Joey Tempest talks about the new Europe album and much more….
Every band wants to write a song the world will remember, but few ever do. Europe can surely lay claim to being close to doing just this though with ‘The Final Countdown’, a track so familiar that the mere mention of the title will usually result in it being sung back at you, complete with ‘de do do do’s’.
This can still be a double edged sword however, how many people will assume that Europe were nothing more than Euro pop-rockers, more kitsch than cool. I confess, a few months back and I may well have scoffed slightly at the idea of listening to a full Europe album but this point of view was challenged by an enthusiast Europe fan cornering me to bestow the virtues of the band (Yes Jon, you). One listen to the current single ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ saw me do a full about turn, get the hairspray out and get my classic rock on. So, when the opportunity to interview Europe main man Joey Tempest came up, how could I refuse?
Due to some technical issues, getting patched through to the waiting Tempest takes longer than expected, this does cut down our talk time but I still manage to cram in as much as I can. With the truncated time in mind, I launch straight into the new album and find out exactly what inspired the ‘Bag Of Bones’ title.
‘It was the first lyric I wrote (for the album) actually, I was renting a place in Shepherds Bush, a small rehearsal space, and I was feeling completely empty from the last tour. I just didn’t know where to start and I said to myself I feel ‘like a bag of bones’ and it just started becoming more like a nursery rhyme’ Joey then sings ‘bag of bones, I’m a bag of bones’ in a lilting tone to illustrate the point before carrying on ‘That is how it started and it built from there. Then the London riots happened in the middle of that so (hence) the chorus ‘my city lies in ruins’… so it was sort of a mixture but it was the first song written for the album’ pausing for a moment Joey adds ‘ We recorded the album in Stockholm and I think it was Ian (the drummer) who suggested it could be the title for the album and everyone agreed’.
Before speaking to Joey I had done a little bit of reading and spotted a quote that caught my interest, he had said that Start From The Dark (2004) and Secret Society (2006) had led the band to be able to produce the sound they wanted for Last Look At Eden. This then begged the question, did that mean that Bag Of Bones feel like the most definitive Europe release so far.
‘I think we have crossed the line to another dimension’ he contemplates this for a second before expanding ‘there is more expression in the voice, the guitar and the song writing. We touched on it a little with Last Look At Eden, with bringing in the blues influence but with this we have taken it all the way and it is the first time we have made a record we always wanted to make and is similar (in sound) to some of the 70s albums we all really love’.
Every band always claims their new album is ‘their best yet’ but I get the impression that Joey really believes this about Bag Of Bones. I press him to see if he agrees the current incarnation of the post millennial Europe is the strongest yet.
‘We like to keep it fresh so that’s why we changed producers and changed studios, we changed direction a little bit so our fans and listeners go on a little journey with us because we don’t want to make the same albums all the time. It seems to be working, it bonds with the fans really well, they get a bit of a surprise at first but they join us and we get new fans as well’.
Joey sums it up by concluding ‘I think Bag Of Bones is more of a rock record and could bring new people on board as well’.
As I mention in the opening, you think of Europe and most people will instantly think The Final Countdown. This can lead to preconceptions about the band, Europe are actually a much harder rock band than this track would have you believe so I ask Joey whether having such a famous song is actually a mixed blessing.
‘It works both ways, we don’t really sing it in the shower or anything’ he adds wryly ‘but we love playing it live, it has a place in our live set as it was written for our live show at the beginning’. Seemingly unfazed by talking about THAT song yet again he continues ‘It introduces a lot of people to the band. We have a different definition of The Final Countdown, for us it was an album track from our 3rd album (1986s The Final Countdown) we wanted to open the album and the show with. (but) it reached a broader media and a wider audience, it was a cross over and for Europe, a guitar based rock band it was a surprise, we appreciate being in the rock community but as a song it is quite unique, it is rock and roll in its own way as it is so different and was quite a daring move (at the time)’.
Returning to the more relevant topic of the upcoming Bag Of Bones album we discuss the guest appearance from guitar God Joe Bonamassa on the title track and how this came about.
‘Kevin Shirley (album producer) played it for Joe Bonamassa at our request; we wanted Joe to play on our album so we asked Kevin to ask if he was interested. He put that guitar on afterwards in New York and we were really thrilled with the results’. Joey adds with a chuckle ‘Kevin produces all his stuff so he was a good guy to ask!’.
Bringing in guest players is an unusual step for the band so I wondered if this experience and sparked thoughts of working with other musicians.
