Thrash Hits

February 8th, 2011

Interview: Joey Tempest of Europe on playing to death metal fans, a new album and the secret to his smooth skin

If you think that ‘The Final Countdown’ is the only thing Europe are famous for then you really ought to just get out. Alternatively, you could read Amit Sharma‘s in depth interview with smooth-skinned frontman, Joey Tempest.

europe band promo photo thrash hits 2009

It’s great to see Europe have grown from strength to strength since reforming in 2003. What has been your highlight so far from the ‘Last Look At Eden’ tour?

“Well Last Look At Eden has been one of those albums that’s connected well with so many people and we’ve done about 100 shows now. There’s been so many but the Sonisphere and iTunes Festivals were both very special for us because we grew up listening to a lot of British music. Touring here is always amazing and there’s a strong connection whenever we play in the UK, so we are coming back for the ‘Balls N Banners’ tour and hopefully again in 2012.”

“What stood out? Walking out at Sonisphere was amazing – seeing loads of people really enjoying what we did. I remember the monitor sound wasn’t that great but the audience reaction saved the whole thing. We did some interesting things in South America, touring Brazil and Argentina for the first time – before that we had only played in Chile. Japan, we’ve been there before of course! A lot of festivals in Europe. It’s one of those albums and tours that could have just kept going but we’ve put a stop to it now, so in October we are going to record our new album.”

You’re just about to embark on the ‘Balls N Banners’ tour. What can fans expect from these shows?

“We want to change the shows a little – for the past year we’ve been concentrating on Last Look At Eden tracks and we will focus on that album a bit because the songs feel so good to play live. But we want to mix it up and play a good mixture of old and new songs, hopefully throw in a few surprises as well. Im going over to Stockholm in two weeks to start rehearsals for the tour, and we’ve started to throw emails around about the setlist. Whatever its gonna be, it’ll be different from last time. Explosive, interesting and smashing I hope!”

So the last few records have headed in a more bluesy, classic rock direction. How do you feel your sound has matured since the debut self titled album?

“Maybe we’ve gone full circle in a way. We’re sort of enjoying it more now and not shying away from showing our influences. I’m so grateful we’re still together – the same guys – we’ve gone through it all. We started as a guitar based band and then we introduced keyboards because when John played a solo we thought it went a bit empty. So I played pads on the first album and early Europe gigs, just like The Killers’ singer! I had a keyboard up front just to fill in. From then on, I went to this store in Stockholm and started checking out the keyboards just like Eddie Van Halen did with his Oberheim. I got my Rolands and Korgs, started fiddling around and came up with the Final Countdown thing.

“So we got into keyboards a little bit and came back again, becoming more dark guitar based. And we are still in that world, in the classic rock world but more modern sounding where we feel very comfortable. Because you don’t want to be something you’re not. You don’t want to be too modern, or an offshoot type of metal. You just want to be who you are and maybe that’s why Last Look At Eden really worked, because it was a straight forward rock album.”

What are your favourite songs to play live off the newer records since reforming?

“Some songs will stay with us ‘live’ forever (and that doesn’t happen that often!) – ‘Last Look At Eden’ definitely. John Norum keeps telling me, ‘I love playing that song because of the groove’. It’s still our opening track – lets see if it gets relegated to opening encore? I can see it being very good there in the future. What else… ‘The Beast’, ‘No Stone Unturned’ is always fun to play. ‘New Love In Town’ is nice to take the set down a bit as well. Those tracks are favourites right now, as well as ‘Start From The Dark’ (the title track) and Love Is ‘Not The Enemy’.”

Europe @ Sonisphere Festival - 30 July 2010 by Gary Wolstenholme

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More keyboards?

How have your influences changed as a lyricist?

“Well I’ve been through quite a long change there. After the first stint with Europe, I started researching and checked out Neil Young, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. I wanted to find out more about lyrics and writing, where lyrics perhaps have a more central role and are written first. I’ve been into singer-songwriters for a long time, Jackson Browne was one of my favourites and he still is. So over that period when I did my three solo albums, I really grew lyrically and I brought that back with me into Europe. I suppose at the beginning, when you first start out and English is not your first language, it’s more cliché and naïve but kinda charming in a way. But we’ve moved on quite a bit, and now I think we’ve become quite decent writers.”

