by Christophe Pauly
– Senior Photojournalist —
Hardrock Haven’s Christophe Pauly talks with Marty Friedman and Gus G. at their gig in the Muziek-O-Droom in Hasselt, Belgium on May 17th. Both Marty Friedman and Gus G. open up about many different topics from Megadeth, Jason Beacker to Ozzy and Firewind.
Hardrock Haven: Let’s start with Gus G.When did you get the idea of doing a solo album? And how did it started?
Gus G.: It started in 2012. I had some riffs that would fit more in the hard rock than in the metal. And those wouldn’t work with Firewind. So I started to write with Mats Leven (who sings on 4 songs on this record). We did 4-5 songs pretty quickly. So when those things got ready, I thought, “Ok, this is the direction. And this could be a solo album.”
Hardrock Haven: Did you know Mats for a long time?
Gus G.: I met him in 2003 at a festival in Sweden where he was playing with . And I’m bit a fan of him since he saw on Yngwie Malmsteen’s Facing The Animal. So we met there and had a great time. And we became buddy through the years and jammed together. We always stayed in touch. And he’s the guy whose I always wanted to do something with. And in 2010, I asked him to join Firewind because our singer couldn’t come on tour with us. Mats has the advantage to be not only a singer. But a songwriter and producer too.
Hardrock Haven: There’s a similarity between your album, I Am The Fire, and Marty’s new album, Inferno. You both have collaborated with different artists on it. So how did it worked for each? How did you choose those persons?
Gus G.: For me to be honest, it was a lot of people who came from Jay Ruston (the guy who mixed the album). So he introduced me to his friends because, at that time, I just had Mats and another song with Jeff Scot Sotto and that’s all. I got nobody else to play with. So he asked me: « Who’s gonna play drums on your album? » And I said « I don’t know! So he got me Jeff Friedl who came from A Perfect Circle and who’s a great drummer. And he continued to propose me people. How about Billy Sheehan? Or Dave Ellefson?
Marty Friedman: Yeah?
Gus G.: Oh Yeah, Dave Ellefson played on the album! That actually came together in a kind of exchange between musicians. He had a project with Frank Bello from Anthrax and so Jay called me and asked me if I would want to do a solo for Dave Ellefson. I said, “Fuck yeah!”
Marty Friedman: So you played for him and they played for you?
Gus G.: Yeah!
Marty Friedman: Rock ‘n’ roll is so easy!
Gus G.: I think that this kind of brotherhood in the metal is missing these days. So I was happy to do it too for that side. I did the same with Jeff Scot Sotto. He played on my album and I played on some of his songs too.
Hardrock Haven: What about you, Marty?
Marty Friedman: Before doing this album, I put down a list of all those current musicians who said great things about me in interviews with the press. I haven’t read the press outside Japan for many years so I didn’t really knew what was going on. And all those great people have said so many great things about me that I couldn’t believe it! I thought I was completely forgotten. So it was really nice and I started to search for those people on the list and listen to their music. And I liked so much of it! I contacted them and they were so enthusiastic. And this time, I didn’t wanted to do a solo. I wanted to write the songs together by stating at zero with each guest.
Hardrock Haven: So they wrote the songs with you?
Marty Friedman: Yeah, we wrote it together and I arranged it, produced it and played guitar. It was more like I was in a band with those guest.
Hardrock Haven: This album is very different from what you’ve done before. It sounds more heavy and surprising at some moments. I think it will stay as a particular album in your discography.
Marty Friedman: Yeah, I wanted to make a new landmark in what I do to give people the opportunity to compare what I’ve done before and what I do now. People always try to compare everything I’ve done to something and I was fed up to be always compared to the same things that I’ve done before.
Hardrock Haven: I think that your playing has changed also a lot over the years
Marty Friedman: Yes, but you know, it changes everyday. It changed from yesterday in Holland and today.
Hardrock Haven: Of course, but I was thinking about the difference was really beginning at the Cryptic Writings album. Those were so different from Rust In Peace era.
Marty Friedman: Yes, but if you’re a guitar player, you know that the link of the notes, space between the notes is the biggest thing you can change. And that’s how you can sound different. When I play the older stuff, I think that I will never sustain that, this short, or make it last longer or think about a cooler place to end the notes.
Gus G. It’s very important. Because that’s the way to change your phrasing.
Marty Friedman: Every metal guy start at the 1 and end at the 1 in everything that they do. And luckily, when I was a teenager, I found that the cooler place is when you start the notes and the phrase and when you end them. You get to be some much adventurous. So each album is like going further and further.
Hardrock Haven: When I looked at you during tonight’s show, I was thinking that you have much more pleasure nowadays than during the Megadeth years.
Marty Friedman: Oh shit, yeah! You know, I had a lot of fun in Megadeth. I loved it. Every minute was fantastic. But it was kinda limiting. I still love it. I still love everything that we did. But everything that I’ve done is very natural.
Hardrock Haven: You also got more freedom in your playing?
Marty Friedman: Yeah, and it’s your own mind. I found that playing in Megadeth was only personally minded for everybody. And now I write everything I do. It’s easier to interpret. I had much harder time playing others music than playing my own.
Hardrock Haven: Gus. G, I Am The Fire is your first solo album. But do you remember Marty’s first solo album? What did you think or felt about it when you first hear it?
