Europe’s Mic Michaeli interview
Written by Kevin Tanza on September 17, 2020
Europe is one of the most interesting bands when it comes to the Hard Rock scene: they are mostly known for the legendary hit song The Final Countdown, but if people listen beyond that track, they have one of the most interesting discographies out there, constantly redefining and altering their sound, becoming one of the most musically eclectic groups out there. A big part of that is their loyal keyboardist, Mic Michaeli.
Mic has been with Europe since the mid-80s and he has been a constant source of creativity, quality and genius for this band. So, you can imagine my excitement when I had the possibility of doing an interview with this gentleman, where we discussed several Europe albums, his journey as a musician and even his time working with The Voice of Rock, Glenn Hughes. Hope you enjoy it.
Thank you for being here, Mic. It’s an honor. Before we start talking about music, how are things going with you and your loved ones during this pandemic?
All good so far, thanks for asking. Hoping you’re fine too.
How much of an impact did this situation had in Europe’s plans for 2020?
We had a European tour with Whitesnake and a US tour with Foreigner and Kansas scheduled that got canceled due to obvious reasons. These are bands we grew up listening to and we’ve toured with Foreigner and Whitesnake several times. Some of them guys have become good friends over the years so we were really looking forward to going on the road with them. Hopefully things will get back to normal, or at least close to normal, next year and we can give it another go.
Your last album was 2017’s Walk The Earth. How is the progress going for the next Europe album?
Well, not much going on at the moment although John Leven (the bassist) has showed me a few ideas of his. The plan is to get the writing process started after the summer.
Since your reunion back in the mid-2000s, you guys have constantly challenged yourselves with new sounds and styles in your albums. Do you go into the studio with an established idea of what you’re going to do or do it out of inspiration?
We often have a vague idea that usually turns into something different along the way. It’s like getting in your car in Nashville, deciding to go to New York but ending up in LA and realizing LA isn’t that bad after all. So I guess there’s a little bit of both.
Has your writing process changed throughout the years?
In the early days Joey (Tempest, the vocalist) wrote most of the material by himself but that has gradually changed. He still comes up with a more or less finished track now and then and apart from that it’s me and John Leven sending song ideas to Joey for him to see whatever he feels works for him. Then we go from there and work on the song by sending files back and forth.
Joey and I have another way of writing too where we meet up in London or Stockholm, he plays drums and sings and I play keyboards or sometimes guitar. Then we jam for hours and record the whole thing. So far we have gotten a couple of ideas from each session turning up on albums.
What do you think makes the band different now to back in the 80s? Because for people that perhaps have lost track, you guys have changed a lot from The Final Countdown days.
I believe our musical horizon has broadened over the years and we feel more confident in doing whatever we feel like these days. I think we have done our best albums now in the 21st century but we still love playing material from the 80s and 90s in concert. So when you experience a Europe show you get the best of both worlds.
Speaking of The Final Countdown days, you’re the “new guy” in the band, who joined during the making of that album. How did you join the band?
Well, I didn’t exactly join during the making of TFC… In 1984 they needed a keyboard player for their Wings Of Tomorrow Tour so I joined them on that tour as a hired gun. I guess they wanted to broaden their sound for the next album so later that year they asked me to join the band, I said yes and thus became a permanent member in 1984. Why did they ask me? I guess I was the only keyboard player they knew of (laughs).
How was the experience of recording with the band at the time? Did you feel comfortable?
It was a fantastic experience for a young guy being involved in his first professional recording. Comfortable? Oh yes! I was 22 and invincible.
Obviously, that album was very successful, but I’m curious to know how was the process of making the follow-up, 1988’s Out of this World. Was there a certain amount of pressure to record an album that could be just as successful as The Final Countdown?
Looking back now I guess there was a certain amount of pressure and I think Joey in particular felt it, although we never talked about it back then.
That was the first full album you guys did with guitarist Kee Marcello. How was playing with Kee? What do you think he brought to the table in comparison to John Norum?
Kee is an extremely skillful guitar player and apart from rock he knows about classical music and jazz and stuff. He also had experience from arranging and producing. John is an extravagant player but more blues oriented and driven by feelings and intuition.
Me being from South America, I’m curious to know how you guys arranged to play in 1990’s Viña del Mar because, back in those days, not many rock bands came to play here.
I’m really not sure but I guess we were asked by the festival and said yes, as simple as that. But I do remember us being thrilled by going to South America and Chile for the first time.
What surprised you about playing in South America?
I wouldn’t say it surprised me but I do remember people being very friendly, and the audience… wow! Probably the best.
I often feel that 1991’s Prisoners in Paradise doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Looking back, what do you think about that album?
I still think it’s a great album but it was released at a time where grunge and other genres were high fashion. But I often hear people say it’s their fave Europe album.
Do you think you guys went back to your European roots with that album?
Well, not for the whole album but on certain tracks, sure.
You recorded with producer Beau Hill in that album, which has obviously worked with so many classic Hard Rock bands. How was the experience of playing with him?
