In the spring of 1992, Joey Tempest had never felt more alone. Six years earlier, Tempest had been at the height of his fame as his band, Europe, topped the charts in 25 countries with a song that he’d written, The Final Countdown. But the world had moved on since then.
The rise of alternative rock in the early 90s had sunk many of the big-haired stars of the 80s, and among the casualties were Europe. In 1991 – the year grunge became a mainstream phenomenon with the release of Nirvana’s _Nevermind – there was little demand for Europe’s fifth album Prisoners In Paradise_. And on March 15, 1992, when Europe completed a UK tour at Portsmouth Guildhall, the band had decided to split up.
There was no public announcement. But Joey Tempest knew how the music business worked: at 29, he was yesterday’s man. “It was an empty feeling,” he says now. “All of a sudden, I was lost.”
Tempest was also isolated – in a city far away from his family and friends in Sweden. Having lived in London, on and off, since 1988, he had found a new home in the Docklands area. His apartment was luxurious: _The Final Countdown _had made him a wealthy man. But without a girlfriend, and without the band around him for the first time since his childhood, Tempest had no one to turn to when he most needed it.
He turned instead to drink. “Long Island Iced Teas,” he says. “I’d started drinking them on the last tour, and I kept drinking them when I moved to London. I missed my friends in Sweden more than I thought I would. And I’d drink so much that I’d wake up in the mornings with my clothes on.”
He knew he couldn’t carry on like this. He’d seen his bandmates go “off the rails” on Europe’s ow his hero, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, had succumbed to the rock’n’roll lifestyle. But above all else, Tempest knew that his feelings of emptiness would pass. And even at his lowest ebb, he never believed that his career in music was finished.
“I realised, obviously, that times were changing,” he says. “After the last Europe record, I knew we needed to have a break for many reasons. We’d irritated a lot of people by being in everybody’s faces for a while. And I had this new vision in my head. I wanted to make a solo album. I wanted to try something different. But I knew I had to wait.
It was going to be a long journey back.” Twenty years on, that journey is complete – and with it, the rehabilitation of Joey Tempest and Europe.he man born Rolf Magnus Joakim
Larsson in Stockholm on August 19, 1963 turns 50 next year. But sitting outside a central London pub on a warm early spring afternoon, he doesn’t look his age. There are a few lines on his face, but Tempest has retained the boyish good looks that made him a pin-up in the 80s, if not the perm. In sober black jeans and shirt, and with his shoulder-length hair stylishly cut, he is very much the mature rock star that wears it well. He has the confident air of a man happy in both his professional and personal life.
Europe’s new album, Bag Of Bones, is their fourth since they reunited in 2003 with the classic line-up that recorded _The Final Countdown – Tempest, guitarist John Norum, keyboard player Mic Michaeli, bassist John Leven and drummer Ian Haughland. It follows widespread acclaim for 2009’s Last Look At Eden, a record described by Classic Rock _as ‘basically flawless’. “The plan,” says Tempest, “was to slowly re-establish Europe as a rock band. But the reception we’ve had, in the UK especially, is beyond what we’d hoped for.” On a personal level, Tempest has also come a long way since 1992. He has been married for 12 years to Lisa Worthington-Larsson, a British woman he met in London in 92. They have a four year-old son named James Joakim.
After so many years spent living in London, the singer is now so fully ingrained into British culture that he longer has to write lyrics in his native language and then translate into English. “On Bag Of Bones, this was the first time it was automatic for me to write in English,” he says. “Finally, I think in English. I dream in English.”
With hindsight it was inevitable. British rock – With hindsight it was inevitable. British rock – Led Zeppelin, Queen, UFO, Deep Purple – has been Tempest’s greatest influence ever since he formed his first band, Force, with friend John Norum in their hometown of Upplands Väsby in 1979. Tempest would rename the band Europe in homage to Deep Purple’s live album, Made In Europe. And when, much later, he wrote the band’s biggest hit, he drew from two very different elements of British music: heavy metal and art rock. “_The Final Countdown has that very English galloping tempo,” he says. “I took inspiration from Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills and UFO’s Lights Out. And for the lyric, the story of the last days on Earth, I went back to David Bowie’s Space Oddity_. That was the first single I ever got. Bowie’s dream world was so fantastic.”
This Anglophile sensibility is also at the heart of the new Europe album. “For us, the UK is the cradle of rock,” Tempest says. “There’s a lot of Zeppelin and Purple in this [new] record. Subconsciously, the music we heard as teenagers is what’s coming out of us now.”
During the band’s long hiatus, Tempest made three solo albums. At the time, he was more heavily influenced by the great North American songwriters, such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and, most of all, Jackson Browne. “I wanted to learn,” he says. “And it was a reaction against that whole hard rock thing.” He was also reacting, on a deeper, more existential level, to what he had gone through during Europe’s dramatic rise to superstardom and subsequent decline.
“We were thrown into this weird pop world,” he says. “It was madness. But at the same time our dreams came true. The world opened up for us.”
For Tempest’s childhood friend John Norum, always a serious musician, the media frenzy that engulfed Europe was all too much. He quit in November 1986, complaining that Europe had become “this teeny-bopper bubblegum band”. Tempest had his own way of dealing with the pressure. “Everybody wanted a piece of me,” he recalls, “but I had to focus. In one sense, I withdrew. There are photos of me at that time, sitting on the tourbus with headphones on, just thinking. But
I had to take control. My attitude was: ‘We have to keep it together, guys. Come on!’”
