John Norum – it’s high time to return to our classic style and record a melodic hard rock album like we did in the old days

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John Norum has released his excellent solo album “Gone To Stay” and it has already gained rave reviews from the music press and the fans all over the world. The legendary guitarist is on the other side of the phone line and he shares with us all the details regarding his solo endeavor…and not only! What does John think of Ghost and Hammerfall? Which is his favorite David Bowie era and why? What’s the last great hard rock band? But John has kept the best for us in the very last question… Interview: Sakis Nikas

Rockpages.gr: John, welcome back…not that you’d been missing or something but it’s been 12 long years since your last solo album. I know that you’ve been busy with Europe but what took you so long?

John Norum: Well, as you said, I’ve been busy with Europe. That’s the main reason. We’ve been touring almost every year and doing records since our reunion in 2004. Also, I have to spend time with my family so I didn’t really have the time to focus on a solo album…until now. So when Covid hit the world and we had to cancel the shows that we had booked…for example we had an American tour together with Foreigner for two months. That was really the chance for me to start writing a few songs for a solo record because it’s been a long time since the last one.

Rockpages.gr: John, I haven’t read so many positive reviews for a John Norum record since the “Face The Truth” days. I guess you must be doing something right with “Gone To Stay”…

John Norum: (laughs) I guess so although I don’t read reviews anymore; it’s just one man’s opinion…it doesn’t really matter. Not to me anyway. But I know that the album is good because we had worked so hard on it and after all, I’ve been doing it for so long that I know when something is good really (laughs)! Next year we celebrate with Europe our 40th anniversary so yeah…I’ve been around for many years! It’s not my fault if people don’t understand or appreciate an album when it’s a good one. For example, I strongly believe that “Worlds Away” was a great album…ahead of its time. Some people didn’t understand it, at all. I can’t do anything about it. But anyway, I really like “Gone To Stay”. As you get older, you get better; it’s like a natural evolution. I am not saying that you are getting better as a guitar player but it’s an improvement, also, on the production, the arrangement and of course the songwriting.

Rockpages.gr: I know that you said that you don’t pay attention to the reviews but I want you to hear an excerpt of what I wrote on my review on your album and I quote: “Norum succeeds in crafting songs that balance perfectly in between two worlds: the blues and the hard rock sound”. Do you agree with that description?

John Norum: Oh yeah. That’s pretty spot on, really! That’s exactly what “Gone To Stay” is. It’s an album that combines those two elements with a couple of ballads in between. That’s what I like…I don’t want to record a straightforward hard rock album or a pure blues one. I have done those things for so long and I want to experiment a little bit with the song approach. A good song is a good song regardless of its style. You realize that when you record it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a reggae song or a hard rock song (laughs)! That’s the best part of doing solo albums. You have the freedom of doing things the way you really want to do them. You know, I am a huge David Bowie fan and I always liked the way he approached things with different styles and different-sounding albums. His albums were so different and you didn’t know what you’re gonna hear from him. I always admired him for not being scared of experimenting with things and sounds.

Rockpages.gr: David Bowie is a perfect role model to everyone who appreciates music and art in general. Since you mentioned him, let me tell you that you did an excellent job with your cover version of “Lady Grinning Soul” from the “Aladdin Sane” album. I may be biased but that glam rock era of David Bowie is my favorite one. How about you…? Do you have a favorite David Bowie era?

John Norum: Oh yeah…“Aladdin Sane” and “Ziggy Stardust” are my favorite Bowie records. I grew up with those records so they mean a lot to me. But yeah…the glam rock era was his best. “Diamond Dogs” and “Pin-Ups” are great records…The Spiders of Mars was a great backing band. But I gotta say that “Aladdin Sane” is my favorite one because it’s so odd, so different. I mean there’s hard rock in there and then you get to listen to “Lady Grinning Soul” which is really weird in a very good way. This was always one of my favorite Bowie songs…I mean the whole arrangement with the piano and stuff.

Rockpages.gr: John, I think that this Bowie era was magical, also, due to the fact that David had beside him the sensational Mick Ronson…

John Norum: Oh yeah, without a doubt. He played exactly what the song needed! He wasn’t a show-off kinda guy. His rhythm playing was absolutely incredible.

Rockpages.gr: He also had the stage presence, too.

John Norum: Oh yeah! He was great with his Les Paul guitar, his long blonde hair, the silver boots and wild clothes.

Rockpages.gr: You said earlier that you like to experiment on your solo albums because you get easily bored with doing the same thing over and over again and I totally agree with you. Speaking of experimentation, your first single “Sail On” was like an outtake of Audioslave; it was like hearing the late Chris Cornell.

