DATE OF INTERVIEW:
13th April 2012
METAL DISCOVERY: First off, I have to say, a great new album. It has more straightforward classic rock arrangements with a generally bluesier feel than ‘Last Look at Eden’ – did that evolve naturally through the writing process or did you set out to compose more in that style?
JOHN: We started discussing before we started making this album, we wanted to explore more of the roots of this band and the stuff that we grew up listening to like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and stuff like that. It came natural to write and record this kind of stuff.
(John Levén on forthcoming new album 'Bag of Bones')
"...we wanted to explore more of the roots of this band and the stuff that we grew up listening to like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple...It came natural to write and record this kind of stuff."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official Europe website:
Official Europe Facebook:
Thanks to Peter Noble for arranging the interview
Nearly three years have passed since seminal Scandinavian rockers Europe both surprised and delighted established fans and newcomers with the astoundingly magnificent 'Last Look at Eden'. Amplifying the hints of blues that featured in certain tracks on said release and switching to full-on retro mode, the Swedes' forthcoming new album, 'Bag of Bones', is chock-full of classic rock motifs driven by a sonically raw impetus. Bassist John Levén spoke to Metal Discovery about the new album ahead of its release which, apparently, despite its title and cover art, has absolutely nothing to do with the Stephen King novel of the same name...
Europe - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2012 Fredrik Etoall
MD: There’s a great raw, rock ‘n’ roll energy driving the new music, even in the mid-tempo tracks and it sounds like songs were written with the live performance in mind. Is that the case when you were composing?
JOHN: Yeah and, also, the fact we did actually record in the studio in a live situation. We did record the whole band in one room at the same time and cut the songs live. That’s what bands used to do in the seventies and that’s part of the reason we picked Kevin Shirley to produce because that’s the way he used to produce his albums.
MD: Of course, yeah, the good old fashioned way. So do you plan for there to be a heavy bias of new material in your live sets later this year?
JOHN: We’re doing festivals this summer and I think we’re not gonna do more than three or four new songs, and then wait a little bit for the album to settle in for people...after the summer we’ll probably do more from the album.
MD: Joey’s been quoted as saying ‘Last Look at Eden’ “was a significant turning point for the band” so did you feel any kind of pressure in trying to better what you’d achieved with that album?
JOHN: No, I don’t think we put any pressure on ourselves other than we just want to make an album that we are really proud of and that we feel good about ourselves. We put the pressure on ourselves to make as good an album as we can at the moment when we’re doing an album. We don’t really think what people are gonna say. We try to please ourselves to start with and if we don’t please ourselves we’re not gonna please anybody else.
MD: Joey told me three years ago in an interview that you always take a couple of reference CDs along to the studio – last time he said it was Audioslave’s first album and Black Stone Cherry’s second. Did you have a couple of reference CDs this time that you took in?
JOHN: No, not really. I know we have been listening a lot to Audioslave, all of us, because we think the first album and the second one are really, really fantastic albums. We really like the raw sound of them and it sounded, also, like they had recorded the albums live…there’s a fresh feel to them. But, this time, we had Kevin Shirley as producer and having heard so much of the stuff that he’s done before we knew that we don’t have to bring in reference CDs to tell him that this is the kind of sound that we like. We knew we could trust Kevin to make the best sounding album that we were able to do.
MD: So did he bring everything to your sound you hoped he would bring?
JOHN: Oh yes, he turned out to be the perfect producer for this one.
MD: I know you’ve changed producers quite a bit but is Kevin someone you’d want to work with again?
JOHN: Yeah. If you ask me, I would say I really hope to work with Kevin again, yeah, absolutely.
MD: There’s been a single out already, ahead of the album’s release, ‘Not Supposed to Sing the Blues’. Was that a label or band choice to release that particular song?
JOHN: A band choice.
MD: And why did you decide on that particular track?
JOHN: I think that it’s a really representative song for the album. It’s probably one of the songs that…a lot of the songs on the album probably take a few listens but this one is a more immediate one I think.
MD: I have to say that track five on the album seems a bit random, the short orchestral piece, ‘Requiem’. How did that work its way onto the final track list?
JOHN: Yeah, er, that was an accident actually! [laughs] We were about to cut one of the tracks, I think it was ‘My Woman My Friend’, and we were just waiting around for some technical stuff to get straightened out, and Mic started playing something. Kevin just went, “Mic, that’s great, I love that, I recorded that, that’s a keeper!” Then we added an orchestral arrangement on it. It wasn’t really anything that was written before…it was a random thing.
MD: So completely random then!
JOHN: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: You’ve got Joe Bonamassa on there, of course, playing slide guitar on the title track – how did that come about?
