Firewind are surely one of the least generic bands in the power metal field, their music characterised by very strong song-writing, top-notch musicianship, and, most recently, the bluesy voice of Apollo Papathanasio. Not familiar with their stuff? Just check out the catchier than herpes single "Falling to Pieces" and you'll surely get hooked. The act around the Greek guitar virtuoso Gus G. are still gigging in support of their last album "Allegiance", and as the currents brought them back to the UK shores for a short headlining tour, I couldn't miss the opportunity for a quick chat with Gus.
As far as I know you wrote more songs than you actually needed and only the best ones made the final cut. Does it mean that not all of the songs you write are good enough to be released?
No, I mean you know, when you have an album and the whole direction of music starts taking shape, and some songs don't really fit, I just leave them. We did record a few bonus tracks, because we knew we were gonna release a single, and we needed a couple of bonus tracks for Japan, this time.
Has it always been like that, or did you use all songs you had for the previous albums?
Yeah, we used all stuff, yeah. There were some leftovers we didn't use, but yeah, mostly we used all we wrote.
I think the new approach works better, because from what I've heard you've doubled your sales since "Forged by Fire". Is that true?
Yeah, that's true. It's always good to sell more.
Most musicians say their new album is their best. Can you tell the same about "Allegiance"? Are there any aspects of the album you're not fully satisfied with?
No, I think that "Allegiance" is definitely the best one. I love the old ones as well, as much, but this one just sounds more compact, because everybody was involved and the production is better, I think. It's a step forward from all aspects - from song-writing to production, to performing, to everything, you know? Even to the band photo shoot, the video was better, so everything was just better this time.
You've had an instrumental song on each of your albums, including the new one. What's the idea behind those instrumentals?
Yeah, it's become kinda like a trademark, but it's kind of a cool thing that we do on every album. This time instead of doing a full-on metal track we did a ballad instead. So it was more like a Gary Moore kind of thing.
And why did you choose "Falling to Pieces" to shoot a video clip for? Do you think this song is representative for the entire album?
It does not really represent the album, because there's a lot of variation in other tracks, there's much heavier songs on the album, but this is one of the catchiest songs on the album, it's the most commercial type of song. And the hook is so strong, that immediately everybody was like, "Hey, this is the single". It was meant to be like that from the beginning, as soon as we did the demo we were like, "OK, this can be the single". It's just like a feeling we had, and when we told the label about it, they agreed.
You've released four albums so far and Apollo is your third singer. I know Steven Fredrick had to leave, because he didn't want to tour, but why did Chitty Somapala depart?
That was his choice actually. He was not happy with things in the band, the way we were doing things. I think he was very irritated when I joined Arch Enemy in the Summer 2005 to do the Ozzfest tour. He got the feeling that I was gonna leave the band, but how can I leave my own band, you know? There were several personal problems with him. It's stupid to go into details, but we just didn't get along so well after a while. Maybe it was a rushed decision to get him in the band, because originally he joined us as a session guy for the Japan tour in 2004, but then we needed to do the 3rd album, to do more gigs and Chitty was available, so we announced him as a singer. But you know, sometimes things start up really great but then we find out on the way, that we don't really match with some people, and Chitty was one of them.
Speaking about vocalists, I think what now makes Firewind different to many other power metal bands is how Apollo sounds. Did you notice that great guitarists often choose bluesy-sounding singers rather than guys with impressive range, who can sing clean and very high?
Well, I've never thought about it that way. Maybe that's something you observed only, I don't know. I think we've always had great singers in the band, I wouldn't say anything bad on anybody. I'm very proud that we had all those guys in the band, and Apollo for me is a highlight so far. He really has a high range as well, but his voice is very fat and very rough, you know? And he also is very melodic at the same time. I just wanted somebody who has the balls to sing our music, because it's not straight power metal or only melodic stuff, our music has a very rock 'n' roll attitude, you know? And we wanted some guy that is able to sing more bluesy way as well.
You have worked with quite a few bands, including Mystic Prophecy and Dream Evil. Why did you decide to close those chapters and focus all your efforts on Firewind only?
Because I felt that way. At some point I just couldn't do three or four bands at the same time, it took away all the time for me and I didn't have any more strength to do everything, no more energy left. You know, touring and recording with four bands at the same time. It was not an easy choice, but at the same time it took a while to get out of the bands, because it's not like you can say, "OK, today I'm leaving this band, this band and this band". You have obligations you have to fulfil, so it took me a while until Firewind became the only band. I always felt that Firewind deserved a lot more success and recognition than we already had. The only problem was I didn't really prioritise the band, but I decided to go for that. And it seems to be working.
I know you make a living from playing guitar. You've doubled your sales, but are Firewind albums alone selling well enough to generate a reasonable income?
Not so much actually. Now we're at the point when we're just building the band, so there has to be a lot of investment as well, you know. We do make some money, but we also have to invest a lot of money as well. We're definitely not losing money. For me, I'm making a living also because I have a big back catalogue, I've made 12 albums with all the bands. I also release my own guitars and I make money from that, and I do some clinics here and there. And of course, there's an income from Firewind. So, it's a combination of things. But of course, the dream is to make enough, so everybody is able to live from the band.
Talking about your guitars, I've heard your signature ESP is a best seller in Japan. Are you surprised?
Yeah, I'm very surprised the guitars sell so good. And now the American ESP, the American department released my LTD, which is like a more affordable model. And I heard that one is selling really good already, it's been released for only a couple of months now and it's going very good.
Your original singer Stephen Fredrick is joining you on stage at ProgPower in Atlanta this autumn. Are you gonna play songs from just the first two albums with him?
Yes, only two first albums, I mean what else should we play with him?
I thought maybe he could join Apollo in some other songs as well?
I don't think so, no. You know, Stephen is only coming just to celebrate the night, because we never had a chance to play with him live. That's why this is a special occasion. Apollo is here and he can do the new songs.
Tonight is your third gig of this short UK tour. How did the previous two shows go?
Very good, very good. I mean we did Peterborough and Nottingham, and Nottingham was sold out from what I heard. Really crazy fans here.
And why didn't you try and get a support slot with some big band, deciding to play small venues for fewer maniacs instead?
Because we already did that. Back in December we did a tour with DragonForce in England, we did 13 sold-out shows, and that exposed us to thousands and thousands of people. Now we have a chance to come back and do our own headline gigs, on a smaller scale. But it's good because now we're trying it out for ourselves, and this is a good thing to just make sure and check out what are your strengths and what you can really do. It seems to be very successful so far and we're gonna keep it up. Headline tours and support tours for other bigger bands are always in the game.
You've got another guitar workshop planned for tomorrow in London, which includes a short acoustic set. Are you gonna show some of your technical tricks?
Yeah, I mean I guess that's what the guitar clinic is all about. I'm not such a good teacher, but I'm gonna play a little bit, and hopefully discuss with the kids there and see if they want me to show some particular solo or something.
Have you done many of those clinics before?
Yeah, I've done it before, in Japan, in my homeland in Greece, it's OK.
I know you've already written a couple of songs for the next album. Are you gonna continue along the path taken on "Allegiance", or should we expect any changes in your style or sound?
No, we already have, like, four-five new songs and it's coming out really, really good. We're gonna have some more rock 'n' roll stuff and some very heavy stuff, even heavier than before, but I think it's gonna be a cool mix of styles once again, like we always do under the Firewind moniker.