EUROPE Singer Joey Tempest's Bag Of Bones - "We Never Thought We Could Make An Album Like This"
April 17, 2012, 6 years ago
By Mitch Lafon
EUROPE’s ascent to fame and fortune began in the early ‘80s with two classic guitar driven rock records (Europe and Wings Of Tomorrow). However, by the band’s third album (1986’s The Final Countdown), their record company’s hair and make-up department had caught up to them and turn them into cute and cuddly poster boys that delivered non-offensive safe anthemic rock for tweens and couples in love. Two follow-up albums (Out Of This World and Prisoners in Paradise) later, the whole experiment imploded and the band members scattered. By 2003, the band reformed and in 2004 delivered (what many deemed to be the ‘rock album of the year’) Start From The Dark. Fans from the Scream Of Anger days were thrilled and the band subsequently released the equally powerful Secret Society (2006) and Last Look At Eden (2009) albums. April 30th marks the continuation of Europe’s in-your-face rock sound to the delight of many fans around the world with the arrival of Bag Of Bones. An album that delivers on the promise of great choruses, memorable tunes, guitars that won’t quit and a blues rock foundation to please even the most cynical fan. Frontman, Joey Tempest, called into BraveWords.com headquarters to discuss the band’s latest offering.
BraveWords.com: The band had five albums come out between 1983 and 1991. You took a break until 2003-04 and have since released four new albums. It seems less of a continuation, but more like it’s two separate bands. Would it be fair to say that this is a ‘new’ band?
Joey Tempest: “I think so. When we met in 2003 and talked about the future, we said we only have two options. We can do one ‘80s style album, reunion tour, and go home or we can build it up from scratch, build a new relationship with the audience and with the media. We knew it was going to take time and we were going to get some shit, but let’s do it and build it up slowly. Some countries have really jumped onboard. The UK being one of them which is really satisfying. So, I would agree with you that it’s a different band... a ‘new’ band. We came back from a hiatus where I did three solo albums and dove into the singer/songwriter thing (and hopefully brought that back with me). Jon Levén started D-tuning and the other guys toured with classic rock acts like GLENN HUGHES. We came back with more experience and wanted to make a new journey. We wanted to make every album different, but at the core of it - make music that people remember. When we grew up the albums we listened to had such great songs and great riffs. We wanted to keep that as well, but there’s a new expression especially with Bag Of Bones. We never thought we could make an album like this.”
BraveWords.com: Bands that started along side Europe (like a BON JOVI or DEF LEPPARD) seem to have gotten ‘softer’ or more ballad oriented over the years and what I find refreshing with Europe is that you’ve actually become more of a rock band as time goes by. Is that a risk in today’s market (for a band that has been around so long)?
Tempest: “We never wanted to stay in one place and wanted to keep it progressive. We’ve try to challenge ourselves and the people listening. We don’t want to play it safe. Europe, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard were around at the same time. They’re still around and still doing good. I think we’re on a more crazy journey and so you take chances. Some are going to work and sometimes not, but we’ve had some great feedback on the last two albums. We’re really excited about Bag Of Bones and we’re getting great reviews.”
BraveWords.com: I actually think you’re a better band since 2004 than in the ‘80s (and I don’t mean to disrespect your past). I simply believe that you’ve become better.
Tempest: “I agree with that - which is why we’re continuing. If we felt we were regressing or borrowing too much from the ‘80s then forget it. We wouldn’t move on. We have a song on the new album called ‘Requiem’, it’s an instrumental piece. In the studio, we were joking around calling it ‘Requiem For The ‘80s’. We were in an old studio with old gear (from the ‘60s and ‘70s) and Kevin Shirley was producing. He has that warm classic rock background. We didn’t feel the ‘80s at all. We felt something else... Something new. We knew we had crossed the line and can’t get back to that anymore even if we tried. So, we’ve moved on completely, but I don’t think a lot of fans have realized that. We’re not in that place at all anymore. Obviously, you can still hear big riffs and big choruses (that we love doing), but the expression is completely different.”
BraveWords.com: A song like 'The Final Countdown' is so much bigger than being the band’s song. It’s both cultural and iconic at this point. Does it impede the making of a new album? Do people say, ‘I don’t hear a 'The Final Countdown’ on this. Has it become a disadvantage to have that song in your back catalogue now?
