You’ve got a new album, Fearless due for release later this month. It’s your first solo album since you left Ozzy isn’t it?
On the album you’ve got Dennis Ward on vocals and bass. You’ve worked with him before as a producer havent you?
We co-wrote the stuff for the last Firewind record, Immortals, so it’s the same formula, I do the music then I send it to him and he’ll do the vocal lines. With Immortals we tried to do our first concept album so I needed someone to help me with the lyrics and it just continued on and on. After the Firewind record we moved on to the next project which was this one.
Where did the idea come from to get him to do the vocals?
It was his idea. I was struggling to find someone who would be committed and could do a 12 month tour, all these dates – 50 or 60 shows a year, and he said “Look, I’m sitting in the studio not doing a whole lot, I’ve always dreamed of being in a power trio band and it’ll be one person less – we’ll save money on a fourth member and it just makes things easier for you, plus I get to leave the house and go out and do this”. I said “If you can tour then lets do it”. I actually consulted with my wife, I asked her opinion on it because women know best, always I think, and she agreed and said to give it a shot and it’ll separate it from what you do with Firewind.
I sat down for a few days and gave it some thought and decided to give it a try. So we went on tour in the States last year and it was a lot of fun so we decided to continue.
Is this your first time doing a power trio?
Yes it is. In the beginning and even now as we haven’t done a lot of dates, it’s strange to look over at the centre of the stage and not see a singer or hear the vocals from the middle wedges. Even before that though my solo band was four piece and in Firewind we have a second guitar player (actually it’s a keyboard player who also plays guitar), so it’s a different sound, so for the last few years I was used to being the only guitar player in the band. It was really just about covering that space on the stage so I had to get more up front and use that space but I think it’s ok because I’m a solo artist now, so I should get out there at the front.
That’s something I’ve noticed with trios – they start of in their usual positions at the sides of the stage leaving this gap in the cenrte of the stage but as they progress they tend to use the middle of the stage more.
Right now I’m all over the place – I’m used to running all round the stage, so it’s ok for me, I actually have more space now.
Less cables to trip over.
Definitely. It’s a lot cleaner on stage now. Everything is just easier and done faster. There’s just the three of us, so minimal crew. When you’re touring at this level it just makes things easier.
You’ve got Will Hunt on drums.
I met him at the Frankfurt Messe last year. He was doing some clinics and I was there touring with Steve Stevens so we were playing at the Messe and we were staying at the same hotel, so I saw him at the hotel bar. Jen, the guitar player in Evanescence introduced us – actually she came over and introduced herself then introduced me to Will and we hung out, shared tour stories – he was in Black label Society, toured with Ozzy, stuff like that. A cool guy and I love his playing, so a few weeks later I shot him an email and asked if he wanted to play on the record.
That’s an important factor isn’t it – how well you get along with someone?
You think that the playing is one thing, if they fit the sound you’re going after but if you really don’t get on with somebody it’s going nowhere. Sometimes it’s more important in a band, someone maybe isn’t the best player but they fit in that band and stay there so long because of their character and who they are.
When you start writing, I’m guessing you start with a guitar riff?
Usually I start everythign with a riff, Yes. Sometimes it can be a random accident while jamming, sometimes I get inspired by another piece of music and think I should do something like that, so for instance if we take “Mr Manson” it’s inspired by Sabbath obviously, NIB, that kind of riff.
There’s a cover version on the album – Dire straits – Money for nothing. Why choose that song/band?
I think it’s one of the best songs they’ve done honestly. I love “Brothers in arms” as well – it’san insane song, but this I’ve always loved, it’s an iconic guitar riff, and I wanted to do a heavier version of it. I wouldn’t say I’m a mega fan but I know all the classics and I love Mark Knopfler’s tone and style.
There must be a lot of pressure doing a cover of a song with such an iconic riff that everyone knows because if you change it at all then will people still like it?
Yeah but I didn’t feel any pressure – I just did it for fun really. I was hoping there was going to be some reaction – either negative or positive. So far it’s been mainly positive, but I don’t know if someone’s going to think of it as sacrilege or something because you get those people from time to time “how dare they do that”.. It’s for fun, it’s not like I’m the guitarist of Dire Straits and all of a sudden I change the song, I’m Gus G and I did a slightly different version of it. You hear in hip hop and dance music they do these mash-ups and butcher so much stuff and people love it, so this is nothing like that. You hear the “Kashmir” riff over a rap song, what’s that about?
Also if you’re going to do a cover surely it’s better to do something different rather than just copying someone elses version exactly?
Yeah I think that’s the whole idea in general although some songs call for it, others don’t. That’s why some cover versions are more successful than others. With Firewind, our most popular song on Spotify is actually a cover we did of “Maniac” ten years ago and it has already had a few million streams. It’s ranking almost 100,000 streams a week – people just listen to our version of “Maniac”, I don’t know why. Some songs just resonate and they become successful.
And of course you get some songs where the cover version becomes more successful than the original
Sometimes yes. Jimi Hendrix did “All along the watchtower” so well that a lot of people thought it was his song.
You’ve chosen to do not just one, but three instrumental tracks on the album. Is that something fans have asked for?
There was a demand and I listened, I was motivated, and people obviously wanted to hear that stuff, and secondly I just had the ideas for them. I was originally thinking of doing more instrumentals – maybe half the album, but the other ideas I had, they were maybe a bit too Power Metal and wouldn’t fit with what I’m doing with the rest of the songs, so I left them out for now. I’ll decide what I do – I have a lot of material laying around all the time. Actually there are four instrumentals – there’s an acoustic outro that we’ve used as a bonus track.
You’re on tour in Scandinavia and Germany from tomorrow plus a date on the full metal cruise in the mediterranean.
We did a couple last weeekend – we did Copenhagen and Helsingborg and tomorrow we go back to Sweden for a few days, then we do the Full Metal Cruise then some dates in Germany in May.
And you’re doing some guitar clinics too.
I’m doing a guitar clinic in Paris tomorrow actually. Then I’m doing two in Greece and I think I’m doing one in Finland in May too.
What’s involved in a guitar clinic?
Well I basically play along to backing tracks – solo stuff and Firewind stuff, I do Q&A with the audience which is a very interesting part – they get to pick my brain, I get to pick their brains. It’s interesting for me to see what people think and what troubles them, so it’s not just guitar related – it could be about the music business, life on the road, or finding motivation. I shake hands with everybody, sign stuff and so on.
Then the cruise which should be warmer than Scandinavia.
I hope so yes. I’ve done a few cruises – I did the Full Metal Cruise the first year they did it but that went from Hamburg so it was Cold. We did 70,000 tons of metal with Firewind two years ago, then I did the Monsters of Rock cruise with my solo band, and I’ve just been announced for the next Monsters of Rock cruise, so it seems I’m doing quite a few now. A lot of people from Europe go for 70,000 tons or Monsters of Rock because they happen in January in the Caribbean so get away from the snow and go somewhere hot. With Full metal cruise, we start from Marseille and go down to Majorca so it should be good.