It’s one thing for a momentous hard rock group to invoke their original musical influences in an attempt to conjure up a striking return-to-form in the vein of their earlier efforts; it’s another to actually achieve this stylistic feat, and yet the members of Europe have managed to pull out this same endeavor on their latest studio installment, ‘War of Kings.’
To say that Europe have come a long way in regards to their musical approach since what is perhaps their definitive pressing, ‘The Final Countdown,’ would be an understatement; over the course of the past several decades the band has explored a broad variety of territories, and have most recently returned to an approach that’s in the same vein of their earlier studio efforts.
This wasn’t an effortless achievement, and it took the members of Europe embracing an entirely different songwriting stance and the encouragement of producer Dave Cobb in order to reach their aspirations. Music Enthusiast recently sat down with Europe drummer Ian Haugland to discuss the making of ‘War of Kings’ and the band’s upcoming tour with Black Star Riders.
William Clark: Europe has been subject to some rather dramatic changes as far as their approach is concerned since your first album with the band, 1986’s ‘The Final Countdown,’ from glam metal to active rock to blues rock and, most recently, hard rock in the vein of their earlier efforts on ‘War of Kings.’ Do you feel as though Europe has come full circle with this new album?
Ian Haugland: It’s funny that you’re saying that, because we’re hearing that a lot with the ‘War of Kings’ album, that it’s more similar to the earlier stuff – like the two first albums before I came in. So I guess that’s true, you know? We kind of… I don’t know, maybe we returned a little more back to our roots that sort of helped forming the band in the early 80s, like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and those guys. So I don’t know what it is, but I guess with any band you want to pay homage to your roots, in a way. Yeah, I guess we’ve come full circle in a way, but at the same time hopefully developing a somewhat new direction, as well.
William: ‘War of Kings’ has some dramatic differences between such other recent outings as ‘Start From the Dark’ and ‘Secret Society.’ What was that process like as the members of Europe transitioned from that songwriting approach to that found on the new album?
Ian: I think that the biggest difference – let’s say from the early days, from the 80s, was that Joey wrote the main part of a song and made the demo. We were actually presented with a finished demo that we more or less just copied, but added an instrumental quality to it. These days, it’s much more of a – we’ve been around so long, we’ve seen the internet come. But with the internet we can send files. Joey, he lives in London and the rest of us in Sweden. It’s a lot more about sending files and building ideas from scratch with a whole band, basically, with Joey acting more or less like the mastermind and keeping the guardian eye over the whole process.
William: Would you say that ‘Bag of Bones’ served as a stepping stone to the performance found on ‘War of Kings’?
Ian: Yeah, definitely. I think with ‘Bag of Bones,’ that was actually the first album where we more or less recorded everything live in the studio. I mean, we’ve always been recording all the instruments, but then afterwards go in and repair bass and then guitars and stuff.
Actually, in my opinion and I guess everybody’s opinion, we did it even though we didn’t need to, but you have the opportunity to go in there and fix it so he did it. With ‘Bag of Bones,’ I think we became more self confident and it felt good, you know?
Everything was good. It’s not about… I think we stopped listening to single notes and started trying to capture the whole vibe of a song.
Definitely on ‘War of Kings’ we find that attitude, I guess, and a lot of thanks goes to Dave Cobb because he was and is very much into that, keeping the live vibe and capturing. He said that all the time, “Whatever’s on there, it sounded cool, man. Just leave it.” He didn’t want us to do stuff just to do it.
William: You previously ‘War of Kings’ was made with the intention of channeling the style of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, bands who were responsible for inspiring the formation of Europe. Were there any specific albums that the band turned towards for inspiration during these recording sessions?
Ian: Actually, to start with the reason why we got in touch with Dave Cobb was actually because we’ve all been listening a lot to the Rival Sons. We love the sound. They are like the new age of classic rock, so I think they inspired us a lot as a band with their music and also the music of Dave Cobb. That’s why we decided to approach Dave and to ask him if he was interested. It was basically like… we didn’t expect him to say “yes” to be honest. We were just sitting backstage listening to Rival Sons, and I think it was Joey who said to Adam, the manager, to get in touch with him and see if he’s available.
