June 3, 2015 Interview – Joey Tempest of Europe
Resurgence: noun. An increase or revival after a period of little activity, popularity, or occurrence. A rising again into life, activity, or prominence. The last decade has seen a return to the road for some major Rock and Heavy Metal acts. Some of these acts are also releasing brand new music. Some have a whole new direction. In the case of Stockholm, Sweden’s ultra-successful ’80s powerhouse, Europe, the second coming of the band was quite a bit different from the band that sold three million copies of 1986’s The Final Countdown in the United States, and over twenty million records worldwide throughout the eighties. The last twelve years has been a time of growth and exploration. After an eleven year hiatus, Europe announced a reunion in 2003, returning with a new perspective on writing and recording. Not resting on past success, they have released five records, including 2004’s Start from the Dark, 2006’s Secret Society, 2009’s Last Look at Eden, and 2012’s Bag of Bones. Now in 2015 Europe return with the exciting new album War of Kings. Marking their return to American stages for the first time in a while, Europe are energized and inspired. Recently we sat down with lead singer Joey Tempest to talk about the bands new attitude, drive, as well as outlook on writing and recording in this new age of music.
CrypticRock.com – The journey for Europe began for you back in 1979 and, since that time, the band has established themselves as one of the most recognized in Hard Rock/Metal. How would you describe the experience of being part of Europe over the years?
Joey Tempest –Well, it is an immense experience for me, it has been my life. I met John Norum when he was fourteen and I was fifteen; we started a band together. I was amazed that there was a guitar player like that in the mix where I was living, outside Stockholm. We had been in various different bands and we just realized that we were meant to play together. We started the band Force and then went on to become Europe. We have done ten albums now, John has been away on two of those. It has been an incredible journey and adventure. Coming back, when we decided in 2003 to start again, we chose to make it the long way around, make new relationships with media, with fans, have fun in the studio, be nerdy, and learn about recording and songwriting, as well as get better at what we do. It has been a long road, but finally, it is sort of paying off because we are feeling like a new band in a way; our music is very different now from our first period, but still has some depth and some melodies. It has been a great experience, and actually now is a really great time for the band, coming back to America again after ten years, we have been reloading and rebuilding before we came back. It is really important for us because Americans know music, so we had to be good when we arrived here.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly has been an exciting return for Europe and there is no doubt fans are enjoying the new direction. Through the years of constant touring, the band did take some breaks, but as you mentioned, have been reunited since 2003 now. Do you feel that break from the band helped you refresh your prospective on writing Europe tunes?
Joey Tempest – It has for all of us. The other guys have toured with Glenn Hughes, among other artists, and did a lot of work on other albums. I sort of started diving into singer-songwriters; I listened to everything from Gary Numan, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Boz Scaggs. I bought all of the albums and went to all of the shows. I just wanted to learn where things came from, where lyric writing and songwriting came from, along with how to improve. John Norum was living in Los Angeles playing with Don Dokken, doing a lot of records and becoming a better writer himself. When we got together again in 2004, we had a new beginning with people coming from different areas with new experiences to bring into the band. That is probably what kept us going, because we took a break and came in fresh again.
CrypticRock.com – Sometimes a band dos need a break to recharge creative energy and perhaps find new inspiration. Now, the band had achieved some success with your first two albums in your home country of Sweden, but in 1986, the release of The Final Countdown launched the band into international Rock stardom. Next year will be the thirtieth anniversary of that record. What was it like for you and the band during the time The Final Countdown began to break ?
Joey Tempest – It was amazing because our dream was coming true to tour the UK and the USA. When we were kids in Stockholm, we thought, how do you get there, how do you get to be like Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, or Van Halen. When we heard the first two Van Halen records, we were like, “Oh man, we have to do this, we have to tour America, that would be great!”
Needless to say, it was an amazing experience. We had a song that crossed over to a broader audience. Maybe it did not fit that comfortably with us, we were not happy in the Rock community, but we did have a good time. Being one of the biggest bands on the planet at the time, whatever comes with that, it was amazing to go through. We did go through it with the head intact. We were thinking like musicians, we have to keep going, we have to keep getting better at our instruments, and making new albums. So luckily, it did not destroy the band, and we are still here because of that. I think because we have a musician background, we want to show our best. Partying comes second, music comes first, and that has helped us a bit.
CrypticRock.com – Well it is good that you do have fond memories of the times and realize how special it was. There are so many bands today that have gotten clean, sober, and have come back better than ever, continue to tour, and make great music.