JOHN: We’d met Joe Bonamassa a few times. I met him when I went to see him when he played in Stockholm a few years ago. John Norum had been doing a guest appearance with him in Gothenburg a few years ago. And, also, last summer we played in Stockholm and Black Country Communion played the night before and they had a day off, they were still in town, so we said, “why don’t you come up and do a guest appearance?” So he came up, played with us, and also, of course, Kevin Shirley has produced many of his albums so it was kind of easy to arrange and he had some time when Kevin was mixing the album so Kevin asked him to come down and do some slide stuff.
MD: So Joe’s a big fan of Europe?
JOHN: You would have to ask him that! [laughs] I hope so!
MD: Judging by the album artwork, I presume ‘Bag of Bones’ is a reference to the Stephen King novel of the same name?
JOHN: We hadn’t heard about the Stephen King novel so it’s a coincidence, totally. We found the guy who did the artwork for the record sleeve, he’d done the artwork for another Swedish band, Graveyard. We thought that cover was really nice so we approached him and asked if he wanted to work on this sleeve and it turned out fantastic. It does have a Stephen King feel to it.
MD: I’ve not read the novel but I know it’s about…
JOHN: …it’s about an author.
MD: Yeah, an author with writer’s block and the cover to your album looks like an author in despair.
JOHN: It’s really strange because it’s a total coincidence!
MD: After the mild controversy caused by the ‘Last Look at Eden’ artwork with what many people described as resembling a vagina in a spiked apple, were you not tempted to go for something similar again to raise a few more eyebrows and get a lot more attention?!
JOHN: [laughs] Yeah, that was really funny when that happened because, when I saw the cover, I didn’t see that but maybe my mind is not dirty enough! But it was really funny to read all the comments about that one. We’re still working with the guy who did that one but we felt we wanted to try a different kind of approach.
MD: Joey mentioned in a recent interview in Classic Rock magazine that you’ve been considering dropping all the older material from your live shows to solely play post-reunion tracks, but he said you’re not ready to do that just yet. When do you think the time would be right and what kind of reactions would you anticipate by doing that?
JOHN: I don’t think we’re ever going to do that. He must’ve been joking around actually! I don’t think we’re ever gonna be able to drop out a song like ‘The Final Countdown’. Usually, we end the show with ‘The Final Countdown’…I think if we didn’t end the show with ‘The Final Countdown’, I don’t think people would leave!
MD: You’d be lynched; they’d be waiting for you afterwards!
JOHN: Absolutely, they wouldn’t let us leave the venue! There’s probably some other track that we might drop out though.
MD: At least once a week on TV or the radio, I hear ‘The Final Countdown’ used to advertise a TV programme, in a commercial ad or whatever – I guess that doesn’t help the general masses from associating Europe with that one song so do you see it as both a burden and a blessing all these years on?
JOHN: It’s both a burden and a blessing. Who wouldn’t want to have a big hit song like that? If anybody tells you that they don’t, they would be lying. Then again, it’s a curse because we’re always gonna be ‘The Final Countdown’ band for many people.
MD: So are you ever worried that the fame of the song might outlive the fame of the band?
JOHN: Yes, sort of. It’s a shame because we have done so much other stuff that is, I would say, better.
MD: You’ve been confirmed for the Download festival this summer over here in the UK and it’ll be your first time performing at the legendary Donington site?
JOHN: That’s gonna be fantastic, yeah.
MD: Has that always been an aim of the band to perform there?
JOHN: Yeah, absolutely, we’ve always wanted to play Donington so it’s gonna be great.
MD: So why do you think that back in the day of the Monsters of Rock festivals at Donington that Europe always seemed to be overlooked?
JOHN: We did Milton Keynes with Bon Jovi but that’s the only Monsters of Rock thing we did. I haven’t really thought about it but when you mention it…
MD: At least you're making amends this summer, in June.
JOHN: Yeah, absolutely!
MD: The final thing I wanted to ask is how satisfied are you with where Europe are at right now and do you have general world domination plans for the future?!
JOHN: World domination might be hard! [laughs] I really think we’re in a good place right now with Europe. I’m really, really happy with this album and really excited to have this album coming out now. I’m really happy with the way it turned out and I think it’s a fine piece of classic rock.
MD: Definitely, it’s really, really good. Okay, thank you so much for your time.
JOHN: Alright, thank you!
The Final Countdown (1986)
Out of This World (1988)
Wings of Tomorrow (1984)
Prisoners in Paradise (1991)
Europe 1982-1992 (1993)
Rock The Night (2004)
Start from the Dark (2004)
Europe 1982-2000 (1999)
Secret Society (2006)
Last Look at Eden (2009)
Bag of Bones (2012)