John Norum: Yeah, exactly. It was so weird…when we laid down the basic tracks it sounded, as you said, like an Audioslave song and when I recorded the vocal demo it sounded like Chris Cornell. It just happened naturally even with just the melody of the song without any vocals on it. The first idea of the song. I really like Audioslave. I gotta say that I haven’t heard any good hard rock band since Audioslave. They were great. I am sure that they are some other great hard rock bands out there but Audioslave was something else! Rival Sons is also a very good hard rock band.

Rockpages.gr: How about some new hard rock bands from your country, Sweden?

John Norum: Well, I don’t know that many new Swedish bands but my favorite one is Opeth. I like  the way they mix heavy metal with prog. And then you have the usual heavy metal bands like Hammerfall but I don’t listen to that kind of music.

Rockpages.gr: Any comment on Ghost which is also a Swedish band?

John Norum: Yeah…they have a couple of good songs but I am not that easily fooled that I will buy into that whole thing, you know…people got interested in them and they became huge due to their image with the masks and outfits. I mean, if they didn’t have the make-up and the costumes nobody would pay any attention to them. I am not saying that Ghost is not a good band but I don’t buy into the whole image thing. Obviously, kids like them a lot and that’s what counts really. All I am saying is that if they had gotten up on stage with a pair of jeans and a simple t’shirt nobody would care really. People got interested in them because of the way that they look. Because of their image. It’s exactly the same thing as with KISS. And that happened 50 years ago (laughs)!

Rockpages.gr: Getting back to the album, the second single “Voices of Silence” is really a song about politics, isn’t it? You had added a Ronnie James Dio touch in here by stating in the lyrics: “if you listen to fools, the blind rules”.

John Norum: Well, yeah…it’s kinda a song about politics. Some people think that it’s about the war in Ukraine but it was written before the war. It’s a song about the horrible things that people do during the war.

Rockpages.gr: Another standout track it’s “One By One” that features Age Sten Nilsen from Wig Wam. I love its commercial, radio friendly vibe that I gotta say that it’s missing from the last few Europe records. You know what I mean…?

John Norum: Yeah, I know. That would be the perfect Europe song. Actually, it’s the only song on the album that it kinds has a connection to Europe. “One By One” would have worked on a Europe record…that’s for sure. I didn’t want all the songs to be gloomy or slow…I wanted some happy songs in there, too! It’s a very good song with some influence by The Beatles, especially in the pre-chorus…that’s pretty cool.

Rockpages.gr: You, also, did a new take on your song “Face The Truth”. What made you revisit the song after 30 years?

John Norum: It was really an accident. I was tuning my guitar in the studio and I was about to put down a guitar solo on a song…I can’t remember which one but anyway, we were trying to get the perfect sound with my engineer…while we were doing that I was playing really quietly the song “Face The Truth”. I was playing it like it was a slow song and when he listened to it, he asked me: “what’s that…what are you playing?”. When I told him that it was an old song of mine that I recorded 30 years ago with Glenn Hughes, he insisted on doing another version; a slow one. He pushed the “record” button and I played something like a minute or so of “Face The Truth”. That was it. A few days have passed by and my engineer said: “have a listen to “Face The Truth”…the new version; at least that one minute that I have played. It sounded really good and we decided to do a whole new version. I think it came out great.

Rockpages.gr: Yes, it did. Actually I love both versions. By the way, do you know if Glenn have listened to the new version?

John Norum: (laughs) I don’t know. Probably! I haven’t talked to Glenn for a long time. I am pretty sure that he’s gonna like it…someday, I will get in touch with him and ask what he thinks of the new version because I believe that the new “Face The Truth” suits better his voice. It’s more of his style, if you think about it…more soul and blues.

Rockpages.gr: I have the perfect idea for you although it’s really too early to talk about it. Your next solo album will be the tenth one…

John Norum: Yes, exactly.

Rockpages.gr: So, maybe you can call Glenn and some other guest singers and celebrate the whole event…what do you say?

John Norum: You know what…I’ve been thinking about it. I want to make a special kinda thing and invite all the singers that I had in my past albums. Glenn, Goran (Edman), Kelly (Keeling) all those great musicians. It will be a great celebration!

Rockpages.gr: John, last but certainly not least: I love almost all your albums and I totally respect your wish to go down on a different musical path after your reunion in 2004. But everybody wonders if we will ever get to hear another Europe record with the classic sound, the classic style?

John Norum: The answer is: yes! That’s exactly what I want to do right now. As we speak, we are writing the new songs because we are going into the studio next May. I said to the guys we have tried and experimented with different styles…we have done metal, we have done grunge…we had experimented with all those different tunings that you can imagine…so I said to the guys that it’s high time to return to our classic style and record a melodic hard rock album like we did in the old days. I think that we should go full circle and do an album like we did in the mid-80s. That’s what I am hoping for. Hopefully we will do that.

Rockpages.gr: John, you know of course that this is big news for all the Europe fans!

John Norum: Yes, I know! That’s what we want to do right now. We’ll see how it goes.