Joey Tempest – Absolutely! The cool thing about Europe is that we have done five new albums with the original lineup. We have an adventure in the studio, we try different producers, and we try to push ourselves to become experts with sound, sonically, trying to find that deeper expression with a bit of Blues and Soul in there. We want to find that expression, that is our journey, what the big boys had on 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV, or 1972’s Machine Head and Made In Japan by Deep Purple. How did they get there? They were so young and they had it already. We had to do a thousand shows to get there, but nevertheless, you wanted to find that expression that those guys had.
CrypticRock.com – Right, well Europe has done a fine job establishing themselves through the years. 2004’s Start From the Dark was the band’s first studio album since the style of Metal and Rock during the ’80s transitioned to more Grunge Rock during the ’90s. Did you have a clear vision of what direction you wanted to go in for this first record back in the new millennium?
Joey Tempest – When we met in 2003 at Mic Michaeli house, we said, “Let’s do this long term, learn about recording/songwriting, take it even further, and go on a new journey.” We did not really have a plan, but we knew one thing though, we did not want to emulate the ’80s. We did not want to recreate anything. If people thought we were sounding different, we would take that hit. There was a lot of controversy, there were a lot of people loving the new Start From the Dark record, and a lot of old fans thinking that this does not sound like the old ’80s Europe. We have had that sort of controversial thing going on with all of our records, but that is kind of cool because it makes the audience think, maybe try a little harder to follow us, and then it becomes a deeper relationship. It is like bands such as Rush, they have twists and turns in their career, but we follow them anyway, and then it becomes even deeper in the end because they did take those twists and turns. That is what we wanted to do. We did not have a plan, musically, we just wanted to get on a new journey, on a new adventure really.
CrypticRock.com – That is what makes following a band fun. Now the band recently released your tenth overall album in March, titled War of Kings. This record certainly marries a modern sound with a classic Rock styling. What was the writing and recording process like?
Joey Tempest – War of Kings came on the back of the Bag Of Bones record which we did with Kevin Shirley. That was the record where we started recording things completely live again, around the drum kit, every take was live, and just taking the best, finish it, and move on. It was like they did in the ’70s; just work hard, create a period. Every band member was there from day one till the last day, no silly overdubbing or overworking. When we were in with War Of Kings, we knew, let’s write it in about four, five, or six months, let’s record it in three weeks maybe, and that’s what we did.
Dave Cobb was interested in working with us, he had listened to Europe when he was a kid; he had played drums to Europe. He said, “I would love to produce you,” so we went into the studio. We wanted to make a Classic Rock record with a vibe on it, so we used the Mellotron. We used the Hammond more to create an atmosphere on the album, that was one of the goals we had. We also wanted to find a deeper expression, take the distortion down a bit sometimes on the guitar, and let John play that emotional stuff. Also, I wanted to be more emotional and have more expression in the vocal, and instead of overworking it, trying to find the spirit and the core of Rock, and capture it. Dave Cobb was fantastic with that. Writing wise, we wrote a lot together. The keyboard player, Mic, came up with great ideas, he had the beginnings of “The Second Day,” he had the beginnings of “California 405,” and John Leven (Bass) had the beginning riff for “War Of Kings” and “Hole In My Pocket.” John Norum, “Light Me Up,” and “Angels.” I put everything together in the end with the melodies, lyrics, and writing, but the ideas come from everywhere. Dave Cobb was involved in four songs as well, so it was very much a group effort. A very creative three weeks in the studio where everybody chipped in, played amazing music, and Dave had great ideas for sound, streamline, and keyboards. He played on the Hammond and Mellotron of course. It was overall a great atmosphere.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a great collaborative effort. For this record, as stated, you enlisted Dave Cobb as producer, whom has worked with Rival Sons. His presence is really felt throughout each track. There is a really warm sound to the album from start to finish. Was that the objective with this record?
Joey Tempest – Yes, we wanted him for his ability to record drums as well, which is very important. “Pressure and Time,” a song with Rival Sons, blew our minds about five or six years ago. We were so impressed that people could record drums like that. We were moving in that direction and that was just perfect. The first work with Kevin Shirley on our last record, and now the War Of Kings work with Dave Cobb, they both understand and can handle a live band, live situation, live drums, great bass sound, great guitar sound, and vocals sound. Dave is very much into vocals, so we went through every song, we sat down before I did my take, and he said, “Just sing like you will on stage, let me try this on this line.” So he helped out with a few ideas and got the best out of us. It was great.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly shows on the album. The band in fact recently returned to the USA with Black Star Riders. What was the return to North America like?