‘It is interesting you say that as I have been thinking a lot about that now we have tried this with Bonamassa and it worked really well’. Pondering this further Joey elaborates ‘maybe on the next record we try something else… I don’t know, there are a lot of options but they wouldn’t fit the scenario. I love Jackson Browne and David Bowie of course but those people would never do this. Maybe new bands like Rival Sons who I think are great (the) new generations that carry the classic rock (sound) with them and I think they are great’.
I was instantly hooked by the new single Not Supposed To Sing The Blues, a big Led Zeppelin style classic rocker with an almost autobiographical tale to tell. When you couple this with the album closer Bring It All Home you sense a slightly nostalgic feel to the lyrics so I ask whether this was a theme throughout the record.
‘Maybe, I feel more like an English person writing now, I don’t think in Swedish at all, I think on Bag Of Bones it was the first time it flowed really and it was nice, just singing exactly what was in your heart. The melancholic bit is from being Scandinavian; all the bands, even pop bands have it!’ he laughs before getting serious again, ‘I think Bag Of bones has some deeper expression in the voice, tone and lyrics which I’m really proud of’ before adding earnestly ‘it is the first time I’ve dug a little deeper maybe’.
With a new album comes a return to the road, Europe will be hitting the festival circuit in the summer before embarking on a UK tour in the winter but I wondered how touring changes when you get older and have family to think about.
‘It is fun when you are standing there on stage but the travelling becomes a bit more boring, I say that because we are booking long tours for the Autumn and everybody is saying we need to have breaks for our families and stuff. We work hard, we are one of the hardest working bands in Scandinavia but we try to organise it a bit to have breaks for our families as well. Some of us have young kids so we have to think about that as well’ clearly fearing he sounds a bit jaded he quickly adds ‘It is more planning but still fun playing!’
Having had a hiatus throughout the 90s before reuniting in 2003 and therefore having effectively two back catalogues we turn to the matter of writing set lists. I ask which classic Europe tracks they like to slip into the set these days.
‘Well, funny enough Superstitious still works, that is from the Out Of This World album (1988), that track seems to make it through all the time. A new track that we really love now would be Last Look At Eden from the last album (2009), we’ll probably never tour without that, some tracks just stick in the set now. Other old songs like Girl From Lebanon or Seven Doors Hotel we like to throw in sometimes, that was one of the first tracks we wrote as band and sometimes it is really nice to play it as we really like it’.
During the decade long break for the band, Joey released three solo albums (A Place To Call Home 1995 – Azalea Place 1997 – Joey Tempest 2002) so does this mean we should expect more in the future or did the return of Europe take precedent.
‘No, these days it is only for Europe, it takes up all my time, I can’t combine the two! Those three albums were really educational for me, I was really into singer song writers like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, I bought all the albums and learnt a lot about lyrics. I bought that with me when we did Europe again; I think it worked in my favour as far as lyrics are concerned’.
Taking a minute to reflect on this deeper Joey confirms ‘I have no more plans for solo stuff; I did three which I am really proud of but Europe takes up all my time’.
As a band that have, how do I put it delicately, been around the block a bit, I wanted to know if this meant they still got nervous waiting for the reviews for the new album or if this got easier with time and experience.
‘There is a certain amount of confidence because we have done something good, but I am looking forward to seeing what Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and the UK magazines say as they have been very supportive so far’ tongue in cheek he confides ‘I will call our publicist to see if he can get the reviews to us before they come out as I am really curious! So yeah, I get a little bit nervous but a little bit excited as we are proud of this album… it would be nice for people to feel the same way we do about this album’.
Time had all but run out so I thought I’d squeeze one last quick question in before having to let Joey go, presumably onto the next waiting scribe. As a huge fan of both Europe and one of Joey’s favourite groups Thin Lizzy, Kodiak Jack’s guitarist Jon had asked me to find out what Joey’s favourite Thin Lizzy track was.
‘That is very difficult actually, maybe Got To Give It Up as I have strong memories of seeing Thin Lizzy play that track and it is also from the Black Rose album, that is one of my favourite Lizzy albums, that or Don’t Believe A Word I love those ones’.
And with this the metaphorical sand has slipped through the hourglass and we wrap things up. Joey was good company for our fifteen minutes, amiable and clearly excited about the imminent release of the new album. Whatever your thoughts on Europe may be, check out the new album with an open mind and I think you may be pleasantly surprised.
As told to Jules