Antenna - Interview with John Norum
By: Kristian Døj Jørgensen            From: Antenna - September 14, 2006

EUROPE reunited and released their comeback "Start from the Dark" in 2004. A record which gained quite good critical acclaim among the press, yet to a certain extent failed to satisfy the Swedes' loyal fan base. On October 27th, EUROPE will release their sophomore reunion album "Secret Society", and in order to shed some light on the always press popular lads' current activities as well as lead guitarist John Norum's past, present and future solo career an interview was scheduled one late Monday evening. John called me from Berlin of all places and kindly contributed 45 minutes of his time to answer all of my curious and prying questions.

A lot of bands from the eighties re-unite with an incomplete line-up of only a few original members. Apart from Tony Reno, all original members are present in the EUROPE line-up. Was it important for you to do the re-union this way, and how did you pull it off?

"We wanted to do the 'Final Countdown' line-up. Actually the other guys had already arranged it, and I just went along with it. Tony hasn't played drums in 10 or 15 years, so that would be kind of risky to do, and like I said we wanted to do the 'Final Countdown' line-up anyways. Ian Haugland is a great drummer and also a great background singer as well. Tony never sang back up."

EUROPE are among the few eighties bands who have successfully re-united. What do you think is the key factor in EUROPE still being this popular?

"I think we have a certain chemistry that people can see when we play live. There's a good energy between us. Joey has a very recognizable voice; after a few seconds you can hear it's him singing, which is always a good thing to have. What we do is kind of melodic hard rock, and luckily a lot of people seem to like that stuff."

Could you please explain about the writing and recording process of your new album?

"We pretty much did it the same way as we did with 'Start from the Dark'. We bring in demos which we've all been working on at home, and we get together and settle on some songs that we really like. Usually the majority wins in this band, that's how our agreement is. There might be some stuff that I'm not too crazy about but four of the guys really dig it, then we do it."

What caused the switch from major label Epic to the smaller company Sanctuary?

"We wanted someone who was really excited about it. I mean; Epic has Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson and people like that, so EUROPE weren't really a big priority for them. So we wanted someone who was really excited about working with us."

Many claim that a 'hot shot' producer can sell a million albums; you made a brave choice by producing the record yourself, why?

"Because we've been doing this for so many years now. I've been involved in over 30 albums now, so you kind of gain a certain amount of experience. All of us have picked up a lot of stuff from the producers we've worked with over the years. On 'Start from the Dark', we used Kevin Elson who is a great friend of ours, but he didn't really contribute that much to the songs. It pretty much ended up sounding like the demos, so we thought we might as well do it ourselves this time and see how it all goes."

"Start from the Dark" left many fans disappointed due to the change of style compared with your early releases. Was it your goal when initially re-uniting to conquer a new fan base?

"No not at all. 'Start from the Dark' is actually closer to the first two EUROPE albums than anything else we've ever done. We just kind of wanted to get back to the basics. We wanted to do more of a guitar orientated album rather than keyboard orientated. In the past we never experimented with different tunings, so that was probably a big surprise to everyone that we tried out different tunings, B-drops, D-drops and open tunings. On past EUROPE albums it was always standard tunings. We had a little bit of Black Sabbath going there. I at least didn't think that much about what people were going to think. We just did what we felt like at the time, we just wanted to rock hard and not be soft and soupy as we were in the eighties. We definitely didn't want to do another 'Final Countdown'. That would just be plain stupid."

Does it bother you that fans request more of the older tunes at your shows? Would you rather play newer material?

"No, it doesn't bother me at all; it's fun to play a little bit of both. We have such a big catalogue to choose from, and we do the stuff we think is fun to play. To be honest I'm not too crazy about playing some of the earlier hits that we had, but you just have to try enjoying it. You have to groove it, and when you groove it along with the reaction from the crowd, it turns out to be a lot of fun to play after all. I mean songs like 'Cherokee' and 'Rock the Night' aren't very exciting to play on the guitar, but seeing the response from the crowd, makes it all worth it, and it becomes fun to play those tunes."

How do you feel about playing the material you were not a part of creating?

