|With a collective ego|
Magazine - No. 110, 2006
Translated by: Stein-Vidar
Many people probably thought
EUROPE's return in 2004 would be brief, but now that the band release
"Secret Society", there might be a few skeptics who have to swallow
the bitter pill. The 80s heroes seem to adjust to the new millennium in a good
way, and lead singer Joey Tempest sees no reason to pull the brakes now.
It's been two years since EUROPE returned to the record market after a 12 years long separation. It was then a EUROPE with clear future ambitions and not a need for nostalgia, which surfaced in the shape of "Start from the Dark". The Swedes would appear to be heavier and tougher on this side of the millennium-change than in their glory days, and it's in that direction the ship keeps sailing now that "Secret Society" is released. To both look back and talk about the present and future, we've had a chat with lead singer, and maybe band leader, Joey Tempest. Since the last time we talked to the man, the band have seen the result of "Start from the Dark", done a world tour and recorded a new album. We're then talking about two eventful years. It's also this period we open the conversation with, and I wonder if Joey feels that EUROPE reached a new audience with "Start from the Dark".
"It feels like that. Now that time has passed, you can also ask people what they think about the album, and you notice that 'Start from the Dark' is talked about a lot on our website. There are a lot of positive things being said about it now, and that might be because people after a while have accepted that this is the new EUROPE. There are a few discussions between people who like the old or new EUROPE, but it's good that people discuss the band. But yes, it feels like we met a new audience also when we were out on the 'Start from the Dark' tour. We noticed that there were some younger people, and that's cool."
Do you think a song like "The Final Countdown" also draws in a new and younger audience, even 20 years later?
"Yes, I think so. Those kind of songs, which in a way have become timeless, are picked up by new generations. Some of those people who come to see us, come to experience that song live in particular, and that also goes for a part of the younger audience."
We're moving towards "Secret Society", an album which clearly stands as a natural sequel to "Start from the Dark". The guys were also more aware about where they wanted to go musically this time compared to "Start from the Dark".
"Yes, we knew very well what we wanted this time, because when we started working on 'Start from the Dark', we didn't know anything. We met up and did a pretty raw rock album very quickly. We probably took a chance then, but we knew now that we wanted to continue with the same kind of guitar-based album. At the same time we wanted to have broader material. We wanted to show more of our influences and some more dynamics. That's the way it has turned out also, so we've reached our goals with 'Secret Society'. We also wanted to take the sound a bit further, and we think it sounds better than 'Start from the Dark'. We worked hard in the studio for two months during the summer, and we made a deadline for August 3. Then the album was going to be mastered, so we worked 100 percent. We slept in the studio, and it was hard work since we also produced ourselves."
Tempest admits that it was tough to do the production on their own, at the same time as the time pressure was big. There was big help from other people who got involved in the project.
"It worked out because everyone we worked with are so professional. We were so lucky to get Stefan Glaumann to mix the album, and we love his style. We're in no way like Rammstein, but we like the way he mixes. We also had some very experienced technicians from Polar, who've recorded everything from Led Zeppelin to Phil Collins. You always want to work with the best people, and this time it was really a goal for us."
To come back after 13 years' absence from the record market, as the situation was for EUROPE last time, is probably a different situation than to do the second album after the reunion. Then you can think the band are experiencing a different kind of pressure now compared to two years ago.
"That's actually a very good question, but I haven't had time to think so much about it since everything has happened so quickly. We've been working non-stop since June, and now we're working on the cover, at the same time we've started doing interviews, so it's been pretty hectic. I'm the kind of guy who tries to avoid having too big expectations, and in that way I get away from some of the thoughts around a possible pressure. The feeling I wish to have is the same as on 'Start from the Dark', the feeling that we're doing what we want to do. One decision we made after the millennium gig was that if we were gonna do this again, we had to do it our way. We wanted to do hard and melodic albums. That's our thing, and then the others can say what they want."
There's no doubt that it was a new EUROPE who surfaced in 2004, and it's certain that this had to cause mixed feelings among the old fans. It was never an option for the band to do the KISS thing; to just live off old glories.
"It was important to create new music and to be creative. We didn't want to do '80s albums' and just play the old songs. That's why it was natural to do 4-5 new songs on the last tour, and this fall we're certainly gonna play a lot of songs from the new album. It's important for us to feel that we're creative and that we have fun. Of course we could have done it like KISS, but then I think it would have been a brief reunion. It seems to me that many bands who reunite do it without having any focus to it. It often seems like they miss the spark, but we had that spark immediately. One reason is that John Norum had been gone from the band for so long. When we look back at the break-up between John and EUROPE now, it's certainly a sad chapter, but at the same time we think it's helped us. We got a new ignition and a spark, which might not have been there if we had kept working with John until the band split up."
