Ian was sat in his kitchen in Sweden with a cup of coffee, enjoying the day when I caught up with him to ask him some questions ahead of the Europe tour and the forthcoming Belfast Date.
Are you looking forward to playing Belfast early next week?
Absolutely, its going to be great fun. I remember we have played there although I cannot exactly remember the year. We have played the same venue as Gary Moore played in the mid 80’s and I believe he recorded a live video there. The funny story about that is John Norum, the guitar player from Europe, somewhere along the way got to buy that actual guitar that Gary Moore had on that video shoot and so when we played that show in Belfast, John Norum bought back the same guitar to that venue as a homecoming. I also think we played “The Loner” as a tribute to Gary Moore. We are really looking forward to playing there again.
I am sure everyone is massively looking forward to seeing you as well. It has been a massive tour for you, how do you cope with all of that time away and being on the road so much?
I think these days it is actually easier than it used to be in the 80’s. In the 80’s it was so hectic and we didn’t have control over the situation as it was always record companies or management or someone else making the decisions. These days we decide the length of the tour and we have found a way to balance that in order not to be away too long. Sometimes we bring our families out on tour and so we get to hang out if we are away for longer periods of time. In general, it is easier as we are in total control of the situation and we enjoy it a lot more. In the 80’s things were so fast and hectic that we never really had time to reflect on anything. These days it is like being on a vacation.
Does it put more pressure on you being in control and having to do everything or is it freeing?
In a way it can be more pressure because you are always responsible for the outcome of your decisions but at the same time if something fucks up, you can’t blame it on anybody else, you can say we’re sorry that this has fucked up but it was our decision. It is more liberating than putting pressure on.
Is it like being on vacation when the families come along?
As my kids are grown up and I am remarried so it is just me and my wife, which is never a problem. John Leven, Joey and John Norum all have pretty small kids and so for them it becomes double work, they are the rock star and the dad. I don’t envy them, I have been there and done that.
At least you and your wife can go out and get out of the way
Oh yeah, we are looking forward so much to this tour because on days off we are going out and will check on old, historic buildings and everything like that. It is great.
Is that what you enjoy, looking at architecture?
Yes, my wife has bought a lot of new interest into my life. She likes historic buildings and Viking stories, stuff that I was interested in but I never, for some reason, did any study on it. Then my wife came along and she knows everything and so she tells me and I say “Oh, I always wondered about that”, we are having great fun when we are out hiking around.
Do you do anything special to get yourself in the zone before going on stage, any rituals or anything?
I think that each of us have some small rituals but we are all so used to them that we don’t see them! I basically just do stretching and warming up, I take it easy and try not to think too much about the show. Some shows are a little more tense, like playing your home town, there can be special gigs and you can get, I wouldn’t say nervous, but you can get a little stoked. I usually try and take it easy. I am confident in my stage persona and in the zone. I think it is pretty cool. The other guys are the same, we don’t have rituals that we do together like chanting or whatever. We’re pretty normal, I guess.
What is it like to be in Europe, a band that has been going forever and everyone from all music backgrounds knows you, how do you deal with that?
For me, it has never been a problem really. I treated people for what they are, they are people like myself. I am very normal around authority. I remember for some reason I ended up in the same area as the King, the King of Sweden! You know how it is they usually have security guards and it is basically impossible to get near them, but there he was, standing 2 metres away from me. He was standing in front of me and so didn’t see me properly, I thought to myself “Shit, this is a bizarre situation, this will never happen again, I will never be able to be this close to the King.” So I just went up to him, from behind, and I took my hand and I slapped him on the back and I said “Hey King, how you doing man?” really casually. He was standing there, smoking his cigarette, which he almost swallowed with surprise! He said “oh well yes, everything is good” he must have been in shock. It was probably the first and the last time in his life when he was called “Hey King, how you doin’ man?”
Lots of giggles
But that is the way I look at people and treat people, that is the way I want to be treated. I believe that people want to be treated the same way.
You have all been together for a number of years now, do you all get on?
Yes, I think so, its not like we invite each other over for dinner. We have a very strong bond from way back, John Leven, Joey, John Norum and Mic all went to the same school and although they played with different bands it was always the same circuit of people around them. John Norum showed Joey the first chord on the guitar and helped him with song writing and so we have very solid foundations that we walk on together. We have a great respect for each other and we fight seldomly. We talk things over. We all know where we stand and so it is a good crowd of guys, I enjoy it. I am not surprised that we are still together, I think that is quite unusual, not even Deep Purple or those guys managed to do it and so we are good with that.
It certainly is massive achievement, there are not many bands that are still together after all of this time
Aerosmith are one of the bands actually
Well that is a good band to be compared to. Are there any instances, and I appreciate what you told me about the King, but are there any other memorable instances when you have all been together that you can share with us?
Yeah, there is a lot of things that have happened especially on the road. When you are on the road you become, or at least in the 80’s, you became like a school kid on a field trip without any teachers, you ran amuck! I remember one story when we were touring in Sweden and we traveling along a country road and all of a sudden there was a road sign that said “Norum 1” so we stopped the buss and snatched the road sign and put it on the bus! When we were at the gig when it was time for John Norum to do his guitar feature, Joey Tempest took that road sign and went out on stage and pointed the sign at John. It became like a stage thing to do that. The problem was that some journalists took a photo of that moment and then it ended up in the newspaper and so two days later we had an invoice from what ever company that made the road signs asking us to pay $500 within 10 days because we snatched it or we would end up in court! You never think of the consequences when you are young, you just do whatever you feel like doing and then in the aftermath you think “oh yes, maybe I should have thought of that.” It’s part of youth, I guess.
