RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with the ever-youthful Joey Tempest to talk blues, big choruses and the Swedish obsession with weekend beer.
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rushonrock: The standout track on your latest album Bag Of Bones is Not Supposed To Sing The Blues – is it entirely tongue in cheek?
Joey Tempest: Not Supposed To Sing The Blues is tongue in cheek to an extent but the song incorporates a lot of stuff about us growing up. People have always raised an eyebrow when it comes to a band from Scandinavia managing to write decent rock music! It also reaffirms where we’ve come from geographically and musically and it’s like we’re talking to ourselves: ‘hang on a minute we’re from Sweden – we’re not supposed to sing the blues!’.
rushonrock: What if you weren’t? It could be a huge mistake…
JT: Maybe we weren’t! But we managed to express ourselves this way. We actually battled ourselves by doing Bag Of Bones. I don’t think we were ever supposed to make it but we did. And right now I can’t put my finger on where this band is from!
rushonrock: Doghouse was showcased 12 months ago – did it hint at the blues rock brilliance to come?
JT: We worked Doghouse into last year’s setlists to get a feel for the fans’ reaction. We wrote it on the road but it was the first idea of what Bag Of Bones could be. From that moment we knew that we were moving into the area of a classic rock album rather than a hard rock or heavy metal record. Straight away we knew the album could fit into the classic rock category.
rushonrock: There’s a raw feel to Bag Of Bones – does that fit in with the traditional 70s-influenced blues rock blueprint?
JT: We didn’t have much time to fit in the recording of the album. We just kinda fell into the studio in October last year and recorded it pretty quickly like they used to do in the 70s.
rushonrock: My Woman My Friend is another future classic – what’s the story there?
JT: Ah yes, My Woman My Friend – I worked on the lyrics in the studio on that one. The riff came from John and I put it together with another older song. When I mentioned it to Kevin Shirley (producer, Bag Of Bones) he wasn’t that sure but it soon became one of his favourites. It’s a very emotional song.
rushorock: Snagging the uber-busy Shirley was a bit of a coup – how did that come about?
JT: It was great working with Kevin. I’ve known all about him for years – he’s been around and done a lot of stuff. But more recently he’s been producing a lot of outstanding blues rock records and we’d been listening to Joe Bonamassa a lot when Kevin’s name came up. When we did make contact he said he’d be delighted to do Bag Of Bones. He actually said he believed Europe was very underrated as a band and that he’d like to do the new album. We actually chose the studio in Sweden and Kevin came to us – he was up for doing something new outside of his own place and was hugely enthusiastic from day one.
rushonrock: So where was Bag Of Bones born?
JT: We chose a studio in Stockholm where Opeth recorded their latest album and The Hives have recorded there. There’s an old, original desk from the 60s or 70s, old compressors and old mics. You can make modern albums and at the same time capture that retro sound. Kevin was a bit suspicious at first but it was a good studio for Bag Of Bones.
rushonrock: You’ve thrown Opeth and The Hives into the mix there – along with Europe they’re representative of a thriving Scandinavian scene…
JT: The Scandinavian music scene just goes from strength to strength. From a rock and metal perspective it’s probably more so than ever before but there’s always been a scene. In Sweden there’s always been that eagerness to write and be obsessed about writing and we were no different in the early days. It goes right back to the Abba days. We weren’t into Abba’s music as such but we came to respect them and love their music as well as their ability as songwriters.
rushonrock: What drives the scene and its creativity?
JT: There’s something about the Swedish darkness at this time of year and the alcohol fuelled records that are a result of those dark days. It’s so weird living in London and being able to buy booze during the week. In this country I can go a few steps down the road on a Tuesday night and buy beer from the offy. That doesn’t happen in Sweden – there’s a weird alcohol culture over there. It’s all about the weekend and then you hit it. You get that buzz and I used to write a lot when I experienced that beer-fuelled buzz.
rushonrock: So did Europe kick off the Swedish rock scene or did the scene pre-date Europe?
JT: The Swedish rock scene had started when we were teenagers but we were one of the first rock bands singing in English who made an impact outside Scandinavia. I used to listen to a band called Neon Rose and a band called Tears – they sang in English but never really got a foothold in the UK. I suppose we did for Swedish rock what Abba did for Swedish pop – we were sort of the first guitar band to prove we could sell records abroad and a lot of great rock and metal bands have followed.
rushonrock: These days Europe are gigging harder than ever – is it a conscious decision?
JT: We’re trying to tour as often as we can now and especially in the UK. People are so appreciative of our music in Britain and always have been – all our influences and inspirations come from here. But we’re still re-establishing ourselves after our success in the 80s. We’re on a long hard road – we’ve put out four new albums since getting back together and Bag Of Bones is starting to turn a few heads.
rushonrock: Is there time for everything you want to do – and need to do – as a band and as individuals?
JT: Europe is a working band again now. But we try to balance everything – songwriting, touring and our lives away from the band. Sometimes you overdo things but we’ve learned our lessons – it’s a good time to be in the Europe camp right now.
rushonrock: Back to Bag Of Bones and it’s been out for more than six months now but continues to receive critical acclaim – how come?
JT: I’m not quite sure why people have been so complimentary about Bag Of Bones. As musicians we like to keep ourselves on our toes and maybe that appeals to other people too. We like big choruses and always have done. But we like to express ourselves in a different way now that we can. I like bands such as Rush – they always used to keep their fans guessing and Rush fans have always argued about whether this or that direction was the best one for them. Maybe that’s a strength – to spark a debate and to get people talking. But those fans almost always get behind a new Rush album. Six months down the line and that’s still what seems to be happening with Bag Of Bones.
rushonrock: So is everything rosy in the Tempest garden again?
JT: My mum told me very early on in life that things are never as they seem. She told me that what my school friends would say wasn’t always the true picture. Don’t get me wrong – the Joey Tempest you see is a very lucky guy. I’m lucky that I have a happy and healthy five-year-old son and I’m lucky that I’ve been together with my wife for a very long time now. But balancing the life I have in Europe with my home life isn’t easy. You might only see me in magazines or on The One Show but it’s not really as it seems. I have to try to balance the demands of my band, family, business interests, image and everything else. It’s difficult but on the whole I have a job that I like and I get to work with people who I’ve known for many years and who I like and trust.