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Europe (John Leven)

There is this one question that every rocker can answer instantly: "Which band did influence you most and turned you into a metalhead?". Well most folks my age refer to bands like AC/DC or Motörhead, but those were surely not my kind off bands. Mine was Europe. Our chief editor knows this of course so you might understand that I was as happy as I could be when I heard I was about to drink a cup of coffee with the band. I relived my musical childhood, a beautiful and sometimes emotional happening. The fun was that John Leven was just as excited because his childhood heroes UFO was playing tonight just before Europe on the mainstage in Leeuwarden during the Cityrock festival.

By: William Pezy | Archive under hardrock / aor

band imageWhen I was a twelve year old boy, my brother introduced me into the song ‘The Final Countdown’ which he recorded from a German radio station. From that moment on I entered the world of rock and metal. How do you look back to 1986 when ‘The Final Countdown’ changed your life?
You were half my age back then. Look at us now. Holland was one of the first countries were the album took off. Because they started playing the song on the radio. From that point on Belgium also started to play the song and many other countries followed. The first time I heard ‘The Final Countdown’ on the radio was in a taxi in Amsterdam. Because in Sweden rock or metal was hard to listen to on the radio. In Stockholm there were two radio stations that played rock and metal. They were called Bandit Rock and Classic rock. The latter is quite obvious and Bandit Rock played newer stuff. If a song had a heavy guitar part it would not be played on the radio because when people drive to work in the morning they get scared, haha. However the good part in it is that because nowadays airplay is so hard bands do not focus anymore on trying to have a hit single. They record what they love.

You might be glad that in the eighties it was a normal situation, for ‘The Final Countdown’ was not an average Europe song in those days in my opinion.
Well…that is true.

What bands/artists did you guys grew up with that one way or the other had a undeniable influence on your musical development?
The obvious bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, UFO, Rainbow, Rush. It started when I was very young. People listened to bands like Sweet and Slade. But then I was not really that much into music. The first song that knocked me out was a Led Zeppelin song.

You started playing guitar instead of bass, am I right?
Yeah, my grandmother gave me a guitar when I was thirteen and day in, day out I tried to play the guitar by listening to my Led Zeppelin LP’s. I had the vinyl in these days and had to pick up the needle and put it back to listen to the parts again over and over again. It is so nice that vinyl is coming back. It sounds so great, is Spotify also this big in Holland? It sounds awful! I listened to our new single ‘Walk The Earth’ on Spotify. It definitely is not the sound we intended it to have. It sounds so much different on an actual stereo from a CD.

The current president of the US, Trump, used your music during his campaign. How do respond to that?
There is nothing we could do about it. It is a very difficult legal problem to stop such a thing. I think it strange to use someone else’s product for you own benefit, especially without asking the artist if he is ok with it.

What is your opinion about global issues like politics and the environmental issues?
It does not look really good, does it? The difficult war in Syria, North Korea, climate. It is awful. But if you look back in history, there have always been weird problems. However, nowadays the problems become more complex and more stupid. He, we are all people we should be above all of this and sort our shit out.

Looking back on your career, what is the weirdest memory?
Ooh, there are so many memories. However there is one that stands out that seemed like a curse we put on ourselves. We were going to play the Download Festival in England. And were talking with each other and said: ‘shall we pull a prank and not play ‘The Final Countdown’?’ Well that was not smart! We stood on the airport of Stockholm and waited for the plain because it was delayed due to bad weather. When we finally arrived in England we were caught in traffic jams. All that good go wrong, went wrong so we came at the festival at the same time we should have ended our set list. So we said: never not play ‘The Final Countdown’ anymore. Another nice one was that before our comeback we played on a festival in Sweden on New Year’s Eve during the millennium. It was 25 degrees below zero. Luckily we only had to play two songs and not difficult ones. It was so cold, incredible. I do not know how I managed, but we made it.

Back to recent history, you recorded the new album in the Abbey Road studios. Talking about a place where a lot of history was written?
It is amazing, it has such a great atmosphere. When you think about all the artist that have been there. You name them: Queen, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles. We were so lucky that an engineer and our producer are vintage freaks. We went in to studio 3 and they told us to check out the basement because it is packed with all equipment that has been used there over the years. So five guys came out with them mixing console The Beatles used when they did the concert on the roof of the studios. Five guys, carrying the portable system. Incredible. So we brought all great vintage stuff into the studio and this high tech desk that we were about to use for recording remained untouched. Nothing came through this huge modern desk. So we just used the sixties and seventies material. We discussed for hours what the reason might be that this older stuff sounds so good. Is it because off the material? Are there materials used that are not allowed to use anymore because of the environment? We do not know. You see this happening more and more. The products that come out of these experiments sound more organic.

