there is some sort of reaction.
The real work starts now – because then the album gets released, and you have to get out and promote it, talk to people, play for the fans, as many gigs as possible. A lot of work goes into making something like Fearless to begin with.
How involved are you with the packaging, the artwork, all that stuff?
I have my own graphics guy. He does all the artwork, all the merch, the websites – a guy from Brazil, whose name is also Gus! As in Gustavo.
We always discuss the concepts, and how we want to separate this artwork from what Firewind is doing. That’s why I decided to put my pretty face on the cover this time. So hopefully more dudes are going to check it out!
I’m involved in all the different ways I present myself. I choose the directors for the videos, but I don’t sit down and do the editing. I have my own people, but I’m overseeing it, and I like to get creative with the directors and designers.
So when it comes to the actual music and recording, what’s your creative process? How does it differ from when you’re working, say, with Firewind, or collaborating, as you were with Ozzy?
Well, obviously Ozzy was a different thing altogether, because I was a hired gun. I was there to play for Ozzy, so I asked “what do you guys want?” when it came to doing the record. They told me “just do your thing, be you, and add your guitars,” so that’s what I did.
Here, it’s a different thing. I’m painting a picture myself from an empty canvas, and I can do whatever the fuck I like. The solo records and Firewind records are where you hear 100% Gus, because I’m involved with everything. I write all the songs – not the lyrics, to be honest, because it’s a collaboration with Dennis Ward.
Fearless is a heavily vocal album, really driven by the voice.
Yeah – that’s a misconception about my solo records, that they’re instrumental records. But they’re not.
People expect a lot of shredding…
They do. And honestly there is a lot of shredding, a lot of guitar. There are three instrumentals on this record, but I like to make songs with a vocalist in mind.
It makes it more accessible as well – because the thing with the shred world is that it’s really oversaturated. There are so many people just doing the same thing. But doing something different instrumentally can be quite a challenge, right?
To me, writing instrumentals doesn’t come naturally either. My ideas usually start with a vocal in mind – and if they don’t work out, I can twist and turn them into instrumentals.
With that said, I’m thinking seriously about at some point making more instrumentals. But that would require a different writing approach. The guitar would need to take the space of the voice.
The melodic part is what gets lost with a lot of instrumental music.
Yeah! A lot of guys kind of lose that – but Satriani’s a master. He can speak to you with the guitar.
So it’s a pretty high bar set right there. But like I said, I was never an instrumentalist like that. I always liked to be part of a band.
It shouldn’t be much of a taboo that I have my name on the album cover, but Slash makes solo records, and they have vocals. Yngwie as well.
You’ve had a few years between solo albums now – the last one (Brand New Revolution) was in 2015. So in that time, how have you evolved, as a person and as a musician? You’ve been through a lot – the Ozzy thing is still buried in rumours online, and you put out another record with Firewind last year…
When I released Brand New Revolution, I toured and toured. I even did tours in support of that last year – I didn’t plan on it, but then offers came in to go to Japan, and Steve Stevens asked me to tour with him, so I did a little acoustic set opening up. Then I went to the States with Vinnie Moore – so I got to tour with some amazing guitarists.
In the meantime, we were also getting Firewind back together. I co-wrote Immortals with Dennis Ward, and that became a very successful album for us. Then there was a world tour, which we just finished in Latin America.
As songwriters, Dennis and I just clicked – so the natural next step was me sending him demos for feedback. When you have a winning team…on my first two records I was experimenting and writing with different people, and for Fearless I wanted to keep things focused and keep a close circle of collaborators.
For this album, that turned out to be Dennis, because we worked together so well. So I sent him a bunch of tracks, and he was sending me rough ideas with vocals. The material on Fearless started shaping up.
It was natural evolution really. We didn’t force it.
I know you’re totally sick of talking about this, but there are still so many rumours online and there’s so much bullshit surrounding it. The split with Ozzy is the predictable, obvious topic, and a question that it’s still hard to find the answer to. That was last spring, right?
Yeah, last spring. In January 2017, Ozzy was finishing up with Black Sabbath and there was a festival announcement coming up in Chicago. So I was wondering what was happening, and being told “well, we don’t know yet,” and that’s when I got a hint that I was probably out of the picture.
So I was basically waiting for a call to let me know what was going to happen. And sure enough, Sharon did call me up around March and told me that they were going to bring Zakk [Wylde] back and do this farewell tour.
