By now, you’ve no doubt seen it numerous times: The ubiquitous Geico commercial with ’80s metal legends Europe playing their biggest hit, “The Final Countdown,” in a company’s breakroom with the voiceover intoning, “It’s what you do.”
Europe has been doing what they do for over four decades, and their most recent album, "War of Kings," sees a deluxe reissue in December that includes a bonus DVD of the band’s triumphant set at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany this past summer.
FOX411 called Europe lead singer Joey Tempest, 52, during a tour stop in Munich, Germany to discuss how the band got its name, why “The Final Countdown” continues to connect with so many people, and what they might do if they got to play in space. Let the Countdown continue ever onward.
FOX411: First, I have to say, I absolutely love "War of Kings." You guys were able to capture that essence of recording live together in the same room. Do you feel that approach lends itself to a more honest performance?
Joey Tempest: Yeah, it’s much better. There’s something special when you do it live, and you don’t think too much. Obviously, you do four or five takes, and you find the one you really like. You listen to it, and you add bits. But we could not have handled doing it this way 10 or 15 years ago. It comes after doing many live shows, where you get the confidence to keep doing it. I think we’re beginning to get a handle on it. (chuckles)
FOX411: This is a record that clearly needs to be listened to at top volume.
Tempest: I know! I like to crank it up too. It’s kind of nice to listen to really loud.
FOX411: How did you first get into music?
Tempest: I remember when I was very young, walking down the street in Sweden and hearing [Led Zeppelin’s] “Black Dog” for the first time. I went, “How is this possible? How can you sing like that? How can you write like that?” And then as a band, we got into UFO, Thin Lizzy, and Deep Purple. That’s all in our core, and why the five of us are still together. It’s the common denominator, and it’s really nice to have that.
FOX411: Where did you get the band name Europe from?
Tempest: After Deep Purple did "Made in Japan" (1973), they did "Made in Europe" (1976), which is maybe not as good as "Made in Japan," but we listened to both of them. And that’s where I got the name Europe from. It was really funny when I told the guys, [bassist] John Leven and [guitarist] John Norum, about my idea of the name for the band that night [in 1982]. I had to get a few beers in them! (both laugh)
At first [in 1979], we were called Force. I think we had gotten that name from a UFO album, but there was also a band called Rising Force with Yngwie Malmsteen. And then I thought, “We should move up. We should do something else.” That night, I was so nervous telling them I thought it should be Europe. They got so quiet after I told them. But as the night progressed, they started liking it more and more.
FOX411: When you hear other band names like Japan or Asia, do you say, “Wait a minute! We’ve got the continent thing going on here”?
Tempest: I have this theory — if the music is good and you have good musicians, the name doesn’t matter that much. There are a lot of examples of that. The name is just a calling card, you know?
FOX411: I get that. What was the very first record that you got into as a kid, growing up in Sweden?
Tempest: I’m pretty sure it was “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, the single [released in 1969]. We had to travel 20-30 minutes on a train just to get to a good record store. I remember my friends talking about it, and when I heard it, I thought, “I have to get that.”
FOX411: That song had a lot of impact on you, because it also inspired one of your biggest songs, “The Final Countdown.”
Tempest: Yeah, it’s true. He was really fascinated with space, which fascinated me. David Bowie, talking about “floating in a tin can” — I was very taken by that. That was in my mind when I started working on the lyrics for “The Final Countdown.” I had the music first, and I played it over and over and over again, in my basement. I sang different things until I got to “the final countdown,” which fitted it really well. My thought was, the world is expanding and we’re leaving; we’re going up there in space. So the “Space Oddity” lyric really sparked that idea.
FOX411: It’s become such a tremendously iconic song worldwide, right when it was released in 1986. It hit #1 in 25 countries at least, maybe more.
Tempest: (chuckles) Yeah, we never really expected that, especially because it was over 6 minutes long. As a band, we thought it was an interesting song, and it would be a great opener for our show; something to capture people’s attention. We kept it as an opening track for a while, but then everybody started telling me, “You gotta switch it and put it at the end.” Then we started using it as an encore.
