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WALK THE EARTH: Europe’s Mic Michaeli On The Making of An Epic Rock Album!

Since forming in 1979, Europe has sold more than 25 million albums, toured across the world and become one of the greats of modern rock music. The bands “The Final Countdown” album has alone sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and the single of the same name was No. 1 in 25 countries. Even with almost 4 decades of rocking crowds around the world, they show no signs of slowing down. In fact, the members of the band remain as creatively driven now as they were in their youth. Their 11th studio album, ‘Walk The Earth,’ showcases their fearlessness when it comes to exploring new musical ground. From the stunning opening salvo of the first single, ”Walk The Earth” with pounding riffs and the aching vocals of Joey Tempes, to the brutal heavy riffing of ”Haze” to the instant melody of ”Election Day” to the lyrical content of ”Kingdom United,” ”Walk The Earth” will see Europe acclaimed as a band at the height of its powers. The wonderful melodies and depth of Joey Tempest’s vocals is paired with a powerhouse rhythm section and John Norums’ guitar. Norum’s playing shines across the record. Recorded at famed Abbey Road Studios in London with Grammy winning producer Dave Cobb (Rival Sons, Chris Cornell, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbel, Chris Stapleton), this is an album big in scope and sound. Much like previous album ”War Of Kings,” “Walk The Earth” is an album needed to be lived with in order to uncover it’s depth. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with keyboardist Mic Michaeli to discuss the longevity of the band, the making of ‘Walk The Earth’ and the challenges they faced along the way.

How did music first come into your life and what led to pursuing your passion professionally?

There was always a lot of music going on when I was growing up. At home, my mother sang a lot and she also sang in choirs. Early on in life, I got exposed to the Beatles. I think I was about 6 years old. I saw them and I thought, “Wow! This is so much different from anything I have heard before.” I was used to listening to classical and choir music. I really got into their music and I asked my parents, “Please give me a record by this group!” I couldn’t pronounce the name! Finally, I got the album about a year later! It took a long time! [laughs] I got into the Beatles when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I bought my first Beatles record when I was around 9 years old, which was “Let It Be.” From then on, I got more into contemporary rock music and I got stoked about rock music in general. That’s how it started! Since I was playing both guitar and keyboards, my plan was to find some guys who I could play with. I hoped to find some people in school who were playing instruments as well. We started a band when I was about 13 or 14 years old and that’s where it all started.

Rock music played a big role in your early life. Is your passion for the genre as strong today?

To be honest, my idea of the music I like has changed over the years, in the sense that now I have much broader tastes when it comes to what I like and like listening to. I listen to some things for inspiration and others just to relax. My taste in music has continued to change over the years. When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll and how it has changed, there’s not that much new happening really. It’s still the basic stuff that works the best. Every once in awhile a band will pop up, sticks out and is doing something that feels very personal or does something we haven’t seen before. I like that! I like when bands can do their own thing and step out of the ordinary, so to speak!

I’m sure you learned lessons early on in your career. Which had the biggest impact on you?

I think the biggest lesson was to not trust a record company or managers! [laughs] Another lesson is to believe in what you are doing and don’t try to change because of someone else’s opinion. Look into your own soul and heart and really do what it is that you feel like doing. That’s the only way you are going to be happy if you succeed!

With that said, Europe has been very successful through the years. What is the key to its longevity?

I really think it has a lot to do with us having known each other since we were, I would say kids but, at least teenagers. We come from the same area and have more or less the same upbringing. I think that allows us to relate to each other with what we grew up with in terms of doing, listening to and all that. The place where we grew up is a suburb just north of Stockholm in Sweden. I think, for some reason that I don’t know, around Stockholm was a place where hard rock music happens! We had a great environment growing up. To add to that, we had a coffee break for 12 years, in the 1990s and part of the new century, and I think that was really good. During that time period, we all did different things and played with different musicians but somehow, we realized the magic that we had within this band. It was something that we couldn’t find anywhere else! It’s not easy to find the type of thing that we had, so I think it was important to take that break and come to that realization. I think that’s a really good lesson to have because it makes us value what we have today!

Europe has a new record on the way, which is very exciting. What got the ball rolling on this album and made now the time to bring it to the masses?

The last album we did, “War of Kings,” we recorded in Stockholm with producer Dave Cobb. We felt really lucky that he would do this for us. Apart from the country artists he has worked with, he has also done work with Rival Sons. We really loved the sound that they had, so we didn’t think he was going to go for it. We thought he was too cool to do a Europe record! However, when we asked him, he said, “Yes! Of course! I listened to you guys and I used to play drums to your music when I was a kid!” A few months or maybe a year after “War of Kings” was released, he was a big producer and was doing all the big country artists in the United States, so we thought this time around it wasn’t going to work. We thought he wouldn’t want to do this because he was so busy with other stuff but he said yes! I think that triggered us to let go because he is very loose in the studio! He wants to feel the flow and he is kind of a hippy guy but has a very strong idea of what he wants! [laughs] If that is a combination that’s possible! [laughs] The decision to record in Abbey Road Studios in London was something that was also a magnet for him. He is drawn toward all of this old gear from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s all there at Abbey Road Studios, so we all had a really good time working there!

