|Countdown to paradise|
? - 1991
When Joey Tempest and the rest of EUROPE decided
that being lush tax exiles was driving them nuts, they decided to pen some tunes
about it. Lyn Guy, being a '92 kinda person, figured she'd check out what rock's
own continent have been up to...
Monday 7th October is the date Swedish ex-patriots EUROPE release "Prisoners in Paradise" - their latest, heaviest and most mature album in an eight year recording period. Yes, the band who were once branded as the "princes of pap", are out to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are a ROCK act of classic proportions; a fact that vocalist / lyricist / live guitarist Joey Tempest is keen to emphasize. His responses to my questions steadily increasing in animation as we talk.
With three years between LP's ("Out of This World" was released in August '88) and EUROPE's last live appearance in the UK being as special guests to Bon Jovi at Milton Keynes Bowl two years ago, one would expect an impressive return to the Rock 'N' Roll arena. "Prisoners", was originally due to appear in March, though there was some doubt cast upon the waters when I heard rumors of EUROPE's Stateside record company demanding the band write more songs, because they weren't satisfied with the initial fruits of the quintet's labors. Launching into attack mode, I ask Joey what actually caused this delay.
"Well, the album could have been out last year or, as you said, in March. We finished recording fourteen songs last year, then we put 'em aside and went on a tour in Asia for a month. When we came back we decided maybe we should write some more songs. And we did so over the Winter. We wrote four new tracks and we recorded them in April. We were recording in 'Q sound'," he adds, "which is a new thing, which over the winter became more developed so we had to go back and remix the fourteen tracks we'd recorded the year before. We wanted to do that because we wanted it to sound great. That's why the delay."
Do you think the record company were hoping you would write "...Countdown" part two?
"Well, I think people around us would appreciate that, especially the business side, but that was probably around six years ago that I wrote that song. The pressure was harder on the last album and I think enough time has lapsed now for that pressure to be relieved. The only thing that we've had from the record company is that they say we're a bit too heavy sometimes in the music! That's the only problem."
More an indication of blind officialdom and the still-present desire to market EUROPE as mainstream MTV fodder really. In real terms the band are now in a position to cut through the pap-pop prejudices that have dogged them since "The Final Countdown" single launched itself into the charts worldwide at the tail end of 1986. "PIP"'s greatest strength lies in an unashamed return to the sort of heavy duty material that makes "Wings of Tomorrow" just as valid a slab on vinyl as it was seven years ago.
Joey agrees: "Yeah, the album's a little bit like 'Wings of Tomorrow', but then again with Beau (Hill - producer) we've taken it into the 90's in a kind of cool way, as far as sound goes. It's also taken some new turns. I think the closest to a classic track like 'Final...' is 'Prisoners in Paradise', which in my point of view is going to be a classic rock track. And then we take some other routes, like I sing a little bit of blues in 'Got Your Mind in the Gutter' and 'All or Nothing'; a little bit like we had before with 'Rock the Night'."
Nevertheless, I am relieved that EUROPE did not pander to the current trend for blues-based rockin' n' rollin'. You're far more likely to find similarities to Queen (check out those harmonies on the title track) and the dual-guitar based acts of the 1970's than Free or even the Rolling Stones. The Swedish sweeties have remained true to their roots and influences, without compromising their own style:
"I think a lot of the stuff on the album is inspired by the time that we grew up," Joey comments. "And we did grow up in that period of Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, UFO, Queen, that's what we grew up with and listened to and I'm sure you can hear some of that on the album. If I find an idea that's similar to somebody else's, then I throw it away real quick and I think that's the strength of a good songwriter; to be able to throw ideas away at an early stage instead of putting a lot of effort into working on something that sounds like someone else. But you could probably spot a few things that we grew up with."
Whilst obviously strong songs and top class musicians are essential prerequisites to a world class album, the quality of production can make or break a record. The choice of Beau Hill was clearly an inspired one. He has captured every nuance of the group's performances with such clarity that the listener could easily believe him or herself to be enjoying a private gig in the comfort of their own home. All the way to heaven, eh Joey?
"Yeah, we sat down before the project and we talked about what we wanted to do. Already then, we were good friends, because he's down to earth and he doesn't have too much of a big ego. He was one of us throughout the project and we understood each other from the first when we wanted to make a powerful, more guitar-based album. Having said that, I know that people's reaction may be: 'What about Mic, the keyboard player?' Well, he plays guitar live now and I play guitar live too. We have four guys with guitars at the front and it's quite powerful."
"But the relationship with Beau was very good. We decided if anybody had an idea - anybody in the band or Beau - we'd try the idea quick instead of discussing whether it was fruitful. He had a lot of ideas, sometimes too man, and we had a lot ideas. As far as sound, he's a producer of the 90's, very good with sound. And it's powerful."
So how long did you actually spend working on "Prisoners in Paradise"?
"Effective time in the studios was not more than three months, which is normal for us. We're pretty quick once we get into the studio. But we take time with the writing and rehearsal. So most of it, on this project was staying together and writing songs."