Honestly, in retrospect maybe his way of producing wasn’t what the majority of the band was looking for at the time, but he did a great job and above all he’s a great guy. Beau, Joey, one of the engineers (Jimmy) and myself went on vacation together after the recording. So being in the studio or in the West Indies, at the end of the day we had a good time. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Was the change in the musical landscape at the time, with the rise of Grunge, a factor in you guys breaking up?
Maybe indirectly but, and this is my personal view, the main reason for breaking up was during the PIP tour we didn’t have as much fun as we used to. We felt drained, at least I did and I know Joey did too. We needed a break from each other and from the music Europe was about at the time. We needed to explore other musical territories and above all… We needed to realize what we were missing in terms of band chemistry and longtime friendship. It took us 12 years to do so but hey… some people are slow learners.
How did you, John Levén and Ian Haugland end up playing in Glenn Hughes’ From Now On… album?
I honestly don’t remember how that came about. Sorry, but my memory doesn’t work properly.
How was recording and playing with Hughes?
Playing with one of your teenage idols was a dream come true and realizing the idol from your teens is as human as you and me was a good experience.
I always considered Burning Japan Live one of the best live albums of the last thirty years. What can you tell us about that show?
Oh wow, cool! It was amazing playing songs by Purple and Hughes/Thrall with one of the actual members and also of course songs off the From Now On album which we recently had recorded. My strongest memory is probably when Glenn, after hearing about crowd surfing, decided he wanted to try it. So during the show he stands at the end of the stage, right in front of the audience, stretches his arms up and falls slowly forward for the crowd to catch him. Sadly the Japanese audience hadn’t heard about crowd surfing so they politely stepped aside to make way for The Voice Of Rock and… Ouch! I see Glenn disappear from the stage, probably lying flat, facing the floor with the curious Tokyo audience starring at him from above. Anyway, a minute later he was back on stage again and we continued the show. Thank God, no severe injuries. But I never saw him try crowd surfing ever again.
Eventually, Europe got back together. Was there a defined idea of what you wanted to do as a band?
The only thing close to a defined idea was that we were not going to force ourselves to try writing songs sounding like we did back in the days. And that everybody had to be openminded to try new, different and off the wall ideas, even John Norum hahaha.
How was the making of 2004’s Start from the Dark after so many years separated?
I remember it being a bit tentative before finding our positions and a functioning band dynamic. That’s what I sensed was the feeling for all of us. But it was good fun being together in the studio again.
John Norum left the band after The Final Countdown because he wasn’t a fan of the band’s musical direction at the time. How much of an impact does he have in the band’s writing process?
He had some great ideas on Start and Secret but since then he hasn’t been that active in presenting ideas. I think he looks at himself as The Guitarist and that’s where he wants to put his energy.
I think 2012’s Bag of Bones has been one of the strongest Europe albums in your entire career. Do you think that was the time where you guys fully developed your new sound as a band?
It’s difficult for me to look at our albums from an objective point of view but you might be right.
Does the time you spent separated and doing other projects in the 90s helped you become better musicians?
Oh yeah, most definitely. You really develop as a musician and expand your views by playing with others.
As a keyboard player, what do you consider important to learn to play in a Rock band?
Playing keys in a band where the guitar is often predominant is a lot about finding a place for it in the audio picture where it makes sense. Or you can do as I did… Just tag along for the sex & drugs hahaha. (Just kidding)
I feel that 2015’s War of Kings was a somewhat darker musical affair. You also had a lot of writing credits in that album. What can you tell us about the making of that album?
Well, we worked with Dave Cobb as a producer on that one and he’s the best I ever worked with. We had so much fun and there were so many ideas thrown around. In the evening we all sat at a big table having dinner and drinking wine, talking about life, discussing music and god knows what.
Vocalist Joey Tempest is the band’s main songwriter. How is working with Joey on a regular basis? What makes him such a prolific songwriter?
It’s a pleasure working with Joey these days. He’s open for input and has a driving force and a strong feeling of where we’re heading. And above all, he’s surrounded by geniuses hahaha
You guys have stayed together through thick and thin for so many years. What makes you work as a band?
I guess you have to have a lot of acceptance of other people’s differences. There’s a lot of patience involved. And the main reason: Over the years each and every one of us have learnt how to cope with four other morons hahaha
Considering the current pandemic, what can we expect of Europe in terms of upcoming shows?
We cannot say anything yet really, guess we’ll have to wait and see how things develop. But as soon as it’s ok to come out and play we’ll be ready, willing and able, I can promise you that. We can’t wait!
Compared to Walk the Earth, how is the new album going to sound like?
Oh, we have no idea. It’s a blank page at this moment.
Well, thank you for this opportunity, Mic. It was a pleasure. Any last words for our readers? Where can we follow Europe on social media and buy your albums?
I like to look at Europe as a band on a constant journey through our own little musical universe, exploring places we haven’t been before. We’re grateful for the people who want to join us on this trip. Our band website is: www.europetheband.com This will easily lead anyone interested to our official Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Our music can be purchased online from the usual places. Thank You!
You can follow Europe on the links below: