He’s the British-based singer from Sweden who wrote his band Europe’s signature song that topped the chart in 25 countries in the mid-80s. The man born Rolf Larsson gives us his take on life.
Gold discs are for show-offs. The world is getting scarrier. Beer and wine are good, drugs are bad. Be kind to your fans… The man born Rolf Larsson gives us his take on life.
Joey Tempest was still in his teens when he came up with the riff that powered the song that a few years later gave his band Europe a massive worldwide hit, and for which they and he will be best remembered.
After the band went on hiatus in 1992, he enjoyed a solo career, releasing three albums before Europe reconvened in 2003. During this second spell they have released six studio albums, including the brand new Walk The Earth. “Everything is running smoothly for Europe right now,” says the singer, “and the end [for Europe] is nowhere in sight.”
DON’T CALL ME ROLF!
My given name is Rolf Magnus Joakim Larsson, and my old schoolmates would call me Jocke. To some of my family members I’m Joakim, but to everybody else I’ve been Joey Tempest since 1983. I changed it when we started working on our first album, but even in school I would scribble it because I loved the way David Bowie, Elton John and Bob Dylan created a stage persona. I’d met John Norum [Europe guitarist] and we were sitting at the back of the class dreaming about all that stuff.
I FEEL QUITE BRITISH
I’ve lived abroad for about twenty-five or thirty years. I’m married to an English woman and have been settled in London since 2001, so I feel less and less Swedish. It took a long time for me to stop waking up in the middle of the night with bouts of homesickness. The UK is my home now. I don’t have a British passport but I’m thinking of getting one. I love the English sense of humour, and it’s wonderful to live in the cradle of rock – The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles… just about all of the real greats.
MY PRIVATE LIFE IS STAYING PRIVATE
I’m not comfortable sharing details of my family life, so I don’t have a personal Facebook page. However, I’ve always been very interested in social media and I’m extremely involved with Europe’s Facebook presence. I regularly check in to read what the fans are saying. It’s an amazing change from the eighties and nineties when we would be told: “Come into the office, there are thousands of letters for you to reply to.” Now it’s so instant and much more personal.
HOBBIES ARE A WASTE OF TIME
I tried the whole golf thing but would always be thinking about being in the studio. Running Europe is pretty time-consuming. Everyone in the band helps out but a lot of [the responsibility] ends up on my plate. To relax, I’ve started collecting vinyl again. I’ve also collected wine, but it’s much more fun to drink than collect.
GOLD DISCS ARE FOR SHOW-OFFS
Although Europe have won so many of those, you won’t find them on the wall at my house – it’s for family. The only awards on display are the one we won from Classic Rock [the Comeback award at the 2015 Roll Of Honour] and another of the recent ones from Sweden. Those two mean a lot to me.
PRAYER CAN WORK
I suppose that I’m a little religious in my own way. There have been times when I’ve felt the need to pray for certain things, including the safety of my family. It would be an awfully lonely existence if there was nothing [guiding us]. At this point in my life I’m leaning towards the belief that there probably is.
THE MIDDLE GROUND IS BEST IN POLITICS
Growing up, politics was a very big thing in my household. My dad was, to use an English term, a Tory and my mum came from the left, and believe me, they were very keen on discussing it. So I have a good view of both sides. I think of myself as an observer, but I really like my mum’s viewpoint because she believes that everyone deserves a chance.
THE WORLD IS GETTING SCARIER BY THE DAY
As a dad I do fear for the futures of my two sons. That’s why the lyrics of our new single Walk The Earth talk about being ‘caught in the middle of a lightning strike’. The song asks the question of who’s shouting out for all of us. We need our leaders to bring us together, and right now we have the opposite of that. All of us should feel welcome.
REALITY TV COMPETITIONS? IT’S A ‘NO’ FROM ME
Europe won our first record deal [with Hot Records in 1982] by entering a talent contest called Rock-SM. We were a rock band up against two thousand others, mostly pop bands. I was pretty surprised that we won. It was quite different to The X Factor and Pop Idol because we wrote our own songs. I’d be much happier if there were more shows like that – where [the participants] actually created something, as opposed to just showing up and looking good. Also, I don’t like the way that dreams are so ruthlessly crushed. That’s cruel.
IN A PARALLEL LIFE I’D BE WEARING A CRASH HELMET
He’s eighty-six now but my dad has always been very interested in motorsports. Even now we still watch Formula One together. Between the ages of eight and twelve I competed in go-cart racing. My dad was my mechanic and we won lots of competitions. But music took over, and when I met John Norum, that was it – there was only one path for me.
