By Patrick Prince
The new Europe album “War of Kings” has been out since March but a special edition will be released in January with a Blu-ray/DVD companion disc of their “Live at Wacken 2015” concert. This release coincides perfectly with the start of Europe’s first tour of the U.S. in 10 years.
The album “War of Kings” is a heavy and bluesy classic rock replica, bringing the band back to its roots of growing up to the sounds of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. However, Europe is best known for the glossy hard rock single, “The Final Countdown” — the 1980s hit that was recently delivered back into mega-popularity by a successfully-planted Europe in one of the insurance company GEICO’s many whimsical and witty television commercials.
Call it a resurgence or plain ‘ol nostalgia, America is calling for the Swedish rock band Europe once again. And as the band prepares for its upcoming U.S. tour, vocalist Joey Tempest (middle in the above photograph) took some time over the holidays to talk to Goldmine.
GOLDMINE: The new Europe album “War of Kings” is heavier than people might expect. I’ve heard you say that it’s the album the band always wanted to make, ever since you were kids.
JOEY TEMPEST: It feels like that. It felt like that coming out of the studio. We never really worked that organic and easily before. I think we’ve come to the point where we’ve toured so much we record pretty much live. And it’s got that classic rock vibe like the albums we grew up with. So we were really proud when we came out of the studio with this one.
GM: You can certainly hear (certain) bands as influences, like Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath.
JT: Yeah. Dave Cobb (producer) brought with him a little bit of a Sabbath influence. I remember meeting him before we went into the studio. We talked about bands and we talked about some of the Sabbath albums as well. But for us, growing up out of Stockholm, there was a lot of Deep Purple, a lot of Led Zeppelin, when we were really young.
GM: You mentioned producer Dave Cobb … you first heard of him from Rival Sons‘ albums? Are you a fan of Rival Sons? They are a very good band.
JT: Yeah, absolutely. I think they’re very important. They’re bridging the gap, really, from the new generation to the old bands. We need those kind of new bands and they’re one of the best, and they can inspire other new bands. And what we’re doing on the road now, we’re bringing new bands with us. We found a great band from Iceland, another band from London and we put them on the bill even though maybe the promoter or agent want other bands on our bill, we want to choose the bands. Because we need to bridge the gap. We need to save the rock ‘n’ roll world, and the new bands are there but it’s just that the foundation of the business is not too strong at the moment but we can help.
We’ve heard Rival Sons. We used to listen to them in our dressing room. When we heard “Pressure & Time” the first time, and the sound and production that Dave Cobb did with these guys, we were blown away. We just took a chance to call (Cobb). We thought, he’s not going to be interested in working with us but he was like “Yeah, I’d love to. I used to play drums to Europe tracks when I was a young boy, so yeah, let’s do it.” So he came over to Stockholm and it was a match made in heaven. We had a lot of fun and we are looking at maybe working with him again the end of next year to do the next one.
GM: He gave you a sound that just feels right.
JT: Yeah, he gave a vibe. His main thing is to say “It’s great to find an atmosphere and a vibe for a record like the old classic records have.” So we tried to figure out how to do that and we had our keyboard player play Hammond a lot more, and we were working with a mellotron for the first time and that created a sort of a retro modern vibe to it, that sounds really cool. We didn’t use synthesizers as much. More organic things like the Hammond and mellotrons and things like that to make up the keyboard parts.
GM: Your use of the word organic is good because it has a classic rock sound. Nowadays stuff can feel overproduced.
JT: Absolutely. We all record in the digital medium … there are a few of us that don’t. I mean, Jack White doesn’t and there are a few other bands that don’t — but we all record in a digital medium but we warm it up properly. I mean we rented a truckload of old compressors, microphones and Dave Cobb and I decided let’s just hire a lot of old equipment so we can warm this album up and do it properly.
It’s a pity that people fall into the same way of working and a lot of young bands — and other bands too — they overproduce (an album) and they push the limits up on every instrument and everything and they overdub. I mean, we shouldn’t talk. We were here in the ’80s and we were doing a lot of polishing and doing a lot of big harmonies and we were pushing the boundaries with production but that’s what happened in the ’80s … everything was pushed. Now, I think it’s important to find the essence and to play real rock ‘n’ roll and find out how to catch that vibe. And (especially) for the young bands to do that. I think Rival Sons are doing a great job. I think White Denim are doing a great job. I think it’s important because most instruments were recorded at their best at the end of the ’70s, perhaps the beginning of the ’80s. That’s when they perfected recording drum, bass and guitar. And then we went away from that in the ’80s, which was kind of a cool adventure with all the digital stuff and all the money in the studio but I think it’s very important we come back to finding that real essence. And there are only a few engineers and producers who can handle it but we’ve been lucky enough to work with Kevin Shirley on “Bag of Bones” and now Dave Cobb. They’re really good at handling bands, recording live and keeping it warm and keeping it classic.