So I was like “alright, cool,” you know? I think it makes sense to bring Zakk back – there’s so much history between them.
It’s kind of a circular thing, since you’d replaced Zakk, and then they brought him back for the farewell tour…
Yeah! And it’s cool that he’s bringing back his most iconic guitar player after Randy Rhoads. If you think about it, Zakk is the longest-serving guitarist there – and they have the most classic albums after the Randy albums.
I think it’s a good thing – and in my opinion, it’s probably what a lot of the fans would like to see, especially with Ozzy wrapping up his touring career. And that’s that.
I never took that gig for granted – so I was pretty okay with everything. It’s not like it was my band. I was a hired musician, and I had the time of my life with Ozzy. I learnt a lot, and it gave me a lot of exposure – so I can do solo albums now. I’ve built my own brand, and I’m forever grateful to Ozzy and Sharon.
They’ve been good to me – and there are no hard feelings. I wish them the best, really.
Obviously you’ve played a lot of shows with Ozzy, with Firewind, and as a solo artist. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen during one of those shows?
Usually it’s pretty okay. A couple of weeks ago, it really turned me off that I saw someone fighting in the audience. We were playing a festival in Germany with Firewind, one of the last shows of the tour, and I saw somebody’s fucking nose busted open, really bleeding like a motherfucker.
They were really drunk and starting fights, so I had to stop the show and say “hey guys – take it easy,” you know? We’re here to enjoy the music, not fistfight. I don’t like violence.
It’s something that gets associated with metal a lot – even though most metal fans are normally relatively chilled out. Metal tends to calm people down, since it’s a way of letting people get their anger out through music.
Yeah. I think in that case, someone just got too drunk and picked a fight or whatever. I didn’t exactly see what happened.
But odd things…sometimes we see nice gestures from fans in the front row. There’s a girl who shows up in France who has this Pikachu backpack, and offers us this Pikachu. Sometimes we take it and put in on an amp, or have it give imaginary blowjobs…[laughs]!
Interesting use for a Pikachu…
Are you touring this album?
I’m touring at the moment, doing a combination of clinics and shows. I’m touring in Scandinavia, doing a couple of shows, then flying back to Copenhagen.
I’m doing some shows with Jesper Binzer, the singer of D-A-D. He has a solo record out too, and he asked me to open up for him in Scandinavia. He’s pretty much a household name there. And we’re flying to France to do the Full Metal Cruise. Then clinics in Greece, and the shows with Jesper.
We’re also going to announce a lot of tour dates for the fall. The US, possibly an extensive UK run and an extensive European run as well, going through most of the countries really. That’ll keep us busy until December.
If money, space, and good taste weren’t issues, what would your stage show look like?
Fucking insane. Obviously a lot of lights and pyro, a lot of fire for sure. More stacks of amps – I usually have quite a few, but I could fit in a bit more.
You could probably go from stage to ceiling with just massive stacks of amps…
On the Ozzy shows, I used to go out with six full stacks. You don’t really need that many, but I still go out with two stacks. But just for looks, I’d go out with even more, on both sides of the stage.
I’d try it all out there, if I had the chance.
If you could choose just one moment as a highlight of your career so far, which would it be?
Sitting here talking to you!
Haha! I’m flattered, but I’m not convinced…
Dammit! I mean, playing for Ozzy was a big highlight for me. It put me on the heavy metal map at a whole other level.
I noticed that on Facebook, your page has around double the number of likes that Firewind has – even though that’s the band you started before you were doing your own solo records. Would you say that’s down to the Ozzy connection, or a combination of different things?
I’d say a combination of all of it. I’ve played with a lot of different people, and I’ve been blessed enough to have a good profile in the musician’s scene as well. I’ve been really accepted there, and have a lot of support.
Plus I have good fans, and support from wonderful companies like Jackson, or in the past with ESP and Blackstar amps. I’ve been blessed to design products with those companies – and those are always highlights. I got to design pickups with Seymour Duncan, a guitar with Jackson, with Mike Shannon, who’s like the master builder. He did the guitar with Randy Rhoads.
So all these things are real highlights.
Plus the Pikachu…
Haha! Yeah. I’m sure I’m going to see Mr Pikachu again!
For more about Fearless, check out my review here.
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