First of all I want to congratulate you with 'Bag Of Bones'! It blew me away, because it is much heavier than I expected…
Thank you! Yes, it is a real old school thing, going back to the roots and quite heavy, like you say. Indeed, we are going back to the guitar oriented rock that we started with in the eighties. We have gone full circle. Not so much synthesized stuff anymore, you know. More guitars and less keyboards.
Sometimes it reminded me of Led Zeppelin. Surely the semi acoustic track 'Drink And A Smile' and I got a kind of 'Kashmir' feel during your single 'Not Supposed To Sing The Blues'…
Yeah you can hear some of our influences from the past in there; that it true. We grew up with them in the seventies: Led Zeppelin, UFO, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple… We wanted to have a sound a little bit like them, production-wise also, we took a little more dry sound than we had in the eighties. At that time we put echo and effects on everything. The stuff of the seventies, those are the guys we really admired and we kind of wanted to go back to that style.
You always take another producer for every record; this time you worked with Kevin Shirley. Was he very important in that process of going back to that sound?
Yeah, I think so. He is great. He has a special way of doing things. I mean, we never really had recorded live in the studio, all together at the same time like we do when we play a show. He wanted to capture that vibe, when we actually play live. So we were all standing in the same room, with headphones on and that gives a different kind of chemistry and energy to the songs. It is a little bit rougher than the previous one 'Last Look At Eden' (2009). The previous one had more fixed stuff in it, you can do with computers. You can fix pretty much everything with computers. We did it like we did before: we put down the drums first, then the bass, then the guitars. BUT usually when the drums and bass are done they leave, when the guitars are done, I leave and Joe comes in for his vocals. We did not do it like that now. This time, everybody was there from the beginning till the end. That is interesting, because everybody comes up with ideas and input. That was fun!
I think it increases the band feeling, isn't it?
Indeed, it doesn't get so stiff, because I always loved the live stuff we have done, like the unplugged things and so. Those are the records that I enjoy listening to the most. The DVDs are much better than the studio versions. This time we tried to capture that feeling. That's why we chose Kevin Shirley to do it, because we knew that's the way he works. He does not want to work in another way: you have to be in there with headphones on, even though it is very uncomfortable. Those things fall down all the time (laughs). It is not so great to stand there a couple of weeks with headphones on, but it is worth it. The result is there!
I think it was also Kevin's idea to have Joe Bonamassa on slide guitar in the title track?
Yeah, that was Kevin's idea. He mentioned that it would be nice to have an acoustic slide guitar in the beginning of that song 'Bag Of Bones'. I just said: “Don't look at me!” (laughs)
No? Why not?
I do not play acoustic slide guitar, I have never done it and probably never will, because it is not something I am interested in doing. Then Kevin said: “Joe is playing a lot of acoustic slide guitar. What do you think of bringing him in?” That sounded great, let's do it. That is how that came about.
Europe has always been great in ballads as well. The ones on 'Bag Of Bones' however, sound sensitive yet fresh…
Yeah. We are kind of famous for ballads. We always have one or two ballads on each album. It is always fine to break up the album with something slow and different. Slow and easy stuff, not just burning all the time from the beginning till the end. That gets kind of boring.
That is true, nothing more boring than a death metal record with only fast songs…
Exactly. Double bass drums all over, I can only listen to it for two minutes and then I have to turn it off (smiles).
In this respect, we have probably gone both through a whole history of music, things getting harsher and more extreme as the years passed by. Were there things or bands in other, new subgenres you got interested in?
Not really, I am more into the blues rock stuff. Hardrock that has some blues influences. I am not really into metal that much, you know. I like some metal, but I like intelligent metal (laughs). I don't like silly metal. I don't like… (thinks) – I should not put anybody down – but I am not into Iron Maiden or Saxon or people like that. To me it is just the same thing over and over again. Nothing new is happening. It is always the same three chords. The metal stuff I like is more like Black Label Society, Zakk Wylde,... this is super heavy but at the same time very clever. Furthermore there is not so much metal I listen to. Concerning newer bands… Audioslave: when their debut came out I listened to it all the time. Chris Cornell, Rage Against The Machine… that stuff… Black Country Communion is really great. That's classic hardrock stuff.
When Europe boomed with 'The Final Countdown' it was still rather unusual that a Swedish band was popular at the continent in Europe. Nowadays Scandinavia is a fertile soil for bands. What do you think of the current Swedish scene?
I don't really follow any kind of music scene, surely not based on the country they are hailing from. I just see some bands popping up here and there. I have never been interested in Swedish bands, although there are a couple of good ones. I have always turned to England and the US for my music, listening what's going on over there. I did that even when I was nine or ten years old. I never listened to any Swedish stuff. I guess, maybe it had something to do with the fact that I am not really Swedish. I was born in Norway. I am interested in Norwegian bands, like TNT. I liked them a lot.
Why did you move to the States at a certain moment in time?
That was because I got an offer to join Don Dokken's band. He called me in 1989 and asked me if I wanted to come over to the States and record an album with him, because he really liked my guitar playing. We recorded the album 'Up From The Ashes'. That was really the only reason I went over there, I was a Dokken fan before that and it was fun to change environment when you have been in Sweden all your life. It was nice to get away from the cold, dark winters in Sweden and get over to California for a while. Be down at the beach and just relax, you know (chuckles). I was supposed to be there about two or three months, but I ended up staying there for ten years. I liked it so much, I just did not want to go back to Sweden again. So I kept working with Dokken for a few years and produced a bunch of solo albums over there.
