Joey Tempest Speaks To SonicAbuse

When I was much, much younger I, like a lot of people of my generation, discovered guitar-based music through a host of artists who are now termed classic rock: Iron maiden, Guns ‘n’ roses, and, of course, Europe.

I can’t honestly say I was a huge Europe fan back then, but the Final Countdown was one of those songs that succeeded in being both catchy and heavy and it helped to introduce thousands of youngsters to the joys of rock by perching on top of the charts for what seemed like an eternity.

To this day I have enjoyed that song in clubs, puns and on radio but I hadn’t given too much thought to the band that spawned it until the new album ‘Last look at Eden’ landed on my desk. Curious, I played the disc and was instantly blown away by the depth of sound and the sheer catchiness of the songs on offer – it is, as Joey frequently points out, a classic rock album. I won’t go into detail here, that’s for the review which will be posted next week in the run up to the album’s release (September 14th) but instead I’d like to introduce an interview with lead singer Joey Tempest which I was very proud to be able to conduct last week. A charming and thoughtful gentleman, Joey was an incredibly gracious host who took time to answer every question and provide us with a lot of detail. With the new album receiving almost universal acclaim, and a string of rock solid performances behind them (not least a headline slot at this year’s Bloodstock) it seems that Europe may well be destined to outstrip their previous successes on the back of an album that is genuinely exciting and emotionally honest.

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SA: Hello?

JT: Hello this is Joey here.

SA: Firstly I’d just like to say I saw you at Bloodstock, at the weekend, I thought that was a fantastic performance, we really enjoyed it.

JT: Oh, thank you, we didn’t know what to expect and we were quite pleased afterwards and it could open some doors for us maybe, ripples on the water, you know, maybe some other festivals in the future, so we were quite pleased.

SA: Yeah, actually one of my questions is about that, I think when your band was first announced as being on the line-up for Bloodstock, there was some sort of reaction from the fans, that it was perhaps a little controversial, were you nervous before you took the stage?

JT: Not more than normal, we thought that it was an important gig for us because we knew that there were a lot of magazines and a lot of fans that see a lot of heavy metal and hard rock… they know about music so playing in England is always special for us, but yeah it was more of a special gig for us. We’d done a similar one in France about a month earlier called Hellfest, it was also an extreme metal festival and they welcomed us quite warmly there as well, so we had sort of that one to lean against a little bit and we just went out to do our best. We also saw the reactions beforehand – it was quite funny to read when they announced the headliner, some people hated the idea, some people loved it, but that only makes for a more exciting gig I think and, well, luckily enough it went well and we are very pleased.

SA: I think you had a fantastic reaction from the crowd.

Ok, could you tell me about the new album a little bit, I think it’s a very contemporary sounding record. What influences you now?

JT: Yeah, I mean John Norum influences me as a guitar player, and he still comes to me and writes a riff, writes songs, and that’s how we started when we met at fourteen / fifteen and we started the band when we were sixteen and seventeen but I think the friendship keeps it going a bit. ‘Last look at Eden’ was done very spontaneously as well, we started writing on the road, the ‘secret society’ tour, and between gigs and festivals last summer, we started to come up with licks and we were inspired by other shows. We played festivals with bands like Robert Plant and Chris Cornell, ZZ top and Whitesnake and loads of other bands and festivals and it really inspired us to do more of an organic, more straight forward classic rock album. Obviously, like you say, we keep it modern sounding. We work with young people, that know about sound and this guy, Tobias, he’s really, really good, I mean he recorded us on an old desk, he mixed on a modern desk and it made it really punchy and still warm as a classic rock album, so it’s a modern classic rock album I suppose.

SA: Yeah, it’s quite heavy as well I think.

JT: Yeah, yeah, that’s how we sound when we rehearse, I mean we don’t pull any punches there. There are certain albums that have sounded different in our career I suppose, Final Countdown was more mixed for American radio, you can hear that the guitars are a bit lower and the keyboards are a bit higher; that was a period where things were mixed a bit differently, it managed to reach a bigger audience by having a broader sound like that, but in general Europe albums are heavier, they are more guitar based.