Joey Tempest – It was great. It just got better and better. We were in America eleven years ago and this proved to be better. There were more people coming to shows, there was great atmosphere, and people knew about the new stuff this time. Last time we were here with Start From the Dark, it was difficult for people to really know the new Europe. Now it seemed like they were embracing our new records, they know some of our new songs, so it felt so much better for the band. We had a really good time, and playing with Black Star Riders was also amazing. We know them well, we toured the UK with them, a long tour quite recently. We are great friends with them, Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy plays in that band, and we used to go and see him play live when we were kids. We wanted to be like them, Phil Lynott and Scott Gorham, and tour like Thin Lizzy. They helped us dream hard, go back to rehearsal, and get better. It was amazing to tour with him as well.
CrypticRock.com – Well the tour was really received well in The States, and fans hope to see you return soon. You have been quoted as saying, “Rock ‘n’ Roll is not dead! It has just been on vacation.” With that said, do you feel the true essence of Rock-n-Roll is seeing a revival in recent times?
Joey Tempest – Yes, that is kind of fun to say (laughs). I do, and I think we can do this if we pull together. It has just been a weird loop, the whole business, the whole Rock world, because the whole system has changed, but the feeling is there. We just have to dig deeper, find the core of Rock, really not over produce, overwork stuff, just really find it again, and try to build it up. There are plenty of us who can believe in it and talk it up, like media and new bands like Rival Sons. There are other quirky bands like White Denim, I think they are pretty cool and they are carrying the torch as well. There is another band called Blues Pills from Sweden, they have a female singer, they have got something going on. There are plenty of bands that are actually handling the essence of the ’70s because that is where they recorded bass, drums, and guitars the best.
Up until the late ’70s and early ’80s, you still had great recordings. Then this weird, new age came in the ’80s with all the money, the over production, and everything. We were a part of it, so we were in the middle of that, and it was great. There was some great stuff coming out of the ’80s but, I think we took the production a bit to the left. A lot of bands understand this now, you can overwork it, you have to let the drums sound like drums, and let the bass and guitar be, because they were perfected in the late ’70s. We should use that as a template and really find the core and the muse of Rock music. I think we can do it. It is going to be a bit of a struggle but, unlikely enough, Europe, a band from Stockholm, are involved in it. With working with Kevin Shirley, Dave Cobb, and doing all of these gigs and albums now, they have a value, they have a kind of depth and expression to it. I am amazed myself that we can do it. If more bands can go into this kind of area and try to bring forward the real essence of Rock, then I think we can do this.
CrypticRock.com – Great Rock bands coming back and writing great music, like yourselves, it is what is bringing Rock back. What do you think of how the music industry has changed, based on the internet and how music is delivered today.
Joey Tempest – It has thrown everybody for a loop and it has changed everything radically, but I love how close we are on our Facebook. For instance, we can see our fans, we can show pictures and clips of where we are and what we do, we get immediate reactions, and we go in and read that. We used to have a fan club in San Francisco and we would get thousands of letters, but there was no way we could make it there all of the time and read all of those letters. That is a positive thing, we are close to the fans and that is amazing. It is still important to do videos, good records, and to show our best side, because if we do not, if we give up on that, then it is going to go down.
I was a bit pissed off five or maybe even ten years ago when big bands were saying that they were not going to make records anymore. Why are you even thinking like that? We need to do it, we need to show our best side. People are going to part with their hard-earned money to come and see us, to buy our records, we need to be the best we can be. Making videos is important too, obviously you have to look at the budget because we do not have MTV or anything, but it is important for the social media. We are just now showing “Days of Rock and Roll,” our new video, we have given it to a lot of social media now, and tomorrow we can show it on our own website. We are actually using the video as a tool to spread the word and to get people to the show and help the Rock and Roll business. You have got to do all of those things. The Rock soul and good Rock records will reach people. I noticed that here in Chicago, I was out at a Blues club last night, and people are there from all walks of life; business people, young kids, people from abroad, and they go there and just enjoy themselves. The core of Rock can turn things around, it is just that the business has changed and we have to find different ways of doing it, so it is a bit of a struggle, but we can do it.
CrypticRock.com – Also, the availability of older music to the younger generation is another great positive that has come from the internet. So many young people can experience your first records and you see them at your shows as a result.
Joey Tempest –Yes, exactly. It is hopeful. There is a new generation of bands that are not just emulating and recreating, they are actually finding a soul for their music and putting the work in. It is kind of hard as a new band to put in ten hours a day like we did and practicing your instrument because there are so many distractions. It is harder to get found by a label, but, the souls that have it in them will do it. We can see them and we can find them on social media and lift it up.
CrypticRock.com – Very good point. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Joey Tempest – I do not really watch Horror movies. Sometimes it is fun to watch the really bad ones. That happened with a Europe song, “Seven Doors Hotel,” one of our earliest songs. There was a B Horror movie called The Beyond from 1981, I watched that with a friend and I wrote the lyrics to “Seven Doors Hotel” from it. So sometimes it is fun to watch the really weird, wacky, bad B Horror movies.