Oh yes, I remember, I still have your first two solo albums…
The second one is one of my favourites. The first one has some good ideas on it, but the production is just so bad that it is impossible to listen to it today. There is so much reverb and echo and all that crap that was going on in the eighties. But the second one 'Face The Truth', I did with Glen Hughes, was much better. But my favourite one is the last one I did, like two years ago. The production is much better than the previous ones. Much better playing in the style of the blues/hardrock style that I mentioned earlier. 'Play Yard Blues' it is called. If you don't have it, you should get it, because it is really good.
Yes indeed. In this respect talking about the title of the single 'Not Supposed To Sing The Blues'… Is that a kind of thing you hear in the US sometimes: you are from Sweden, so you do not know about the real blues vibe?
Yes it is about that actually. We are not supposed to sing the blues, you know, because we are white kids from a suburb of Stockholm and that goes for a lot of the British blues musicians as well that came out in the sixties. It is a story about that. We are not supposed to sing the blues, but we do it anyway. I think we do a pretty good job for it sometimes. As long as you can do it with feeling and be true to it, then you are able to do it. You do not have to feel like you are faking it or anything like that.
I hope you do not mind that we go back to the times of your sudden success with 'The Final Countdown' with a few questions. How did it feel to be a rocket in the charts suddenly?
Well… it was fun. I was very happy when 'The Final Countdown' was number one in twenty five countries or whatever it was. The problem I had was that there were a lot of problems with the management. They were just kind of ripping us off with a lot of money. They were not paying us properly and also the whole image thing was just dreadful. I hated putting on those spandex pants every night (laughs). We started out, on the first two albums, to be a real rock band and suddenly we were those teenyboppers, like Bay City Rollers and David Cassidy in the seventies. Don't get me wrong, I think David Cassidy is really good, but we suddenly became this bubblegum band and I did not want to be part of that. So I said: I am off.
John Norum left Europe at November 1st 1986, same year of the release of 'The Final Countdown'.
Did it finally turned out okay with the managers? Did you manage to get any money from them?
No, we don't. Not really.
That's a shame. So, it was not like coming home from a tour and you could buy your first Mercedes Benz?
No, actually I bought my first Mercedes Benz when I did my first solo album.
Eh, it was actually a Mercedes Benz? I just mentioned that by coincidence…
Yes it was. Strange that you mentioned that! (laughs) What a coincidence! As soon as I went solo, I could make good money, because I did not have a manager anymore to rip me off and I got a big advance from the record company to make my first solo album. And I did not have to split it five ways anymore hehe. I just got it in my own pocket, which was good. We got ripped off totally on that album and the rest was just gone with taxes and all kinds of stuff. But I left right before all that craziness started to happen. The other guys had a lot of problems a couple of years later. So I left at the right time (smiles). It was the best thing I have ever done, because otherwise I could not have done what I have done until today, like going to the US, live in California, etc. If I'd stay with the band I would not have taken such drastic decisions. I look at it as follows: without it my son would not have been born. When I came to America, I met my wife. She was actually at the Don Dokken barbeque party. We fell in love and got married. Looking back at everything my son would not have existed when I had not left Europe, the band and the continent.
John got married to Michelle Meldrum, founder woman and guitarist of Phantom Blue. They got a son in 2004. Unfortunately Michelle died in 2008 due to a cystic growth in her brain. Now John is married to Camilla Wahlander and she just gave birth to a son in April 2012.
When you came back with Europe, reunion in 2003 and comeback album 'Start From The Dark' in 2004 with a rawer sound, you were finally accepted in the UK. Can you tell a bit more about that?
Yeah, the proper breakthrough happened when we released 'Last Look At Eden' a couple of years ago. (2009) That one was really a huge success in the UK. We went over there and started touring like crazy. I think we have been there for four or five tours now. We are doing great over there, which is amazing, since England is one of the main rock 'n' roll countries in the world, as everybody knows. All the bands that I grew up listening to came from England or the US. It is fun when it finally happened in the UK, when you have some success. They really liked 'Last Look At Eden' and it looks like this one is going to do well too. It is not out yet, but talking to journalists, it seems that they like it really well.
That's good news, since I see that there is already a next UK tour in the planning for November…
Yes, we are going back. We just keep on touring and doing what we do best. As long as it is fun, we are going to keep on doing it.
And I think this new material will kick ass in a live situation…
I think so too. Now we really have some great songs to choose from, from the last albums we have done since the reunion. The more albums we make, the easier it is to put together an amazing set list. Some people think it is harder to make a set list with so many albums, but I don't. I think it is the other way around. You have more material to choose from, that's a pro. It is always fun when we have a new album out and finally can play some new material.
I would like to mention the artwork as well, because for instance the typewriter only has the letters from the title. Pretty funny!
Yes, I like those kinds of artworks where you do not see everything right away. You have to look around and go deeper into the stuff to discover different things. It is quite interesting. It gives something to think of instead of a picture from the guys.
Important to mention for our readers: you will play in June at Graspop in Dessel. It is the first time you will play on that Belgian festival. Welcome!
That's amazing! That is really cool! I am looking forward to it. I have never been there, but I have seen live footage from that festival and that seems to be a legendary festival, taking place since the beginning of time (laughs). I have seen some footage on YouTube from Michael Schenker Group and Gary Moore and a bunch of people that I admire. We always love to come over to Belgium. You guys have great beers, we always enjoy that.
Europe will play festivals in Summer, A UK tour and European tour in the fall, rounding off with Scandinavia until Christmas. Next year they go to Asia and other parts of the world. There will be pretty much touring in support of this excellent 'Bag Of Bones'. See you on the road!