John Norum - Europe - Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Tazz Stander   
Thursday, 15 July 2010 06:00

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John Norum could be described as the guy who left Europe just as they became famous, he is described as "one of the best guitar players in the industry" by Rich Ward of Stuck Mojo / Fozzy fame, he's a dad and he's recently suffered one of the biggest losses in his life when his wife passed away. He's down to earth and easy to talk to. After a few frustrating minutes, I finally manage to get through to him in Sweden whilst humming the keyboard intro to 'The Final Countdown' into the phone ... did he hear me, I still wonder?!

 


Your seventh studio album, 'Play Yard Blues', was released on the 5th of July.  How did you come up with the name for it?


Well, the studio where I recorded it is called Play Yard Studios and so I thought I would just call the album Play Yard something and then with having my son on the front cover - I wasnorum-play-yard-blues thinking of him in a play yard - actually, I don't even know if there is a word like Play Yard but in America they have one but they might not call it the same in the UK.


I was quite interested in the title because of the way it had been spelt, almost like a double meaning. Play Yard as in playground or it could denote that you were playing Yard Blues and it made me wonder if you were starting up a whole new genre of blues.


(Laughing) I was thinking about that too. Is it really word play because as you said, it's usually playground. It could be quite interesting coming up with my own words here. It was really from the name of the studio but also it's me and my son, we are in the playground or yard and we got the blues obviously because we had the tragedy in the family a couple of years ago, so the album is dedicated to my late wife. I wanted our son to be on the cover as well as a tribute from both of us.


You've taken a massive side step away from the sound on your previous six albums and gone in a very bluesy direction. Have your inspirations in writing changed at all?


I always looked at myself as a blues guitarist. I learned and starting listening in the mid 70's to John Mayall Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and people like that. A lot of people from my generation don't know a lot about those albums, the 60's, either because they were too young or into other types of music but I was very fortunate that my step dad was a drummer and he played that kind of music, he had all those albums at home. He heard I was practising and he said that I had to listen to all these bands as they are the foundation or the bible of rock blues guitar. I started playing along to all the records so I always had that blues base.  Later on norumbwI got into more hard rock like Black Sabbath. The whole thing started a couple of years ago when I did a Frank Marino tribute album. It's called Smoke something, I can't remember the exact name, I just remember smoke something. (Laughing) Not Up In Smoke because that's something completely different, that is Cheech and Chong the movie, which is a really great movie by the way, I would really recommend it (Laughs). If you're an old hippy like me, you will enjoy it. I did one song on the Frank Marino tribute album and I just thought that it was so cool and I had so much fun doing it so I decided that my album was going to be more in that kind of style, more blues rock.


[John and I then have a pretty in depth conversation with lots of banter about how were from the same generation age wise and he continued that with ....]


The first album I ever did was with a guy in Sweden called Eddie Medusa and the Roaring Cadillacs. It was kind of like Chuck Berry sounding. My step dad was playing drums in the band. When I recorded the album, I was 14 years old and my step dad was 25 or 26 and he was very, very old. The rest of the band ... The singer was 30 and he was really old, a really old man (laughing). When I went on tour with them I was 17 and I kept wondering how I was going to deal with these old guys but now looking back, they were so young (laughs). 


I must say, you guys are the best aged rockstars that I've ever seen. When I saw you play earlier this year with Europe, I was amazed at how you hadn't aged as much as some of the other bands from the 80's.


Thank you so much. We have good genes I think. It might be a Swedish thing, the fresh air and things. We try to stay in shape. We get a little fat and bloated when we're on tour but it's because we're eating at funny hours, the middle of the night, pizza and beer.  You do blow up a little bit. (Laughing) We use lots of face lotions and botox.


Interestingly enough, Europe's latest album, 'Last Look At Eden', in my opinion was the blusiest album you have ever done. Could this be due to working on both albums material at the same time?


Yeah, it wasn't easy. With the Play Yard album, I recorded it when I had time off. I did a week here, took a couple of weeks off ... there was no deadline or pressure so I could just go into the studio whenever I felt like it. I think you can hear that on the album too, nothing is forced on there, it's all very relaxed. I think it's a very spiritual album. I was doing it whenever I was in thenorum2 mood whereas with Europe it was like a big machine - deadlines and record companies pushing you on. It can get a little bit more stiff. I am very happy that 'Last Look At Eden' is more blues orientated than all the other albums because that is what I like. I think the guys listened to me quite a lot. I said that we should take it more in the direction of Whitesnake, Joe Bonamassa and even early Deep Purple and they all agreed so that is what happened and I'm very glad about it.


By diversifying your sound, whether it is in your own solo career, playing with Europe or collaborating with various other artists, do you have an idea of what direction musically you will be following over the next few years?


I think after the summer festivals are done, we are going to start writing a new album and I think it will pretty much be in the same category as 'Last Look At Eden'. We don't have a big master plan on what kind of style we're going to go with. If it's a good song, it's a good song. It could be a pop song, a heavy metal song, a blues track, it could even be a reggae song (laughs), we've never done anything like that, it could be quite interesting (laughs), but if it's good, it's good. 


With your solo albums, are you going to stick with more blues or are we going to get more hair metal riffs like your previous ones?
 