"I don't mind at all. It's kind of like playing new songs. Obviously some of those songs I have to play like Kee, because it's very melodic, and it was written that way. Actually most of these melodies were Joey's. They were vocal melodies from the beginning, so I feel more like I'm doing Joey's stuff rather than Kee's because I heard the demos, and it's all pretty much Joey's melodies. I do enjoy playing those songs. We had a little dispute over a couple of songs which I wasn't too crazy about. Like I said, usually the majority wins, but I fought really hard to get my way with this. I remember Ian was crazy about the song 'Prisoners in Paradise', and I said: 'Even if you pay me a million bucks I won't play that song, I'll walk off the stage'. I really hate that song. I had to fight hard for this, but I won in the end, so I'm happy [laughs]."

Your new effort seems even more radical than "Start from the Dark". Could you please elaborate on the evolution the group has made over the years?

"It's not like we had any master plan about what we wanted to do. We just brought in our songs and decided on which ones we liked, and sometimes you might have to discard a song because it doesn't fit well with the others. I think the new album is wider and broader than 'Start from the Dark' which was very dark. The new album has a much better sound to it; it's more open, a much cleaner sound. There are different styles on it too, there's some heavy metal stuff, some melodic hard rock and a few pop songs, so it's a wider album, I would say."

"Secret Society" sounds to me in many ways rooted in a traditional hard rock sound, although still modern sounding. There's no obvious slick or huge produced hits, and in general it takes multiple spins for the album to grow on the listener. Your thoughts, please.

"I agree, it has a lot of seventies influences, which is a good thing because all the best bands came out of the seventies. I know the version you have is not the final version. We've re-mastered it, and actually the new version just came into the office today, and the result is much heavier. It has a lot more depth to it. We also changed the song order slightly. I'm much more satisfied with the new outcome because I thought the first version was a little bit thin, it's a lot stronger now. But yeah, you have to listen to it to get into it. Some of the best albums are like that, the records that hits right away you tend to listen to for a week, and then you grow tired of it."

Listening to both "Start from the Dark" and "Secret Society" brings the impression that you're aiming to fit the present musical environment. Have you, unlike quite a few of your eighties colleagues, come to terms with the fact that the market for slick pop metal or 'hair metal' is practically non existent or at least very underground?

"I don't really think about stuff like that, it's more Joey's thing. He thinks a lot about that it has to be modern and stuff. I never bring that up, if it's fun to play, and it's a good song, and it gives me goose bumps, then it's right. I never cared about trends because what's here today, is gone tomorrow anyway. It's constantly changing; I never get involved in that kind of stuff."

Sweden seems to foster a lot of glam and sleaze units these days. Bands such as Babylon Bombs, Crashdïet and The Poodles have all enjoyed recognizable success in their home country. What do you think of these bands?

"They're horrible [laughs]. You know, The Poodles are just making a joke out of the eighties. Some of these guys are actually taking themselves seriously which is hilarious, I think it's crap. I'm very old school. I like it when bands play with feeling and soul. More like in the seventies, the eighties were like the worst musical era of all time. I can't even think of one band from the eighties that I like except for Van Halen and MSG, mostly because Michael Schenker is one of the greatest guitar players ever. The eighties were dreadful, so when Nirvana and Soundgarden came along, I was relieved, finally. The only negative thing about that was that there weren't that many guitar solos then, but that seems to have come back now again, so that's great."

I'm surprised, not many eighties musicians would deny their past like that.

"You know there were all these horrible bands like Warrant, Winger and Poison, I hated it even back then. The clothes were ridiculous, and the whole pretty boy image just sucked. It was the reason I quit after 'The Final Countdown' in the first place."

In 1987, when Def Leppard released Hysteria, their British fans felt abandoned and claimed that Def Leppard had sold out, and virtually had become an American favorite, leaving their roots behind. In hindsight, even though you were not part of the band at this moment, do you think EUROPE did the same thing when excluding the Scandinavian sound in favor of a more commercial American sound on "Prisoners in Paradise"?

"Yeah totally, they kind of wanted to be like Def Leppard. They even toured with them in the states as well. They went along with what was trendy and hip at the time. You always have to pay the consequences eventually. It doesn't last very long with that kind of thinking. You should just do what you want to do, people can feel if it's honest and true, or if you're just trying to make a hit, or be something you're not. 'Prisoners in Paradise' is definitely my least favorite EUROPE album."

