EUROPE – Meant To Sing The Blues
Touring September 2008 full-length Last Look At Eden – their eighth overall – Swedish rock outfit Europe penned the composition ‘Doghouse’. Once touring for that record concluded, vocalist Joey Tempest began writing in London while Europe’s other members assumed songwriting duties in Stockholm, Sweden. Tempest initiated several songs, including ‘Bag Of Bones’ and ‘Riches To Rags’. ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ arrived early in the process. Tempest travelled to Stockholm to rehearse with Europe. The group met producer Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden / Led Zeppelin / Dream Theater / Black Country Communion) at an old studio in the city during October-November 2011, worked with him for one month, and subsequently began recording.
“We heard the good stuff Kevin did with Joe Bonamassa,” reveals Joey Tempest, vocalist and co-founder of Europe. “We heard his production on songs like ‘The Ballad Of John Henry’ (from the February 2009 album of the same name), and ‘Blue And Evil’ (from March 2010’s Black Rock). When we heard those songs, we realised he was on the same page as we were. We were on the same mission, doing warm classic rock music. We had the idea. We called him, and he said ‘Yeah, I’d love to produce Europe. They’re a very underrated band.’ That clinched it for us.
“He really takes care of every member of the band. He likes musicians, and he also believes in great songs. He pushed us to do better; we did four or five takes of a song, and he’d say ‘Hang on a second. You guys have one more. Let’s do it this way, and try that approach.’ He really pushed us, and he also made us work in the old-fashioned way – song by song. That means you more or less finish a song before you start the next one, which means you give everything to one song. You have a different sound for that song. You get into the world of that song, that lyric, that sound, and then you finish that and move onto the next one. That means all the band members are there from day one until the last day. Everyone’s a big family chipping in with ideas, so it’s really a great atmosphere to work in.”
Europe’s relationship with a given producer usually doesn’t stretch beyond one album, though in Kevin’s case the assortment could possibly make an exception. “It’s funny you asked that, because we were talking about it the other day,” the singer notes. “We always change producers, but with this one we might make an exception. I was joking with him when I said ‘We always change producers, but this time it’s gonna be difficult to change (laughs).’ He said ‘You do what you like, but I had a great time in Stockholm and a great time with you guys.’ He really stepped up. He does a lot of records; he can do ten records in a year sometimes. He works fast, but I saw it in him. He really stepped up, and put in a lot of hours on the Europe record. He really did a good job.”
Last Look At Eden was arguably a watershed album for Europe. “It really opened things up for us,” Joey agrees. “It was our third comeback album and eighth album overall, and it really started bringing the younger audience and some rock magazines onboard. Different countries started coming onboard for the new Europe, and Bag Of Bones I think will do that even more. We’re getting more and more countries jumping on the bandwagon to like the new Europe, and it’s kind of cool. The UK has been onboard for a few years now, so we’re quite pleased with that.”
In cutting Bag Of Bones however, the frontman feels that the band “took it a step further, and went over the edge. We let go of the past, and even had to destroy the past to do this. If you hear ‘Riches To Rags’ you just realise that we were writing the song, and thought ‘Hang on. Let’s destroy the past, and move on.’ We had a song called ‘Requiem For The 80s’ as well. It’s only called ‘Requiem’ now, but it was a feeling we had. ‘Let’s move on. We’ve done that bit, so let’s do something else.’ A few songs on Last Look At Eden touched upon this a little bit, songs like ‘Catch That Plane’ and ‘Only Young Twice’. They touched upon this more bluesy, straightforward rock side, and that’s what we wanted to do with this album – classic rock with a blues influence. This is more honest; it’s more real, more spontaneous, and recorded live. We haven’t fixed much on this one; it’s a very open and honest record.
“I think we’ve progressed, we’re a bit more crazy, and we’ve developed as songwriters. I think playing wise we’re getting deeper, and our lyrics are getting a bit deeper. I think there are more dimensions to the band, and Bag Of Bones shows those different dimensions and different depths. That’s what I think personally, lyrically and musically.”
Though striving to let go of the past, fans aren’t always receptive to such a direction. “They put up a little bit of resistance,” Joey confesses. “Bands like Rush though changed their style so many times and their fans are there and they’re there in droves. There are so many because you want a band to take you on a journey as well, but you get a little bit of a shock sometimes. I’m like that with a band; if I hear they’ve changed their styles but still doing good stuff, I will follow them. I still think we have some great tunes on there. I actually think there are stronger tunes on this one than on Last Look At Eden, but Last Look At Eden had some great ones too. We’re going on a journey, and I hope the fans will follow us.”
