EUROPE – Reverence and Respect
Good things happen when the universe aligns accordingly. In the 1980’s, the third album from Swedish hard rock band Europe struck a chord worldwide – even though their first two albums (self-titled and "Wings of Tomorrow") would establish them as a formidable melodic hard rock force. "The Final Countdown" sold millions worldwide, the videos legendary and much of that album is still vital to many generations who lived for the hard rock movement in those golden arena sell out days.
Taking an 11 year break during the turbulent, alternative counter-culture 1990’s and early 2000’s, Europe’s second go around has been just as productive in terms of live performances and studio albums as their first run. Having more fun and really enjoying the moments has been an added treat, and we the collective Europe followers certainly appreciate it. This band has always been about digging deep in terms of songwriting, hitting upon the right emotional connections in their choice of vocal melodies and musical hooks.
So to say this was a childhood dream come true to interview a band that provided so many positive memories during my teenage years is the understatement of a lifetime. Calling from Sweden would be drummer Ian Haugland, and in this insightful half hour chat I hope you learn that the man’s professionalism runs deep in this conversation. And make sure you catch the band live when they come to your territory – as their catalog of timeless melodic hard rock never fails to energize.
What are your earliest memories surrounding music growing up – and what spurred you on to move from a fan to picking up an instrument and forming bands?
"I think I have a pretty clear memory of my first musical experience. It was my sister, she had a little vinyl player and she collected some of the Beatles and Rolling Stones singles back in 1970. I usually snuck into her room and would listen to those vinyl singles and what I can remember is that I loved the magic with music. There was something magical about that energy. I remember she also had an old acoustic guitar in her room that I used to pick up and listen to the music, and imagine what it would be like to be a musician. I sang along to… "She Loves You" from the Beatles.
The reason why I picked up a musical instrument and started playing for myself was definitely when I heard "Rainbow Rising" with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in 1976, and Cozy Powell playing drums on that album. He’s definitely the trigger for me to start playing drums, that’s for sure."
The new album is "War of Kings" – and it is another stellar Europe effort in terms of sturdy hooks, melodies, and overall songwriting professionalism. How do you feel the writing and recording sessions went, and what surprises or special memories stick out?
"Yes, definitely. First of all, the whole album is recorded basically live in the studio with some additional overdubs on the guitar solos and vocals. I would say 85% of the whole album is the five of us playing together in the studio. I think we managed very well to capture the live vibe of the band, that’s also exactly what we wanted to do because we always get to hear that you guys are playing so great live, and people think we sound so much better on stage than on an album. What we’ve been trying lately is to capture that live atmosphere on the records, and I think we managed it quite well on this album. We had a lot of support from Dave Cobb the producer, he’s very much working in that kind of fashion. He likes to keep the feeling of the live vibe with the group. One of the most unique things that happened in the studio is one day John Norum was playing and fiddling with his guitar, Dave Cobb just immediately grabbed onto this guitar riff and asked him what it was. It was just something he was noodling it on- so Dave suggested we grab some guitars and work on that part in the studio to develop a song from that. We went straight into the studio and wrote a song in the studio- basically as we were recording it, and that’s never happened to Europe before. This was a totally new experience for us, very fun and inspiring. Another thing that happened is as we were writing this song in the studio, I got a text message telling me that Jack Bruce had just died. So the lyrics of the song "Angels (With Broken Hearts)" came sort of from that, built from that mood once we received this sad message."
I’d like to learn a little bit more about some of my favorite tracks on the record- such as "Days of Rock ‘n’ Roll", "Rainbow Bridge", and the title cut. At this point, how does the songwriting work best – jamming out ideas in rehearsal space together or the comfort of home studios and bouncing ideas back and forth that way?
"I think historically back in the 80’s we used to work… Joey wrote most of the songs, and he was more or less making the whole song by himself in his home studio and sending out demo tapes. These days it’s very much more a group effort- let’s say that John Norum or John Levén or Joey has an idea, they prefer to send it out and let all the band members hear the initial idea so we have a chance to give our initial input at a very early stage. And then we build the songs from there. Joey will send out an idea and then Mic will add whatever he feels might be suitable and then it’s sent to John Levén to see what he thinks is right. A more group building songwriting environment these days.
