For the Greek metal band Firewind it took years of hard work reaching the metal fans outside of their homeland. Guitarist Gus G started demoing back in 1998, but it was only in 2002 that the band released their first album, and it was their "Allegiance" album back in 2006, that finally paved way for them for bigger markets. It's been two years now from that, and Firewind has been actively touring around Europe since then, also visiting Finland with Kamelot early this year, and now starting their headlining tour, which will take them to many familiar countries again. You can read the gig review from Finland last April, when Firewind played in Tavastia with Kamelot and Forever Slave from here
The first visit in Finland for Firewind went well, even though they didn't at the time have an army of fans here. The first shows anywhere for bands are always exciting, and Firewind likes to check out places and building the fanbase is very important. Gus knew people in Finland love metal, and for him our country is THE metal European country. Yeah, we've got HIM, Nightwish, The Rasmus, Children Of Bodom and so on, not forgetting Lordi, that even our President is proud of. Our schools burst with metal fans and one of our most popular radio channels plays metal, the list goes on and on, so at the moment I'd say we're THE metal country of the WORLD.
Firewind is Gus, Mark Cross (drums), Petros Christo (bass), Bob Katsionis (keys, guitars) and Apollo Papathanasio (vocals), who lives and grew up in Sweden, although he's Greek like the rest of the guys, who still live in Greece. Gus was a Swedish resident also, which is why he's sometimes mistaken as a Swede, but his real name is Kostas Karamitroudis. It's easy to tell where these guys are from when you meet them, they're very friendly and warm with the people they meet, so as I met up with Gus for the interview it was like a meeting with an old friend, and because of his very fluent English this was one of the easiest interviews I've ever done. With only twenty minutes with Gus this is just a small scratch of the career of Firewind and Gus.
You've released your fifth album. How much does it differ from your previous one and what new did you want to offer on this one?
Gus - I think this album is a bit more heavier, than the previous one. There's more guitars, I tried pushing the whole guitar thing a bit more in the front. The previous album had a lot more keyboards, this one has a lot of keyboards too, but a bit less. This is a more guitar oriented album and we tried a different kind of production this time.
Some people say is has more pop elements.
Gus - It has. We even made a cover of the song "Maniac" (Michael Sembello) from the eighties movie "Flashdance", so that's totally pop. But usually even on the more heavier songs the choruses are more poppish, I don't know why, but they came out very catchy this time. We always pay attention to have really catchy hooks, vocals and stuff, so eventhough some songs are really heavy on this album, when the chorus comes in it's like a bit popstyle, which is cool, because our goal is that people can sing the melody when they hear it. It's easy for them to remember.
How do you come up with the ideas for songs and start working on them?
Gus - Usually I will either write some riffs and do some demos or something, or have my acoustic guitar in my living room and just jam or something, and find some chords and melodies. Usually I will write something like that, either like that or some heavy riffs, then I start to construct and make some demos and that's how songs come out.
Firewind also released a special edition of the new album with bonus live DVD, and now they have a DVD out of that exact same show, which includes the whole show from their hometown Thessaloniki and a lot more.
Gus - It's where we presented the whole new album from beginning to end, plus it has all the old stuff. It's like a two hour show. We got a lot of extra stuff too, some roadmovies, documentary, old videos of the band and complimentary shows, extra stuff from other shows.
Do you have any faves from the new album?
Gus - It's kind of hard to say, I like all of them (laughs). I like the ballads, "My Loneliness" is cool and "Circle Of Life" and the last song "Life Foreclosed", a very dark and heavy song with some acoustic guitars and then in the middle it becomes kind of like Metallica type of style, a bit more American style. I love to play "Head Up High" live.
Do you have any instrumentals on the album?
Gus - We actually recorded an instrumental song for the album, which was a cover of a Greek traditional song and we made an instrumental version out of that. It was really cool, but we didn't get the rights to use it, so there's no instrumentals on the album. I hope we can include that song on another album, we recorded that, but just didn't get the rights for it.