“To relax, I collected wine, but it’s much more fun to drink than collect.”
THE GRUNGE YEARS WEREN’T SO BAD
Europe went on hiatus in 1992, and looking back at it now the timing was pretty good. I had started listening to other styles of music. Spending time in LA, I began to appreciate the Eagles, Randy Newman, Boz Scaggs and Jackson Browne. I felt as though hard rock had run its course and developed into a production line. I needed to refuel with something that was different. It was a bittersweet time but it [the grunge revolution] had to happen.
As a solo artist I won a Swedish Grammy [for A Place To Call Home, 1995] but it was still pretty hard to escape the shadow of Europe. It was a whole different journey, but I kept in contact with John [Norum], who sent me his solo albums and I felt that one day it would happen again.
Ian [Haugland, drums] was very instrumental in the reunion. He’s an amazing guy to be in a band with, so positive and brighter than sunshine. After the millennium reunion show, we had a meeting at the flat of Mic [Michaeli, keyboards]. I had to apologise for some things. But we’d all become much better as writers and since we got back together, everyone has had songs on the albums. The bottom line was that we committed to do this long term, almost as a brand new career. And six albums on, that’s what we’re still doing.
REACHING 50 YEARS OLD IS NOTHING SPECIAL
Some people get hung up over it because it’s quite a milestone, but it didn’t bother me. Mine was four years ago now. My wife Lisa had a party for me in Sweden, just close friends and family. We would have been making Bag Of Bones [Europe’s ninth album] at that point – Lisa always says that my life is measured in my albums. That was an interesting time for the band because the previous album, Last Look At Eden [on which they adopted a more classic rock-style direction] really turned things around for us. Making good art and working with my friends was far more important than looking at the calendar. My sons are three and nine years old and sometimes that makes me realise that I’m well into the second half of my life. I love them so much and don’t want to leave them. It makes me think that I must take better care of myself.
BEER AND WINE ARE GOOD, DRUGS ARE BAD
People are always asking us to write a book that spills the beans on that stuff, or to do a movie, but we haven’t and it’s unlikely that we ever will. I know that
Kee [Marcello, guitarist 1986’92] wrote some stuff in the vein of [Mötley Crüe’s] The Dirt, but I haven’t read it. We are beer
“As a solo artist it was pretty hard to escape from the shadow of Europe.”
drinkers. I can’t say that we haven’t tried drugs, because that would be silly. But a glass of red is great. We party down a little bit if we’ve done three shows in a row and there’s a day off. Beer is our thing, and we can hold our own in that regard, but we never got into heavy drugs.
BE KIND TO YOUR FANS – THEY’RE YOUR FUTURE
At the age of sixteen or seventeen I was lucky enough to meet Phil Lynott, one of my all-time heroes, and he was very warm and friendly to me. I’d heard about artists that are rude or arrogant, but Phil was such a great guy, he filled me with hope. Partly because of that, I do my best to respect everyone that requests a selfie or a few minutes of my time.
THERE’S STILL LIFE IN ROCK’N’ROLL
Gene Simmons is quite right in his criticisms of the business model, and we really need to organise the rules around streaming because artists require incentive or why on earth would they bother becoming musicians? But bands like Rival Sons and King King, also our countrymen H.e.a.t, all make it very clear that the well is not going to run dry.
SOME PEOPLE STILL CALL EUROPE A ONE-HIT WONDER. BUT WHAT A HIT!
The Final Countdown topped the charts in so many countries, it’s amazing. I was so young when I wrote it. Nowadays it’s a texture thing for us – it brings an additional dimension to the show.
I COULD STILL BE SINGING ‘THAT SONG’ WHEN I’M SIXTY
And I most probably will. Everything is running smoothly for Europe right now and the end is nowhere in sight. It’s pretty incredible that in November we will be touring with Deep Purple, who are still showing the rest of us how to do it.
Walk The Earth is out now via Hell And Back Recordings.
Europe toast the success of The
in ’86: (l-r) John Levén, Kee Marcello, Mic Michaeli,
Joey Tempest, Ian Haugland.
Joey Tempest with Europe at Sonisphere Festival on July 30,
2010 at Knebworth House.
Europe 2017: (l-r) John Levén, Mic Michaeli, Joey Tempest, John Norum, Ian Haugland.