Tempest: “No, not anymore. There was a point directly afterwards where CBS wanted to have something similar, but we made a decision then (and we’ve stuck to it) that we’ll never try to copy that song. We don’t sing it in the shower, but we do love playing it live. It has a place in our live show. We have a different relationship to that song - to us it’s an album track that was written as an opening track to our show, but it’s helped us too. It’s introduced a lot of people to our band, but it’s a cross-over song. When a rock band is thrown into a broader media like that - it was a bit of a shock and John Norum didn’t like it. It was one of the reasons he left the band for awhile. We were this band that grew up on LED ZEPPELIN, DEEP PURPLE, THIN LIZZY and UFO - that’s the way we wanted to play and tour. We got thrown into more of a pop world and it was strange for us. We feel more comfortable where we are today, but we are respectful of ‘that song’ that helped us a lot. It helped us tour in the UK. It helped us tour in the US when we were very young.”
BraveWords.com: But it also changed your band. Fans that loved the album Wings Of Tomorrow and songs like 'Screams Of Anger' were probably confused when their band became ‘pop’. Luckily, with Bag Of Bones and Last Look At Eden - you’re back to that ‘rock sound’.
Tempest: “We found where we’re comfortable and expressions change, but that was a crazy time being thrown into being a cross-over. That was crazy, but it was a long time ago and we’re quite comfortable now. Some people may just know that song, but we’re building quite a reputation in the rock community now. People know about our new stuff and that means more to us.”
BraveWords.com: Speaking of getting to know your new stuff - the band has been ‘back’ since 2003-04 and have toured Europe extensively, but you’ve ignored North America. Why are you avoiding the US and Canada?
Tempest: (Laughs) “We’re not avoiding it, but we’re looking for a real opportunity. I think Bag Of Bones could provide that and I hope so. It has that hint of blues and classic rock. It was done by a producer (Kevin Shirley) that lives in L.A. and has been there most of his life. I think this album (Bag Of Bones) compared to any of the ‘new’ Europe album could provide an opening. It’s a more open blues/rock album and there might be different ways for us to tour thanks to this album. To just end up on a ‘80s package thing - people have realized that we’re not really that type of band. We’d like to go our own way and therefore we need to find that vehicle and way for us to introduce ourselves in the US. I’m looking everyday and we’ll keep looking. I’m sure we’ll find that great nifty idea that will bring it out because we are very cemented in the ‘80s. In America, they really have that segmented... This is ‘80s music. This is ‘90s music. This is R&B; and everything is very categorized. You need to break out and I think Bag Of Bones can be that album.”
BraveWords.com: It terms of wanting to tour - it certainly could be easy. Def Leppard tour in the US almost every summer. POISON do their thing. There are definitely opening slots available.
Tempest: “Def Leppard is great and we’ve toured with them before. We would tour with them again, of course, but the opportunity hasn’t arisen and we have to see what this album does for us. We do tour a lot over here - yes, we do, but we do like to find that clever idea to get back into the US. That would be nice.”
BraveWords.com: You mentioned the blues influence on the album. You had Joe Bonamassa contribute to the new album. What influences did he bring to the band and Bag Of Bones?
Tempest: “It started about three or four years ago in the Europe dressing room (which is where all our decisions are made). John Levén played me some early Bonamassa - he had done a cover of a Led Zeppelin song ('Tea For One') and then I heard The Ballad Of John Henry and I said to the other guys, ‘this is not just a great guitar player, singer and songwriter. We have a great producer here. Just listen to this production.’ We knew this is where we were at. We wanted to do a straight ahead rock n’roll album with some blues influences. That warm classic rock sound from the ‘70s. This is the guy. Let’s call this guy (Kevin Shirley) and he agreed. He said the magic words, ‘oh, yeah - I’d love to work with Europe. They’re a very underrated band.’ That closed it - we chose Kevin. Joe came to visit us in Stockholm. He was there with BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION and so he came to see a Europe show.He got up and did one song with us - he was a guest musician on Doghouse live and we got to know him. He’s down to earth and a nice guy, so when we started recording with Kevin Shirley - we asked him if he could get Joe to play on our album. Joe said he’d love to do it, but he couldn’t come to the studio so he did it in New York where Anton Fig also did some overdubs. Kevin sent it to us and we loved it. His slide guitar on Bag Of Bones is fantastic and we’re really honored that he played on our record.”
