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Gus G. Takes Over Guitar Duties
The guitar players who have been members of Ozzy Osbourne’s band are widely regarded as among the best of the best in the world of heavy metal. From Randy Rhoads to Brad Gillis to Jake E. Lee to Zakk Wylde, the pedigree of players is impressive. Now after twenty years with Wylde laying down the metal mayhem, it was time for a change, and Ozzy enlisted a hot young shredder that most Americans had never heard of before, Gus G.
Born and raised in Greece, 29 year old Gus G. (Kostas, if you asked his parents) grew up worshiping at the altar of bands like Black Sabbath (his favorite) and Ozzy Osbourne, but he also fell in love with neo-classical shredders like Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Michael Schenker, and Gary Moore. Throw in some modern European industrial metal from the Nineties and you start to get a picture of someone who embraces the Ozzy sound and style, but also brings a few new flavors to the mix.
European metal fans have known Gus G. for a while now thanks to his speed metal band, Firewind. Firewind are releasing their sixth studio album in the Fall 2010. And fans worldwide may have caught some glimpses of Gus G. on the last Ozzfest tour — he temporarily filled in for Christopher Amott in the band Arch Enemy, which may be where Ozzy Osbourne first discovered this fantastic talent.
We caught up with Gus G. just as Ozzy Osbourne’s summer touring schedule kicks into high gear. He’s a really nice guy, and his playing on the new Ozzy CD, Scream, really screams.
“Who’s this guy? Oh, he’s from that band.”
MPc: Why don’t we start with the obvious first question: how did you land the Ozzy gig?
GG: Someone from his management, about a year ago, gave me an email and said “Would you be interested in coming down and auditioning? We might be looking for a guitar player.” So, wow, what a shock, right? I’m like Fuck, what the fuck happened, did Zakk lose an arm or something? But, I felt like, what do I have to lose, right? I’ll just go down there, learn the songs, do my best.
I’m that kind of guy. Whatever shows up I’ll just take it, whatever shows up. And I didn’t really expect I was gonna’ get the gig, I was like, “Well at least I get to jam with Ozzy” (laughs) — nice fuckin’ guy. I came down from Greece to L.A. and it was a good vibe, it just felt good. We did a few songs, Ozzy came down, Sharon came down, and it just felt good. And at the end of the audition Ozzy turned around and said, “You’re fucking great, man.” And a few minutes later they had some small talking there, and they came back and said, “Would you like to come back and do a small gig with Ozzy? He has this event called BlizzCon that we’re gonna’ do.” And that was my first gig; that was my introduction.
MPc: I imagine your band mates from Firewind are pretty happy for you.
GG: Oh man, everybody went fucking crazy and couldn’t believe it. It’s helping the band a lot. The band gets noticed a lot, especially in America, without even really doing anything towards it. People are like, “Who’s this guy? Oh, he’s from that band.” Hopefully it’ll bring in some new fans as well.
MPc: I’ve been listening to the new album, and I love it. It’s my favorite Ozzy album since No More Tears.
GG: Dude, you know what, I’m not shitting you, that’s what I’ve been hearing a lot lately. I have to thank you first of all for saying this — you don’t have to say that, so obviously you mean it. A lot of people are saying it’s the best one he’s done since No More Tears, and time will tell what will happen. But even if it isn’t, that’s not the case, it means that album is enough to get people excited, so I’m very glad about that.
MPc: It will definitely get people excited. No More Tears was the first album with Zakk, I think —
GG: No, it was the second because he did No Rest for the Wicked. Such a great album!
MPc: See that, you’re a bigger Ozzy fan than I am. (laughs)
GG: (laughs) I definitely am a big Ozzy fan. Scorpions and Black Sabbath are my two favorite bands and I definitely know everything about Ozzy’s career. If not, I’m learning it now. I know where he’s coming from, I know who’s been there, and what.