About the songs… there’s a pretty interesting story about "Days of Rock ‘n’ Roll". That melody hook that is being played on the guitar, basically that was written back in 1987. It was meant to have been the follow up song to "The Final Countdown", and I know that Joey wrote that melody on a keyboard to start with, because it was supposed to be more in the fashion of that song. He never finished the song- the thought was to have this on the "Out of this World" album, so the melody idea was meant to be called "Out of this World". If you look at the album, there is no title track, and that’s the missing title track. It didn’t come together until almost 30 years later to become "Days of Rock ‘n’ Roll". "Rainbow Bridge" is a song that developed from an idea that Mic had, he put that sort of Oriental touch on the melody. The good thing with Mic is that he is a master of creating things with moods, I always keep telling him that he should get into the film business and make movie soundtracks. When he writes a song I see pictures, he’s painting with music in a different way than say John Levén or Joey does. "War of Kings" was built from a riff that John Levén had, he sent it to Joey and Joey built the chorus and the structure of the song. I also know that Dave Cobb had an idea about the riff at an early stage. He loved the song but he thought we should make the riff a little more doomy by throwing in half notes in the riff. The riff initially had more of a bluesy feel, so it became dark song. I know the lyrics are inspired by that Viking saga, The Long Ships that Joey loosely based the theme of the lyrics around that. We picked that as the title track because it sounded cool, it goes in the same fashion as "Out of this World" or "The Final Countdown". It has that certain three word rhyme that we like I guess."
Could you have imagined that this would be your fifth studio album since reuniting? What do you think has spurred on this second revival?
"The reason why we keep on doing this and feel like we are developing to break new ground is that it is so much more inspiring now than it was in the 1980’s. These days we have time to reflect on the music that we are making- in the 80’s when "The Final Countdown" came and all the madness around the machinery, we basically didn’t have time to appreciate anything of what was going on because it was so hectic. It became like a machine- we never had a chance to feel out what we were doing and basically developing without having some smart ass A+R guy from the record company telling us we should do this or that or some manager telling us the same thing. What we learned through the years when we weren’t together during the break in the 1990’s is that we have realized the chemistry is between the five of us and how rare it is to be able to get five guys together under the same roof and that magical chemistry appears. You can never re-create the chemistry within the band, it’s there or it’s not, and we are very fortunate that we have that chemistry. We have all realized that it’s worth fighting for."
Were the 1990’s a tumultuous time for the band considering your hiatus in 1992 – especially considering the changing musical tides where in many parts of the world, melodic hard rock appeared to be on the outs?
"Definitely. The reason why we went on a tall lunch break (was) because we just felt that we had been touring quite heavily for 10 years and living in the suitcase for 10 years. The music business as you said was changing rapidly to say the least with the grunge movement breaking through with Nirvana. That made us disillusioned about the industry. Not only that, the management thing fell apart, we felt like we did what we could do and we needed to get away from it to create some sort of dynamic distance from it all. It was a good thing when you look back at it, I don’t think we would be here today if it wasn’t for that break."
For many long-timers, the Sweden Rock Festival 30th anniversary Europe set that you put out as a DVD was a testament to your legacy and importance to the worldwide scene. How difficult was it to come up with such a comprehensive set list, and does this rank as one of your career highlights on stage?
"To be honest with you, the set list wasn’t a problem at all. The big problem is not make a set list that is like 4 or 5 hours long! It’s always a big dilemma when we go on tour to pick the songs that we will play. We all have our personal favorites and there is only so much time to play the show. There are a certain amount of songs that we have to play, the big hits and so forth that we are most famous for. Apart from that, we are picking each member’s favorite songs. What we tried to do was pick songs from the whole career since the show was meant to be a celebration of the 30 years that we’ve together as a band. We picked the favorite songs from the different albums- and obviously it was a magical moment to have Scott Gorham and Michael Schenker on stage. That was a big honor for us- those guys meant so much to the band when Europe was forming in the 1980’s. Thin Lizzy and UFO were two of the cornerstone bands for Europe I would say. It was surreal to sit behind the drums and look out on stage and see Scott Gorham playing. In the 1970’s I was going to Thin Lizzy shows and sitting in the audience looking up at the stage at Scott and here we are on the same stage- I must have done something right."
Your first two albums put you on the map in Europe and the Far East, while "The Final Countdown" was a blockbuster breakthrough for North America. Did you know the stage was set for a major impact with this particular set of tracks?
"No I don’t think so. With Europe it’s always just been the right songs and capturing the right inspiration that is around at the moment. We never really thought about trying to create this or that, or trying to write hit songs. This just happens in the spur of the moment depending on the inspiration we have. I think the reason why "The Final Countdown" became so big was it came at precisely the right time with the right people in the record company, the right trends in the music business, and those songs like "The Final Countdown" that have become classics, they are great songs and have taken on a life of their own. There are so many people international that know those songs without even knowing who is playing them, if you know what I mean. The songs are so significant. These factors were right at that precise time."
The keyboard riff for that title track is something Joey had back in the Force days circa 1981-82 – why did it take until the mid-1980’s to develop into the full fledge iconic cut we know today?
