John Norum is the guitarist in the Swedish hard rock band Europe. He also released several solo albums (live and studio) throughout the years. His current album Play Yard Blues takes his guitar playing in a new direction that embraces a more bluesy style.
Music-News’ Claudia A. spoke with a very easy going John about his musical heroes and his love for 70’s retro rock.

Music-News:
John, what inspired you to Play Yard Blues?

John Norum:
Well, a couple of years ago I featured on a Frank Marino/Mahagony Rush tribute album and I did one song on it - there were other artists on the album, too.
I just had such a great time doing this; it’s more of a blues-rock type of thing. So I thought that my next solo album I’m going to do will be more in that kind of style, you know. Blues-rock, hard rock, hard rock blues, Whatever you wanna call it. So basically that’s how I started, I go way back with the blues. In the seventies I listened to it all the time.

MN:
Will you stick with the album’s musical style from now on?

JN:
Well, actually I wanted to do this for a long time, you know. I mean, thankfully Europe’s last album 'Last Look At Eden’ has a little bit of those heavy blues-rock influences. So this feels very close to home. As I said, I started to play blues guitar a very long time ago and it’s just fun. I really enjoy it, you know.

MN:
You still play with Europe, how have they reacted to your new solo album? Have they interfered in any way?

JN:
No, not at all. They’ve been very supportive all the way, I mean, they know I have a solo deal with Mascot Records in Holland. I said it from the beginning when we started six years ago or rather, when we re-united (laughs). I said that I am going to continue doing solo albums on the side, because it’s a fun thing for me to do.

MN:
Why did you choose an instrumental number (the only one on the album) as the title track?

JN:
Well, I actually had the title of the album before I put it on the song, you know. As you can hear on the track, it’s just kind of a jam, like, one take and we’re having a good time. It’s like we’re in a play yard or in the playground just goofin’ off and playing around. So basically, it’s for guitar players and bass players and drummers. The whole album is very much a musicians album and I wanted to do it for guitar players and then if other people like it who are not musicians, that’s just the icing on the cake. If the regular Joe’s or even the Europe fans like it, then it’s really great, you know. But for me, it’s simply some really good playing on there, and that’s what I wanted to do. Because with Europe, I do more commercial and radio friendly stuff. So with this album, I wanted to do the opposite (laughs).

MN:
Two tracks on the album, 'Got My Eyes On You’ and 'Born Again’ are quite different in style, much more hard rock and not bluesy at all. Why have they been included?

JN:
That’s a good question, haha. When I listen back to them today – because I did record them quite a long time ago – I’m thinking, 'Why did I put those tracks on it?' I should have done actually more of a blues thing, so it would fit the rest of the material. But a lot of people including fans really seem to enjoy the songs. It kind of breaks up the whole thing, so it doesn’t get too sleepy. So there are more hard rock elements for which I’m famous anyway and also, the Japanese like all that hard rock stuff.

MN:
The three cover versions on the album are all by 70’s bands – Thin Lizzy, Frank Marino/Mahagony Rush and Mountain. Is this an era that, musically speaking, has influenced you more than any other era?

JN:
Oh yes! The 70’s, that’s my favourite time for music and stuff! I mean, it was so organic and real back then, you know. There were no computers and no messing around in the studios and trying to make bad musicians sound good. Back then, they all were really good players. You know, UFO and Thin Lizzy or Deep Purple and Frank Marino and all those bands, there was something real and organic about it that I enjoy. I’m an old hippie, so I like that kind of stuff (laughs).

MN:
Will you distance yourself from playing more radio friendly material (like with Europe) and focus more on what you call organic music?

JN:
I’m not looking to get a hit song on the radio, otherwise if I would have done that, I would have done a 15-sec long guitar solo or a thing like that. What’s on my new solo album is the stuff that I really enjoy playing and it really comes from the heart and I gonna continue doing it on the next album, too. It’s not going to be traditional old men’s blues, you know, it’s still going to be heavy and a bit dark but goes into the blues-rock style. It’s just so much fun playing it on the guitar, it opens a lot of space and room to come up with interesting things whereas in heavy metal / hard rock, it’s more restricted. You have your 30-sec guitar solo in the middle and the rest is just singing, basically. With my solo stuff, it’s more like a spiritual thing; I would always say that if the sun was in the right place, I go into the studio to record. So it’s a like a very spiritual feel-good album. It has a good groove and a good feel to it, you know.

MN:
You’re currently touring with Europe, are you planning on some solo shows to promote you album?

JN:
Maybe I do a few shows after the summer when we’re done with the summer festival. Also, we gonna start writing for the new Europe album and well, so I’m hoping to do a few shows in the future. That would be great and a lot of fun. But in the meantime I hope to see you all during the Europe tour and I also hope you guys will enjoy my new album.

MN:
Thanks for the interview and I hope that Play Yard Blues will do great.

(Please read my review of Play Yard Blues in our 'Album Reviews’ section).

Play Yard Blues is released in the UK on July 5th by Mascot Records

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