Funnily enough, he said that “Yeah, yeah! That would be great. Europe has always been a big influence on me, and I used to be a musician myself and play their stuff.” So that was kind of surprising. We were like, “Wow, alright. OK.” (laughs) I wouldn’t say that it was like any certain, specific album that we were inspired by for this album. I think it would be more so on like ‘Start From the Dark,’ I remember we were very much into the first Audioslave album and that sound. So yeah, I think it’s more of the vintage albums. It could basically be any of the Deep Purple or Zeppelin albums, I guess.
William: The album’s title track has this ambitious Ronnie James Dio-era Rainbow character to it which does a solid job at introducing ‘War of Kings.’ What do you recall about the formation of this number?
Ian: I remember that the riff wasn’t that much different in the beginning. I think it wasn’t as doomy or dark. (laughs) It was actually Dave Cobb’s idea to throw in a high note into the riff, which I think made a lot of difference to the sound and the vibe of the track. It became a little darker.
I think it kind of brings up a little more out of the track on “War of Kings.” The lyrics are about Vikings and the long ships, so I think the riff reflects the lyrics very well. I think it was the first track that we recorded in the studio, as well, when we started the sessions. I don’t know why we picked that to be the first one, I guess because it had a nice groove to it and a nice tempo to start off the session with, sort of.
William: As far as the manner in which you step up to the drum kit, was there anything you did differently this time around?
Ian: Yeah, definitely on this album in particular and again it really started on ‘Bag of Bones.’ I play more freely now. It’s inspired and I’m taking more chances, you know? I’ll throw in a fill and then I’ll drop out. Sometimes it works and sometimes it sucks, but I’m daring a lot more now. I guess I’m more self-confident and kind of maybe found my musical identity more than before, but I would say the keyword would be that I play more freely now.
William: You mentioned that the same could be said for the rest of the band, that there was more creative freedom within the studio. Were there any songs that came out of that creativity? Were there any times where you would be jamming and came up with a whole new song?
Ian: Yeah. That’s actually kind of funny, because for the first time ever we actually wrote a song in the studio. We were recording “Angels (With Broken Hearts),” one of the slow tracks, and it started out with John Norum just sitting one morning and playing a riff and Dave Cobb just said, “Hey man, I like that. What’s that? Let’s go into the studio, grab a couple guitars and get down and write this song.” He just heard that there was a song there. So we all sat in a ring inside the recording studio playing acoustic guitars like a campfire meeting in the middle. Yeah, that was a great experience, and also what’s kind of a little spooky was while we were in the middle of writing the song I got a message on my phone and it was a newsflash saying that Jack Bruce had just passed away. So that story influenced the vibe of the song and everything. It was almost like that song had called out to us to be written, you know?
William: You and the members of Europe will soon be heading out on tour in support of ‘War of Kings’ alongside Black Star Riders. What are you looking forward to about this upcoming run?
Ian: That’s going to be great fun. To start with, the Black Star Riders guys are really nice. They’re a great band and, in my opinion, another one of the great new classic rock bands. I mean, we had Scott Gorham on stage with us when we played at the Sweden Rock Festival in 2013, and that was a great honor. Scott Gorham, I would say, is one of the reasons why we started playing with Europe in the first place.
I remember I went to see Thin Lizzy in 1979 in Stockholm, and ever since Thin Lizzy has always been one of the main influences for Europe and me as a musician, namely Brian Downey, the drummer. But anyway, it’s going to be a great experience and it’s going to be a killer package, as well. Basically it’s going to be a big blast, a great evening of rock and roll. It’s going to be great, and also I think it’s more fun touring with another band because you bond with them and you become friends and stuff like that.
William: It’s a win-win for anyone in the audience during these shows, because aside from the obvious catalog of hits both bands will have new material to introduce during the show. Are you looking forward to performing songs off of ‘War of Kings’ during these concerts, and are there any tracks that you’re especially looking forward to playing live?