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SA: Your lyrics, to me, appear to be very full of hope and optimistic, which is something that seems to keep a lot of people coming back to you, is that an accurate depiction do you think?

JT: I think so, there are some stories behind some songs and I decided with this album not to talk too much about stories, but in general I think it helps, you know, you write songs, you play it with the band, it’s kind of nice to have a positive vibe around it, or at least have an outcome that’s positive because you’re going to sing it and play it a lot you don’t want to be standing there on the hundredth gig of the tour thinking about the sad lyric you’ve written, but I don’t know, we’re having more fun this time with lyrics; I’m having more fun – I’ve lived outside of Sweden for twenty years, I’m married to an English girl in London and I’ve been around the world, lived in various places and I think, finally, that I’m getting a handle on the English language and maybe I can inject some humour and irony as well because if you’re Swedish and you grow up there, what you hear is American rock and English rock, and you pick up on the lyrics, and you do your best because it’s not your first language but you sort of fall into clichés a little bit, but we’ve worked ourselves out of that, and we still have punchy ideas but to make a long story short, yeah positive lyrics, sometimes there might be another story behind it, but, at least ‘last look at Eden’ turned out positive; it was written (as) more of a question, the week before the election in America last November and that was more of a question of the world’s state and a last look at civilisation was the original idea, ‘Last look at Eden’ came and then the election went well (in my opinion) so I suppose it turned out to be a positive rock song. ‘Going to get ready’ – the second track – is a typical, straight forward rock song… ‘New love in town’ that’s more of a personal thing because that’s derived form when I had my son almost three years ago now so that’s the new love in town, that’s my son. What else, I had a lot of fun on the lyrics for this one: ‘the beast’, ‘u devil u’, ‘catch that plane’ sort of tongue in cheek, a bit sexy, a bit kind of cool and for the first time we can handle that I think.

SA: You seem to be having a lot of fun on stage, you seem to be very enthusiastic for the performance and that really transmitted itself to the audience at Bloodstock and the enthusiasm coming from the stage was very much matched by the audience, how have you kept that level of enthusiasm over the years and the shows?

JT: Yeah, we’re still in a good place, we’ve toured a lot since we started again in 2004 and we’ve done hundreds of gigs and stuff, but I don’t know, recording this album has revived the feelings I think, and also playing at Bloodstock was a kick itself. There’re some shows where you have to think “ok I’ve got to get myself going here” but we didn’t have to do that at Bloodstock, it was genuine adrenalin. We like what we do and we want to do a good job and we’ve always been like that so I suppose that’s the driving force.

SA: You’ve maintained popularity for many, many years, a lot of people have followed you since the beginning and kind of stayed with you, and when you reformed there was a great reaction from your fans. What do you think the reason for your longevity is?

JT: It’s probably the passion for getting better at our instruments and getting better at writing original songs. We’re that kind of band that before a show we really try to get into it, and after a show we always sit for half an hour discussing a show, we’re that kind of band; we discuss who did what and if there were mistakes and how to make it better and there’s something about this band and everybody in the band wants to do 100%. If it’s the studio calling, or if it’s a live show or a tour, everybody comes without a question, it’s that kind of thing and I don’t know; it’s a love for song-writing as well, trying to get better, it’s difficult to put a finger on it, I suppose we count ourselves lucky as well to have this job and we want to stay in it.

SA: You have a very distinctive voice, and instantly people will say “yeah! that’s Europe” so how do you keep your voice in shape?

JT: That’s a good question, I just sing really, I always have. There was only one period, really, when I had a voice coach – I started to lose my voice but I was a bit younger then so I suppose if I have trouble, if I get a cold or lose my voice or play too many gigs I can revert to those exercises, but normally I just go for it. We’re going out on the ‘Last look at Eden’ world tour and the first leg is in Germany for three weeks and I’ll do many, many shows in a row and then the real test comes but it usually works out , I’ve been (touch wood) lucky before, but no special things really. Well, don’t drink before a show and perhaps after, would be a good rule if you’re a singer, other than that just go for it.