A couple of the songs are intensely personal, borne out of the habit the quintet have of living together. Take "Homeland", the most melancholy of the twelve tracks on show.
"Every now and then we sit down with a beer and we start talking about old memories and that's how it came about; when we were all living together in San Francisco. We started thinking about Sweden, and as a songwriter, I started longing for things that had happened before," says Joey wishfully. "So yeah, we'd long for home sometimes. We moved out three years ago, but we're quite happy with what we do though."
And the title track?
"We were staying in a house on the islands where we live, and we stayed there a bit too long one time for four or five months in a row. Our manager called and we were saying: 'We've got to get out on the road, this is driving us crazy.' So he said: 'You guys are just like prisoners in paradise,' and that stuck with us. The song was the last song written. Everything was done and I had an idea that I wanted to write a song called 'Prisoners in Paradise'. It touches a bit on our lives and what's happened to us, but in the circumstance of Jimmy and Julie, who are two other characters."
Naturally the silver-tongued singer has also penned a plethora of variations on the love theme. But I have always held the opinion that Tempest's tousled locks concealed a sharply intelligent and enquiring mind. True to from "PIP"'s most intense and muscular tracks, "Seventh Sign" and "Girl from Lebanon", have a strong leaning towards critical world issues.
Joey explains: "'Girl from Lebanon' came from me meeting a girl from there and we talked for a while and she was real nice. She talked about their problems and stuff and I just wanted to write some sort of celebration to that. 'Seventh Sign' though, is about the signs of destroying ourselves. And it's happening, we're in the middle of doing all those signs. Y'know, there's a movie called 'The Seventh Sign' that really triggered me to do it. But it's a biblical thing from the start. The apocalypse is there and we're doing all those signs. We're doing all those things to lead up to it. I'm maybe not that deep all the time, but sometimes when you have a track where the music sounds like you want to put that kind of lyric on... it just comes out."
Earlier on during our conversation, a touring trip to the Far East was mentioned. Where did you play?
"We went to Thailand, played Bangkok for the first time which was great. We went to Taiwan, though we'd been there before. We went to Indonesia for the first time which was interesting and we played in Singapore. We do like to go to different places and we're pretty easy going, because when you do go to places where they've seen hardly any concerts, you have to have an open mind, because everything goes wrong in preparations."
Is there a fertile market for rock music in the Far East?
"Well, the record companies don't have control over the situation in those places. There's a lot of pirate tapes on the streets and that's how bands get famous over there. We walked the streets in Bangkok and we could buy EUROPE albums everywhere. At one point we saw one, and they'd put a domestic artist - one of their artist's song on our album. It's weird."
"So," he continues, "we asked the record company if we sell any albums there and they said, 'well, we don't quite know, but this is how many we've sold,' which wasn't that much. But when we came there to play, 50 000 showed up at Bangkok and it was chaos. We realized that we were a very big underground thing there through pirate sales. I hope the record companies get it together there, so the fans can go and buy their albums in the stores instead of buying them on the street. Nevertheless, we are popular there and that's been happening since '83 and the first album. Japan was very interested in a song from that called 'Seven Doors Hotel', which is a classical rock track over there."
Talk of touring naturally turns towards territories closer to home, particularly the UK. As I mentioned earlier, we've been without sight or sound of EUROPE for two years. So when can we expect you and your colleagues to grace a British stage again?
"Well," he asserts, "Plan A is to start touring in East Europe in maybe November or December and work our way up to Central Europe and then England, before going up to Scandinavia around Christmas. Then in the beginning of next year maybe come back over here to America. But if America comes up with something interesting first, though I doubt it because it's very tough here. You can't sell tickets and we don't want to just throw ourselves out without seeing how the album does first."
"Last time we did Europe first and they were a bit anxious here that we should have stayed longer. This time around we will stay longer, if the opportunity is there."
I gathered you were at Milton Keynes for the ZZ Top festival as a spectator. Did that fuel your hunger for performance?
"Oh yeah, I felt like I wanted to get up there and play," Joey exclaims. "But the thing is, it's great to see it from both sides. I just put my hair in a pony tail and I went out there and stood and watched it. I think it's great to do that. I still buy my own records and I want just to keep it as it was from the beginning. I don't want to be any bigshot who never goes out and watches a show or just hangs backstage eating the band's food. But it was great, I liked the show. I liked Thunder, I think we need more bands like that, good rock n' roll. It was interesting to be on that side and now next time we play there, I'll know what the people out there can see and I'll be able to put myself in their position and that will help my performance, I think."
Were you recognized and approached by many people?
"Yeah, a little bit. They asked mostly about when the album was gonna come out and I wrote some autographs and stuff. It's good," adds Joey, "because we've been away for a while and it's great to feel that there are people out there who are still interested in us."
Considering the forthcoming opus is their most British sounding to date, I predict a considerable growth in EUROPE's popularity over the next few months. Believe me, "Prisoners in Paradise" is a towering musical triumph. Check it out.