That spark EUROPE showed resulted at first in "Start from the Dark", an album yours truly claims is the band's best.
"It's cool that you say that, because it seems like people have spent some time on that album. Only now people have really started talking about it, and then I hear all the time that it's an underestimated album. It looks like many people didn't understand the album when it came, but it seems like many people - and in particular people who knows a bit about hard rock - now really have started to like it. That's really cool. Like I said, we've tried to show a broader sounds on 'Secret Society', but we still have heavy songs like 'Love Is Not the Enemy' and 'The Getaway Plan', which John and I have written together. That's the kind of songs that are important for EUROPE, and maybe especially important for the concerts. John loves the aggressive sound, and I think it's cool to write songs and lyrics around his aggressive ideas. There's a special chemistry between us, and that can't be recreated with anyone else. He impressed me already the first time I saw him on a stage, as a 14-year old, and he still impresses me."
To collaborate as songwriters in a band was still a relatively new thing on "Start from the Dark". The collaboration continues of course on "Secret Society", but keyboardist Mic Michaeli is also represented as co-writer on four tracks this time. Despite this, it does feel like we've got a natural sequel.
"I feel that too. At the same time we've been a bit daring this time, and I can't think of any other bands who would have taken the chance to do a song like 'Secret Society'. It's so different and it's based on just one riff. The long solo in 'Devil Sings the Blues' is fantastic. This was actually John's last solo, and he recorded it in one take. There was a lot of people in the studio, and he'd had some beers, but this caused a magical take. It's the kind of thing that just happens that you don't have control of. I don't know about many other bands who would dare to do something like that today. I think you should risk something, and you have to challenge both yourself and the fans. That's what EUROPE are doing and at the same time, like you're saying, it's a natural evolution for the band."
Joey says he likes a challenge, and you can wonder if that's a reason for the earlier songwriting dictator to involve two other members now.
"I don't know if it's a challenge, but it's fantastic. Mic can send me a keyboard riff, or John sends me his riffs, and then I sit and put this together, and arrange and write lyrics. It's a cool way to work. It's not like I have an ego that says I have to write everything. Also they've become better and better songwriters as the years have gone by, and all John's solo albums have done him very well. When we started the band, he wasn't interested in writing songs. He just wanted to play solos. It was always like that with the early bands I played in, that people were more into playing. Then there were cover songs, but early on I was ambitious about songwriting. I thought it was fun, and early on I wrote poems. If I hadn't started bringing my own songs to the rehearsals, we probably would have kept going as a cover band. Mic has also become a better songwriter during the time, but he has been so lazy. It seems like Mic has a little more spark now. There was also the fact that John had a baby while we were working on the album, and so he had his hands full for a while. That's when Mic brought in some more ideas."
It can seem like we have the classic scenario that when the cat is away, the mice will play, but the big cat will probably never leave the room. So there's probably not a big chance for a Tempest-less EUROPE song.
"No, I don't think that's gonna happen, since I write the lyrics after all," Joey says decisively, before he starts moderating himself. "There could be an instrumental song again, like in the beginning. Then Norum had two tracks, 'Boyazont' on the first album and 'Aphasia' on 'Wings of Tomorrow', so something like that might come back again. We can't look past the fact that someone could write amazing lyrics that will impress me, so let's not say it can't happen. I think it's really difficult to sing other people's lyrics. I have tried to work with other songwriters and I've tried to write for other artists. It's difficult both to give away lyrics and to sing other people's lyrics. It's something personal, and the word has to feel right. It also has to be said that I mean we've now grown up for the first time and tried to write some meaningful lyrics. That's maybe the biggest difference between EUROPE 20 years ago and today. I like a-ha's lyrics a lot, and that's because of the melancholy and the searching and reflective things about life. In a way I've tried to find that in EUROPE's lyrics now, and I try to shine a light on what happens around us. A lot of things has happened around us in the period since the last album. Ian Haugland's mother passed away and Mic's father passed away, at the same time Norum has had his first son, and then you have everything that's happened around the world. I live in London, and I was there when the bombs went off last year. All this has been tied into the album in a way."
Now Joey Tempest is really getting into it, and he starts talking about a certain theme that's on "Secret Society".