It seems to me that you joined Europe at a pretty pivotal moment for them, a couple of years before Final Countdown was released, how did that come about?
You know that Europe won the rock band, battle of the band thing and that lead to the contract and the recording of the first and second albums. I had another band back then, it was my band, I played drums and was the lead singer, it was a bit different. The band was called Trailer Genie and was a little bit different from the other bands. We entered the same rock contest, they got through and went all the way. For some reason they remembered me as the band was different, I was different and they liked my drum playing and that I was lead vocalist. It was a bit different and that was the reason they liked what I did and my dedication. I had the right drive and they needed that from a drummer, the drummer before me didn’t really have it. Before they announced the auditions, they called me and asked if I was up for it and if I wanted to go and jam with them, to see what it would lead to. Before Europe there was really nothing in Sweden, there were one or two rock bands who played hard rock but they never had big success and so Europe was the first rock band that had it, so it was like a God asking me if I wanted to become his second chief. So, I went and we did some sessions where we jammed together, everything was clicking in musically. I got the gig very fast and we have been together since then.
That is absolutely brilliant. What is it like playing The Final Countdown, do you feel it has to be in the set every night, how is it for you?
Its not like we listen to “The Final Countdown” on the car stereo or doing the dishes back home! To me, personally, it is like every time I play the song it is like pressing a button, a joy button, it is just happiness. Even though I don’t have any particularly negative or positive feelings about playing the song, the overwhelming thing about playing the song is the energy, the happiness and the joy you get from the audience. The energy flows and it is like playing it for the first time, every night as the audience is so pleased to hear it. I don’t think I will ever feel bad or fed up playing it. Also, just knowing that you are part of something that will be remembered for a very long time, after we are gone. Knowing I have been part of something as big or memorable as “Smoke on the Water,” “Stairway to Heaven” or “Paranoid” or any of those songs, that gives a lot of joy to me.
It is a pretty big deal, isn’t it? That song, that as soon as it starts, everyone knows exactly what it is, that must be mind blowing really
It is! Down the street where I live there were two kids, about 6 or 7 years old, who came up to me and said “Are you, are you the drummer, the Final Countdown drummer?” “Yeah, that’s me”. They knew about the song but didn’t particularly know about the band or the band members. The song itself has its own life, its own existence. It’s weird but it’s great.
The last 2 albums “Walk the Earth” and “War of the Kings” seem to really beef things up, they seem bigger, was this a conscious thing, how did it come about?
We never really have any 100% idea when we go into the studio that this album will be like this or that, or sound like this. It all happens in the studio. I think working with Dave Cobb has brought a lot of that spirit and edge, as he is exactly that kind of producer. He likes to work with an idea in the studio rather than us bringing an already demo’d song and copying it onto the album. He likes to stay in that creative moment all the way through the whole recording session. I think Dave Cobb production approach has bought a lot of that edge to the band and we were really pleased that he did so as I think, that is what we always wanted to do, even though we didn’t know how to do it earlier. We feel a lot more liberated after these 2 albums, musically, we are not afraid of sounding like “Deep Purple” or “Led Zeppelin” or any of our influences, we are just proud of the music.
I think you should be, they are amongst my favourite albums of the past couple of years, I think they are superb and you have a lot to be proud of.
How do you think rock music has changed since you started?
There have been some different movements, the golden era of 89’s rock as it was, when we had the hit with “The Final Countdown” and it was part of the new technological era when everything became digital and you wanted to explore everything, which is why the typical 80’s sounding albums sound a bit plastic today. We needed to try, explore and test all of the new things out but it was basically the same concept as we grew up with, “Thin Lizzy”, “UFO” and those bands, it was more of the sound that was particular for the 80’s. Then “Nirvana,” “Pearl Jam,” “Soundgarden” and “Rammstein” happened it was brought back to the ground again and today it is a mix of everything. There are bands that play hard rock and then all of a sudden, it is rap song, or something. There are no rules anymore. Also, what I like with some of the new bands like “Greeta Van Fleet”, young kids from America who sound like “Led Zeppelin”, it is like putting on the first Zeppelin album. I think that is great to hear that new bands are finding their way back to the core sound of rock music.
It seems like a melting pot and anything goes
Yeah, it is confusing in a way. When I was a teenager if you were a hard rocker you listened to “Judas Priest” up to maybe “Queen,” anything popier than “Queen” and you were a pop guy. There were very strict rules about what you could listen to if you were a rocker, otherwise you were a pop guy, or a punk guy. It was a bit clearer but I guess the kids today, that is the way it works for them.
I hear you really love Monty Python, how did you get into it?
Oh yes! I don’t know really. My first memories are from way back, I was probably about 5 years old and remember sitting with my parents in the living room, still with a black and white TV, before colour and the early Monty Python TV shows from 1969 /70 were playing on Swedish television, which thinking about it was really weird. I remember being interested in the flowers and the animations and for some reason it just appealed to me. Then it has been with me all along the way, it started off getting impressed with the animation, then you learn English and you grow up and find new qualities in the sketches. You grow together with it, still today I still watch those Monty Python episodes and Fawlty Towers, they have become a big brick in my wall. When they hit the television in 1969 it must have been even more bizarre as it was the first time that kind of humour was put on air. I wonder what people thought back in the day!
I then realised my time with Ian was up and so thanked Ian very much for his time and wished him well on tour.