BraveWords.com: I’m a long-standing KISS fan, so when you say ‘Anton Fig’ - it makes me think of the guy that played on the Dynasty and Unmasked albums, but we were all told it was Peter Criss. So, when I see him listed on your album, my first reaction is does your drummer, Ian Haugland know?
Tempest: (laughs) “Anton only did overdubs. We didn’t have time - we had one month in the studio in Stockholm with Kevin and he needed to moved and we needed to move on. So, we moved really fast and some overdubs like percussion, tambourines... Things that were really important for choruses and stuff, and we didn’t have time to do it, so Kevin suggested, ‘I’ll do it with Anton Fig in New York.’ Both the slide guitar from Joe Bonamassa and the overdub percussion stuff was done in New York. Ian was really excited on this record...”
BraveWords.com: So, Ian is not the new Peter Criss...
Tempest: (laughs) “Nah, he’s fabulous and did a great job.”
BraveWords.com: The first single is ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ (out now via iTunes) - tell me the story behind that track.
Tempest: “It was one of the first tracks that I wrote. I wrote a few tracks by myself and that was one of them. It was basically a tribute to classic rock. The song is very rooted in classic rock as well. There are references in the lyrics to people like Jimmy Page, Angus and Malcolm Young. People that came out of nowhere and they turned the music world around. They changed all of our lives. Also, for us coming from this small town outside of Stockholm - to be able to do some music like this. We weren’t supposed to do that. We’re actually shocked by this Bag Of Bones album. How we can express and do a rock album like this. We surprised ourselves and I’m sure others will be surprised as well. That was all the idea behind the song and it’s one that we are really proud of on the record.”
BraveWords.com: Speaking of records and writing by yourself - you did three solo albums after leaving the band. Are there songs you’ve written that would be better suited to a solo record and is that something you’d like to do again?
Tempest: “No, there’s no time for another solo album. I did three and I did a lot of research for them. I bought a lot of albums by NEIL YOUNG, BOB DYLAN, VAN MORRISON and JACKSON BROWN (one of my favorites ever). I learned a lot about lyrics and songwriting, but when we started again - it was only Europe and it will be forever. If I do another solo album - who knows maybe if I find the time, but everything is written for Europe now.”
BraveWords.com: Will John (Norum) still be making solo albums?
Tempest: “Yeah. He can combine the two, but I don’t know how he does it. He loves playing. He’s a musician. He plays all the time. He’s going to work on a new solo album soon. Whereas... Europe is enough for me.”
BraveWords.com: When Start From The Dark came out in 2004 - it seemed like it was only going to be the one album, but now you’ve done four since the reunion and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Does the band have a ‘five-year plan’ until the ‘Farewell tour’ or is it pretty much ‘sky’s the limit’ for now?
Tempest: “There is sort of a plan now. We’re going tour this year, festivals in Europe (this summer) and a major Bag Of Bones tour in the autumn with other territories in 2013. Then, we’ll do our tenth album which will be recorded in the beginning of 2014. That’s the plan and I hope we can stick to it, but we have no intentions of slowing down. Touring is the main thing now.”
BraveWords.com: Are you still excited about being back in Europe? When everybody went their own way in the ‘90s - it didn’t appear that people were ‘happy’ with each other and glad to have moved on...
Tempest: “It was a strange time you know. We were signed to CBS in New York. In ’90 or ’91, I went there and there’s was Pearl Jam CD on the desk and I realized. There were other Seattle bands that they were interested in. There was a change and it was good for me in a way because I had plans to make a solo album and it was a good time to take a break. The guys thought so as well actually. There were some discussions on the tour bus in ’92 and we asked, ‘how do you live a normal life? How do you work a washing machine?” We’d been on the road for ten years. It was a difficult decision, but everybody wanted a break. The problem is that it became a little too long and we got involved in solo projects. So, it was a good thing for us, but it was a strange time as well. The winds were changing, but there was one band that carried the torch through those changes and that was GUNS N’ ROSES. They had their past in classic rock. The grunge bands were more alternative, but it’s proven today even those bands had their roots in Led Zeppelin or... Everything is coming together now, but that was a strange turning point.”
