Interviewed by David Felix
Date: April 14th, 2005
Is it psychologically possible after just hearing the opening four notes to “The Final Countdown” by EUROPE to get that tune out of your head?!? It has become one of the most distinguishable intros of all time being used at countless sporting events and still getting airplay on mainstream radio today.
Well, I am happy to say that 18 years later, EUROPE is back and better than ever with a new album and new tour set to hit the United States this month! Lead singer and founding member Joey Tempest was kind enough to talk to me from his home in London as he and the band were gearing up for their triumphant return to America… here’s what he had to say:
Whose idea was it to first put the band back together again?
We kept in contact after our last tour in ’92. We would exchange solo albums, talk to each other and even saw each other from time to time. I think everybody knew it would eventually happen again… we just didn’t know when! I think the instigator was the millennium eve show that we did in Stockholm. Just before midnight, we played “The Final Countdown” live and outdoors… it was VERY cold but well worth it. There were like close to a half a million people out on the streets and it was just an amazing experience. But the rehearsal for that was absolutely “magic” and afterwards we were all just like, “We have to do this!” We just had to finish up some solo projects that some of us were involved with at the time and then… we were off! It was everybody’s idea, I think. Everybody felt it that night so there really was no one individual responsible for it. Everybody, over the years, was really keen on doing it.
Was there still that chemistry between the band when you first got back together again after such a long period apart?
Yeah, there was a GREAT energy…especially with John (Norum) back in the band. I met John when I was fifteen and we started the band when we were very young. We’ve all known each other since we were teenagers and we’ve been good friends over the years. But playing together in the same room is just a special thing with certain bands and we’re fortunate enough to be one of them.
What was the first song you guys wrote together for the new album?
The first song was “Got To Have Faith”… the opening track. We started from scratch! We wanted to make something modern, heavy and something that would be relevant now. So John sent me some riffs to my hometown in London and I just started putting things together, writing lyrics and when I felt I had something, I sent it off to the other guys. They were all like, “This is great!”… Hence the heavier riffs, the D-tuning and everything because that’s the way John likes to do it. That instigated a whole album. I started writing some more by myself, continued on with the D-tuning on the guitars and we found a “vibe” for the album. It’s still melodic… it is heavier but I think that just came out of the energy from the rehearsal.
That brings me to my next question… The sound and overall feel of “Start From The Dark” is a lot heavier than what some EUROPE fans may be accustomed to. It almost seems like you guys went way back to your first album or “Wings of Tomorrow.” Was this an intentional return to your roots?
No, it sort of happened automatically. I can’t explain what happened exactly, but when John and I started writing, it was very obvious this was going to be more guitar oriented. John and I didn’t write together as much before with EUROPE. He would play guitar and I wrote most of the songs. Now since we’ve been writing stuff together, it’s really triggered off some melodic but yet more guitar oriented and heavy music. It was just automatic! It was something we wanted to do that sounded like the rehearsal we had when we first met.
How have your fans been responding to the new release?
Well, we have two camps. We have the camp that’s saying, “We love this but… we like the older stuff.” And then we have some people who like the newer stuff as oppose to what we did before. There’s a sort of debate going on between our fans. But that’s cool, we like that because we wanted to make a statement with this record. We want to start working on another record soon. We’ve been on the road so long now but we’ve had such good reactions live from our new tracks… especially “Flames,” “Hero,” “Wake Up Call,” and “Start From the Dark”… “Got To Have Faith” as well. They all seem to communicate well “live” and we’re very happy about that.
The production value of “Start from the Dark” is absolutely amazing. Who was responsible for that?
We hooked up with our old friend Kevin Elson who did “The Final Countdown” album. In those days, we were 22/23 years old and we had just met Kevin shortly after signing with Sony Records who recommended him to us. So we wanted to hook up with someone like that again this time. Someone who was a good friend, who could handle a “live” band, “live” recording and had a great sound. It was a choice we all agreed on so we just called him up and he was like, “Yeah, that’ll be GREAT!” So, he came over to Sweden, actually, and we did most of the recording in the cold winter. (laughs) He was very cold… Kevin. Living in California, I think he was a bit shocked about how cold it actually was! But we recorded the whole thing with him and then hit the road!
