I spoke to Joey Tempest, lead singer of Europe ahead of the release of their new album, “War of Kings” and their tour with Black Star Riders that will see Europe play Ireland for the first time in twenty-five years.
Your new album, War of Kings is due to be released in a few weeks time. Listening to the album it’s definitely a different sound to previous albums – more a 70s hard rock sound. Was this something you set out to do at the start of the writing?
Yes. It’s like a journey we’ve been on developing the sound I suppose with the last three albums. With “Last look at Eden” we started to toy around with some more basic classic rock/Blues album, whereas “Bag of bones” was a touring band’s album, a rock album, so that was the concept. We had a great producer working with us then, Kevin Shirley and we just wanted to do a live album more or less. So when we met up with Dave Cobb we did the same thing, everything was created in two or three weeks and everything happened on the spot. Dave jumped in as a sixth member to write some things and add textures with the old Mellotron keyboards and stuff. So yes, we put some more work into the writing, we put some more work into the production but it’s still very much a live album. We just wanted to take “Bag of bones” further, you know, “Bag of bones” is slightly rocky/bluesy and a fast job but it’s still a great album, but this one has more work put into it to make it a classic vibe kind of record.
You mentioned the keyboards. That was something I noticed – they’ve got a Deep Purple kind of sound to them, particularly from the Hammond organ.
We’ve used Hammond and Mellotron and Wurlitzer and more, so it’s very organic very cool keyboards and we’ve actually raised them in volume as well. If you use keyboards in the right way they add atmosphere and vibe to an album and I think that’s what we did with this one. We’re big fans of Jon Lord all of us, and we realised over the years how much he was influencing Deep Purple and how much he wrote, and then you’ve got his riffs. The organ has always been cool the way they recorded it with an amplifier and stuff, and Mick uses tubeless amplifiers and stuff to beef up his sound just like Jon did, so it’s kind of cool.
You’ve chosen to work with a new producer for this album, Dave Cobb. Did this affect the way you work?
Well it’s still a very fearless creative atmosphere, but yeah we let Dave in more than any other producer, because he is a musician and he is a writer and is very talented in that way. He’s got great ideas – we noticed that the first day – he liked our songs, and said “This is going to be great, and I’ve got some small ideas here and there, why don’t you come in and check it out”. So he showed us some ideas that he had to elevate the songs further and they were great, so we thought we’d invite him in on three or four tracks to take the album higher. That’s the difference I think with this album, otherwise we just belted it out. We’re touring so much now that we just play uninhibitedly, free and just have fun in the studio because now we have engineers and producers that can take care of it and make it sound good.
To do it all in two or three weeks is pretty fast.
We’re getting used to that now and like it because it becomes very intense and creative in those few weeks. Two weeks we use for the basic recording and then we do fixing in the last week – we put some extra Hammond on, and I think John may have fixed a few solos, but most of it’s live, so yes it is tough but we’re getting comfortable with that now. If you get into that zone and everybody’s there and creative then it works.
Are there any particular inspirations for the lyrics on the album?
I like to have fun with lyrics, and there are, I wouldn’t call them hidden, but personal messages in there, plus stuff I hear on the news. I take everything in and have fun with the words. Something concrete? Well “War of kings”, when I got the riff from John Levén and started working on the song, it sort of gave me an angle of old Scandinavia, the melodies I came up with, so I started re-reading a book called “The Long Ships” which is about the early days of the Viking age when the Norwegians, Danes and the Swedish people started going nuts up there in the North. There were self-proclaimed kings and elected kings fighting each other and huge battles, so it’s loosely based on that book, it’s a great book “The long ships” but yeah the lyrics are loosely based on that, but it’s only that song, it’s not a theme album or anything. Another interesting thing that happened was we wrote a song on the spot with Dave Cobb in the studio and that was the night where we got a text through to say that Jack Bruce had passed away, so the lyrics are really more personal and emotional. It was a really emotional moment, it was late at night, we were writing with acoustic guitars, so that was “Angels with broken hearts”. People read in what they want to read into the lyrics.
You’re about to go out on tour with Black Star Riders.