Gus G.: You know, I grew up with his solo albums. Dragon’s Kiss and those albums were sort of bar raising albums. It changed the game back then. I don’t know how it was for him to do his first solo album. But for me, it was being a band guy for 10 years (Firewind is also my baby), but it was being involved with other guys like a brotherhood or partnership. And in the studio, it was a great feeling too. Because I didn’t have to show my parts to anybody or go to any producer. I didn’t want to hire a producer. A lot of time, producers want you to make the record they wanna make. And not to serve the artist. They think they know what’s good for them whatever they think or feel.
Hardrock Haven: What about you, Marty?
Marty Friedman: My first solo album was way before Megadeth. In fact, the first Cacophony was supposed to be my first solo album. Because it was 80% or more done before I met Jason Becker. But when I met him I just fell in love with the guy and said, “I’ve got to find à place for you to play on this record. There’s only one way to do it live if you join me. There’s nobody else.” So we did it and at that time, he was only 16 and had this fantastic dexterity. He could play anything and understand anything. But he hadn’t written any cool song at that time. So it was hard to get him in there. But once we started he surpassed everything I ever expected. So that was my first solo album. And when Dragon’s kiss came out, I had to write music from zero. All my music was used on Speed Metal Symphony. So I had to write very quickly.
Gus G.: So there was Speed Metal Symphony, then Dragon’s Kiss and then Go Off!?
Marty Friedman: Yes, the solo album was in between. I was excited to do a solo album. But I hadn’t any material. So I got to rush to get this material.
Hardrock Haven: You wrote a song with Jason on this album. This album was the perfect occasion to do it wasn’t it?
Marty Friedman: Yeah, we stayed best friends since that period. And there was à tension on the project because it’s special. So I wanted to be sure it would have a good place on a good album so it would worth to ask him to join me on it.
Hardrock Haven: There was a movie about him recently which is quite interesting.
Marty Friedman: Yeah, for sure. And there was an event for Jason.
Gus G.: And another one!
Marty Friedman: Another one? Where at?
Gus G.: Yeah, somewhere in San Francisco. You did the first one and I did the second one last year.
Marty Friedman: And I know they did another one in Europe.
Gus G.: Yeah but he couldn’t be there. So he sent there someone.
Marty Friedman: Great, what a super guy.
Hardrock Haven: You moved in Japan several years ago. How is Life there for a musician like you ? Is it different from American vision?
Marty Friedman: It’s a strange place. If you go on tour there it’s fantastic. If you live there, you have to do a lot if things. Because it’s a very fast moving entertaining culture. So you don’t have to play a couple shows. You have to always do something, you have to keep busy. That’s very stimulating and good. But it’s a lot of work.
Hardrock Haven: Do you plan to do other solo albums in the future?
Gus G.: You know, I have a contract for 2 albums. So yes, there will be another one. I didn’t know how this one would be received and it’s the best reviews in my career so far. So I think I will continue it.
Hardrock Haven: Did you have some fear about this album?
Gus G.: When I started this project, I didn’t want to prove something, or to show something. I just did this album because I had just to do it. I got to get this music on an album. It’s very different from what people are used to. So I didn’t know what was going to happen. Of course, the biggest adventure now is that now I have Me.
Hardrock Haven: Let’s talk about your collaboration with Ozzy. Was it hard to succeed to Zakk Wylde?
Gus G.: You know, it’s a very tough gig in a sense of when you look at the guys who have been before you (Randy Roads, Zakk Wylde), it’s pretty heavy stuff. But the only way to approach this gig without being too stressed is getting an approach of love and respect. I cannot replace Zakk Wyklde or Randy. These guys are like their own legend. You can only be yourself. And that’s what Ozzy told me as well: “Be you.” They didn’t want Zakk n° 2 or Randy n° 3. They just wanted Gus. And you have to play all those songs as they are. But you also have to bring your own vibe into it.
Marty Friedman: Is there ever been a discussion over the actual parts?
Gus G.: No, never.
Marty Friedman: So they asked you to play it with good sense …
Gus G.: They already liked the way I played it because I started with the CD versions. I played the solos in notes for notes, etc. And he liked it. You know, Ozzy’s music is very open and you can do your own stuffs in there. We discussed about my sounds etc. But when you play “Crazy Train,” you don’t have to change anything at the solo. You can’t fuck around with that. I think what seduced him was the attitude, “own it, don’t give a fuck and just go on.” And I think it’s the best way to approach a gig like that. Thinking of Marty, if Dave Mustaine would asked me to play in Megadeth, I would play “Symphony of Destruction” notes for notes. Then the guys would tell me: “Yeah… But I think it would be great in F#! “(laughs) … Or “Tornado’s” solos, “Holy Wars,” … Those stuffs are iconic songs.
Hardrock Haven: Because they’re most technical?
Gus G.: Yeah, also for that reason. But even if they’re technical, you have to own it. And Ozzy’s songs are part of my Heavy Metal vocabulary. When you grew up, you listen to Ozzy, to Maiden, to Priest, Metallica, Megadeth … If you don’t know that stuff, you’re not really a metal player.
Hardrock Haven: How did you get the idea of touring with Marty Friedman?
Marty Friedman: We Talked about it for so long! We just wanted to have our albums to come up at the same time. And now here’s a chance. We always had a kind of cross paths. And we never got some time to work on it. And this time, we had these new albums.
Gus G.: We did some things together. Like some jams for tv shows. When Marty was in Greece, I joined him to play some stuffs. And he also did a solo for a Firewind album. But now, it was just perfect timing.