FOX411: It’s great seeing new generations get into it too. That opening Olympic-style keyboard riff makes it a call-to-arms kind of song. It puts us into that vibe. “The Final Countdown” has also become a huge sports anthem, something else you probably weren’t expecting either.
Tempest: (chuckles) We didn’t have a clue about that! It’s kind of a goosebumps situation, though I suppose I shouldn’t say that myself. It’s uplifting. People come together, and it makes them feel a certain way. It feels bombastic. I suppose it lends itself to those things. But we didn’t know that in the beginning. We would hear they used it in Formula 1 and other sports like baseball and basketball, in other countries. That was a new slam to it, really.
FOX411: And now we’re seeing you all over TV in America in that Geico commercial. Tell me about how that came about. People just love it.
Tempest: We were approached, and we said, “If we’re going to do this, let’s do a reworking of it and a remix of it.” So we gave Geico a new version. We recorded it in Germany in either 2013 or 2014 at a live show, but we took out the audience. It’s mixed by [noted hard rock/metal producer] Kevin Shirley, who’s been a monster of mixing for us.
That was our criteria. We didn’t want to do the Geico thing with the original because to my mind, that would be too much of a throwback. We said to the ad people, “It has to be fresh. We like what you do. You do good ads, but let’s work together. We want to look the way we want and sound the way we want, so let’s dance!”
FOX411: It comes across as being authentic. When the camera focuses on you singing that key line, you’re so intense, and we believe every word.
Tempest: Oh thank you, thank you. That was the idea: “Let’s do a live version, and let’s do it for real.” It’s really helped us. We’ve got a real simmering going on in America right now, and we’re really excited as a band. We’re getting all sorts of requests, so we’re going back there on tour at the beginning of next year. This is a really exciting time for us, to get some action in America. These days are different, but still, if we can come there and tour new music as well as the old stuff, that would be great.
FOX411: “The Final Countdown” is actually about going into space. You read about these billionaires who want to go into space — does that appeal to you? Would you go?
Tempest: It’s funny you say that, because that’s been weighing on my mind for a while now. I’d like to get in contact with people who are seriously doing some projects to go out there. It could work out, you know. We’ll see.
FOX411: They might need a soundtrack for going to Mars or wherever they’re going, so you guys could just create one.
Tempest: Yeah, like a national anthem from Mars! Yeah, that’s it! (laughs)
FOX411: Does it matter to you which way people listen to Europe music? Are you cool with Spotify?
Tempest: My personal view is slightly different. I buy music on iTunes, and I do listen to vinyl too. Streaming is a double-edged sword for me. We should be organized in the future so everybody, from the engineers to the producers, can benefit. The streaming thing is up in the air at the moment. But it is important, and a lot of people are streaming, so we can’t ignore it. We can work it out.
FOX411: To become a better songwriter, you decided to go back and listen to artists like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Randy Newman.
Tempest: It’s interesting you bring that up. At the end of the ’80s and the beginning of the ’90s, when pop and metal were being pushed to the back, I felt that I needed to go back and learn more stuff, so I started with Van Morrison, the two Bobs — Dylan and Marley — Jackson Browne, and all that. I had to. Now, it brings another dimension to what we do, and that’s really cool.
FOX411: It’s easy to coast, but you challenged yourself.
Tempest: It’s terrific. For example, with a band like Rush, there are twists and turns here and there, and people are like, “What are they doing now?” But as a fan, you like it. It’s challenging, and you follow them anyway. What we do as Europe goes all the way back to “Tom Sawyer.” There were parts of “Tom Sawyer” where I thought, “With one guitar player, we could also have a keyboard player and add some depth, and do some different things.” That’s how it all started.
FOX411: And you do it all live, onstage. The live show is the main touchpoint where we see how much you can shine as a band.
Tempest: Yeah, You hit the nail down on it — live shows are very important. And it’s important for us as musicians to keep digging deeper. A good song and good musicians can really move mountains.
Mike Mettler is the former editor-in-chief and current music editor of Sound & Vision, and he interviews artists and producers about their love of music and high-resolution audio on his own site, Soundbard.com.