I think ‘The Final Countdown’ was number one in 27 countries at the same time.”
John Levén: Hello?
Wikimetal (Nando Machado): Hello, John?
JL: Hello, this is John.
W (NM): Hello, John. How are you? This is Nando, from Brazil. How are you?
JL: Hello, Nando. I’m very good, how are you?
W (NM): Yeah, thank you so much for your time, it’s a real pleasure to be talking to you, we look forward to the Europe concert in São Paulo in September. So welcome to Wikimetal.
JL: Thank you very much.
W (NM): So John, is it fair to say that you were probably the main responsible for having Joey Tempest write “The Final Countdown”?
JL: Well, you could say that. He wrote only the intro for that song, for the opening of a disco in Stockholm, and we were there that night and I thought “This is great stuff, you should write the whole song”, and he said “Well, maybe I should.” And he did.
W (NM): And it became a very, very big hit in the whole world, right?
JL: I think it was number one in 27 countries at the same time.
W (NM): Well, that’s a great achievement. So let me ask you, how do you see the hard rock and heavy metal scene in Sweden today compared to the early 80s?
JL: In the early 80s there wasn’t much happening. There were some bands playing around locally around Stockholm and in Gothenburg, but no one that really had any success. Then we came along and after that you had the whole Gothenburg movement, and all the real death metal stuff coming out, and I think they blew everyone away in America.
W (NM): Yeah, and today the scene in Sweden is very strong, right?
JL: Yeah, we have many good bands from Sweden, we have Opeth, In Flames… I can’t really think of anymore than that, but there’s a lot of good bands coming out of Sweden.
W (NM): Excellent. So how about the whole music scene, in general? Like the pop music, the whole scene in Sweden today. Europe is probably one of the biggest artists that ever came from Sweden, how do you see the music scene in Sweden today?
JL: I think Sweden is coming out also with songwriters. There are a lot of Swedish song writers writing for other artists, American artists like Britney Spears and all that kind of stuff. Céline Dion, everything. And the pop scene, I’m not really into the pop scene, but I know there’s a lot of Swedish music coming out of Sweden, so I think that’s really great.
I don’t think it was mainly the Grunge that swept the rock scene away, and I also think that Grunge, that’s hard rock as well.”
W (NM): So talking about the late 80s, when – you know, they call it hair metal now – but at the time, of course you remember, it wasn’t called hair metal at all, it was called hard rock, or rock’ N roll or whatever, right?
JL: Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, yeah. I hate that term hair metal.
W (NM): Yeah, I know, so do I. So what do you think it was like, was it a mistake of those bands at the time that it lost its popularity so quickly? Because, I mean, in the 80s, hard rock was very, very popular, and some people blame it on the grunge appearing, but I don’t think it was only the grunge. Do you think it was a mistake of the bands, that could have done something differently to remain popular after the late 80s, early 90s?
JL: Yes. Yes, I totally agree, I don’t think it was mainly the grunge that swept the rock scene away, and I also think that grunge, that’s hard rock as well. But I think that the bands from the 80s, the mistake that they probably did – us included – was that we were taking it… There was so much money put into this, from the record companies and everything, and everybody was on tour, for example, for concerts, everybody was doing too big productions and there was too much money into it, making it a little bit too mainstream or too perfect, maybe.
W (NM): Yeah, this is a great explanation. Changing the subject, John, we have a classic question on our show, one that we ask every single person we interview: imagine yourself listening to music in a random way, and then a song comes up that you just lose control and you want to head band and bang your head against the wall. Which song would that be so we can listen to it on our show right now?
JL: Oh, that would be some old stuff, like “Highway Star”, by Deep Purple, or something by AC/DC from the “Back in Black” album, Led Zeppelin…
W (NM): Yeah, do you want to choose one song that represents that feeling?
JL: “Whole Lotta Love”, Led Zeppelin.
W (NM): So, tell us a little bit about the work you did you Mr. Glenn Hughes, how is it like to play bass for one of the best bass players ever?
JL: Yeah, that was totally a great honor to be playing the bass for him. I don’t really know why I was the bass player, he should have played the bass himself. But at the time, he had just recovered from a lot of drug abuse and stuff like that, so I don’t think that he was a great bass player at the time. He’s back now playing the bass as great as he ever did, but at the time I don’t think he had the… He probably hadn’t practiced bass for a long time.
W (NM): You probably had… Europe has always had a close relationship with ex Deep Purple members, am I right? Do you have a relationship with, like, Whitesnake, Deep Purple? You toured together many times, right?
JL: We did quite a few shows and festivals together with Whitesnake, and we always hang out with those guys, Reb Beach and Doug Aldrich, the guitar player, and Joey usually talks to David Coverdale… We’ve been talking about touring together, but it hasn’t really come together yet. But there’s still a chance.
During the 80s everybody was doing too big productions and there was too much money into it, making it a little bit too mainstream or too perfect.”
