Surprisingly enough, Europe’s upcoming tour of Australia will be the first in the venerable band’s thirty five year-plus history. If that isn’t reason enough to catch up with the band’s famed frontman Joey Tempest I don’t know what is, but who, really, needs a reason to talk to the man who penned The Final Countdown? Not me, so here we are, conference calling away like the good professionals we are (well, one of us), and ready to talk about all things Europe.
It’s taken you a while to finally get around to us in Australia. It’s a bit of a trek, admittedly – so what are you expecting from the upcoming dates? “Well, we know we have some fans in Australia, we know that from social media; Also we had a guy working for us who grew up in Australia. He always said ‘you guys have got to go there – you’ve sold albums there, they play you on the radio, Australians are great rock fans!’. So we’ve been trying on every record, and with every management company we’ve ever had… in the eighties it fell through for some reason and as a band we don’t remember what happened. We wanted to go! We’ve been trying for years and years, and now at last we’ve found a promoter/agent, we’ve got management that really pushed for it, and the crew and band are really excited. We start rehearsing tomorrow, we’re designing a special setlist… we’re getting ready here!”
That really is good to hear! I’d like to develop the setlist theme a bit later, but first I’d like to see whether you remember your early tours with the band. “Well, we started out in Sweden, doing various small shows. Even before that we put on our own shows. We were called Force. We drove ourselves to shows in schools, places like that, rigged our own gear. This is when we were like sixteen, seventeen. A few years later we won a talent competition in Sweden; We played two songs live, In the Future to Come and The King Will Return. The jury liked it and we won the contest and recorded an album. Then we started to play what in Sweden are called Folk Parks; Venues out in the Styx, where people go in the Summer to drink and watch bands. They are like amusement parks in a way. So we started playing that circuit, that was really our beginning. We played those shows in Norway, Finland and Sweden. Then we got to do some promotion in Japan, and then it really started rolling with Wings of Tomorrow, the second album”.
Happy days! Do you get the same buzz from touring as it sounds like you did in those early years? “I still get the same buzz from playing together with my mates from my teenage years, and being on stage and meeting the fans. But the travelling and the waiting is getting a bit more tedious than before. When you’re in your twenties you don’t care where you sleep, where you go or how long you travel. But that’s the only thing that’s changed. The playing and the fans are still amazing. Every night”.
You said earlier that the band would be putting together a special setlist for this tour. Bands these days will often sell a tour on the fact that they’ll be playing a specific album in it’s entirety. Coupled with internet resources like Setlist-FM, do you think some of the excitement has been taken away from fans in the lead up to seeing their favourite bands live? “Yes, there’s a lot of discussion about that, even within our band. Some of the guys say ‘we shouldn’t say anything!’ because we grew up that way. We went to see a lot of shows together, me and John (Norum, guitars) and Ian (Leven, bass) for instance… we went to see Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Rainbow, Deep Purple when they got back together. And we never knew, apart maybe for some rumours, what track the bands would be opening or closing the set with. Nowadays people know that when a band is on tour you can guess that the band will pretty much play what it did somewhere else the week before. So yeah, it takes the edge off a bit, which is why we wanted to do something a little bit different for Australia. Bring in some new features, like a guitar feature maybe. I mean, having John Norum in Australia is an event in itself! He’s a legendary guitar player! I’m blown away still by that guy! The other guys will be featured too, the show will be over two hours long, it’s going to be a great night for everybody!”
I remember seeing the British band Dare one night at the Hippodrome in London in the late eighties or early nineties. It was a special show, and there were rumours in the pubs beforehand that you would be appearing. But nobody knew for sure. There was a real air of excitement going in to the show. “I remember that night! I think it was me and Scott Gorham wasn’t it? We did a Thin Lizzy song I think. That was cool!”
All things considered, what things have to be in place for Europe to deliver a top-notch show? “There are a few things. We are a well oiled machine now… we have a crew that we want with us, we have two lighting rigs so that we can lay back to back shows with different rigs, it’s kind of a big operation. But we tour a lot, every year, and it’s important to put on a good show. People travel a long way and pay for tickets to see us, so it’s important’.
And I guess again that setlist question is in play here too – As you say people come to see the show, they expect you to play certain songs. If you pleased everyone you’d be playing a six our set, How much bearing does fan opinion enter into the song selection? “It takes a bit of time and a lot of emailing! Tomorrow when we rehearse we’ll meet up and we’ll decide the final setlist for Australia. We discuss it a lot within the band, but there is a core number of songs that we all love playing. Then there are some songs on the fringes that maybe some guys like playing and some don’t; You just have to talk and everyone makes compromises. This tour we’ll do this song that I like and the next tour we’ll do that song that you like… We’ve all so started to change things from night to night a little bit now. We are getting a little bit better at that, more creative. We’ve got eleven albums now, and we’ve been talking about maybe getting three different sets together, but we haven’t moved far down that line yet”.
You mentioned going out as a junior rocker to see band like Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake. What about now? Do you listen to much modern music? “I’m still interested. I have two things in my life, two types of music that I like. I still love classic rock-based music, and even new bands like Rival Sons that are rooted in the old stuff. But I also listen to singer-songwriter type stuff, I’ve always loved that. Van Morrison, Neil Young, Bob Dylan – I always check that stuff out. Also Jason Isbell, Ron Sexsmith, artists like that. I have that on my headphones when I travel. But also, with the band, we still like old stuff – Zeppelin, Sabbath. But bands like Rival Sons… it means a lot to us that they came along”.
Talking of the new breed, what are the most important things a young band needs to think about these days as they head out at the start of their touring career? “Social Media is extremely important for new bands. We embraced it early. Touring is very important because of the way the industry has changed. It’s important to have a great website, to help focus people because there are so many other distractions for people today. But there is great stuff happening today. I believe in rock n’roll, I believe it’s going to last. Vinyl is selling well, the future is looking good”.
I like that phrase ‘I believe in rock n’roll’ – it’s very important to keep that belief, isn’t it? “Yes. Absolutely”.
Last question – any message for the readers of Sentinel Daily? “Oh man! We know you’re out there! We wanna meet you! Come to our show so we can share a great night together! Thanks for remembering us and let’s build for the future!”.
Europe Australian Tour Dates May 2018:
Wednesday, 16th May – Concert Hall, Perth
Friday, 18th May – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Saturday, 19th May – Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Tuesday, 22nd May – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Wednesday, 23rd May – The Tivoli, Brisbane