Thank the Metal Gods for my good friend Frank who turned me onto BLACK FATE late last year. Their latest album Between Visions & Lies is out now via Ulterium Records. It was not only a great way to cap off 2014, but also an excellent companion during the A&GS HQ cross-country move. Just before our relocation in December I had the chance to sit and chat with guitarist extraordinaire Gus Drax about all things BLACK FATE, SUNBURST, and what he’s rocking out to at home and on the go. Have a look:
Amps: So you’re in BLACK FATE, you’re in SUNBURST, and you do solo work as well. You’re a busy man, Gus.
Gus: I also teach a little bit. It’s not as busy as it actually sounds. None of these bands or my solo project has a very busy live schedule…yet. With SUNBURST and BLACK FATE we want to have a busy schedule. All of these are mostly about recording new music, because when you don’t have any new music how can you play shows? The best reason to play is to promote the new songs and a new album. Trust me when I say it’s really, really exciting for a musician to play new songs live.
Amps: You’ve been in BLACK FATE five years now, correct?
Gus: Yes. I came in after the last album (Deliverance of Soul) was released. Nikos (Tsintzilonis, drums) was looking for someone just for a few gigs for that album so he called me. He puts his heart into this. He works as a drummer, but he wants to create music so bad, and I really respect him for that. After a few rehearsals we realized there was a lot of good chemistry here, and we should probably keep the machine alive and write a new album. So, here we are.
Amps: This is the first album you’re involved in start to finish. So what was the process this time?
Gus: There are not many ideas of mine on the songs. Let me explain in detail. The first ideas come from Nikos, because he has his own studio and he can record guitar parts and everything. I actually recorded my parts there. He sends us some really rough demo tracks, and I will take a song and say, “Nikos, that’s good,” or “That’s not so good.” I added my own things to the songs, and transposed them onto the seven-string guitar which added a little extra heaviness. It’s a big difference from previous albums.
My ideas are based on the already existing ideas of Nikos. He’s the main songwriter of the band. I just changed stuff here and there. A song could start one way, but by the end it was something really different. And the same thing happens with Vasilis (Georgiou, vocals). He’s a really good composer. He has a very nice way of coming up with songs. He’ll say, “Let’s try that riff here,” or, “I like this for a chorus,” and he’s very good at that. So it’s like Nikos is bringing the first ideas and the rest of the band is working on them. And a song might end up really, really different. So it’s like teamwork. The solos are 100% me (laughs)!
Amps: It’s so nice to hear a seven-string guitar used properly. By that I mean not in the horrible nü-metal sense or that djent style, oy. That drives me absolutely insane! I understand that people get it, but it makes me wanna put a knife through my skull. What made you decide to play it with beautiful melodies and not make noise like everyone else?
Gus: Thank you very, very much. It’s a very, very big compliment for me. What you said is actually one of the main reasons. I don’t like sounding like other people. I know that everybody in the U.S. right now is almost obsessed with the djenty stuff. To be honest with you, I don’t have a problem with the genre, but I can be very easily bored to death by it. There are a lot of band in my opinion that are doing the exact same thing. You can put a bunch of them in your stereo and mp3 player and they all sound the same. Same production, same sound, same ideas. There’s nothing wrong with their technique, either. There is a right way to do it, and there’s a way of crossing the line.
Amps: I’m a huge FATES WARNING fan and I could hear elements of their sound in some of the songs.
Gus: I have seen FATES WARNING live three or four times. The last time we played with them in Belgium, my band SUNBURST did. I am very, very familiar with their music. I would agree with that. For example, see the resemblance with the hard riff of “Into the Night” might remind you of “Point of View” from them. We never shy away from our influences.
Amps: But at the same time there’s no calling BLACK FATE a sound alike, either. You’ve made your own music.
Gus: I’m almost tired of people saying that we sound like a lot like KAMELOT.
Amps: Oy, they need to stop!
Gus: It’s like, “OK, I get it.” I guess it’s probably the vocals. Some people don’t know CONCEPTION, the first band Roy Khan sang in, and I think we sound more like them than KAMELOT. If you just take Vasilis out and think of us with another singer there is almost no KAMELOT resemblance.
Amps: How does it feel when you listen to the record start to finish?
Gus: It’s a very nice feeling because when you have worked for it and you listen to the final product you remember all the work you did and whether or not certain parts were difficult. You remember how it all came to this point. And it’s a very satisfying feeling to finally have it in our hands. It is satisfying beyond words.
Amps: What do you have lined up for 2015?
Gus: The first thing that is announced is we are opening for SANCTUARY in Thessaloniki, Greece in March. I am organizing some guitar clinics for the early part of the year. With SUNBURST the new album is almost done, so you can expect some new stuff from me and Vasilis together. He finished recording all his vocals recently, and in 2015 we are aiming for as many gigs as possible. With SUNBURST we play a lot outside of Greece, so we want to keep doing that.
Amps: Who or what made you pick up the guitar?
Gus: John Petrucci (DREAM THEATER). I was 13 or 14 and my brother comes in. I was a huge IRON MAIDEN fan at the time and he comes in with the Live at Donnington VHS and DREAM THEATER Live in Tokyo VHS and I’m like, “OK let’s see some IRON MAIDEN!!” So we watched a couple of songs and he said, “Let me play you something else” and I didn’t really know them. I heard one song and my jaw dropped, and that’s when I knew I wanted to play guitar. From that point on that’s all I could imagine myself doing. I convinced my parents to buy me my first guitar and I was practicing all day long.
Amps: Are you continuously looking for ways to improve?
Gus: Yes, absolutely. That’s why I practice a lot of stuff outside of metal. I am 100% a metal guy, but I like to bring different techniques and styles into my playing, because it can help you spice things up in your songwriting.
Amps: What albums are you listening to right now?
Gus: I’m really, really into the latest James LaBrie solo album, Impermanent Resonance. Both of his albums are phenomenal. I’m always listening to my favorite bands like DREAM THEATER and SYMPHONY X. I’m really into the latest EVERGREY album. That’s a great record. I also like more extreme stuff like Black Metal and Death Metal, for example FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE, and BEHEMOTH is another favorite.
Amps: What do you do for fun outside of music?
Gus: I really like working out and lifting weights, but not too much. I like hanging out with my friends and watching movies. I’m a huge movie and series guy.
Amps: What would you like to say to all the BLACK FATE and SUNBURST fans out there?
Gus: I would like to thank everybody, both press and fans, for the great feedback that we’ve gotten on our music. It’s great and satisfying beyond words. Thank you all so very much for supporting us and we really, really hope that we can see you all very soon and come play for you, and give back some of the love we’re taking.
Gus Drax is so laid back and cool it felt like I was talking to an old friend, especially when we went off topic (which happened a lot!). If you’re not familiar with his work in BLACK FATE or SUNBURST then do yourself a favor and get yourself acquainted. You can start with Between Visions & Lies, then thank me later.