Will you continue your solo career simultaneously with EUROPE?

"Yeah, I released 'Optimus' about a year and a half ago. I'll be releasing a new one sometime next year which I'll soon be starting recording. I'm going to get into the studio when I get the time inbetween touring with EUROPE. Some of the new material is pretty heavy, and some is more blues orientated. It's very pure and real. My solo stuff is fun because I can experiment a lot; it's not part of this big machine that EUROPE is a part of."

You briefly played with Dokken. What can you tell about this experience?

"In the beginning it was a lot of fun. I did 'Up from the Ashes' in 1991 [basically a Don Dokken solo album], I stayed with them for about three years. We toured on that album like crazy; it was a lot of fun. Then, when Dokken reunited in 1997, I joined them once again, which was also a lot of fun. I felt kind of silly sometimes ripping off George Lynch, but sometimes you just have to play what was written for the song. Then I did 'Long Way Home' in 2001, and everything was totally changed, it was horrible. We did the album, and I went out with the band for one year, which felt like five years. Don used to be this cool person but he became this awful person that I didn't want to have anything to do with. He's got a lot of personal problems, and it was just horrible."

I did an interview with Don a couple of years back and asked him about the constant tension between him and George Lynch…

"Yeah they've been fighting a lot. When I jumped in, in the middle of the American tour in 1997, I remember George tried to strangle Don on the bus. and there was this big horrible scene. They're like kids, Don is just a big baby, and he's never going to grow up even though he's over 50. You can't talk to him nowadays; he's in his own little world. That's just the way it goes sometimes I guess."

What are your thoughts on other EUROPE members solo work, for example Joey's first record "A Place to Call Home" and Kee Marcello's latest "Melon Demon Divine"?

"I played on 'A Place to Call Home'. My playing wasn't that good because it wasn't really my style. I like a few pop bands, but what he was doing wasn't really my thing. I've never even heard about Kee's album until now."

From "Wings of Tomorrow" to "Final Countdown", from "Out of This World" to "Prisoners in Paradise", and now to this era's EUROPE, there's been radical changes. Will you constantly be developing yourself as a band, exploring new boundaries and such?

"I like trying out new stuff, I don't think much about it though. Joey thinks about it. For example, he brought in some ideas which I thought were pretty out there in the beginning, but then again, why not keep an open mind. There's a song on the new album called 'Let the Children Play' which features a children's choir. At first I thought we were doing a Pink Floyd rip off or something, but it actually turned out great. As long as it's not too weird, or too gay, I dig it."

Could you inform the readers about the upcoming release of the "Final Countdown" DVD.

"I don't really know much about it either. I haven't even watched it. It's a live performance from 1986, and there are a couple of interviews. I'm not really interested in it. It was 20 years ago and there's nothing new to it. It's not even a new mix because the television network couldn't find the tapes, so it's just the same thing from 20 years ago, which has been out on video. I don't care about old stuff like that. It's not a good memory for me either; one of my best friends had just passed away before that show, and I left the band two or three months after the show."

What do you think is the main difference between the music scene you were a part of in the early eighties and to the one present?

"The music today is much better than it was in the eighties, a lot of stuff has become heavier, faster and more aggressive which is always to my likings. The music today is also more basic sounding. There's not so much echo and effects as there were in the eighties. I like bands like Audioslave and Velvet Revolver, the style is more basic rock now."

Out of curiosity and for my own personal interests, are there plans of a re-release of your sister Tone Norum's two solo albums?

"I have no idea, I don't think so. My sister and I never talk about things like that. She's a full time mom, she has two babies now. We had a lot of fun recording those albums I think. Both Joey and I worked on them, and I got Yngwie Malmsteen to play with me on her second album. I think it would be a good idea to get them re-released."

Tour dates in Sweden have already been issued. What are the plans for the remaining world?

"We're planning to do the rest of Europe around February and from there on do Japan and America, like we've always done. It'll be fun."

Lastly, feel free to add any comments you may have.

"Well, I just hope the fans like the new album, and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again. We haven't done a show for almost a year now, so everyone's really looking forward to going on the road again."

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