From covers comes to mind the Australian Black Majesty, who did the "Six Ribbons" written by Jon English. Do you know them, it's a great cover?
Gus - Yeah, but I haven't heard it. It's cool (doing cover versions), 'cos you can give the songs the element of your own musical background. We have this traditional Greek instrument called bouzouki. This song that we play contains a lot of fast and crazy licks and I play the guitar with extortion, so it sounded really cool and very exotic rhythms and odd time signatures. I like it, but it's sad we couldn't include it. We usually play it live though. If you search the YouTube, people have put it up there.
You've been together for a long time. How has Firewind developed through the years?
Gus - We've come a long way. It all kinda started like an mp3 type of band. I was just sending my demos to this US label Leviathan records, which is a small label, and they hooked me up with some musicians and that's how the two albums were made. I was just sending my demos and they would put vocals and we'd send demos back and forth. I hadn't actually met those guys, it was just through distance and phones, mp3 and e-mail. We started a bit backwards, a bit unorthodox. Then this line-up came on "Allegiance", we've been together for three years now. Now it feels kinda like a family, a real band, you know.
You're the main guy in the band, but all of you work well together?
Gus - Yeah, real cool. I'm the guy that's been there since day one. If you look at the first album it's only me. But I don't whip those guys up, no no, I don't (laughs). We're all friends, we're like a little family, everybody gives their input to the band. I think that's what makes it more interesting, more stronger, we have teamwork. Everybody's able to write some stuff in the band, contribute their ideas.
You have been involved with various bands like Arch Enemy and Dream Evil. What's the most fond memory from your career so far?
Gus - There are many. I've had great time with all the bands that I've played with. Of course the time with Arch Enemy was insane, we went to America to do the Ozzfest-tour 2005 with Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, so it was like my dream come true touring with these bands. We made some great shows with these guys. With Dream Evil we also had success in Japan, we did some really cool shows there. It's been great times.
You're a guitar wizard. What is the best feedback you've gotten from your work?
Gus - I don't know, it's hard to say. People appreciate my guitar playing. One of my biggest dreams was having my own signature guitar made from ESP, and it's crazy knowing they sell your own signature guitar, so this has been the biggest thing for me.
You're kind of big in Japan, sort of a hero there.
Gus - Yeah, kind of (laughs). They like guitar players there.
FIREWIND AND DRAGONFORCE, A CRAZY UNION
You've worked with Tara Teresa both live and on studio. Will you continue working together, is she on the new album as well?
Gus - No, she's not actually. It was just a one thing. She helped us out with that one song, because we had a problem with the lyrics, so she wrote the lyrics. She has a little baby now. We might invite her to some shows if we have a chance to do that again, but I don't think she's gonna be working with a band.
Firewind just finished their succesful North American tour with a bit darker bands, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquillity and Divine Heresy. Eventhough Firewind was the lightest band from this line-up, they included more heavier and faster songs on their setlist to match with the other bands.
Gus - I think that apart from the vocals our genre of music has a lot in common, like the melodic elements and there's lots of riffs and obviously the guitar solos and stuff like that. Arch Enemy has a lot of influence from the 70's and 80's and we have the same. I think one of our big bonuses is that we have a singer that can actually sing, he doesn't scream. I think people appreciate that, because Apollo has a really great voice.
What has been the most rewarding tour for you?
Gus - That was the Dragonforce tour in 2006. They took us to England and we played like 13 arena shows, everything sold out. These guys are really huge there. This was a really big breakthrough for us in England, and we were able to go back and headline our own shows. After that tour we managed to gain a really strong fanbase in England and open up doors to America and the rest of the world. Playing with Dragonforce, because they're such a popular band and also crazy guys. I think we made a good package, that helped us a lot. We got a lot of press because of that.
GUITARISTS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
In which country do you have the most fans and sell most records?