GM: Well, you know, the ’80s … everyone was like that, all the genres. It was extreme and it was almost like rock’s Vegas period. (laughs)
JT: (laughs) Exactly. It was kind of crazy. It had it’s charm and everything, too, but I think everything was pushed and it became a bit one-dimensional. I think some band’s in other genres, like Depeche Mode, U2 and The Cure, they all fell into the production trap a little bit too but they didn’t go all the way like hard rock and metal (which) really pushed everything.
GM: On this album it seemed like you had a purpose and a plan from the get-go. On “Last Look at Eden” (2009) it looked like you were exploring different styles. You were trying to find yourself in the studio.
JT: It’s interesting that you say that because that’s the album where we started with “Ok, where are we going? What are we going to do?” And that’s when we first started playing with the lyrics, starting on “The Beast” and also the bluesy side like “Catch That Plane.” There were some blues elements and some deeper elements and deeper expressions that started to emerge there, and then “Bag of Bones” and “War of Kings” just developed from there into more organic, more live and classic rock atmosphere. But it started on “Last Look at Eden,” really.
GM: You mention blues elements and here on the new album, even the ballads sound bluesy, much like a “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppelin.
JT: Yeah. We love that song. We actually did a cover of that years ago and the British press really liked it. We did a thing called “Almost Unplugged” and that was one of the covers that we chose. That’s an amazing song and that’s a good example as well. On “War of Kings” we have two songs that sort of sound like that: “Praise You” and “Angels (With Broken Hearts)”, which are very dynamic and emotional. and we never really could do this before. This is the first time where we really go into this territory and feel confident about it. And that’s what we’re really proud of as well with “War of Kings.”
GM: So you played a kind of acoustic “Since I’ve Been Loving You”?
JT: Yeah. Actually it was meant to be a webcast, we call it “Almost Unplugged.” It was a small gig in Stockholm but it turned out pretty good, the recording, so we decided to release it. I think it’s kind of limited. We did four covers: “Suicide” by Thin Lizzy, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, Love to Love by UFO and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppelin, and then we reworked “Final Countdown” and a lot of other Europe tracks with a string quartet. And it was a release, I don’t know how limited it was in certain countries but it’s called “Almost Unplugged” and the U.K. really liked it when they heard us play something like that. And that was in 2008, so that was kind of cool.
GM: I’m gonna have to seek that album out, And did John Norum do a solo on (that version of) “Since I’ve Been Loving You”? He is an underrated guitarist, I’ve always thought.
JT: Yeah. Oh yeah. I try to lift him up all the time. He’s kind of shy when it comes to promoting himself but he’s coming out with a cool instructional DVD soon. So maybe people will see. He’s never really done anything like that. He has been my friend since he was 13. I saw him play when I was probably 14-years old and I was blown away. I was like “I want to play with this guy” and we started a band called Force together. He’s amazing. He’s got that blues in him. It’s sort of in his playing. And he’s not a perfect player, he’s just got a great feel. He just does the cool things and melodic things so well. I can really say I’m proud when I stand on stage with him. It’s great that we now have done five new albums with him. Fantastic.
GM: Speaking of the Zeppelin influence, the new song “Rainbow Bridge” has a bit of a “Kashmir” feel in there.
JT: Yeah, it does and I remember Dave (Cobb) was saying, “Let’s make these strings sound a bit funky so we mixed in a mellotron and a few real strings in there but we tried to make it a bit towards that. It was a jam that me and (keyboardist) Mick (Michaeli) did in rehearsal — so it wasn’t really thought out that much but we brought it together in the studio and, yeah, it turned out pretty cool.
GM: That;s got to be a good live song — a future keeper.
JT: That’s a good idea. We haven’t tried that one yet. The ones we’ve tried live so far are “War of Kings” and “Hole in my Pocket” — we love to play that. “Nothin’ To Ya,” we really started to like playing now. “The Second Day,” “Praise You” and “Days of Rock ‘n’ Roll” … so those six songs so far. There’s still songs that we haven’t tried yet, so … you never know.