"I want to keep that [classic] vibe but at the same time,
MPc: Your love for Ozzy is obvious. From listening to this record, it’s obvious that Zakk has had an influence on your guitar playing over the years. But you also bring something very different to the table: the European shred metal approach, as well as a sometimes neo-classical approach to your soloing.
GG: Yeah, a little bit. I like European guitar players. I mean, I’m a big Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Moore fan. And I feel that really shows in my playing, and it’s good because I understand where guys like Zakk or Randy or Jake E. Lee come from because I’m a fan of those guys as well.
But at the same time, I have my own background and my own thing, and I’m very happy you notice that. Obviously there’s a bunch of fucking shit out there that sounds too much like Zakk or too much like this or unoriginality and blah, blah, blah, whatever. I don’t fucking try to be Mr. Reinventing-the-Wheel. I’m just trying to do my best. I play like Gus would play. If you pick up any Firewind record you’ll hear the same fucking guy in there.
MPc: Yeah, there were some moments on the recording that really jumped out at me as being “Wow, this is really fresh. This is obviously Gus.” For instance, in the single “Let Me Hear You Scream,” the opening section of the guitar solo sounds almost like a string skipping exercise, and not your typical metal lead.
GG: Yeah, it’s not, it’s kind of like a bigger slide thing, like jumping positions and going back and forth. It’s one of those solos where I put a little bit of thought behind it. I thought, well, let’s not make this one of the most crazy lick that nobody’s ever heard. Honestly, I couldn’t even do that. Let’s do something technical but easy enough for the kids to figure out, but at the same time be blazing and fast and all that.” So it sounds flashy and all that stuff, but once you break it down it isn’t really. It’s a couple of licks together, but it’s well thought-out and put together.
Like you say, yeah, that’s kind of my thing. It’s not something you would hear from Jake or anyone else.
MPc: Yeah, I love that. My ears picked up at that and said “Wow, this is not the same old stuff with a new player.”
GG: Thanks, man, thanks. That is a point, as well. I love Zakk, he’s one of my favorite guitar players. And Randy, and Jake. I love everybody. And you know, I want to keep that vibe but at the same time, I have some good things to contribute. But you also have to consider that I didn’t write any of the songs on the album. I came in at the last minute when there wasn’t any guitar player around. So I came in at the last minute and I played on Kevin’s songs [Kevin Churko, producer and co-writer] and it’s not that they’re bad. They’re fucking great songs. I mean, the songwriting speaks for itself. You don’t need a fucking rocket scientist to get to that.
GG: Yeah, that was the situation. Kevin isn’t a guitar player, but he’s a songwriter and producer. So he did that, and he had the guitar, and that’s where I came in. And they were like, “Please give us your guitar.” Kevin is a fucking great guy, he didn’t hold me back or anything. He was very open. He was like, “Do it how Gus G. would do it, man.” And I was like, you know what? Here’s some ideas that are not very guitar-orientated, and here’s some things that I would do this way. But I didn’t bother to change the songs or anything; the songs were there. Just bits and pieces that make it sound like a kickass riff. Some stuff was just a little to processed on the computer or something like that. I tried to put a little more of a “jam”-y vibe into it. And that was it, it was very nice to work with Kevin in the studio, he really helped me.
MPc: On the songs “Diggin’ Me Down” and “I Want More” we really get a sense of your Euro-metal influence.
MPc: The really precise, very fast rhythms.
GG: The stuff that I play with Firewind is kinda’ like speed metal as well or power metal, whatever, and we have a lot of those fast sixteenth notes and stuff like that. But you’re probably referring to the industrial type of vibe. That was the nature of the songs. And what’s funny is that people thought… originally we were talking about it and there were comments like, “The guitars are too Pro Tools, too processed.” And Kevin was like, “Well you know what, there’s nothing we can do about it because the guitars are not ProTools at all, they are not edited at all. It’s just how Gus played it, he’s just a fucking tight player.” Not to say how great I am, or whatever. This is how I played it.
MPc: Let’s talk about the guitars and amps you used on the album.
