Europe’s John Norum Talks New Music, His Approach to the Guitar, and the Recording of “The Final Countdown”

All images courtesy of Fifth Island/Sony Music/Tallee Savage

After years of glam metal stardom and acrobatic guitar heroics with Europe and Dokken, John Norum has returned with a new solo record titled Gone to Stay.

By Andrew DiCecco

A guitar hero emanating from an era characterized by excess and six-string gymnastics, John Norum’s legacy can be attributed to the resoluteness with which he weathered rock music’s turbulent evolution.

Blending blistering fretwork and discernible blues licks from his primary influence, Gary Moore, Norum fueled the band Europe through its ’80s heyday. Before embarking on a solo career, the Norwegian-Swedish guitarist appeared on the band’s first three albums – Europe, Wings of Tomorrow, and The Final Countdown, but Norum didn’t pivot without leaving a lasting impression. And tracks such as “The Final Countdown,” “Rock the Night,” and “Cherokee” timelessly showcased his guitar wizardry.

Although Norum’s career, which incredulously spans over four decades, has been filled with unexpected detours – including a return to Europe in 2004 – his solo career has endured. On Oct. 28, 2022, Norum released his ninth studio album, Gone to Stay, via Fifth Island Music/Sony Music.

During our recent call, Norum and I discussed his latest solo offering, Gone to Stay, his evolution as a guitarist, and the latest on the Europe front.

What was the framework for Gone to Stay, John?

It’s a blend of all kinds of different influences that I’ve had over the years. I think it’s the most complete album I’ve done; I feel like there’s no one bad track on there. It’s a mix of all different styles and things, and I’m very excited about it. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video that just came out now – there are two singles out at the moment – one is “Sail On,” and one is “Voices of Silence” – and it was cool. We have a third single coming out, and it’s a mix of blues, hard rock, and even some metal in some places.

The song “Norma” is the track I found most enjoyable due to its multi-layered approach. How did that one come together?

That one was just the drummer and me. We just went into the studio and started jamming. I had a demo with some good parts in it, but it wasn’t complete, and we just went into the studio and started messing around with it. We played it live, the old-fashioned way, and after that, we arranged it; it had a different arrangement at first, but as you can do these days, you can move things around. I got the Stockholm Symphony Orchestra to play on it, which was exciting, especially for them because they never get to play new rock. So, there are some real strings on there and everything. The lyrics are written by a good friend of mine called Michael Guy. It’s about Marilyn Monroe and Norma Jean’s life story. Michael Guy is a producer, engineer, and guitar player from the States; very, very good. We wrote two songs on this album. We needed an off-tempo song because everything was kind of mid-tempo, so I did it.

Wigwam vocalist Age Sten Nilson guested on three tracks on this album. What was the connection there?

So, he does this Queen tribute sometimes, where he goes out on tour, and they dress up like Queen. He has his Freddie Mercury outfit and all that. And a few years ago, he asked me if I wanted to come up and play a couple of songs; he only played Queen songs. So, I played like three songs with him. He knows me from the band Europe. I didn’t know anything about the guy, really; I just knew that he won the Norwegian Eurovision song contest at one point in time. He just had this incredible voice. It’s like, “Wow, this guy sounds just like Freddie Mercury.” I was totally blown away by his voice.

So, after that, we kept in touch, and then we started this copy band with Mickey Dee on drums and Hal Patino on bass. We kept climbing the walls and wanted to do something, so we got together and did this little project called Nordic Beast. We did a few shows in Sweden and Norway and then kept in touch. I thought his voice would be perfect for that song because that’s not my style. When I sing, I like to sing slower, more mid-tempo songs. And this was really high up there, high range, and I sing more low range; Phil Lynott, David Bowie-ish type of thing. That’s what I’m into. So, I asked him if he wanted to do it, and he said, “Yes.”

All images courtesy of Fifth Island/Sony Music/Tallee Savage

Having worked with Wyn Davis extensively over the years, did trust and comfort influence your decision to bring him in to mix Gone to Stay?

Wyn is amazing. We had a connection from day one when I joined Don Dokken’s band to do Up From the Ashes. We got along great and had a lot of fun in the studio. He’s a guitar player, too, so he understands how I want to do things. And he was very good and gave me input for different guitar parts. And then we continued; he mixed Face The Truth, which I did with Glenn Hughes in ’91 or ’92. Then he did a couple more after that; I believe he did Another Destination in ’95. And then I joined Dokken – not Don Dokken’s band, but Dokken – and I did an album with him in 2002 called Long Way Home. So, Wyn and I have known each other for a long time. I wanted to work with someone who I know and respect, and I know that Wyn is an amazing engineer and producer. So, instead of getting into the mixing business myself – which would probably take forever because I’m so picky with everything – I asked Wyn if he wanted to do it, and he gladly said, “Yes.” And I’m very pleased with the result.

What gear did you use to record this one?

It was mainly Strats. I have this ’72 Strat that I used throughout the album; ninety percent of the album is that ’72 Start. And Marshall pickups FS-1, which are the Fat Strat; they are kind of noisy but have a great tone. And then a 50-watt bass Marshall from 1971; and a 50-watt Hiwatt, one from the ’70s, which I actually bought from Matthias Jabs, the guitar player from Scorpions; a ’77 or ’78 model. Matthias was selling two Hiwatt amps – he used that amp on two Scorpions albums in the ’90s – and he was selling them, so I just jumped on those right away. That amp sounded amazing. The other one wasn’t quite as good, but one was really good.