GM: “Praise You” would be good live. When I first saw that title I thought it might be a spiritual song but really it’s about romantic devotion, right?
JT: Yeah, it’s more romantic. It’s sort of touching on the spiritual side, maybe … but no, it’s more of a love song actually. It’s very different. We never really done something like that before. It’s so dynamic. There are so many things happening in the song and the guitar solo takes it somewhere else completely. When we recorded it, Dave Cobb had a friend come over, an artist-singer-songwriter kind of guy, and when he had heard that song he said, “It’s like an Al Green song where it goes to different places and different moods.” We love playing that track. It’s great.
GM: The thing with writing a love song, it can come out corny. But this is good, it hits the mark.
JT: That’s what’s great about certain love songs, when they’re full of expressions and you don’t think too much — you just get taken on a journey.
GM: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
JT: Lately, “Nothin’ To Ya.” We started playing it live lately, and it’s heavy, but we all love that chorus so much that when it hits the breakdown and the last chorus comes … if you come and see us now in the States we will most likely play that and after the guitar solo and the breakdown and when it lifts again in the last chorus, we all get goosebumps and we just love it. But we love starting the set with “War of Kings” and I’m sure we are going to do that in America as well. That feels great. “Days of Rock ‘n’ Roll” is fun. And some of the guys in the band really like playing “The Second Day” and it’s also becoming a favorite with some fans.
GM: Your voice is still so strong. How have you kept it so strong over the years? I mean, are you just blessed or do you really have to take care of it?
JT: Yeah, I think I am blessed in a way because there have been certain times that I have resorted to a lot of vocal exercises because I feel like I’ve been losing my voice and stuff. I’ve been singing a lot now — a thousand shows now, probably — and it’s still working. One of the road crew who has been with us since ’83 says the voice has changed a bit but it still carries really well. It’s thicker and huskier now but they actually like it slightly better now because it’s a little more gritty and a bit more hoarse. But sometimes I lose it. I mean, if there are too many shows in a row I’ll get really, really hoarse. In the last few years, there have been a few shows where it’s like “Wow,” but it’s still working and I’m really happy it’s still working.
GM: Are you please the way the companion “Live At Wacken” DVD has turned out?
JT: Oh yeah. I mean, we put some extra work on the sound and Kevin Shirley did a great job mixing it . We are very pleased with it. It’s kind of heavy and it’s kind of gritty and we use some screens behind us. It’s a really cool addition to the re-release of “War of Kings” with this DVD. We’re really proud of it.
GM: You start the U.S. tour in January. After all these years do you notice the difference between European audiences and American ones?
JT: We used to. It’s sort of merging together now. The experiences we had with American audiences were … we toured ourselves and we did “An Evening with Europe” in 1987 with “The Final Countdown” album and we did the big tour with Def Leppard when they were No. 1 with “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in ’88. What I remember — and I like playing in America — there’s a lot of good will and positive vibes at the gigs, and couples go out often, you know. As a couple you’d go out and see the shows and stuff. In Europe it sometimes could be segregated. It can be more a male-oriented audience or a more female-oriented audience. Of course, it’s a mixed audience but it might lean towards one or the other. But I always felt like it was a great mixture in America, and a party atmosphere. It’s always been great touring in America. Everybody in the band is looking forward to this tour. We haven’t been touring in America for 10 years. We did a show on the east coast earlier this year and now we’re coming to the other side but basically it’s been 10 years. We did a small tour when we first got back together but that can’t really count either so we have a lot of ground to cover and a lot of work to do in America.
GM: And then you’re going to plan on the 30th Anniversary of “The Final Countdown,” is that correct?
JT: We’re doing a few things but we don’t want to overdue it because we are so involved in the new album and the newer stuff. What we want to do at the end of next year, perhaps, do between five to 10 shows and celebrate that album. Nothing is really set in stone but at that same time we are going back in the studio to record our next album, so it’s going to be a quite busy period towards the end of the year. But we just want to do something.
GM: It’s almost like you’ve got to play that song because there’s been such a resurgence with it. Are you surprised by how popular that GEICO commercial has been?