SA: Your new album seems to be really strong, in your opinion, what does Europe have to offer the world now?

JT: Well, it’s just one of those spontaneous albums, ‘last look at Eden’, we didn’t analyse it too much, we didn’t over produce it, we just went for it and used all our experience and had fun and I suppose it just happened to become a really good Europe album, one of our best we think, and we didn’t know that, we just tried to do the best we could. I think we can also offer people, if they’re into classic rock / hard rock with a modern sound, you know we carry the torch, we started listening to Led Zeppelin and Deep purple when we were very, very young and we moved into British rock, UFO, Thin Lizzy, MSG maybe and early Whitesnake, I think we carry that torch, I think we carry that heritage a little bit and I don’t know how many bands do that. There are a few that we like, for example: Audioslave, but they aren’t going now, but even though they came from a grunge band or whatever you call them, they were 90s bands, they still had one foot in the classic rock world and there are still bands around there, but Europe is definitely one that has a modern sound and keep that heritage.

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SA: So constant re-invention is part of your success?

JT: Yeah, I think that to keep reinventing, to get better as you are is important. And to try hard to get the sound right – you need to know, bands need to know that you’ve got to be up there with the sound, you’ve got to pick the right people to work with, you’ve got to make sure that the production’s not too wet / too old fashioned – you have to have the right mix between guitars and keyboards; so many things that you learn over the years and that you need to know because you can actually write a good album but it can be bought down by a bad production and so we try our best.

SA: Did it take a long time to record this album? You’ve said it was very spontaneous and a lot of it came together quite well but how long were you in the studio to do this?

JT: Three months. It always takes about three months for us in the studio and that’s including everything really: rehearsal, recording, mixing and maybe mastering to, but usually we do mastering in New York just a few days after, but yeah about three months and then about six months to write I think.

SA: You said you were going on a world tour for ‘Last look at Eden’ can we expect you in England anytime soon?

JT: Yeah, we’re doing Germany in November and then, hopefully, the Scandinavian dates in December and then the European dates in January and February and the UK will be in February; we’ll do quite a few gigs, I don’t know how many, but seven or eight, something like that in the UK.

SA: You stated recently, that you needed to make the previous two albums to make this one, it sounds like they were stepping stones to this album – could you elaborate a little bit?

JT: Yeah, I think, ‘Start from the dark’ was a sort of debut album – we just wanted to get back out there ‘Secret society’ we did analyse the situation a bit and we wanted to make a cutting edge modern rock album and we did try to as well, with the sound and everything, but this one was more effortless, more organic and in that sense it could be more of an honest album, with honest influences. We didn’t over-think it at all, so in that sense it’s more of a real Europe album, [pause] obviously every album is a real Europe album, but this one is more honest in that sense I think.

SA: So this one’s perhaps a bit more special?

JT: Yeah it’s definitely the most special of the three, so far.

SA: Would you say you’re all still friends in the band, after all this time together?

JT: Yes, it’s working well. I think the break did us good – John Norum’s back in the band; we started the band when we were very young. It’s a good feeling, we help each other with the music, we help each other with private matters, it’s good when you’ve known each other since when you were teenagers – it’s not like having new members or people you have to get used to, so in that sense it’s good.

SA: One last question: What are your hopes and plans for the future? Can we expect another Europe record after this cycle of touring?

JT: Yeah we will keep going, there’s a great buzz, like I said, around this album, especially in the UK which means a lot to us, Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine want to do things with us – we didn’t have that sort of reaction and we haven’t done many interviews in a long time so this has helped us look to the future again and start planning, but we always plan two years ahead so now we have touring 2009/2010 and then 2011 we’re talking about doing a new album so that’s how we see it.

SonicAbuse would like to thank Will Taylor and Peter Noble for setting up this interview and, of course, Joey Tempest for taking the trouble to speak to us.

For more information on Europe visit there official site at: http://www.europetheband.com/

Photo Credit: © 2009 Christie Goodwin

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