Interviewed by David Felix
Date: November 2006
No longer “starting from the dark,” with the release of their latest album, “Secret Society,” EUROPE is back and out to prove that they are not only a force to be reckoned with, but are indeed BACK TO STAY! “Secret Society” is the second release for the band in just two years (at least here in the States) and with yet another worldwide tour already in motion and the promise of more great music yet to come, EUROPE has taken some HUGE strides forward in their quest to regain their place in the spotlight.
Recently I had the chance to once again speak with lead singer / songwriter Joey Tempest about the new album, the new tour and the long journey ahead. Here’s what he had to say…
Let me start but congratulating you on another incredible release. I know it’s been getting a lot of rave reviews and came out just in time to make my top 10 releases of the year.
Thank you so much! We’re really, really proud of it. Ya know, I was talking with the band the other day and we were like normally when you finish an album, you really don’t want to listen to it for a while because you worked so hard on it. But all of us still have it in our car stereos, ipods and everything! So that’s a really good sign to us.
So how’s the tour been going so far?
Yeah, we just wrapped up our Scandinavian tour, which was about 15 gigs and covered
Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. We’re doing our last gig in Norway very shortly then it’s on to Europe in January where we’ll be doing our first gig on the 16th in Spain. The tour’s been going really well here so far in Scandinavia. The reception’s been fantastic to the new songs. We weren’t so sure on exactly how many to put in at first, so we settled on five new songs which we felt mixed well with the old stuff and the “Start From The Dark” stuff and it all seems to be working out fine.
Why such a long break between the two legs of the tour?
Well, it’s going to be around three or four weeks because we have some promotional stuff to do, obviously. We have some TV appearances, special performances and tons of interviews to keep us busy during that time.
Now for the BIG question for us here in the States, will you be returning to the U.S. this time around?
Yeah… definitely! We really want to come back. We’ve spoken to our agent and our manager when we met them in Copenhagen and told them one of our priorities now that we’re getting an even better release in America is to return and tour there. It’s just a question for us to find the right forum for it. Whether to go out on our own again and play in smaller places or try to hook up with a bigger band and play larger venues. We’re definitely looking into it right now and you can expect to see us there in maybe mid-to-early spring.
That’s great! It’ll be nice to see you guys again… When you guys play Scandinavia, Europe or other places around the world, you’re use to playing larger venues. How difficult is it to make the transition to the smaller venues you play here in the United States?
We have a different light system for different venues. We developed this over the past few years on the “Start From The Dark” tour. It’s going to be a lot similar to that because we’d play huge festivals with like 25,000 people down to smaller venues that only hold maybe 1,000 to 1,500. So we know how to handle it. We love playing the smaller venues as well as the larger ones. When we kick off our European tour here in January and February, we are prepared for that as well. We play a lot of mixed sizes there so we’re pretty use to it. It doesn’t really affect us all that much except for the basic set ups. We know that we have to put in a lot of really hard work now to show people that EUROPE really is back. I mean, people might have heard of it and that we’ve put out an album and whatnot but we’ve done two albums in two years, we’re working on our second world tour now and we’re going to start working on the new album as soon as we finish. So, we just have a lot of work to do to show that we’re really back to stay… and we’re prepared to do that.
Last time around, your set was a nice mix of both old and new material. Can we expect more of the same this time around?
Yeah, we mix now from all seven albums, actually. We do four or five new songs, three or four from “Start From The Dark,” then we go back to some of the big songs from the 80’s, of course, and then some stuff from the earlier albums as well. It’s been a pleasure going out and playing this wide variety of songs for us… from all seven albums. We try to make them fit together as well. The old ones are a little bit steadier and heavier as well so that they fit in well with the new ones and the way we play them. It’s going very well.
Will there be any new surprises this time around?
Hopefully. We always talk about it and try to throw in a different kind of track. We’ve done it this time around and it really does make a difference in the way people react to it. So hopefully, we can keep doing that.
Do you have a favorite city or venue that you like to play?
Oh my God, we’ve played so many places… but I do like Stockholm because it’s our hometown and we always manage to draw a big crowd here… it’s fantastic! Rome is
always great. We didn’t play it on the last tour but we did way back in the 80’s so, we’re really looking forward to that again. Tokyo is always good and New York is always a pleasure to go in there and play. We actually recorded there last time at B.B. Kings and used two of the tracks from that show on our single we released for “Always the Pretenders.” I really loved it and it’s always special to play New York.
Does anything stand out as far as how the crowds react to the band in certain areas of the world as oppose to others?
Oh yeah! If you play Milan or Rome, it’s just a fantastic crowd. They don’t hold back on their emotions… the Italians. The German audiences are more “rockers” and there always seems to be a more “guy” presence whereas in Italy, there seems to be more women in ratio. America is great too because when people buy a ticket there, they buy it to enjoy themselves and I just love that attitude. It’s great to be appreciated and it’s still a young country so the fans there are just incredible. Japan is very special because they’re very quiet in between songs, want to hear what’s going on onstage and have been very kind to us for many, many years.