Did you have a vision for this new album when you went into the creative process?

We all had ideas but Joey [Tempest] was the driving force behind doing a prog rock record. We were like, “What?!” [laughs] But he was really persistent about it. What we try to do from album to album is say, “OK, let’s go in this direction or that direction.” That doesn’t necessarily mean we are making a prog rock record but we will try to stretch ourselves a bit and get outside our own comfort zone, which I think is very important to do but also very fun! It’s important to have some kind of development in the music that you make.

Tell us about Europe’s songwriting process. What’s changed and what’s stayed the same through the years?

When it comes to songwriting, a big change has come from the Internet and many of the guys live around Stockholm. If someone has an idea, they can send it to Joey or Joey can send an idea to me and I will work on it and send it back. It goes back and forth like that. From time to time, we meet. We actually started this just before we took the big coffee break for 12 years. We started jamming together with him playing drums and singing and myself playing keyboards. We just went for it and improvised whole songs! We recorded the whole session. That’s the best way to do it if you have a very good hangover! Sometimes you can have a good hangover and I think that is when we are at our best really! [laughs] It’s very different. Joey and I have been doing these sessions during the writing process for the latest albums. As I said, the Internet has helped a lot. In the beginning, it was mainly Joey and I writing the material but now we are all very much part of the writing process these days. I think it is a great challenge to have Joey really going for it. Saying things like, “We’ve got to make a prog record, man!” He’s very much a driving force, although he doesn’t write all of the music anymore. We are all involved. After all these years, you know who the other guys are. When I write a song, I like to do some off-bass parts for John Leven to play and I know what John Norum likes to play, so that triggers your way of writing songs.

With each album comes a new set of challenges. What were the biggest challenges in bringing “Walk The Earth” to life?

I think we took one step further into the unknown musical universe that we live in with this album. We are on a constant journey through our little musical universe and it’s always nice to take a step outside of what you are used to doing. The challenge of making this record was keeping our producer, Dave Cobb, and our engineer focused. They were really into checking out all of the gear at Abbey Road. [laughs] They spent so much time unscrewing screws and looking into stuff to see what tubes they had. [laughs] That was the biggest challenge with this album — trying to keep them away from exploring the gear and to just make music! [laughs]

You mentioned Europe being on a musical journey. Although you are releasing a new album, what’s next?

I’m not sure. Basically, it’s like a cycle we go into. Now, we are focused on the touring aspect of it. Usually, the idea of taking another step comes from when we start writing for a new album. We’re not a band who is very good at writing while we are touring. We have to have our periods of writing and that’s where we sort of know what the next step will be!

Mic Michaeli of Europe

You’ve come a long way since Europe’s early years. When you look back on your body of work, how have you most evolved?

Tough question! I think it has a lot to do with being more open. I remember when I started in this band in 1984, I was very much into keeping chords straight and not having any weird notes. Nowadays, I can embrace a weird note here and there! I think I’ve broadened my mind when it comes to what you can do musically and maybe even taking it a step too far with too much left, right or whatever.

You have seen the music industry change exponentially through the years. What excites you these days?

There are pros and cons when it comes to streaming music. What I like about it is that I’ve found so much music by checking out an artist and discovering related artists. I’ve found so much music that I probably wouldn’t have found without this new technology. That is definitely the positive side of it!

Europe created a lot of amazing music through the years and developed a dedicated fan base. There’s an entire new generation tapping into your work. What are your favorite tracks, maybe things that aren’t necessarily mainstream hits, they should check out?

Cool question! I think they should definitely check out a song called “No Stone Unturned” from the “Last Look at Eden” album. Also, “Firebox” from the “Bag of Bones” album and you should probably check out “More Than Meets the Eye” from “Out of This World,” as well! Just to name a few! [laughs]

You can serve as an inspiration for aspiring artists. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?

It’s simple really. Whatever you do, try to have fun and do what feels right in your heart and soul! The rest will come!

Perfect! Thank you so much for your time today, Mic! I wish you continued success!

Thank you, Jason! It’s been a pleasure talking to you!

Europe’s ‘Walk The Earth?’ is available now through Hell & Back Recordings (Silver Lining Music). For the latest news and tour dates, visit the band’s official website at www.europetheband.com. Follow their adventures through social media on Facebook and Twitter.