Scream meets John Norum

By: Jan Dahle        From: Scream - No. 42, 1999

Since John Norum packed his guitar cases and left EUROPE in 1986, he has released four studio albums and one live album. Even though the man has released all those albums I haven't managed to get an interview with him before. It was when John at the last minute filled in for Van Halen at the Karlshamn Rock Festival in southern Sweden that I finally had the chance to talk to him. And when I had Mr. Norum in front of me, he wasn't at all a hard man to talk to...

"We hadn't played for a couple of months, so it felt a bit rusty tonight, but it worked out pretty well though. Since we hadn't played for such a long time, we just did the usual set that we do at clubs here in Sweden. This is a pretty short set since the clubs here don't really want the bands to play for more than 50 minutes. Tonight we had to extend the set with a few songs we hadn't played for a really long time. The reason why we put so many cover versions into the set is because of all those club gigs we are doing. People at the clubs want to hear covers, so we put in songs like 'Wishing Well' and 'Don't Believe A Word'."

Since we already are on the subject of covers, we let John tell us a few words about The Boys Are Back In Town. That was a band he did a couple of tours with in Sweden a few years back... "We did two tours with that band, and we played songs by bands like Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple. It was fun to do, but I have to admit that even though I do all those covers at the clubs now, I am a bit tired of playing them. It's more fun to do my own stuff, but it always works with the audience if we throw in a few well known classics. Like tonight I noticed that 'Don't Believe A Word' went down very well. I guess there were a few Lizzy fans out here tonight."

There was of course a big Thin Lizzy fan up on stage as well. John has recorded several Lizzy classics over the years himself... "I've done 'Opium Trail', 'Don't Believe A Word' and..." It seemed like John lost his memory here, so I helped him remember "Bad Reputation" and "Wild One" (Forgetting "Massacre" myself)... "Yes, that's right. Those songs have mainly been used for B-sides."

Enough about covers for this time. We change the subject and start talking about why John has moved back to Sweden after living in LA for some years now... "I moved back to Stockholm in January. I had lived in Los Angels for eight years, and that was enough for me. I was so sick and tired of the town that I just had to get away. All the smog and violence just ended up being too much for me. I do actually think that it all has become worse over the last few years over there."

We just keep on talking, and then John starts talking about why he moved to LA in the first place... "I moved when I started to play with Dokken and we did 'Ashes to Ashes'. By the way, I played with Dokken again last year when they kicked out George Lynch in December. The guys just called me up and asked me if I could do the tour with them. I guess they called me because they just knew that I was familiar with most of their stuff. We did approximately 15 concerts in December and January. I was supposed to be touring with Dokken again at the end of June to do a tour with outdoor shows together with Iron Maiden and Ratt, but the tour got cancelled."

Does this mean that John Norum's future lies in Dokken again? "No, now I'm working on songs for my next studio album. I've got eight song ready, so I still need three or four more before I enter the studio. I will do this album with the same band that you saw tonight, but I will be singing some more myself this time."

When John left EUROPE, we could read in interviews that one of the reasons he left was to get a chance to sing, but there have always been other singers in John's band. First there was Göran Edman, then John hooked up with the almighty Glenn Hughes before Kelly Keeling joined the band, and now it's Leif Sundin who's the man behind the mikestand. This doesn't really give you the idea that John wants to be the singer... "The reason for this situation is that I found out that I'm more of a studio singer than a live singer. In the studio I can do the vocals over and over, but live it turned out to be too much for me to both sing and play the guitar. On my first solo tour in 1987, I did about 80 % of the singing myself. I found out that it was too much for my voice. As you know there were lots of high notes on my first album. That's when I found out that it was best for me to keep my singing in the studio, and get someone else to do it live."

The fact that John's band now consist of Swedes is a very positive thing if we should take his word... "Except for Mickey Dee, who I played together with in Dokken, I haven't played with Swedes since my first solo tour. I have to admit that I missed playing with Swedish musicians. We need to have some Viking blood in the band, that's important. We think differently up here in the north. You can say that in some ways there's more guts in people up here."

John keeps on talking about his next album, and the direction it's taking... "I have to say that I'm very happy with the material I have so far, and it's a lot more heavy than what I've done before. It's not that it's really dark, and it's still very melodic. The big difference is the heaviness. You can say that it's a bit like a mixture of Black Sabbath and Clawfinger. I guess it sounds a bit more modern."

When I saw John on stage an hour or so before this interview I didn't really get the impression that I was witnessing a modern artist. The feeling I got when I saw him was that I saw a very honest artist... "Yes, absolutely. I'm doing what I'm doing because I think it's cool. I try to satisfy myself all the time, and hopefully some fans will like what I'm doing as well. Those who don't like my albums can just go and buy something else." It has to be said that all of John's albums are different to each other, and there might be a meaning with that as well... "I don't think there's any reason for doing the same album over and over again. I'm not like Yngwie in the way that I want to do 50 albums that all sound the same. He's a great guitarist, but he's just too boring."

John is not like a lot of guitarists in the way that he hasn't got an ego that's way too big, but he's not afraid of admitting that he was a bit bigheaded when he quit EUROPE... "When I quit EUROPE, my head was this big," says John and stretches his hands as far as possible from his head to show me. "I was 22 years old back then, and I guess I acted a bit like a rock star. When you get older, you just find out for yourself that you don't get anywhere acting like that."

The fact that John left EUROPE at their heights was looked upon as a very strange behavior by a lot of people, but according to John there was a lot of stuff he was dissatisfied with at the time... "My idols always had a very simple image. Just look at Gary Moore, there you have just a T-shirt and jeans. In EUROPE it all just ended up being too much for me when it all became too much make up, and the hair had to look right all the time and stuff like that. It all became too much bubble gum metal, and I didn't like it. The other guys also wanted to use more keyboards in our music, and I didn't like that either. I've always been a fan of guitar based bands like Van Halen and Dokken. The first two EUROPE albums are more like my style. 'Total Control' is closer to those two albums, even though there's a song on it that sounds too much like 'The Final Countdown'. You know 'Love Is Meant to Last Forever', it's a total rip off. When I hear that song now, I just see that it's too much like 'The Final Countdown', and I would never have done anything like that now. It's so easy to see what you should have done, or not have done when it's too late."

When this interview was done in the beginning of June, I hadn't heard any rumors about a EUROPE reunion, but I had to ask John anyway if this was something that could happen in the future... "We've had a meeting where we discussed the matter. What it looks like at the moment is that I will do two more solo albums, and Joey Tempest will do one more before we begin to work with EUROPE again. We'd like to get back together before the next millennium, and we have some plans to play 'The Final Countdown' on TV right before the year 1999 turns into 2000. There was a special chemistry in that band, so I hope we'll be able to bring it back and have some fun."

There you have it, there are plans to reform EUROPE. Right now it's not really clear when a new EUROPE album will be in the stores, but if we should believe John Norum, it will happen sometime during the year 2000.

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