One past track associated with Europe time and time again is ‘The Final Countdown’ (from the May 1986 album of the same name), arguably the group’s signature tune. Having performed the number live on countless occasions, one would forgive Europe should they find ‘The Final Countdown’ tiresome nowadays. “No, no,” the mainman responds, however. “We love playing it live. We don’t play it at home, rehearse it or anything, but we do play it live. I think there’s a place for nostalgia, a little bit of nostalgia with live shows. If I went to see Black Sabbath or something I’d love to hear ‘Paranoid’ (from the September 1970 album of the same name), and if I went to see Led Zeppelin I would like to hear ‘Rock And Roll’ (from November 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV) or ‘Kashmir’ (from February 1975’s Physical Graffiti). There are certain songs that you’d like to hear, and we realised that with Europe fans there are certain songs like ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Rock The Night’ (also from May 1986’s The Final Countdown) and ‘Superstitious’ (from August 1988’s Out Of This World) that they’d perhaps like to hear. That’s cool, but we are also incorporating more and more the new songs because they’re working and because we’re having some success. We can put some new songs in the set, and it’s amazing. We have four new albums to put in there.”
Older fans unfamiliar with Europe’s newer material will be pleasantly surprised. “A lot of people are familiar with our new stuff, but there will be a small portion of the audience that come to see the older songs,” Joey concedes. “This is a decent rock band, and I think they get taken aback with hearing the new songs and hearing them live. It seems to be working. We’re gaining momentum, and we’re getting more and more fans. Whatever we’re doing seems to be working (laughs). If you have good songs though, you can express them slightly different. That’s what we’re doing with our albums, because then it keeps ourselves happy and we push ourselves a little bit. We can’t do albums that sound the same. Some bands do that like Motörhead and Iron Maiden, and I respect that. They do great stuff, but for us it’s kind of different. We like every album to be slightly different; we have new producers every album, and new skills. We just wanna go on a journey all the time.
“We wouldn’t have done all these albums if they were similar. I mean, if we had started in 2004 and just done one 80s-styled album then that would’ve been it – we would’ve done just one album. We said though ‘Let’s go on a journey. Let’s do different types of albums, and let’s make it an interesting journey for us and the fans.’ It has worked; we’ve done four different types of albums now but like you said, there’s something in there. There’s decent tunes which means you can do that. There has been some timeless stuff on the last few Europe albums, definitely. We’re getting the hang of it, and there are some great tunes. I’m really proud of some of the tracks on Bag Of Bones.”
In discussing Bag Of Bones, the wordsmith reckoned that Europe finally expressed themselves ‘completely without restraint.’ “I think everything you do is a learning curve, a journey, but now we’ve arrived we just let it flow,” he shares. “We didn’t even analyse it or try too hard. It just started to come naturally to us; the English language, the playing, the blues influences. It’s amazing when you get to this stage as a rock band when you can do albums like this. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Album track ‘Doghouse’ was previewed during touring commitments for Last Look At Eden. At Sjöhistoriska Museet in Stockholm, Sweden on August 3rd, 2011, blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa – also of rock supergroup Black Country Communion – guested live on the tune. “We got to know him,” Joey informs. “He’s a great, down to earth guy, and we asked him through Kevin if he wanted to play on our record. He wanted to, and put slide guitar on the title track ‘Bag Of Bones’.”
The lyrics to title cut ‘Bag Of Bones’ were the first that the vocalist authored in preparation for studio album nine. “I was very tired, and feeling a bit melancholic after the Last Look At Eden tour,” he discloses. “I didn’t know what the hell to write about, so I started from a darker place. I just felt like a bag of bones, and that was the first set of words that came out. ‘Bag of bones, I’m a bag of bones.’ It started like a nursery rhyme, and turned into this huge, humungous track in the end. That was just a feeling though. It was great to be able to write lyrics from that state of mind. I’ve never done that before.
“‘Bag Of Bones’ was about an empty feeling, but it was also written during the London riots. The chorus – ‘My city lies in ruins / In the stone cold light of day / And I’m sifting through the rubble / How did it get this late’ – just slipped in because I was watching TV, and I was sitting in London. Being a Swedish person and this happening around me with a young son and my wife here it was quite different, a strange feeling for me. That turned into that lyric. The reflections I have are more from being a Swede though. I’ve never been in contact with that growing up outside Stockholm, and it’s like I said in the lyrics. How did it get this late? How can it be like this today? It was also a different feeling for me though, having a young son in the house. This was going on in the same town I live in, which was quite strange.”
Generally speaking, the lyrics throughout Bag Of Bones are of a personal nature. “They’re very honest, straight,” Joey acknowledges. “They’re about being in a band or about having friends like I have, and the situation we’re in. The last song on the album was written after seeing a Martin Scorsese directed movie called The Last Waltz (1978), which is about The Band doing their last performance (on November 25th, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco). They had a lot of friends come onstage, and I was toying with the song I wanted to be played at the last Europe show as the last song. That’s the idea of the closing song of all closing songs, ‘Bring It All Home’.”