Ian: Yeah, we actually just finished rehearsals and I think we’re going to be – obviously since there’s two bands we’re going to be splitting the headliner spot, basically. The show isn’t going to be that extended, so we have to sort of pick the cherries from the ‘War of Kings’ album. The problem we have in Europe is we have too many great albums, too many great songs to pick. I guess we’re going to end up playing four new songs, and we’re going to try and have a sort of revolving set list. We’ll play one song one day, and the next day we’ll have another song from the ‘War of Kings’ album.
So it’s going to be fun, and the songs that I’m looking forward most to right now and I really like since rehearsal is “Hole In My Pocket,” which is an up-tempo song. Also the title track “War of Kings.” I think “War of Kings” is going to be one of those majestic tracks, like “Last Look at Eden” or “The Final Countdown,” you know?
It’s just a feeling I have, so we’ll see what happens. So it’s going to be great fun. It’s always great fun getting able to play new songs, because I think the old songs live their own life and you just know that when you play them people go nuts. They will always be there as a foundation for our live performance, but it’s great to play new songs, too.
William: What are your thoughts about the new Black Star Riders album, ‘The Killer Instinct‘?
Ian: I have listened to it, I guess it’s been out now for a week or something. I’ve been listening to it on the Spotify as I’m doing my daily hour of walking in the city, and I think it’s grown on me. “The Killer Instinct,” the title track, is really good. I think it’s one of the best tracks that they’ve ever produced as Black Star Riders. There are a couple of other songs that I liked on the album immediately but I think it’s an album that you have to listen to a couple of times, and to me that’s a good sign because those albums normally live longer than the ones that just leap out immediately.
William: When I spoke with Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson, they humorously proposed that Ricky could join Europe onstage for “The Final Countdown” while playing bagpipes.
Ian: Yeah, yeah! (laughs) That would be great! I love those kind of crazy things, so we’ll see. Hopefully we’ll end up with a bagpipe.
William: It’s been nearly thirty years since you were first introduced to the Europe lineup. What have you taken away from this period of your musical career?
Ian: I guess one of the first memories that I have of Europe was that there was like a rock band contest that toured throughout Sweden like a festival tour, and in each city there would be like a football tournament. Anyway, it came down to three bands in the final competing for the first prize. I remember seeing that broadcast – it was broadcast on Swedish television – and I had actually been playing with another band in one of those competitions and was wiped out by the Europe guys. And on top of that, I remember I had a broken arm, as well. I had fallen and had my arm in a cast, pissed off at that and pissed off at Europe, the guys who had actually kicked us out of the contest and won the whole thing. That was my very first memory: that I was pissed off at the band.
Back in those days, in the early 80s it was unheard of to have a hard rock band singing in English coming out of Sweden, so it was kind of a big thing, I remember. That’s how they got the chance to record an album. Then by the second album, ‘Wings of Tomorrow,’ I remember thinking, “Wow, these guys are for real. This was going to be a huge band.” You could just hear the development between the recordings, between the first to the second album. They went on tour in support of the second album, and while out on that the tour the drummer quit and I was asked to join, basically. I remember that it felt unreal that they called me and asked if I wanted to join the band. Here I am, thirty years later, and the band is as vivid as ever and I guess more powerful, you know? It’s a wonderful, great musical journey. I pinch my arm every morning when I wake up. “Is this really true? Am I doing this?” (laughs)
William: This is no dream, I can assure you. But when it comes down to the future of Europe, what direction would you like to see the band continue in?
Ian: I think Europe has a really strong musical personality and I think it’s important to keep that. The strong melodies, the big hooks, the powerful rhythm section and the badass guitar playing that John Norum does. Joey’s vocals are just amazing, so I think we have pretty much 80% of what we can possibly do with the band, we’re already doing. Obviously smaller refinement; we like trying different studios, and at the moment I think we all agree that it would be a great pleasure to record with Dave Cobb again. We’ll see what happens with that. Other than that, I see Europe as just a machine that goes on now. Think about AC/DC, for instance. They haven’t developed much in the forty, fifty years or whatever they’ve been around, and they still kick ass, you know? I think if you’re fortunate enough to find a musical identity, you should really try and stick to it.