So at one point there were talks of having both John Norum and Kee Marcello in the lineup (a guitar player’s wet dream). What are the chances of this ever happening in the future?

“Well they are both great guitar players, though slightly different. I think John is more blues influenced – that struck me from the beginning when the only two guitar players in town were Yngwie Malmsteen and John. Yngwie obviously being more classical influenced, and John’s early influences being John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. He comes from that side of things, though he leans towards Yngwie with his technical skills, he knows so much and is such an amazing guitar player.

“Chances of them playing together? I don’t know, we’ve always been a 1 guitar band. It was very close, we were going to tour with both of them sharing the stage for Start From The Dark but it never happened. Kee was so busy, he’s talented in so many areas! But it’s not impossible I suppose.”

You guys were amazing at Bloodstock 2009. Was there any point before the show you looked at the lineup and thought ‘Shit, we’re headlining a field full of death metallers’?

“Well of course we were thinking about it. We looked at the forum and there were people who really hated the idea of it as well as some who loved the idea. A lot of controversy but we were ok! We sat before the gig and thought, ‘Lets just do our thing and see how it goes’. We played Hellfest in France just a month earlier which was the same kind of scenario and it went well, so we had that in the bag already. We just did our thing and that show actually did us a lot of favours, though we didn’t know it. It really set a lot of ripples in the water, especially through the Press, and a lot of people realised we are a good band.”

So you now have your own show on Planet Rock Radio alongside legends like Alice Cooper and Joe Elliott. How did that come about?

“They got in touch with my Press agent here in the UK asking if I wanted to do a test run. I thought it sounded interesting and I saw Joe Elliott and Joe Bonamassa were doing stuff there, so Id be privileged if I got something going. So I went in there for the test run, played what I wanted, said what I wanted and they liked it. They’ve actually extended it again with me. The good thing being that I’ve put in a lot of effort into finding older music I like and they let me do exactly what I want and that’s why Im doing it. If that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t have the time to do it, as I need to spend time doing other things like writing new songs.”

Having formed in Sweden, how do you feel the country’s culture and music influenced your music?

“We were a bit different because we didn’t listen to Swedish artists, we mainly listened to British and American bands. One record company turned us down because we sang in English, they said if you sing in Swedish we can do something. We said, ‘No we can’t do that’, and wanted to stick to our roots like Thin Lizzy and other bands. I don’t know how much influence there is there. Obviously English was our second language, it’s only now that we are able to really speak English properly. So I suppose a lot of stuff back then was quite naïve! We weren’t influence by Swedish bands, that was the whole thing.

“The culture is very Americanised, I don’t know if English people know that but Sweden is a very Americanised country – food chains, film, loads of stuff and it’s always been like that. Whereas the UK is obviously influenced by America too (politically) but you also have your own thing – you question a lot of stuff. I don’t why, we seem to carry some of that with us, but we’ve always looked to the UK and US for influences.”

What advice would you have for newer bands trying to get near the levels Europe have reached?

“I think in today’s music scene record companies are a bit up in the air. You’ve got to know how to play, and if you can you will get the gig. If you’re a decent player or a decent band you can make a living doing the thing you love, but you have to put in the hours. I remember Yngwie Malmsteen had a small basement in Stockholm and he actually practiced 12 hours a day. At that point of his career he didn’t drink or do drugs, he didn’t do anything – he was just playing. And then he got signed to Mike Varney’s label (Shrapnel) in the US and did the Rising Force stuff, everybody was amazed by the talent. He’s the proof you can sit there, learn and become good. Anybody can do it – but you have to be passionate. You have to work and you have to be into it, putting yourself out there and let them now what you’re doing.”

We’re dying to know – what’s the secret to youthful complexion? Is there a moisturiser you can recommend?

“There’s only one answer to that. I went to the Crossroads and I made a deal. I had to sacrifice everything else in my life to make a deal with the Devil to look exactly the same forever [evil laughter].”

“Really looking forward to seeing you guys on the Balls N Banners tour – and recording the new DVD at Shepherd’s Bush Empire is going to be really, really interesting!”

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Europe Balls N Banners February 2011 tourdates
17 Glasgow O2 ABC
18 Birmingham O2 Academy
19 London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
21 Oxford O2 Academy
22 Bournemouth O2 Academy
23 Bristol O2 Academy
25 Manchester Academy 2
26 Leeds O2 Academy
27 Newcastle O2 Academy

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