Lets get into the new album “Secret Society.” Other than the title being a track on the release, what made you decide on that as the title and what does it mean?
In the beginning, it came from a conversation I was having with another artist. I actually didn’t know him that well. I met him a few times but the conversation was over the telephone with Robert Plant. He was doing a television show in Sweden and the TV show called me up just to have us talk because I had mentioned that Robert was one of my heroes. So anyway, we were just having a conversation about rock bands and about touring and I just happened to mention that we were out touring and heading to America on the “Start From The Dark” tour. So he was like, “That’s great… we’ve got to stick together. ALL musicians have to stick together… almost like a secret bond or secret society.” I don’t remember exactly which it was but it was from there, from that conversation that I came up with the name. Then when I went home to London to write, I had this riff going on and it all came together really quickly from that title. So I put it all down like in ten minutes, sent it to the guys and they all really liked it. Then when they started playing their instruments on the song, it all came together and really came to life. To me, it’s a very special song. It’s just one of those songs that really stands out and has a bit of a unique feel to it… even different from being EUROPE as well and we all really like it.
What’s the response been like to the album so far?
It’s been very good, actually. I was speaking with my manager the other day and he said (because he’s seen more of the reviews than I have) that in general, it’s better than “Start From The Dark. ” Which is cool because we felt we wanted to take this album a step further than “Start.” “Start” was great! It was like an unpolished diamond whereas this time, we broadened the music a little bit, we think the sound is a little bit better and John’s (Norum) guitar playing is just amazing. So I think we really took this one a step further and the reviews and the people who are listening to it are really beginning to realize this. It caused a bit of controversy at first on our forums, of course, but we’re a band that really wants to push our limits. In the beginning, some people are like, “Oh, I like the old stuff!” and others are like, “Well I like the new stuff.” So we had two camps there for a while but they’re slowly melting together… these two different views and people are starting to accept the “Secret Society” progression. It feels very good now, though, as far as people reacting to the album.
When “Start From The Dark” was released, it took almost a year to be released here in the States. With “Secret Society,” the releases in Europe and over here are virtually simultaneous… how excited are you about that?
It’s much, much better and it’s the same label as well. There was a lot more solid effort from all of us to do exactly what you said and get them both released at the same time. It feels great, it’s much stronger and we’re just so looking forward to coming there in early spring to promote the album more, play and show people how we are live! It’s going to be a pleasure!
When I did my review for “Start From The Dark,” I had said that I felt it was a more of a John Norum influenced album with all the down-tuning, heavy guitar, etc. Now this time, I felt it had a bit more of your influence… how do you feel about those statements?
I think your observations are quite good. On “Start From The Dark,” me and John wrote maybe five or six songs which were based a lot on his d-tuning and his guitar. But even on “Start From The Dark,” I wrote a lot of the songs myself. I don’t think it was steered so much by John in that sense, but it was definitely influenced a lot by John . The way he was starting to d-tune his stuff and I hadn’t played with him for a while so I got inspiration from him when I wrote my own stuff like “Flames”… it’s a d-tuning only on the “E” string but it’s still d-tuning. So yeah, he was involved more in the writing on “Start” … but he’s involved a lot on “Secret Society” as well. Mic’s (Michaeli) moved in a little bit more on this one as well. Mic and I wrote about four songs, then I wrote about three or four by myself and then John wrote three so yeah, maybe this is a little bit broader musically. I think the whole band shines through a little bit more on “Secret Society” … and myself too, maybe. It’s a fantastic band and now everybody’s getting a chance to write because we’re all becoming more talented at writing. John Norum’s done a lot of solo albums and Mic has been writing stuff at home for years and years and it’s just great that he comes to the for-front a little bit more. But yeah, I think your observation is quite good, but I see this album as broader musically with better sound and even a bit of a more of a modern, fresh album. We are flabbergasted! …to use a “funky” word (laughs). We are very happy we could do this and feel we are very lucky being able to pull this one off. We don’t know where it came from! We worked hard, worked day and night and it came through and at this stage of our career, to put out what we in the band consider our best work… that’s amazing!
I know we don’t have a hell of a lot of time left, so I’m going to go through a few of my favorite tracks and you tell me a little bit about them.
“Always the Pretenders”
“Always the Pretenders” is a great energy track and was quite an early track for the album. We demo’d it early in the process and it was written by me and John Leven came in at the last minute and added something to the riff which was really cool. We changed a few chords around which made it even better after that. Then lyrically, it’s a little bit of an observation about what’s going on in the world and how, maybe, the last of our innocence was lost on “911.” It’s sort of a reflection because I was in London at the time and I remember being with my wife and it was just the strangest thing we’ve ever experienced. It’s just, sorta, mentioned in the lyrics but otherwise, its kind of upbeat… has traces of a love song and is one of my favorite tracks on the new album.