I think at the moment I'm done with the heavy metal stuff for now. I don't see the point of doing a solo album that sounds just like Europe. I want it to sound different so I think it's definitely going to be more hard rock blues sounding. Like Mountain, Rush and Zeppelin - it won't be a traditional Chicago blues sound. That is what I enjoy playing, you have such freedom to play, there is so much open space to play. With Europe it's more restricted, you have your 30 seconds in the middle and you try to do your best out of it. A little solo here and there (laughs). I think I'm just going to do whatever feels good, if it feels good then it is good. It's definitely going to be more blues, maybe even more bluesy than this album.

 

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I was just wondering if you were going to do a Gary Moore on us?


You never know, if there is something that is more heavy that is more towards hard rock ... I mean, if it's a great song and has a great melody to it ... the melodies is the most important thing, you have to have a really good melody. Without a melody, it's not a good song. My guitar playing is rooted in the blues so I'm thinking it's going to more like Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen', it's heavy but has blues in it, heavy and dark.


'Play Yard Blues' is a great album...


Thank you so much. When I was writing it, I was thinking more about guitar players, this is for guitar players but if other people who are not musicians or who are not Europe fans enjoy it too, then that is the icing on the cake.


The artwork for 'Play Yard Blues' is simple yet awesome with your son Jake cradling a mini Les Paul. Solely in terms of music and guitar, what has Les Paul meant to you over the years?


He is a big innovator as a guitar player. Just for coming up with the shape.... It is the most beautiful shape and just that he came up with the multi-track recording machines, it's just norum3incredible. He was a big inspiration - even though I never got to meet him, I've seen tons of interviews with him and he was such a humble man, a nice guy.


Can you now claim that blues is part of your legacy by shedding more light onto it and bringing it forward?


Yeah definitely. This is just the beginning really. I feel like this new fresh start for me and I'm already thinking about the next album.  I'm already excited about it. It's going to be really great.


During an interview recently with Rich Ward of Stuck Mojo / Fozzy fame he said to about you, "That guy will hurt your feelings on guitar. He is so amazing". What is your take on being such a well respected musician?


(Laughing) That is wonderful. It is great to hear someone say that. I think you're born to do it. I've always believed that. You can't force it. Technically you can be great and learn every scale in the book. Some people can play all night but still not have heart and soul in their playing. It might sound a little bit harsh for me to say this but it runs so far back in my family. My mum was playing guitar, my uncles all play, all my cousins are in bands - it goes way back. I think I just have it in my genes. It's just something that happens when I play. I start sweating like crazy and I can feel every note through my body. It's just a feel thing. Some people put on funny faces for posing or whatever but when I do it, I can't help it, it just happens by itself.


During that conversation, I said that I thought you were a guitarist with a Capital G. I've never seen a guitarist zone out like you do when you play. You are so not in the room when you're playing.


(Laughing) You were watching me! When I go into a solo, I'm gone, away in a different dimension, a different place. It's a wonderful feeling. I'm not thinking that I have to move more, or pose more. (Laughing) I leave that to the singer. The most important thing to me is to focus on the guitar playing. I'm not Angus Young, sometimes I'm stuck in one pnorumbw2lace but I enjoy it more than the posing. I'm a goner when I go into lead break (laughs).


If music is something in the middle between you and your fans, do you think the groovier the music is, the faster the communication would be?


It's very important that it grooves, that is the most important thing, to feel it. I think the audience can feel it too, if you're grooving or not grooving. It's very up and down, some days you're not good and you're having an off night and I think people can feel it too. You have to communicate with them, sometimes I smile at them, they really seem to enjoy that. I put on a smile just to say that ... I've heard before that I'm sour sometimes but I'm not, I'm happy but if you want a smile, I can give you one. Sometimes you're not in the mood to smile and you have to concentrate on the guitar playing, that is the most important bit after all. They can feel the vibe, when it's grooving or not grooving.


What traits are there in John Norum nowadays that there were in Johnny Fuckfaster?


(Both Laughing)  Oh my God.


I had to ask that, I've always wanted to know.


You sounded very sexy when you said that. That was a funny group that we had when we were teenagers.  I had my punk rock years. When the Sex Pistols and The Clash released their first albums we all though it was really cool. I still love it to this day. I guess I still have a little bit of that left, I'm still a little bit punk rock, in my heart. When Europe starts analysing things too much or becoming a little bit to slick I always tell them to add a bit of punk into it. Just think about it, have a bit of rough, not everything needs to be planned out, that is what makes boring albums, it becomes stiff and square. Anyway, in the late 70's we came out with these funny names, the singer was Steven Razorblade and we had Kent Nuts (laughing), there is a little bit of Johnny ... I can't say my other name but you did it, you did it.


Finally, what are your touring plans for 'Play Yard Blues'?


After the summer, I'm thinking about using the same guys that played on the album and play a few clubs.norum1


A club tour?


Yeah, I like that, a club tour.


Intimate?


Yeah, sit down, have a few beers and just relax and enjoy yourself. Right now, I'm still busy with the festivals and after the summer Europe will start writing their new album (John takes a deep breath and says, "I've got to slow down when I talk so I can catch my breath.  I've just had a cup of coffee so ... dangerous ... speeding up"). Planning on doing shows after the summer, it will be fun and will be a combination of all the best songs off all the albums so it won't be just blues.


Awesome, it would be great to see you over here. 


I love touring the UK. We had such a great time when we were over there last. The other guys decided to travel on the bus overnight but Joey and I went by train during the daytime and we got to see the countryside. UK fans are great, they really listen and they have such a big music history, they know what's good and what's not.


Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me today.


No, thank you.  See you when I'm next over there.


Definitely.


Take Care.