FIREWIND: A New Era

INTERVIEW WITH GUS G BY KELLEY SIMMS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SAKIS GIOUBASIS

Firewind guitarist Gus G (real name Kostantinos “Kostas” Karamitroudis) is ushering in another new era of the band in 2020. With longtime collaborator and keyboardist Bob Katsionis exiting the band recently—as well as vocalist Henning Basse—Gus has reconfigured, re-examined, and rebuilt Firewind’s hard rock meets power metal hybrid sound. Consisting of gritty vocals, less keyboards, hefty riffs, and more neoclassical guitar shredding, the band’s ninth full-length self-titled album released via AFM Records is one fiery slab of goodness.

However, Firewind has had to postpone its upcoming massive world tour with Symphony X and Primal Fear until sometime in 2021. During a recent phone call from his home in Greece, Gus spoke with us about the band’s latest lineup changes, the new album, and what he’s been doing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

During this self-quarantine, how are you channeling your creativity? What have you been up to lately?
Oh, man. Honestly, I’ve just been at home locked down for about a month. I’ve been writing a little bit. Not necessarily writing serious for a record or something, just writing some ideas and working with some older stuff. I’ve been working out a little bit, spending time with the family, and taking it easy. Some days it’s good to just look at the ceiling as well. You need that as well in life.

What have you had to change about your lifestyle, especially your touring plans, since Firewind’s North American Tour with Symphony X and Primal Fear was postponed to 2021?
I don’t see any touring happening this year. So, I’m not really eager to push anybody to book any shows for us for this year. I’ve been told this tour will resume in 2021. We’ll wait to find out when that will be and we’ll go from there. The only other plan that we had originally was discussing a Europe/UK tour around October–November. But, I won’t be surprised if that doesn’t happen. The most important thing is to allow some time now for this, to make sure the virus goes away, or to allow some time for a vaccine to arrive. We need to think in these terms right now and not when is the fastest way we can get out there and play. For me, it hasn’t changed as far as lifestyle. Sure, I tour a lot, but when I don’t tour I’m just at home and staying at home. So, other than that, it’s more or less the same for me.


“THIS IS ONE OF THE SITUATIONS WHERE PEOPLE DO GET TO LISTEN TO THIS AND GIVE IT A BIT MORE ATTENTION, BECAUSE MUSIC IS GOOD COMPANY IN TIMES LIKE THESE.”


Did you or your label, AFM Records, consider delaying the new album release date?
We discussed this I think a couple of weeks ago. We decided that, or at least the label decided that, they’re going to continue with the release date. We already made the plans. They thought that it’s better to just put it out there now. Probably a lot of people are going to change their plans for releasing music, so we might as well be one of the few ones to put something out there. Maybe this is one of the situations where people do get to listen to this and give it a bit more attention, because music is good company in times like these. I’m sure some of the sales are going to hurt to some extent, but we decided to continue on with the plans. Unless something happens and any shops aren’t open until mid May. I don’t know if I might have heard the label doesn’t anticipate that happening. But if it does happen, maybe it will be pushed back a couple of weeks, but it will still be out. It’s still scheduled to be out on time.

What led to the recent departure of longtime collaborator and keyboardist Bob Katsionis?
He made the decision to stop touring. I think he got tired of airports and airplanes and venues and waiting backstage. I think to sum it up best, that would be it. He loved being on stage for one hour, but the other 23 hours surrounding that tour life he hated. I think from what I’m getting, he got to the point in his life where he wanted to build a studio back home because that’s also his main business there. He produces bands and records stuff, and he was more excited to do that. Good luck to him. We’re still good friends—both he and Henning, our previous singer. I spoke to him a couple of days ago, so it’s all good.

Did the songwriting process differ for this new album because of his departure?
I’ve always been the primary songwriter, so when I was making the music, it was business as usual. I just kept making the songs that I thought would be the next logical step for Firewind, or whatever I thought was coming out and it sounded right. The major change was obviously in the vocals and the keyboards as well. There are still keyboards in the band, it’s just I’m re-approaching the keyboards in the band as I would imagine them. Usually what I would do is I would send the music to Bob and then he would do all these layers of keyboards and send it back to me. And then I would have to sort it out and see what we use. But this time, I can use keyboards the way that I like best and how I choose it to be. I wanted it to have more of a role as an enhancement to the music. But, the major difference was the vocals, obviously. With Herbie [Langhans] coming into the fold, he had a tough task because we had the music, but we didn’t have lyrics or vocal lines for about seven of the songs. So, he had to do a lot of stuff there. And we didn’t have a lot of time to finish the record, either. It’s not like we didn’t have time, but we weren’t on a deadline. This is pre-Coronavirus, too. I’m talking about the deadline that was supposed to be with the album release that we had in conjunction with the tour with Symphony X and all that stuff.