"The finished riff came…he borrowed a synthesizer from Mic in 1984, the days before he was even a member of the band. Mic came from the same suburb and locally was known as a keyboard wiz. It had a synth sound that triggered Joey to come up with the fanfare kind of thing. "The Final Countdown" was inspired because of the sound, and it had the melody."
Do you understand the influence you’ve made amongst musicians in the hard rock and heavy metal sector – not only in terms of musicianship but also the art of songwriting?
"Yes, it’s kind of hard to grasp that. I remember a couple of years back at the Sweden Rock Festival, I was standing by the bar and this big, bossy guy comes behind and taps me on the shoulder to ask , ‘Are you Ian Haugland?’. I’m like yeah… getting ready to get a punch. It happened to be Tomas Haake, the drummer of Meshuggah. So he came and he told me that if it wouldn’t have been for me, he saw me playing a drum solo in 1984 at a Europe concert in his hometown, and that was the trigger for him to start playing the drums. These days, Tomas Haake, he’s ten times better than me as a technical drummer, and his technical skills are out of this world. That was one of the first times that I realized that I must have influenced people in a serious way. You meet people telling those stories, always out when we are playing, and it’s really fabulous. That’s the grand prize, to know that you have inspired musicians and even more so regular people. Like meeting their love when they were listening to "Carrie" at a discotheque somewhere in the world. The connection between Europe’s music and the significant stories and happenings in their lives. It’s really moving and great."
Where do you view the differences between the recording studio and live performance for Europe at this point in your career?
"In the recording studio that’s where you have a chance to work on your skills and work on the technical aspects of playing. When you play live, it’s not so much thinking about the playing technique and it’s more about getting into the zone, the bubble or unreal world of music. I guess you can say in the studio it’s more like being an introvert, and on stage when you play live its extroverted, you send out energy rather than working on your own musical personality as you would in the studio."
What would you say is the one album in Europe’s discography that is vastly underrated that you think fans need to dig in a little deeper to understand?
"In my case, I would definitely say "Prisoners in Paradise". That is a totally underrated album, it came around the time when the big shift in the music industry happened and when grunge came we recorded the album and released it, but the record company just dropped the ball. All the bands from the 80’s couldn’t get arrested anymore. That album didn’t get the promotion it deserved, it never really had the chance to show its true face. The whole album is packed with great songs."
How does it feel to be coming over to the United States to tour in April/May for the first time in well over a decade? Are you expecting to see a new generation of Europe fans, parents bringing their children to the shows?
"I don’t really have a clue what to expect. It’s been more than a decade since we’ve been there last time. That fact is really amazing to come back to America more than 10 years after the last time, and before that would be close to 20 years. It’s a really weird journey we are on, it’s thrilling that we are coming back to America to do a few shows and to see the climate. I don’t have any expectations for what fans we will have or be meeting there, since we’ve been away so long it’s more about re-establishing Europe in the United States. I guess America is one of those countries where every other person knows about "The Final Countdown", "Rock the Night" and those songs, but they don’t know necessarily who is playing those songs. We will just go there to do our best, and hope people will remember us and appreciate what we are doing. This is the first time since the end of the 1980’s that we feel that we have a possibility of achieving something in the states again, we now have an American manager so we have the tools, the will, and the urge to do it. We have the best intentions and a lot of hopes for good things."
Are you concerned about where the future of rock music is going in general – especially when a lot of the veterans retire? Do we have enough new blood to keep the genre viable?
"Well, yes definitely. There are tons of new up and coming greats. The problem is today it’s so much harder for the new acts to establish themselves to the big audiences. I think that is the problem. The feeling I get is the music is not as important anymore as it was back in the 80’s. Back in the 80’s you had rock stars that were idols for the teenagers, today music in general is just a part of the big picture. The media outlet is so huge, so many impressions for young people to take in that nothing really becomes very important. That’s the problem for the new bands to establish- the quality and the will to succeed from a band point of view is still there and I guess will always be there. We shall see, right now we are in a very exciting time- anything can happen in the future. I realize more and more how lucky we are in Europe that we had the chance to establish the band while music still meant something for the masses.
What do you like to do in your down time as far as hobbies and interests to recharge your musical batteries so to speak?
"For me personally I don’t have any down time. I work as a radio host on a classic rock radio station here in Stockholm, that’s my sort of day time work. I play with a lot of different artists here in Sweden, sometimes I’m out deejaying. I’m basically 24/7 in the music. It’s not about having down time for me, I’m just living my life and the music is my life. The recreation I get is when I am on stage, when I sit behind my kit and people are getting enjoyment from what I’m doing in Europe or when I’m out just deejaying. It’s giving of myself is recreation enough for me."