The band’s success continued at dizzying speed, with the album _The Final Countdown _peaking at No.8 in the US and selling three million copies. They toured for months on end, and there was temptation at every turn.
“We did our share of partying,” Tempest says. “Really, our wildest times were in the very early days, when we were 16, young boys, doing all these crazy gigs in the Swedish woods. We’ve always liked our lager – we thanked a beer company on our first album. But we were never much of a drug band.” Women were a different matter. “I usually had regular girlfriends,” he says, “but there were periods when I didn’t and then it got out of control a bit. I really enjoyed being in a long-term relationship. But when I wasn’t, it was mayhem.”
He’s just as candid when relating Europe’s demise in the early 90s. The follow-up to The Final Countdown, 1988’s Out Of This World, had been another big hit, selling a million in the US alone. But three years later, when Tempest visited the New York offices of the band’s record label Epic, he sensed that the band’s new album, Prisoners In Paradise, was not a major priority for the company. “The people at Epic were very friendly,” he recalls, “but now there were Pearl Jam CDs lying around.”
For Tempest, it was a chastening experience. “It hurt,” he says, “because you want your label behind you.” But at this stage of the band’s career, he was also feeling burned out. “We’d done five albums in 10 years,” he says. “I was just so tired.”
After the Portsmouth gig in March 1992, there was a band meeting in which Tempest stated that Europe should take a sabbatical, and that he intended to make a solo album. There was some resistance from the rest of the band.
“Some of the guys had come straight out of their childhood homes to go on the road for 10 years,” Tempest says. “They were like, ‘Holy shit, I don’t even know how to use a washing machine – what the fuck am I gonna do now?’ So it was a strange moment for us. But we didn’t officially split. We just said, ‘This is it for now, let’s talk about it later.’ We hugged and those were the last words spoken.”
Seven years would pass before Europe performed together again. And for Joey Tempest, the first few months were the hardest, when he spent his days alone in his London apartment writing songs, and his nights drinking Long Island Iced Teas with people he barely knew. Meeting his future wife was a turning point. “I met Lisa purely by chance,” he says. “I was lucky.”
His first solo album, A Place To Call Home, was released in 1995, and featured a guest appearance by his former bandmate John Norum. “I call it my singer-songwriter album,” Tempest says. The follow-up, 1997’s Azalea Place, was more of the same. Sales for both albums were modest, but Tempest expected as much. He was happy living in relative anonymity in London. “If I went to Stockholm I got recognised all the time,” he says. “So London was good for me, because it’s such a big town and I’m essentially a private person.”
But on Millennium Eve came the reappearance of Joey Tempest the rock star when Europe reunited for a live Swedish TV broadcast, leading the celebrations with a suitably OTT version of The Final Countdown. “It was a magical feeling when we played,” Tempest says. All that was needed was for the singer to fulfil a contract with his third solo album before Europe re-formed properly in 2003.
Tempest understood that the band would have to work hard to rebuild their career. “We knew it would take three or four albums,” he says. “So we needed everyone to commit to that.” The album that began Europe’s comeback was 2004’s Start From The Dark, its title indicative of the band’s uncertainty in a new era. “We didn’t want to make another 80s album,” Tempest explains. “We wanted something that was more relevant.” To this end, Europe opted for a modern rock style, with Norum’s guitars detuned. It sold surprisingly well – 600,000 units worldwide. But the simple truth was that Europe didn’t really sound like Europe on this album or the next, 2006’s Secret Society. In trying to be relevant, they sacrificed something of their real identity, in much the same way that their 80s peers Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe had done by making grunge-influenced albums in the early 90s.
It was only with the release of _Last Look At Eden in 2009 that their signature sound returned. “That was a real Europe album,” Tempest says. “We reconnected with our roots.” And with it came the kind of critical acclaim that Tempest feared had been lost forever with The Final Countdown _– the song for which he will always be remembered, but which is also a parping albatross around his neck. “We still love playing that song,” he says. “But there is definitely a stigma about it.”
In recent years, however, _The Final Countdown has been re-evaluated as a classic rock song, just as Europe have been re-evaluated as a classic rock band. Confirmation of the latter arrived when Kevin Shirley, producer of Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Rush and Black Country Communion, volunteered his services for Bag Of Bones_. “Kevin he gave us such confidence,” says Tempest. “He just said, ‘Let your experience talk.’”
Tempest has realistic goals for Europe in 2012. “We don’t know if we’ll get a broad audience,” he reasons. “We just wanted to make a great rock album like the ones we used to listen to.” And this measured outlook on life, so unusual in rock stars, is something he attributes in part to his parents and in part to his wife and son. “I had a very free upbringing,” he says. “In a sense, it was a bit wild. But my parents were always there for me. I felt loved. So maybe there’s something in that. And when I became a father, it made me focus in a different way. Having a kid is a knuckle sandwich straight into reality. But it’s a very emotional and spiritual thing. My son has given me a new light.”
For Joey Tempest, the dark days of 1992 seem a lifetime away. He is contented in his family life and comfortable in his own skin as leader of a band that has shared rites of passage as boys and as men, and survived all the highs and lows of a long career in rock’n’roll.
Europe have finally come in from the cold, and the long journey that Joey Tempest contemplated back in ’92 has led to a good place. “I have the two rocks in my life,” he says. “My family and my band. And I couldn’t wish for anything more.”
This was first published in Classic Rock issue 171.