W (NM): That’s great. So changing the subject, John, can you tell us a little bit about how the Europe reunion happened in 2003 and who were the main responsible for it?
JL: We had always… When we put the band on ice in 92, we always said that we were going to get back together again sooner or later, and it took 12 years, but the first thing that happened, was actually that we did a big show at the millennium new year’s eve of 2000, in Stockholm, and we got the band together, and after that we said “let’s do it”, you know. And it took another three years to get everything together.
W (NM): And changing the subject again, what do you think was the importance of producer Kevin Elson for your career?
JL: Oh, he was great for producing “The Final Countdown”, but I think that Kevin Shirley, the producer of the new album, “Bag of Bones”, was equally as important, because I think that the “Bag of Bones” album is the greatest album we’ve ever done.
W (NM): Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. Talking about Kevin Shirley, since you mentioned him, the Caveman, what was it like to have the chance to work with one of the greatest rock producers, right? He worked with Led Zeppelin, with so many legends, what was it like to hear his stories and stuff like that?
JL: Yeah, he has some funny stories about working with Jimmy Page and working with the Aerosmith guys, and all that kind of stuff that he’s been doing, but most importantly, he’s was very… We wanted to do a real rock album, and we wanted to record everything live in the studio, like bands used to do in the 70s, instead of making too many over jobs and recording the drums separately, and then the bass, and then the guitar… We wanted to capture Europe pretty much as the way we sound when we play live, and to be able to do that you have to record us live in the studio situation. That’s the way he usually works, so he was the perfect producer to produce this album, because it turned out really great.
W (NM): Yeah, I quite like the direction you guys took after the reunion, and especially on “Bag of Bones”, so do you think that Kevin Shirley was the main responsible for it, or were you guys probably feeling like doing a more organic, or harder rock, or even raw kind of music? Do you agree?
JL: Yeah, I agree. We wanted to go back to, pretty much the roots where we come from and the kind of music we grew up listening to, like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, all that kind of stuff. And just be able to do something that we really, really love. And I think that Kevin Shirley was the perfect producer, but we knew that before, because we’d investigated and we talked and we had a meeting with him, we found out… We asked him “How do you produce an album? How do you work in the studio?” So we knew that he was going to be the right guy. And it turned out really good.
W (NM): Excellent. I love that album, actually, congratulations. What can the Brazilian fans expect from the show on the 23rd? Will it be like the last one you did? Because it was great, it was the first time you came to Brazil last time, so what is it going to be like this time?
JL: It’s going to be different in a way, we are going to play a lot more songs from the “Bag of Bones” album. We’ve been to festivals now during the summer, and we’ve been doing like four songs from “Bag of Bones”. We might do even more, when we start doing our own tour. We’ve even been talking about maybe doing all the songs from “Bag of Bones”, and then just adding some of the songs that you have to play, like “The Final Countdown” and stuff like that.
W (NM): The big hits, right?
JL: Yeah, the big hits.
W (NM): So how is the process that you guys have before the shows, to choose the songs that you are going to play?
JL: It’s something that we decide when we start rehearsing. And we’re definitely going to rehearse for a different kind of show than we do during festivals. And we’re going to do a period of rehearsing before we get to South America, and then we’re going to find out, we’re going to try out, we’re going to discuss, back and forth… But we have actually been talking about maybe doing the whole album “Bag of Bones”. But we will see.
W (NM): Excellent, so a lot of new songs on this show anyway.
JL: There’s going to be a lot of new songs, yeah.
W (NM): So can you choose now a song from Europe that you’re really, really proud of so we can listen to it on our show?
JL: I would say… The next single is going to be “Firebox”, from “Bag of Bones”… Yeah, “Firebox” on Wikimetal!
W (NM): We’re almost reaching the end of our interview, what would you say to a young kid that is thinking about starting to play an instrument and putting together a rock band?
JL: Practice really hard and never lose faith. Keep doing it, and be very strong and passionate about what you’re doing.
W (NM): I would, firstly, like to thank you so much for your time, we invite every single listener of Wikimetal to go to your show in São Paulo at A Seringueira on the 23rd of September. We will be there for sure, no way we can miss it. So before we finish, can you salute our listeners with something in Swedish?
JL: In Swedish? Nobody’s going to understand, but OK. (Phrase in Swedish)
W (NM): Excellent. So can you invite everybody to the show?
JL: Yeah, in English, right?
W (NM): Yeah. Sure, sure.
JL: Hey, every listener of Wikimetal, I really look forward to come back to São Paulo again and rock your ass off! Really looking forward to see you all. So come and see us, we’re going to have a great time!
W (NM): That’s really, really great, thank you so much for your time, and we look forward to the show.
JL: Yeah, me too.
W (NM): Thank you so much. Goodbye. Bye bye.
JL: Thank you very much. Bye bye.
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