GG: For the guitars, I’ve been using ESP for a long time, so I have my own models and all that. I used my random star signature models. These guitars are kind of tailor-made for me, for my sound and style.
MPc: I noticed your signature guitars don’t have a tremolo.
GG: No, they don’t. You know, I had a tremolo model, but I discontinued it, not because I hated it, it did pretty well on the market. Just because I wasn’t using it every night. I felt I had better control with a stop-tail bridge. It just gave me more control, more sustain, that’s how I felt. And eventually I had a chat with ESP and they were like “Let’s sell the guitar that kids see you with most.” And I’m like, that’s the one, the stop-tail bridge, man.
MPc: What kind of tuning do you typically use?
GG: Typically, it’s one whole step down so the guitar would be tuned in D, the whole guitar. But having said that, there’s different tunings on the album which I was not responsible for or anything, it was just like how I found them. “Soul Sucker” was tuned down to B for that sludgy feeling and vibe. Stuff like that.
MPc: I noticed across your signature guitars, some of them had some Seymour Duncan passive pickups, the Distortion and the ’59, and the new one has active Blackouts.
GG: Here’s the thing: obviously it’s not about switching pickups because I fucking felt like this. Ozzy’s been listening to this stuff for the past twenty years with active pickups. This boost is more power, more distortion. Plus, you have to consider it’s one guitar player in the band, whereas in Firewind we have another guitar player as well. So for this gig, I felt like I needed to go to active. I was not really a fan of active pickups, you know? I liked my Duncan Distortion and ‘59. Then Seymour Duncan suggested the Blackouts to me. Have you heard of those?
MPc: I’ve heard of them but I haven’t really listened to them specifically.
GG: Man, this is what I’ve used on the whole album. I’ve gotta’ tell you, man, it’s the fucking best thing out there. It’s louder, it has more distortion, at the same time it’s 12db quieter than the other active pickups. And, on top of that, you get the Seymour Duncan quality, the tone, you don’t hear that one sound only, you hear the wood resonate and the harmonics and all that. So I was like, wow, I can get my tone, but there’s more distortion, more power. And I ended up putting it on almost all of my guitars. I’ve always played Duncan, I love the passives, but this year I’ve been into the Blackouts.
"It’s not like I’m sixteen and learning guitar
MPc: Now let’s talk about amps on the record, and what you’re going to be taking on the road.
GG: Yeah, here’s another story. We were in the studio recording and somebody from ESP suggested to me, “You should try these new amps out on the market called Blackstar from this small company from England and I’m like, cool man. They’re really high quality stuff. So they send an amp down to Ozzy’s studio. And me and Kevin were like, “Alright, let’s fuckin’ try it. What could it be?” And then wow, it sounds great, sounds very big. Great high-quality tone. So, we did a track with it, and it’s one of those things — you track one song and you end up playing on the whole fucking album with it!
So I used a Blackstar 200 watt head called the Series 1 200. I tracked two rhythm tracks with that one and then I tracked with a Marshall JCM 800 through some Electro-Voice speakers, to give it a different sound. So those two sounds compliment each other. That’s my main rhythm tone, what you hear on the album.
MPc: So on the album you were tracking the Blackstar through, I would assume, some Celestoan V30s?
GG: Blackstar through Celestion V30 speakers, yeah, and then the other two tracks were Marshall JCM 800 through EVM speakers. And for the leads I went only with Blackstar.
MPc: Historically, you were associated with Randall amps.
GG: I was. And they were great amps and we had developed a signature model and stuff, and it was one of those things where someone just sends you an amp and you get stuck and it just kind of feels natural for me to move on, you know?
And what I love about Blackstar, it’s a small company. It was actually five guys from Marshall that left and formed their own company. It’s still a baby company growing up, and I was looking to find a partner like that to kind of grow up together. And I really believe in Blackstar. And I think they have a great future ahead of them. I’ll be taking it out on the road. Lots of them. (laughs)
MPc: Let’s talk about effects. Are you a pedal guy? A rack guy? There were some great tones on the record.