“Wish I Could Believe”
I wrote that with Mic and it’s a very interesting track. We haven’t done anything similar to this in a while. Lyrically it’s very spiritual… it’s about finding faith in this day and age. I mean, where do you find faith? In your loved ones? In the church? With your family? Sometimes it’s hard to put all your faith in religion… so it’s dealing with that issue lyrically. Musically, as I said, Mic and I wrote it and it’s a very good track. Some of the guys in the band really love it and think it’s the best song on the album. It’s got a big chorus, some interesting lyric ideas and a good groove. It’s very well produced…
Yeah, it’s definitely one of my favorites on the album as well.
Umm, “A Mother’s Son.”
I was staying with my parents during some of the recording and rehearsing of the album and even before that, we’d had some experiences within the band. Mic’s father passed away during these last few years and Ian’s (Haugland) mom and it’s just been so strange seeing those things happening and then staying with my parents just brought about that revelation that people are going to leave us. People are going to pass away and it makes me angry sometimes but in this sense, it was more of a reflection of these feelings lyrically. Musically, it was an idea that I had on an acoustic guitar. I presented it to the guys and at first, it was an up-tempo chorus but John felt it would be better at half-tempo… like the verse so, we changed that and it turned out to be a nice track both musically and lyrically.
Yeah, “Forever Traveling!” That’s another track the guys in the band really, really like… myself included. It has sort of a melodic sense that takes you back a little bit to some of the older EUROPE stuff. Lyrically, it’s actually fragments of memories of living in San Francisco because we wrote a lot of stuff there during the time we did “Prisoners In Paradise.” It’s just memories of being in California… hearing JOURNEY on the radio and Steve Perry’s voice. It’s sort of a tribute to Steve Perry and Neil Schon who gave us a lot of inspiration when we were teenagers. Me and John Norum use to listen to a lot of JOURNEY stuff and loved Steve Perry and Neil Schon. We thought they were just great musicians, had great tone, great vibrato… so we actually stayed on Lombard Street in San Francisco for a while. Me and the whole band… so it’s just a reflection and tribute to JOURNEY from our band.
The last time we spoke, you had told me one of the things you wanted to accomplish was to re-establish yourselves here in the U.S. Do you feel you’ve accomplished that at all or are at least on the right track?
I think we’re on the right track. I mean, it’s just such a big place and we really need to put down some more groundwork. Talk with people like you often, go there and tour and spread word so we all can work together. We are a reliable force now. We’re back together, we’re enjoying it and we’re going to do more albums and more tours so, I think it’s a matter of getting trust from people again. That’s what we’re going to show when we come and play live and put out good albums. Convince people that we’re reliable; we are good and sound modern and fresh. So yes, we have accomplished part one which was showing people that we are here. The next part is to come and do more and more shows and gain back that trust.
What else do you feel you have to do to regain that audience or even a new one?
Like the album itself I feel is broader musically, I already feel it can broaden our audience as well. Together with live shows, I think we can pull it off. By playing it live and presenting “Secret Society,” I really think we can take it to the next level. Maybe get an even better release and tour in America next time around.
Now I understand you have a new DVD out as well… tell me a little bit about that.
The DVD you’re referring to is the 20th anniversary DVD. It’s being released by a film company… not by our company, but we did collaborate and did interviews for the DVD. So there are interviews with us on it and some talk about the new stuff as well, but it is an old gig from ’86 and it’s basically just an anniversary DVD with some extra material. We did this at the studio in Zurich, Switzerland where we recorded “The Final Countdown.” There’s a whole movie that Ian made of me just walking around there, so there’s some fun stuff on there as well. The gig in itself is interesting but for us, we like to move on and show off our new stuff. So I think the most interesting parts are the interviews and the revisiting of the studio where we did “The Final Countdown.”
At this point in your career, are you happy with all the success that you have had and have all your dreams become realized?
Well, at this point in EUROPE’s career, we are just so happy to be here… the five of us! We have to actually pinch ourselves sometimes because we ARE here, we’re selling out places and we do albums and get them released worldwide! We’re very lucky… BEYOND lucky to be able to work with what we’re doing. We’ve been hugely successful before and now we’re just slowly trying to build things back up again, but I have to say we almost feel more comfortable just being a working rock band. That was our dream from the beginning. And when we had that “fling” (shall we say) with the “pop” world after the release of “The Final Countdown, ” it was almost uncomfortable sometimes because there were so many “playback’ shows and so many photo sessions that the musicianship part was forgotten about and lost sometimes. So what we’re back to now is working hard, touring a lot and writing all our own material. It’s great to be back being a working rock band. We are happy and we are lucky in all the success that we’ve had.
Well I know our time is running out so that just about wraps things up. Is there anything else that you’d like to say to your fans or something I missed?
We’re just so happy with our fans because they kept things going ever when we had our long break. We didn’t even know they were that affected! (laughs) But when we came back, they just kept supporting us and we managed to do over a hundred shows for “Start From The Dark” and we didn’t expect that kind of turn out at all. So we’re just so happy and grateful that we have this support. I remember when we went to America and the support we got there… people don’t forget and they gave us a new chance. So, thank you ALL and we look forward to playing for you all again real soon.
Joey, thank you so much, again, for taking the time out to speak with us. Congratulations on the new CD and we look forward to your return.
Thank you, David and please make sure we hook up again when we come there to tour.