This article originally appeared in Classic Rock issue 194.
It’s been 35 years since, as a Led Zep-worshipping teenager, Joey Tempest co-founded Swedish hitmakers Europe. Today the frontman can look back at record sales topping 20 million, a smattering of solo success and a little song called The Final Countdown.
But it’s not just former glories for Tempest. Since their 2003 reunion Europe have put out four hard-edged, blues-tinged records, packed venues and (whisper it) earned the rock-scene respect that often eluded them during their keyboard-heavy pomp. When Classic Rock catches up with Tempest as he enjoys some rare time off at his London home, the fresh-faced 50-year-old is clearly enjoying life as his band continue to reap the rewards of their unlikely second wind. And not even talk of band feuds, firing friends and dropping that song can dampen his mood.
Who was your musical hero growing up?
Robert Plant was a big influence for me. When I first heard Black Dog it really got me. I wish I had been a roadie for Robert during his solo years. I went to see him live so many times in that period. I met him backstage at one of his shows and he asked me for my autograph. I couldn’t believe it. It was for his son.
What were you like at school?
School was strange. I was always trying to find like-minded people. I remember when I was about 11 a teacher accused me of cheating on a test in music class. It appeared I had a perfect score and nobody else did. I had to go to the principal’s office and do it again – and again I got a perfect score. I guess they were shocked that I got full score since I was average at everything else.
You live in London. Do you miss Sweden?
I’ve lived for longer outside of Sweden than I ever lived there. When I’m back in Sweden I miss England. It takes me about 15 or 20 years to get homesick. We have a rehearsal place in Stockholm and I have family there so I go there a lot. I’m kind of in between though.
What keeps you motivated?
I think it’s the friendship that we have in the band. Me and John Norum have that thing where we trigger each other. It’s been a bumpy ride, our relationship. We’re like brothers. He left the band for two albums, and now we’ve done four albums back together. We’re like-minded souls pushing each other. I have one of the best jobs in the world to stand out there with a great band behind me. I’ve made albums and toured with session musicians and it’s never the same.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
Oh boy. Maybe that I’m some kind of decent singer, songwriter and performer. Where did they get that from? [laughs] I just wing it! I have no idea what I’m doing. If some kind of recognisable noise comes out of my lungs in the ‘rightish’ key when I sing, I’m over the moon. Flabbergasted!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I remember bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard opened the door for us. When we first went to Japan, Iron Maiden had already been there and paved the way for us without even knowing it. I met Steve Harris and we were talking about touring and people around the band, and I remember him saying to be prepared that we would have to part ways with old friends and colleagues down the road and fire people. It was strange advice but it was very good. It was good to know that all bands go through that and you’re not alone.
- Thinking Out Loud: Joey Tempest
- The stories behind the songs: The Final Countdown by Europe
- Europe: "Those hairstyles made us look like poodles"
- Joey Tempest's Top 10 Europe Songs That Aren't The Final Countdown
Do you believe in God?
The jury is still out on that one for me. I’ve been on a long, amazing journey. I’m out there all the time and something has saved me and pulled me through all these years. I’d like to give myself some credit for that, but maybe I’ve had some help along the way.
You must be sick of The Final Countdown.
No, we’re okay with it. We enjoy playing it live. It was written as an opening song for our third tour and we wanted to get people’s attention. We thought it was a cool song, it was different. We were playing Download in 2012, and while we were on our way we were stuck in traffic. At this point we didn’t know that we’d also not get to the gig in time, but we were discussing the set and we decided to take out The Final Countdown. We were ten minutes from the stage when we were supposed to be on and they announced that we weren’t going to make it. We jinxed it. Since then we haven’t toyed with dropping it again.
What have been the highest and lowest points of your career?
We did Sweden Rock in 2013, we did 28 songs and had Scott Gorham up with us. It was such a nice thing to do. It was amazing. That was a high point. The low point would have to be when me and John Norum stopped talking. We’d be travelling in separate limousines and talking through the band’s road manager. I learnt a lot from that. Now we’re always talking. We had worked really hard to make the band happen, so that time was quite strange.
What’s the worst decision you’ve made?
When it comes to decisions I try not to be hard on myself. I tend not to ponder on my decisions after they have been made. My wife, who is very bright, reminds me that I look at things as if they are better than they are. I live in Joey world.
What would you like written on your tombstone?
‘WHO THE FUCK IS JOEY TEMPEST?’ I think Kurt Cobain was spot-on when he wrote that on a wall at Oakwood Apartments where Europe and Nirvana both stayed at the beginning of the 90s… Hell do I know?
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