GG: You know, probably there are some guitars on there, effected guitars, that Kevin had on there that we probably kept. The clean stuff that I play is just a clean sound and a chorus he gave me. I’m not a rack guy, I’m a stomp box kind of guy. If you see my rig, everybody’s been coming down when we’re rehearsing, and all these guys from these companies are like, “Why don’t you wanna’ do that?” And I’m like, “Dude, I don’t give a fuck.” More cables, more pedals, more racks, more possibilities to fuck things up.
MPc: So, what do you stick to?
GG: My pedal board, in the studio, it’s nothing. In the studio, it’s straight to the amp. I don’t use anything. The main distortion is from the amp. Whatever effects you hear, it’s in the mixing. So I record everything dry. But live, it would be my guitar straight through some stompboxes and into the Blackstar, which is still my main sound. And my stompboxes are: Boss Stage Tuner and BBE Screamer, which is like a little overdrive thing, to get a little more of a boost for leads. Then that goes through a Wah — a Morley Bad Horsie thing I’ve been using for years. Then I use a chorus which is from a Japanese company called Providence, they make these choruses, they make some cables for me. Kind of like a custom shop company in Japan. And that’s it. That’s all.
MPc: Not a delay guy, huh?
GG: I love delay, but I usually get it from the front of house, you know? I already have enough pedals to step on. I don’t want to worry about a delay on stage.
MPc: How are you going to cover your lead and rhythm parts live? Second guitar player?
GG: Well, we got Adam Wakeman in the band, you know? He’s a keyboard player and he also plays guitar in some songs. And he’s fantastic. He’s Rick Wakeman’s son (from Yes). And Adam’s extremely talented, and he can play guitar, like when we do Sabbath stuff, because there isn’t any keyboards in the Sabbath stuff, so he plays guitar to compliment my sound, kinda’ like low in the mix and stuff, low and behind it. And for the songs there’s a lot of effects and a lot of loops to go with it. And Adam’s got it covered. So we got that guy on the other side of stage.
MPc: How much learning did you have to do as far as the back catalogue of Ozzy music goes?
GG: (laughs) Of course, I knew all the songs, like, how they are, but I didn’t really know them all on guitar. I knew a lot of stuff. Mainly, I knew the Sabbath stuff because I’m such a huge Sabbath fan. So, the Sabbath stuff I knew it all by heart. You can name any song and I’ll play it. For the other stuff I knew the classics, but we kind of had to add some stuff to the set list and we’d been working on other stuff. So I did do my homework and I did practice and learn a lot of songs. It was a fun process, man, because I love all these songs and I love all these albums. I fucking grew up on that shit. So it was a fun experience for me to go learn all the stuff. At this age, it’s not like I’m sixteen and learning guitar and learning “Crazy Train.” So, it was definitely interesting for me to go learn these songs note for note and see how Randy did it and the Zakk version and the Jake E. Lee version. It was good.
MPc: What’s next for Firewind?
GG: Well, everybody asks me that. I’m thinking it would be fucking stupid to stop Firewind now. Firewind is like my baby, it’s my band, and I’ve had that for about ten years. Firewind’s actually just finished a new album. It’s called Days of Defiance and it will come out this Fall. And some tour dates will follow some time next year, whenever there’s a break on the Ozzy tour. We’re gonna’ do all the main leg this year. And next year there’s definitely going to be some more touring with Ozzy but there’s gonna’ be some breaks in between, and Firewind’s gonna’ go out and do some shows.
MPc: We wish you the best of luck with Ozzy, and hope to hear you do some writing on the next record as well.
GG: My philosophy is that I take things day by day. As long as Ozzy wants me to be there, I’ll be there. If he keeps calling me back and wants me to write with him, I’ll do it. I’m honored to be here. So you don’t have to worry about me, it’s up to him what he wants to do with his band.
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