Obviously the music industry has changed dramatically over the years since the band first started. Do you think EUROPE still appeals to the same audience it once did and how difficult is it to pick up new fans along the way?
We’re prepared to put in a lot of long hours with this. I think we need to go out and play a lot, meet our fans, play our music and just see who wants to join us! It’s hard to predict who will like it and who won’t, but so far the response has been great. Our fans have really welcomed us back and we’re all really overwhelmed. When we started playing the summer festivals last year, we didn’t know what to expect. But the fans have just welcomed us back with open arms and we’re very, very pleased. Hopefully we’ll be able to carry on for a long time.
Do you have a favorite track off the new CD and why?
At the moment it’s the third song, “Flames,” because it just represents the feeling we had when we first started working on this album. Getting back together again, giving everything and risking it all for this purpose and this band. It’s just a good track and it works really well “live” as well.
What is your live show like now and what has the crowd response been like since you’ve been back on tour?
We decided to mix and match quite a lot. We play, obviously, the old songs that people like and that we like as well. We mix it in with five or six new tracks and some of the older tracks we are treating a little differently. They’re a bit D-tuned, they groove a little bit better and they have more of that modern sound. We try to make it an exciting show with a lot of communication with the audience… but we’re just having a great time. The fans seem to be happy because the response has been great! We play songs from ALL of our albums and they really seem to like that.
Now shortly, you guys will be returning to the United States for the first time in many, many years. How excited are you about that and do you think the fans will be as supportive now as they once were?
Well, we really hope they will because this is one stop on the tour we’ve really been looking forward to. We said to our management early on that we have to go back to America. This is the most important leg because we haven’t been there in a long time and we just remember always having a great time with the fans there. It is still a young country and it’s great to tour it because everybody who buys a ticket is looking to have a great time. Those are the memories we have and we hope that it holds true this time around.
What is the set list in the U.S. going to be like? Do you pretty much stick to the same set from show to show or do you try and change it up a little?
We try and change it a little bit but usually we try to find a concept that works where we have songs from all our albums and, as I said, five or six new ones. But yeah, it varies.
Do you do any songs “live” that aren’t on any of your albums?
No. Since we have a new album out, we are content with playing that as our “new” stuff. We do perform “Yesterday’s News” which was on “Rock The Night: The Very Best of EUROPE” CD but really wasn’t on an actual album. So yeah, we love to play “Yesterday’s News” which was an outtake from the “Prisoners In Paradise” album.
Do you have a favorite song you like to perform “live?”
“Flames” is great because it’s new but still connects with the audience. “Girl From Lebanon” I really like to perform as well. It’s an “interesting” track from the “Prisoners In Paradise” album. And, of course, songs like “Rock The Night” and “Superstitious” are always great because they can really kick the show into high gear.
Do you still feel that “magic” you once did when you first started stepping out onto that stage?
We do for two reasons… First of all, because we’re all friends from our teenage years and because we have the chemistry, it’s like a family. When we go out on stage it’s like, “Yeah…lets do it together!” We feel like we can take on the world! That feeling is there still and it’s fantastic! Also, because we have a new spark, a new album and a new future (we hope), we feel like we have a job to do and we’re working hard at it.
What are you most thankful for?
When it comes to this band there are two reasons. The first of which is that the five of us are back together and with John in the band. I’m very thankful for that but more importantly, I am thankful for just the overwhelming support from the fans. I mean, we’ve been away for quite a while and we didn’t have a clue that they would come out and we’d be selling out shows and they’d be screaming at the top of their lungs like they use to. It’s been really amazing after all these years.
What inspires you to keep moving forward with both yourself and the band?
It’s just a genuine and deep love for music. I started playing acoustic guitar when I was seven years old and I was completely amazed when I came to America for the first time when I was twelve. I would listen to the radio and I think one of the first songs I ever heard was “More Than A Feeling” by BOSTON and I was just completely blown away.
