Thinking Out Loud: Joey Tempest

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Joey Tempest is the vocalist and chief songwriter in the Swedish rock band Europe.

He’s written some of their biggest hits, including Rock The Night, Superstitious and The Final Countdown, which reached Number One in 25 countries.

After the band parted ways in 1992, Tempest released three solo albums – A Place To Call Home (1995), Azalea Place (1997) and Joey Tempest (2003) – before reuniting with his bandmates in 2003. To date, Europe have released 10 studio albums, the most recent being last year’s War of Kings.

You don’t go around the block a few times without learning some stuff along the way. Here’s what’s on his mind…

My wife and I both moved to London around the same time, and it’s since become our place. It’s our common ground. She’s from the north of England originally. I think London is one of those cities where, if you spend enough time there, then you’re never going to check out. It’s got so much – art, music, rich culture, and a wide variety of people from different places. I lived in London for the first time when I was 12 or 13 with my parents, and then I bought a place on the Docklands in the late ‘80s. I was hooked from that moment on.”

I wrote the riff to The Final Countdown when I was still in college. But I kept it with me until we decided to record our third album. It was an amazing time because there were a lot of different keyboards from America and Japan coming in to the guitar shop where we used to hang out, and I started experimenting with a lot of them. The inspiration for the lyrics came from the first single I ever bought, which was Space Oddity by David Bowie. I was absolutely fascinated by him and by space, and when I finally sat down to write the lyrics I thought it would be cool to write something like that, about leaving Earth and floating out there. The galloping tempo of Run To The Hills inspired the song as well. We all loved Iron Maiden and The Number Of The Beast album. Originally, it was just meant to be an opening track for the album and our live show. We just wanted something to create excitement. But it ended up turning our whole careers around, and it made it possible for us to tour in America and the UK, which was always our dream. Before The Final Countdown we toured in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Japan, but that was the album that opened all the doors worldwide.”

Spandex is overrated. It’s not even comfortable to perform in. So that look was very short lived for us. It was a few pictures and a few shows, and that was it. I went over to leather pants after that. I remember seeing Pete Way from UFO and the guys in Maiden wearing it on MTV, and I thought to myself, ‘I must try that.’ But the long hair and the dressing up began in the ‘70s, really. That’s where most of the ‘80s bands took their inspiration. We just took their ideas to the next level. I wanted to look like Robert Plant. Led Zeppelin were obviously one of the greatest bands on the planet, but they also looked really cool, and I wanted to take his ideas and move them forward. The ‘80s was all about taking everything to the limit.”

1991 was a strange year. We were seeing the bands that were going to survive Seattle, and bridge the gap between the ‘80s and the ‘90s. Bands like Metallica and Guns N’ Roses saved rock ‘n’ roll by moving it forward. We were working on Prisoners In Paradise that year [the last album from the first chapter in Europe’s career, before the band broke up in 1992] and there were some big changes going on. The genre that we were in was becoming a bit one-dimensional, and I wanted to find a greater level of depth, which I believe we’ve found in our more recent records. It’s been proven that you can have a long career of 30 years or more, if you take a few years off here and there. But ’91 was certainly an interesting year. Nirvana was going on and the writing was literally on the wall, according to my drummer [Ian Haugland]. He said that Kurt Cobain had written ‘Who the fuck is Joey Tempest?,’ in the LA apartment complex where both Nirvana and Europe were staying at the time. Seattle was a very different scene. It was darker and more alternative, and a reaction to the flamboyance and over the top music of the ‘80s. But in the case of Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, it was cool because they also carried the torch of classic rock into the ‘90s and brought it forward.”

Europe circa 1991

Europe circa 1991
(Image: © Krasner/Trebitz/Redferns)

The solo stuff was an interesting period, but the band is more fun. The good thing about being a solo artist is that you can explore new things, work with different writers and musicians, and move on from your musical past. That’s what I did with my three solo albums. I became more of a singer-songwriter, and starting writing more in the style of guys like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison and Randy Newman. But the bad thing about it is you miss your friends. I toured a bit as a solo artist but I just kept looking around for all my mates. I met the rest of the guys when we were 1415 years old, and we’ve been back together 11 years now, which is actually longer than the first period we were together for. They’re like brothers to me. We’re best friends with the best jobs in the world. Of course there are ups and downs, but we’re enjoying some success again and right now everything is going great.”

Our reunion show in Stockholm was a huge moment for us. It was on New Year’s Eve in 1999, going into the new millennium. There were half a million people out on the streets of Stockholm and they positioned speakers and video screens everywhere. We hadn’t played together for eight years, and John Norum had left even earlier than that [after The Final Countdown album was released in 1986], so it was amazing to have him back in the band again. The rehearsal was actually kind of more fun for us. We got together for the first time in years and just cranked it up, and it was a truly magical moment. We knew right after that show that we had to get it going again, but we had solo contracts and other commitments to honour first. That’s why we didn’t have a major meeting until 2003, when we officially decided to start the band again. But that New Year’s show was definitely the instigator. I don’t remember much from the party afterwards, but it was immense.”

Europe at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour at The Roundhouse, London on November 11, 2015

Europe at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour at The Roundhouse, London on November 11, 2015
(Image: © Brian Rasic/WireImage)

In the first meeting we had in 2003 we said, ‘Let’s think long term and create a new relationship with our fans.’ We had some baggage, obviously, and we knew it was going to take a long time for people to accept that we had moved on. And what we learnt is that expression is very important. A lot of stuff has already been done before – nearly everything, in fact – but you can still do it at a deeper level with a bit of blues and soul, and expression and emotion. And that doesn’t come for free. That comes after thousands of shows. It took us 30 years, but it’s finally there and we’re constantly searching for deeper forms of expression. Our goal is to develop naturally and organically and not feel pressured into thinking that the next album has to be our greatest album. We just go in the studio and have fun writing and recording. We work fast, we get everything done in two or three weeks, and everything happens in the moment. It’s magic. And we’re always trying to find new producers and studios that inspire us. I hope young bands think like that. Nothing is impossible. They should just call their favourite producer and tell them that they want to work with them. I meet new bands all the time and I tell them that. Producers love to take chances, and they love to work with young bands. Just dream hard, and dare to try new things. You need to keep yourself on your toes and put yourself in positions that you can’t get out of. Just go for it!”

After you become a father, you prioritise a lot more. I think it’s the same for a lot of dads. All the bullshit goes out the window and you only do the important stuff. For me, that’s writing for Europe and looking after my family. We’ve since changed the pattern of touring, and we never go away for longer than three weeks at a time anymore, because we don’t like to be away from home for too long. You become more humble as well, and you start realising how lucky you are with your job. You want to be more careful and take better care of yourself, and you want to provide for your family too. So all of those things get in your head and you want to do the right things. It’s a good thing, I think. For me it was amazing – a really emotional and spiritual experience.”

As part of Record Store Day on April 16, Europe will release a limited-edition 12-inch EP featuring a brand new recording of The Final Countdown.

The band play Ramblin’ Man Fair on Saturday, July 23.