JT: I think we are a bit surprised actually. We get phone calls and people telling us “Hey, it’s on TV all the time.” I met Alice Cooper by chance because we were playing at the Classic Rock Awards and winning an award — which was amazing —but we met Alice and we don’t know him that well but we know him a little bit, and he came up to us and said, “Hey, you guys are on TV all the time in America. It’s really cool, you know.” That was kind of cool, and I thought, we must be on the TV all the time then! So, yeah, we were surprised but we also …. when we did it we wanted to do it well and do a new version. We told GEICO that if we were gonna do this we want to look the way we want to look because we work all the time now, we tour all the time and we want to sound the way we now sound. So we’re going to give you a new version. That’s actually derived from a live version from Germany where we took the audience out and Kevin Shirley mixed it. Because we wanted to be more up-to-date. It’s a bit punchier. It hasn’t got that ’80s sheen over it. It’s more raw and urgent. So that has actually helped. People don’t think about that so much because they may not have time in the space of the commercial but I think it has helped that the sound is more urgent and more modern.
It was a good experience. We checked out Geico first. We checked out what directors they used and we checked out all the commercials they did. And we thought they have done a great job. They have a tongue-in-cheek way of doing it and we thought that would be fun to show that we don’t take ourselves that seriously all the time. But we wanted to make a good job of it and hopefully this will help us a bit now that we’re coming over. We can start building things again.
GM: There’s quite a buzz on it. Have you noticed the up-tick in sales on that song or that album?
JT: Yeah, I spoke to our manager the other day and he said, “Yeah, it’s kind of interesting in America.” Now some booking agents are actually calling us for the first time in ages. And venues and stuff — that hasn’t happened since we were there a long, long time ago. There’s definitely an interest and the ticket sales are doing great, so yeah, we are looking forward to this run. Maybe this can lift us one step and maybe in 2017 we can do a bigger tour. Who knows? We’re realists, you know. We have our territories where we tour, where it works but we would love to add America to that and be able to go there more often. That would be great.
GM: And I’m sure a lot of people are feeling nostalgic … where they haven’t seen you in 10 years.
JT: Sure. That’s great, too. You know, nostalgia is great in a live setting. But as you know we’re not keen on that kind of nostalgia in the studio and creative-wise. But of course, live it’s great to play “Rock the NIght,” “Superstitious,” “The Final Countdown,” Carrie” and sometimes “Let the Good Times Rock” together with all those new tracks. They blend in really well and it becomes a really cool show. We haven’t been in America a lot and that’s a good thing, too, because people are kind of curious now and want to check us out. And hopefully we can spread the word of the new album as well.
GM: Well, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
JT: Yeah. And everybody in the band are really happy now. We’re doing Christmas and having our family time and then gearing up for the U.S. run which is really exciting for us.
GM: Do you think that hard rock is back. In the ’90s, the popularity of hard rock and heavy metal waned a bit. But now it’s kind of back.
JT: It’s coming back. The business has to sort itself out a little bit so we can support the new bands. What’s happening now is that we have to do it — you and me and all the other bands. We’ll bring the younger bands with us on tour — a band from Iceland that we really like, The Vintage Caravan; a London band called Dirty Thrills; a Bristol band called Tax the Heat … and we want to support them. And I know both Black Sabbath and Deep Purple have brought Rivals Sons with them on tour and it’s really important to support these new bands so they get a shot because the business is not as strong now. But I think it’s a positive vibe now and some young bands are trying to make really classic records. So I think there’s a chance here and we’re definitely here to try to help.
Here are some tentative dates for Europe’s upcoming American tour:
1/19/16 Rockbar Theater / San Jose / CA TBA
1/20/16 The Grove / Anaheim / CA TBA
1/22/16 Saban Theater / Los Angeles / CA TBA
1/23/16 Hard Rock Live / Los Vegas / NV TBA
1/24/16 Music Box Theater / San Diego / CA TBA
1/25/16 Wild Horse Pass Casino / Chandler / AZ TBA
1/27/16 The Granada Theater / Lawrence / KS TBA
1/28/16 Badlands Pawn / Sioux Falls / SD TICKETS
1/29/16 The Grand Events Ctr / Shawnee / OK TBA
1/30/16 House of Blues / Dallas / TX TBA
1/31/16 House of Blues / Houston / TX TBA
2/2/16 Revolution / Fort Lauderdale / FL TBA
2/3/16 The Concert Courtyard @ Fergs / St. Petersburg / FL TBA
2/4/16 House of Blues / Lake Buena Vista / FL TBA
2/5/16 Hard Rock Casino / Biloxi / MS TBA
2/6/16 The Masquerade / Atlanta / GA TBA
Or go to Europetheband.com for more information.