I knew right then I wanted to do this. I wanted to be in a guitar band, I wanted to tour and that feeling is still there… it’s just grounded in you and a lot of us. Even the fans and other musicians can have that feeling about music. It takes away everything else and sometimes, it just makes anything else seem like a waste of time. So that drives me forward and also, John Norum is a great inspiration to me when it comes to guitar playing. I think he’s an incredible guitar player, a great friend and it helps me write having him back in the band.
With the “somewhat” sad state of music in the United States, do you think a North American tour is almost a “do or die” situation not only for yourselves, but for other artists like you as well?
For us, it’s a tremendous opportunity. Since we’re playing “House of Blues” like places and rock clubs, it’s a “DO” thing for us! It couldn’t be a “DIE” thing. It’s important to meet the fans again and play some new songs for them. I know the situation with rock radio in the U.S. but there are some good things on the horizon. For example, things like satellite radio picking up more and more hard rock or heavy metal stations… so there again, things change! All good bands need to go out on the road because that’s where they can communicate and the rest will have to follow. We’ve been lucky because we have been able to release our albums all around the world. We have a company in Europe, one in Japan, another in Scandinavia and we are getting our album out in America as well as on “I-Tunes.” So we are lucky in that sense, but you’re right… it has changed a lot and especially with our kind of music. But the audience IS out there! We’ve seen it… they’re out there and they want to hear it, they want to enjoy it and they want to scream and sing along! So we’re just going to keep going and see where it goes.
What’s the biggest difference between the Joey Tempest we first met over twenty years ago and the Joey Tempest today?
I’m a little bit more relaxed, perhaps. The lyrics, I hope, are better because I did spend a lot of time doing my solo albums. I put out three and I was studying a lot of people like VAN MORRISON, JACKSON BROWNE, NEIL YOUNG or anything just to try and get to the bottom of everything lyrically. Hopefully I carried some of that with me in the new EUROPE. I think all of us in the band can really show a lot of our maturity now but still be melodic and heavy.
EUROPE will always be remembered for the song “The Final Countdown.” Did you ever think that song in particular would become as acclaimed as it has and how do you feel when you still hear that song being played on the radio today?
It’s always a nice feeling. Sometimes you hear it on the streets or someone has it on their mobile phone or something… it’s a nice feeling! Actually, I did an interview about a year ago with a newspaper from America and they talked about how much it’s been used in sports in America… which I didn’t know so much about. Apparently it has been used a lot and it was nice to hear. The ironic thing, though, is that the song was actually written for the fans. It was over six minutes long and was never meant to be a hit or anything like that. It was meant to be an opening for the “live” show. We were putting out our third album and we wanted a really “grand” opening for the show. So, I had that “riff” tucked away in a drawer since my college years and I took it out, found a tempo for it, wrote lyrics and it turned out to be a great opening for that album and for the show as well. Nowadays, we don’t rehearse it but when we play it live, it is still just so amazing! It does communicate so well with the audience and we really love playing it.
What would you most like to be remembered for?
(laughs) I guess just being part of a Scandinavian rock band that managed to tour the world! I mean it doesn’t happen that much and we feel humble and happy about being a Swedish or Scandinavian band actually making it. It’s been our dream since the very beginning. When we saw bands like DEEP PURPLE or THIN LIZZY play or heard their live albums… that was our dream to do what they did! To tour in Europe, tour in America, tour in Japan… that was our dream and we are so lucky that we can do that.
So is there anything else you’d like to say or add?
Just that we’re going to keep going! We’ve been on the road for a year now and we’re going to be doing some festivals over the summer… just a few though because we want to start recording and writing for the next album. Hopefully we’ll have a new album out by next year but we really want America to enjoy this one first.
Thank you very much for your time, Joey and I can’t wait to see you in a couple of weeks at B.B. Kings (N.Y.C.) and at the Starland Ballroom (Sayreville, NJ).
So you’re coming to see us then! Fantastic! It’s going to be great to play that area and hopefully we can meet up too!