Gus - I don't know. I think Japan might still be the number one, but some other big countries for us are Germany, England, Greece...our country's going much better now.
What is the metal scene in Greece now?
Gus - There's a lot of bands, but mostly local bands, like underground. Greece has merely exported death- and black metal bands like Rotting Christ, Septic Flesh and Nightfold, so we're kind of like the only melodic metal band that comes out of there. But we've got a lot of crazy fans out there, people who go to metal shows.
What bands inspired you to become a musician?
Gus - Peter Frampton. My dad had this double vinyl "Frampton Comes Alive!", and I heard him play this talk box effect, making the guitar talk. I was like 8-9 years old and I told my dad I want a guitar, I wanna be a guitar player. I also watched Al DiMeola on tv around that time as well and was inspired by his way of playing. He's a great player, one of my favourites. Then later on as I picked up the guitar I had more heroes, like Guns'n'Roses was popular in the early 90's and Metallica. Then I got into the shredding thing and I heard Yngwie Malmsteen, who changed my life. I started getting heavily into practising this kind of stuff, but I have various influences from the 70's to 80's and all. I like Michael Schenker for example very much and Uli Jon Roth, Ritchie Blackmore and David Gilmour, just a variation of different guitar players.
Why is it that people so often consider you Swedish, is it because of Dream Evil?
Gus - Probably because I lived in Sweden and I played in a Swedish band. I lived there for a couple of years, when I played with Dream Evil. I got my big start in music industry with them, that was my first band that was popular. A lot of people probably think that I'm Swedish, maybe I don't look so Greek either, I don't know.
Maybe it's also because you speak very good english?
Gus - Maybe it's that as well.
How did you end up in Dream Evil anyway?
Gus - It was like about ten years ago, when my friends from Greece were recording in the studio Fredman, a band called Exhumation that doesn't exist anymore. That guitar player later on formed Nightrage. So they were recording in the studio, and I asked if I could come too and check it out. I went there and I met Frederik, who saw me play one day and asked why don't I come to the studio one day to jam. So I went there one night and we jammed and wrote one song, which was "Chasing The Dragon", the first Dream Evil song from "Dragonslayer". That's when Dream Evil was formed, me and Frederik started the band.
BEST PRACTICE FROM SHOWS
What's the difference between Firewind's club and festival shows?
Gus - The festivals are of course a different type of thing. A lot of bands play there, it's more like a big party. It depends where you're playing, what kind of stage and what time, you can play midday or night, it doesn't matter. Festivals are really cool, they're big and you meet a lot of people from all over the world. Club shows are also interesting, because they can be very intimate, I like that. Big clubs are also nice, because you can have your backdrops up and cool lights and stuff.
When you have time off, what do you do? Do you have any time off?
Gus - Not this year actually, we'll be touring till the end of the year. When I have time off I just stay home and do nothing (laughs). Stay home with my girlfriend or something, try to relax and take it easy.
Do you practise much anymore?
Gus - Not so much actually. It depends, some days I feel like practising. I might wake up and just grab the guitar and play for many hours and other days I don't even touch it. The best practise for me is to play shows every night, that's when you really become much better, for me at least. It's a big challange to play every night, different crowd, different city, and trying to be as good and even better each night. I like that.
Any words to European readers?
Gus - The tour with Kamelot was really fun, we met a lot of cool people and we played a lot of killer shows. Thank you for the interview. How do you say thank you in Finnish?
I told Gus it's "kiitos", and he pronounced it very well. He's a fast learner, and thanked the Finnish crowd in our language after the show with cheers, "kippis" and kiitos. That night they made many new friends, signing autographs after the show and meeting fans, who were many and very excited to finally meet Firewind. Both as a band and as individuals I saw Firewind only making friends that night.
Between Heaven And Hell (2002)
Burning Earth (2003)
Forged By Fire (2005)
The Premonition (2008)
Interview by Satu Reunanen, satu [at] rockunited.com
Pictures by Kari Helenius, carda [at]