Yeah that’s going to be great. We’ve hooked up with them a few times at various festivals, we know them well so it’s going to be great. It’s a co-headliner tour. We’ve got a girl band opening up on most of the tour – The Amorettes, kind of ACDC sound, they’re really cool. We’re going to have a great time. We’re also playing Dublin and Belfast for the first time in over twenty years so we’re doing an extensive UK tour this time.
I think it’s actually 25 years since you last played Dublin.
It’s going to be very special. I lived in Ireland for 4 or 5 years as well, and we haven’t been back in so long plus it’s the opening night of the tour in Dublin so it’s going to be amazing, but the whole UK tour is going to be great. Both bands have new albums out, so it’s going to be very exciting that way.
It must feel strange knowing there will be people in the audience who weren’t even born when you last played in Ireland.
It’s kind of cool. We’ve noticed in the last few years that we have a lot of young fans at the front, and at the back are faces we recognise from the old days. It’s cool that we’re extending the audience. With “Last look at Eden” we got a younger crowd on the tour, then with “Bag of bones” we got more of a classic rock audience as well so new people are coming aboard with is great.
With it being a co-headline tour with a band like Black Star Riders, does it put more pressure on you to really nail it every night?
John Norum and I like to check the other bands out and say we’ve got to up our game now, but it’s fun really. We know them so well, we know Scott Gorham so well now, and everyones so cool, but there’s no ego rivalry or anything. Both bands need to be at the top of their game but it’s going to be great.
Both bands have a great catalogue of songs to play that people know.
It’s going to be a treat I think, so I’m looking forward to this one.
After Ireland and the UK you’re off to the USA for a cruise and some gigs.
Yes we’re doing a stint of around three weeks in America. We haven’t really toured there in ten years, so we’re doing some nice House of Blues places, a few festivals, to introduce ourselves to the fans and the media. America is one of those countries that probably haven’t followed the last five new albums that much. Obviously hardcore fans have but not the broader rock audience, so we’re going to start introducing ourselves again a bit. It’s going to be hard work but we’re going to do it and see where it leads.
With the cold weather here I’m sure the prospect of a cruise is looking good right now.
Yes we’re looking forward to that one – it’s going to be great.
After the American dates you’re playing a few summer festivals
Yes we’re doing some festivals including Wacken, a big festival in Germany. I think the UK will be next summer, we’ve done festivals here a few times, but it will be European festivals this year. Then after the summer we’re going to do a tour with The Scorpions in November in France, and apart from that we’re going to do European date, so an indoor “War of Kings” tour.
Touring with the Scoprions is another great bill for the fans.
We have such a long relationship with The Scorpions. We went to see them in Stockholm when we were probably 16 or 17, and Def Leppard were opening up for The Scorpions – it was Def Leppard’s first tour in Sweden. It was amazing, it might have been the Lovedrive tour. Even before that, “Tokyo tapes” was very important to us, that album, and also the “Lovedrive” album , even “Blackout”. There have been lots of Scorpions albums that have shaped our rock and roll life. I met them the other day in Paris, they were really cool guys. We’d met them briefly before but that was way back. It’s a great honour to play with them.
Like yourselves and Black Star Riders, The Scorpions also have a new album out this year.
It really helps the tour. People are curious, they’re interested in the new stuff, that’s what I always say. I don’t agree with these people who say you don’t need to record new albums any more because the business is down. You do need to do albums, and you need to do great albums. If you want people to part with their money to come out and see you live, you have to show that you have something, so I think videos are still important and albums are still important. Obviously you have to be careful with the budget but you need to do great stuff for people to get out to see you.
It must be harder each year to plan the setlist as you want to play stuff from the new album, then there are the ones the fans love, plus some of the stuff you don’t play often to keep it interesting, so as you release more albums the choice must get harder.
It is getting harder and harder, especially with this double bill with Black Star Riders – I don’t know if we’re going to be able to play our usual two hour set – it will probably be shorter which means it’s going to be very explosive, some new songs in there plus the best of the old stuff – it could be quite good actually, but we prefer to go two houes because then we can really do the back catalogue and a mid section plus the new stuff but this is going to be more explosive I think – lot’s of energy, not many ballads. It won’t be that short but it won’t be two hours of each band I don’t think – we’d probably be thrown out of the venues if we tried that.