Directed by Patric Ullaeus of Revolver Film Company, a music video was filmed for the song ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’. “It’s more of a 70s Led Zeppelin kind of video,” the composer surmises. “We were in an old castle outside of Gothenburg. There’s a warm 70s feeling to the whole thing, like this album. It’s a tribute to classic rock basically, and that video is cool. I’m sure we’ll do one or two more music videos. I really hope so. ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ is the first video and the first single, but we are definitely keeping this as a long campaign. We’ll be touring all this year and all next year, so there’ll be a lot of time to release stuff.”
‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ alludes to purveyors of the style. “There are basically different meanings to the song, one of them being these people coming from nowhere like Jimmy Page from the county Surrey,” Joey elaborates. “He came out and changed the music world forever, forming Led Zeppelin. Malcolm and Angus Young came from the streets of Glasgow, coming out into the world, forming AC/DC, and turning the world upside down. Elvis Presley did the same thing. Were they supposed to do this? I don’t know, but it’s amazing what they did. There’s a lot of tribute. I do a lot of references in the lyrics. It’s also autobiographical; it’s about our lives, and our relationship to classic rock and rock music. It’s a bit of a life story as well.
“Also, in the beginning we were turned down by a lot of record companies. They wanted us to cut our hair, and sing in Swedish. We thought it was kind of impossible because we wanted to tour in the UK. How in the hell can we do that if we sing in Swedish? All of our influences were British bands. It started with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, but then it went onto UFO, Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, and Whitesnake. All of us in the band met when we were 14, 15, 16-years-old, and we’ve known each other all our lives. We have all this in common, and we believed in ourselves. We believed that we could be a touring band like Thin Lizzy, and that was the main thing. ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ is a little bit of a middle finger to those record companies as well.”
The singer’s fervent admiration for seminal British rock groups has influenced Bag Of Bones’ lyrical content. “For the first time on this record, I’ve written as an Englishman,” he professes. “I think, dream and talk in English. I’m married to an English girl, and I’ve lived there on and off for 20 years. For the first time, out of a melancholic state I started writing and it just flowed. I didn’t even translate, or write things down. I just let it flow, and it was amazing for the first time. I can hear Swedish bands or Norwegian or Danish – Scandinavian bands – and I can tell immediately if they’re Swedish or Norwegian and so on, but I can’t tell with Europe anymore. This is an international powerhouse.”
Cover artwork duties for Bag Of Bones were handled by Ulf Lundén. “He lives in Gothenburg, and you can check his work out,” Joey encourages. “He did an album cover (March 2011’s Hisingen Blues) by a band I like called Graveyard, and they’re from Gothenburg too. I saw this album cover, and I heard the music. I really fell in love with his work. It’s a fantastic album cover he did, and I just thought ‘We have to get this guy.’ We called him up and he was really into it, wanting to do a Europe cover. It took a few months back and forth, but then we ended up with this great cover that’s gonna work great for vinyl and posters. It has a lot of details, a lot of hidden messages, and a lot of cool stuff. It goes back to the vinyl days of making a cover.”
“People just think ‘Let’s do something simple so people can see it on the shelves,’ and I don’t believe in that. I believe that you should put some work into your cover; it gives more depth to the whole project, to the music. If you blow our cover up on the screen in detail – in high resolution – there are so many things to discover.
“Kevin Shirley the producer emailed me to say ‘This is an amazing cover. Every day I notice new things.’ A lot of work has gone into this cover. We call that the Desk Of Doom. We don’t know if that guy’s dead or if he’s sleeping, but he’s been through a lot that guy. He only has a few keys on his typewriter, the keys to write ‘Bag of bones.’ He keeps writing it over and over and over again, just like Jack Nicholson in The Shining (1980).”
A new generation aboard, the future is seemingly bright for Europe. “They started coming after the Last Look At Eden record, and that is amazing,” the frontman beams. “It gives us new energy as well, as well as the old fans that have been with us all these years who also give us energy. So yeah, it’s a broader audience now. Some younger people are coming to our shows, and the interest for this new album Bag Of Bones on the back of Last Look At Eden is amazing.
“We’re building a momentum, and building up slowly. That’s what we want to do. With every album we’re getting slightly more fans onboard, and we’re getting the media behind us a little bit more every time. I know we’re getting some good support from Classic Rock who have done a feature on Europe, as well as Metal Hammer, Powerplay, and whatever. We’re getting some good magazines involved, and we’re talking to a lot of press like yourself. You guys are helping to spread the word, and it’s amazing. We haven’t done this many interviews in ages, so it’s an exciting time. It seems like we’re reaching out to a younger audience as well. I think we can build it up slightly more though. I think we can come back to the UK every year, and build it up slightly every year. That’s the best way to do it.”
Bag Of Bones was released on April 18th, 2012 in Japan through JVC Victor, and on the 25th in Scandinavia through Gain / Sony. The album was subsequently issued on the 27th in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and then on the 30th in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, the UK, and Ukraine, all via earMusic / Edel. An Italian release occurred on May 2nd through earMusic / Edel too, with an Asian issue happening on the 29th through Love da Records.
Interview published in May 2012.
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