“THE MAJOR CHANGE WAS OBVIOUSLY IN THE VOCALS AND THE KEYBOARDS AS WELL.”


How did Herbie Langhans come aboard? He sounds very Dio-esque.
He does, he has those influences of Dio. He also reminded me a lot of our first singer on our first two albums. We had a singer called Stephen Fredrick, and he reminds me of Stephen a lot when I first heard him, at least he had kind of a Graham Bonnet type of voice a little bit. I think back in December, I asked the AFM Records guys, I said, “Hey, this about to happen. I’m looking for a new guy. Do you have anybody to suggest?” And they said, “Yeah, how about Herbie?” So, they sent me a bunch of links to check out and funnily enough, they sent me a link from his old band Sinbreed, which I had totally forgotten about. But then I remembered that I’ve heard this guy years ago. So, we started talking and I told him what’s happening. I told him it’s a special situation. We were looking for somebody to come in and then help out and finish the songwriting, and we have about two months to complete it all. It was a tough task, but he was up for it.

Style-wise, less keyboards and a new singer opened up your range compared to earlier releases. The band is a bit heavier and displays a great mix of hard rock and power metal. Was this an intentional effort?
Like I said, I already had the material, and somehow this is the direction that it took me on. Maybe it was a crazy coincidence, because at that time I didn’t know Bob was planning to quit the band. I wrote the songs before we got to him recording his parts. I think this kind of blend of styles is what put Firewind on the map in the first place about 15 years ago with the album Allegiance. So, in many ways, this new album reminds me of that era of the band a lot. Like you said, going from the heavy power stuff to hard rock tunes.


“THERE IS A LOT OF NEOCLASSICAL INFLUENCES ALL OVER IT. I JUST LOVE THAT KIND OF STUFF.”


How did you go about constructing your guitar solos? Some of them sound very neoclassical, with one of my favorites coming from the track “Break Away.”
There is a lot of neoclassical influences all over it. I just love that kind of stuff. I’m a big Yngwie fan, it’s no secret. I love Vinnie Moore, old Impelliterri, Alcatraz, all that stuff. It’s funny that you mentioned “Break Away” because originally it was a track that was supposed to be an instrumental, and I was planning to use it for one of my solo records. I’ve had this on my hard disk for a while, but I thought because I was going for a more modern approach for my solo records, I felt that this was a little bit too 80s for it. It felt half finished the whole time. Then I thought, this is the kind of song that could be a good instrumental, like a guitar track, but if you put cool vocals on it, it can totally take off as a song. And I think that was the right decision to make, putting vocals on that. Creating the solo for me, even though it’s one of the most demanding guitar tracks on the record, it was the easiest to put it together because all I had to do was choose the best parts of the already existing solo that I had and mix it into this, what you heard.

The lyrical content on “Welcome to the Empire,” “Devour,” “Rising Fire,” and “Break Away” seem to have a “live your life” theme. What were your inspirations for these songs?
“Rising Fire” is definitely about overcoming difficulty and things like that, situations we’ve all been in and just really rising for that. “Welcome to the Empire” is about the good old artificial intelligence topic stuff that man creates. Sure, there are good things about it, but there are also bad things about it that, of course, we brought it to ourselves. So, it’s a little bit about touching upon that. “Break Away,” that song actually is about a soldier experiencing a PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Dennis Ford, who helped me co-produce the record, came up with this lyric vocal line and he had some of the lyrics about breaking away and about the soldier. So, I took upon that and finished the lyric.

Since you didn’t participate on the recent Ozzy Osbourne album or his last tour, did things end amicably or did you think his camp could have been more communicative with you?
The thing is, there was always a lot of stuff happening, and then there could have been silence for a long time and nobody knew what was going on. And I think that was because probably they didn’t know what they were going to do next. So, there was always a little bit of that uncertainty, which I was not used to, I have to admit. So, I learned how to live with it and that was okay. I accepted it, this is how his camp operates. But, I did get a phone call to be informed about the reunion with Zack [Wylde], so it’s not like I found out on the internet. Sharon [Osbourne] actually called me at home, and she told me what was gonna happen, so it’s all good.

What are your upcoming plans once this pandemic hopefully subsides soon?
The first thing is to find out when this tour with Symphony X is going to be resuming. We’re looking at 2021, I don’t know which month exactly. That’s something that should be sorted out pretty soon. We had plans to do a full world tour. We wanted to go to Japan and Australia. We were going to do Europe. We even planned on at least two US runs. We wanted to come back and do a lot of shows because we hadn’t been to the US with Firewind in seven years. We’re in this situation, everybody is, and hopefully things wind down soon and we can start back up the touring plans. So, for the moment, I hope everybody stays safe and keeps healthy.