You have recorded the album again in just a few weeks and have recorded most live as a complete band. Just a few percent of the bands use this method, why does it work so good for Europe?
You want to capture that feeling you have when you start playing a new song. When it is really new for all members then what happens is that we are all so excited about it. That is exactly what you want to capture. If you have played a song for over a hundred times and then need to record it, it gets boring. When we go into the studio we only have raw material and ideas. We do a lot of changing of the material while recording. Our producer is very good in accompanying us in this process to come to a good song but also feel the vibe. What we have recorded is what comes from the heart instead of the mind. It is actually the third album we record this way. And we love it because it works so good for us. It makes us really proud of our achievements.

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I received the new album just yesterday, and the song ‘Pictures’ stands out because it starts with music playing backwards and a lot of influences from artists like David Bowie and The Beatles. What inspired you to write a song like this?
We were jamming and writing songs in Stockholm and realised we did not have a good ballad yet. John Norum is working on a solo album and he came down to rehearse with us and said ‘You have to listen to this, I recorded a cover of a David Bowie song’ It sounded really good and the next day Joey came down and said that he got very inspired by it and told us he wrote a song with a Bowie feel years ago but never shared it with us. So we wanted to hear the song. We liked the idea and started working on the song. It turned out to be one of my favourites and just like you mentioned: Joey pulls it off which is difficult because just like Freddy Mercury, David Bowie has a distinctive voice. And it is a different kind of ballad. It has more depth, it is not just another eighties ballad like ‘Carry’ was or so many of the ballads from those days.

What things did you inspire in writing this album, take songs like ‘Election Day’, ‘Wolves’, ‘Kingdom United’?
To be honest, I do not know all records but we talked about a lot of them. Take Election Day, it is about the political situation around the world. What is happening with democracy? There are too many idiots you can elect.

Back to '86 now. How do you look back at the ‘The Final Countdown’ and all that happened when it was released?
It is incredible how things have changed. You know it all started with Joey having this disco theme. He actually used it for the opening of a disco. I loved this theme and had to convince him to write the whole song. Which we did. We thought it would be a nice addition to our third album but the record company took off with it saying this was going to be our first single. We disagreed, it is a Europe song, but not the song we wanted to have as a first single. It was too different from the rest of the songs. It was not representing Europe as we saw the band. But in those these record companies were huge and we were young. Everybody was telling us that we should be doing what they told us to do. Of course it did bring us to selling 25 million records but I still wonder where my money is (he smiles, WP). If you compare it to the situation know, as you see we are here with our tour manager and taking care of things mostly ourselves. In the eighties, it would be packed with people from the records company taking us out to the most expensive restaurants and so on. And this would happen every day. Something else is that the record company at that moment had a small rock department and a huge pop department. So when the song became a hit, they moved us to the pop department. So our marketing was done by people who did the marketing for Madonna and such. So we flew all over the world and had to do playback performances in shows we hated. We really hated the way it went, but we simply had to do it. Everybody had an opinion and we had to put up with it. However, we are lucky because we are established and this helps us make a living out of it. For the new bands it is extremely hard nowadays.

However, it is so much easier to record an album nowadays
Well yeah, that is true. But these are nice productions but not great productions. It is a lot better than the demo tapes from the eighties but they are by far not of the quality you get from a good studio. That costs a lot of money, we all have a sort of studio at home. Mainly it is regular equipment combined with a good laptop. If you go to the Abbey Studio’s, you better bring a big wallet. But the results are priceless. But I agree with you instantly, it is better to hear good songs from a simple home demo studio than bad songs coming from a well-equipped studio. For new bands it is so different, the major labels are not the ones with huge budgets anymore. A lot of them just do distribution deals or license albums.

Who is still on you wish list to play with in the future?
Then you would be able to wake up some dead guys like John Bonham, Cozy Powel and Chris Cornell. Chris was and still is one of my favourite singers. So sad all these guys passed away. We also go on tour with Deep Purple. We will not play with them, but be on the same tour. That is also nice. It might be their last tour because they are becoming really old for being on stage. But he you never know. The Scorpions said eight years ago that they started their last tour and are still hitting the stage. If it were possible I would love to create some great hard rock with John Bonham. His drumming was my cup of tea.

You mentioned Deep Purple, it is not the first band that came in mind to hook up to go on tour.
I can imagine, however we played before together and had a great time. We also played ‘Smoke On The Water’ together. We get along great and for us it is a great bill. Large audiences to warm up for a band we love. And it might bring us some new fans. Deep Purple is for all of us a band we grew up with. Take for example this evening, UFO is playing before us. We adored UFO as kids. Isn’t that great?

You guys tour a lot, how do make sure not to kick each other's brains out?
We do that a lot! No, that is not true. We play together for decades now, we started when we were sixteen, seventeen. It has happened off course, but you simply need to find a balance how to deal with each other. You need to respect the differences and cope with it. We have matured enough to find the ways to have a nice time on the road, and luckily we get along very well. And when we get home, we might not see each other for a few weeks. But we are very happy nowadays. We are our own record label, we record albums and do tours and that is just great. We are totally in control and have everything in our own hands, which is amazing.

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