"In a way it's become an album about belief. Where do we find belief? Is 'faith' the belief? Is love the belief? There's a lot of questions you can ask, and in these times you almost don't dare to believe in religion. We deal with a lot of stuff like that, and I think it's important for the band that we dare to write lyrics like that."
This is starting to take a scary turn for a heathen journalist, and suddenly it feels completely natural to ask Joey if he has any belief in God personally?
"No, it's more the fact that I'm fascinated that people can have 100 % faith in God. I think it's interesting and I'm both fascinated and impressed by it. I don't have that 100 % faith in anything. I search and ask questions all the time. Actually that's why I bought a Bible when we were working on this album, because I felt it was necessary to find out some more about what's written there. When you're like me - that you don't have a belief in God like that - then you search for some kind of faith around you, in your family and friends."
Earlier on Joey Tempest mentioned that the lyrics are among the biggest differences between EUROPE today and in the 80s, but after a while he also starts talking about other differences.
"We're a much tighter band today, and that makes us a totally different band. If you listen to our first album, we're really making a mess sometimes, but it does have a charm of its own also. The biggest difference between then and now is our friendship. Now we've finally managed to accept each other. One of the reasons that John Norum left when the band got big, was that we stopped talking and even communicating with each other. Things were enclosed instead of just talking it out. This was done to improve the situation, but instead we just drifted further and further apart, of course. Now, on the other hand, we've accepted each other for who we are, and we can help each other both personally and musically. You could say our egos have opened up more, and in a way it has become a collective ego for the whole band."
Those who want to compare the band's youth with today's version, will get a great opportunity now that the concert from Stockholm 1986 is finally being released on DVD. As soon as I bring that up, Tempest gets eager, but not because of the concert itself.
"What I think is most interesting about the DVD is the extra material, the interviews and that stuff. There's a sequence where we stop by the Powerplay Studios, where we recorded 'The Final Countdown'. We did this two years ago, and then we filmed while we walked around in the studio and pointed and explained. This was very interesting for us, and hopefully for the fans as well. There are also long interviews where we talk about everything concerning EUROPE. That's the kind of material I think is important to release, and to me it's less important to release old concerts."
What was it like to sit down and watch this concert again, it must bring back many memories?
"I saw it just a couple of years ago, so I haven't sat down and watched anything but short clips now. I think musically we did a good concert back then, but it was also a strange concert for us. One of John's best friends had just passed away, and you can sense that in his mood. He still played like crazy. We also filmed a lot of the video for 'The Final Countdown' there, both earlier that day and during the concert. It's a good concert, but mentally I've moved on and I live right here and now, in 2006. What you see on the DVD is the EUROPE we were at that time, and the 80s was a good time. That's when we grew up and a lot of things happened at that time. It does feel better today, though, because now we have total control and that's something you don't have when you're 20. Then we were stuck with contracts we hadn't had any control over, but now we've got control right down to the smallest detail. Now we can do what we want musically and we own our mastertapes. We can choose who we want to mix the album, and we can decide who makes the cover."
Now that EUROPE have control of their own career, Tempest doesn't see any obstacles and he's certain that the band have more albums in store.
"We've already started to talk loosely about the next album, but it's difficult to be creative right now. You're pumped out after having just made an album, but when you've been out on the road for a while, the need to do something in the studio comes back. You can assume that we're gonna tour for year now, where we might end it with some festivals in the summer. We know for sure that when we get to that stage, we're gonna start working on the next album. We're a working band who are gonna keep on working."
During the last couple of years EUROPE have released some live tracks here and there, and the thought about doing a live album has been there. If this is ever gonna be a reality is not known, but more live recordings are on the way to the collectors.
"We're recording several concerts now, and that's why we release some bonus tracks here and there. 'Always the Pretenders' will be released as a single, and there we're gonna use two live tracks from New York as bonus tracks. In Japan we're gonna use two tracks recorded in Tokyo as bonus tracks on 'Secret Society'. It's also possible that we're gonna put some tracks up on our website, and in that way maybe spread some of the material without doing a real live album. Originally we were supposed to do a live album from the 'Start from the Dark' tour, but we choose to spread the songs a bit instead. We've always wanted to do a live album, but the contract we had with Sony in the USA said we couldn't release a live album. Unfortunately we didn't have any power to do anything about it. We've grown up with Thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous', UFO's 'Strangers in the Night' and Deep Purple's 'Made in Japan', and those were the albums we liked the most. That's where the dream about being a live band came from, not being a studio pop band."
EUROPE became a solid live band, and Rockefeller on November 14 is what counts for the fans in Norway. Until then it's all about listening to "Secret Society" which is released on October 27.