BraveWords.com: Are albums still important for a band in 2012? Why not just release a single now and then on iTunes or simply tour on the strength of the back catalog?
Tempest: “Yes, they are and we are the living proof. Albums are the reason you or Classic Rock magazine are picking up the phone and talking to us. The reason you are supporting us is because we are on a journey and developing new music. We’re working hard, but if we just went out on the road - we wouldn’t get a new audience. We wouldn’t keep the momentum. For us, it’s important. I don’t know for other bands maybe they can just go out there and play their big songs and that’s it, but we’re so excited to play our new songs on the road. Hopefully, people will share that excitement.”
BraveWords.com: So, you don’t think the ‘art form’ of album making is in any danger?
Tempest: “You have to be realistic. You don’t sell near as many albums as in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s a big change and there is, of course, a lot of discussions in bands, ‘should we really do an album?’ Or ‘should we do a video?’ So yes, there is a question there about do you really need it. Some bands may not need it, but in our case it has worked in our favor (since we’re still doing decent stuff). If you simply want to cash in and play old songs then maybe you shouldn’t do albums. Spend your money on something else like maybe a great stage set. Spend money on things that will enhance your tour (if you don’t want to make new albums). So, you’re right there is a question mark around making new albums. Some people say the new form will be a three or four song format from every band. Maybe a new song every now and then. Some bands have tried it. Ash (a Northern Irish band) released a single a month for a year and at the end of the year they released all the songs together (A-Z Series). People are trying different things and I don’t think anybody really knows what’s going to happen. There is a change - music and albums are perhaps (in a strange way) less important. The live scene is healthy (even in America). If you’re a decent rock band, you can survive. You can make a living out of playing music (which is good in this strange market place).
BraveWords.com: I certainly hope albums never die. We’d lose those ‘deep album cuts’ and if we were to judge a Zeppelin or Aerosmith solely on their singles - it would be very sad.
Tempest: “It would be one dimensional. We really wanted to make Bag Of Bones more than one dimension. There’s depth to it. There’s an instrumental track in the middle. An acoustic track... we wanted to make it dynamic and that would be lost.”
BraveWords.com: Finally, you ended the album with a cut called ‘Bring It On Home’. Lyrically or thematically was it symbolic of bringing it all home by the end of the album or perhaps your career?
Tempest: “It just happened that way. It’s one of the old ideas (there’s really only two old ideas that we revamped), the other being ‘My Woman My Friend’. ‘Bring It On Home’ was written at the same time in San Francisco when we were writing for Prisoners In Paradise. Me and Mic had a jam together and two of the songs that came out of that jam were ‘New Love In Town’ (which ended up on Last Look At Eden) and ‘Bring It On Home’ (from this record). They’re basically old ideas that the other band members have been on our case about to ‘work on that - work on that’. So, we finished it on this record. I was watching a movie called The Last Waltz by Martin Scorsese and it’s about THE BAND that does their final gig. They invite these people on stage (and everybody knows it’s the final gig) -- so the idea of ‘Bring It On Home’ was to write the closing song of all closing songs. This is the song that Europe will play last of all the songs in two years or twenty years. That’s the end song that will be in the PA or played live when we say goodbye. That was the idea - to thank the fans and thank the music business.”
BraveWords.com: So, it is the song that wraps it all up or is the exclamation point to Europe.
Europe play Download Festival on June 8th, followed by their Bag Of Bones nationwide UK tour on November 21st with the following dates:
November21 - Birmingham, UK - O2 Academy
22 - Glasgow, UK - O2 ABC
23 - Manchester, UK - HMV Ritz
25 - Newcastle, UK - O2 Academy
26 - Leeds, UK - O2 Academy
27 - Nottingham, UK - Rock City
29 - Bristol, UK - O2 Academy
30 - Cardiff, UK - Coal Exchange
December1 - London, UK - O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
For more visit Europetheband.com