So, I used that one for three or four solos, but it’s mainly the ’71 50-watt bass amp. I prefer the bass Marshall’s because they’re not as trebly as the regular super leads and the 1987 50-watt model. You can actually use the bright channel on the bass amps without the bass getting too bright. So, I prefer them. And that actually comes from being a Gary Moore fan for many years. My favorite guitar sound of all time is Gary Moore’s Corridors of Power and Victims of the Future, and I found out that he used a 1972 Super Bass. So, I have a 100-watt Super Bass from ’73 and a 50-watt Marshall and Hiwatt.

I hear a distinct Gary Moore influence in your playing.

Oh, yeah. He’s my primary influence, for sure. He’s No. 1. I’ve been following him since the Thin Lizzy days. I saw him live with Thin Lizzy, which blew my mind; he had this amazing tone and so much heart and soul in his playing. He’s definitely my favorite guitar player of all time. It’s mainly European players, like Michael Schenker, Uli Jon Roth, Richie Blackmore, and people like that, but Gary Moore is my top guy.

How has your approach to the guitar evolved over the years?

I used to be more of a speed freak. I’ve slowed down quite a bit. My playing is not as frantic as it used to be. In the ’80s, all of us were about speed, and everything was one hundred miles an hour all the time. I’ve slowed down quite a bit. I try to hang on to the notes and put a little more vibrato into them. You learn other things, chords, especially with rhythm guitar; I’ve gotten so much better at playing rhythm because I always thought rhythms were boring to do. It was always like, “Oh, man. I have to do the rhythm guitars now. I have to wait for the fun parts to do the solos.” But now I enjoy playing rhythms because it’s a groove thing.

How about from a songwriting perspective?

I’ve gotten a lot better at arranging songs. It’s a huge difference from the previous solo album I did about ten or twelve years ago; when I listen back to that, there are a lot of good songs on that album, but some of the arrangements are not that great. So, I can listen to a few songs and go, “Wow, this is a really good song, but the arrangements are not that good.” So, I listen and think, “I could’ve done it a hundred times better today.” I put a lot more into the lyrics now, too. I used to think, “If it sounds good, it is good.” But now, I put a lot more thought into the lyrics – I listen a lot more to the lyrics – which I only started doing five or six years ago. When I actually started listening to the lyrics and what they meant, it made a huge difference compared to my previous albums.

All images courtesy of Fifth Island/Sony Music/Tallee Savage

In terms of writing riffs, how do you typically approach it?

So, take yesterday, for example; I was playing and noodling about at home, and suddenly I started playing this interesting riff. I was like, “Well, that’s kind of a cool riff. I better record this.” So, I bring the cell phone out and record it on the phone; that’s how I do it. I start gathering all these riff ideas, and when it’s time to do an album, I’ll listen to it all, pick the good ones, and maybe add some new parts. I might come up with a new part on the spot or find some other parts and piece it together. It’s like a puzzle. I like anything with a good groove; the groove is very important.

Is that similar to your philosophy in constructing your solos?

Yeah, pretty much so. I get very tired of the guitar players who try to break the world record by playing a thousand notes a minute. It gets very dull very quickly. So, I try to come up with a good melody and also slick grooves that are in time. It’s essential that it’s in time because I tend to rush things. So, I’ll try to think of that when I play a solo, like, “Just hold back a little bit.” For me, it’s important to hold back the notes a little bit longer and things like that.

It’s been a bit since Europe’s last studio album. Is any new material on the way?

Yeah. We are talking about doing a new album next year, and everyone is writing for the new album now. Also, we are in the middle of a documentary on Europe’s history. It starts in 1982 and runs through the present day. We’re filming that – it’s about two hours long, I think – and that will be released sometime in 2023. So, hopefully, Europe will have a documentary and a new album coming out in 2023.

What will be the blueprint for this album? Will it be a return to the roots?

I don’t know what will happen yet, but I suggested we go back to the roots a little bit. We experimented with different styles and this and that, and I don’t think we can take it any further. I mean, we have done the nu-metal stuff; we have done some pop things, even some grunge kind of things. I don’t like to put things in different categories like that, but I think the experiment is over now. I think we should go back to what we did on the second album, Wings of Tomorrow, or The Final Countdown, back to more melodic hard rock. That’s what I would like to do.

Speaking of The Final Countdown, what was your reaction when Joey [Tempest] initially presented the title track to you?

When I first heard the demo, it was about six minutes long. I was very much into heavy hard rock and heavy guitars – still am – and I was like, “We can’t put this song on the album. There’s no way. Just listen to the keyboard intro; this is too poppy.” I was like, “Are we becoming Depeche Mode?” Even though I like them a lot, I hated them in the ’80s, but I like ’em now. [Laughs]. So, I wasn’t very positive in the beginning, but when we recorded it, we had a lot of fun, and all of the other guys wanted to do the song, so I said, “Why not?” And the solo came out great; I’m thrilled with the way the solo came out. It became a classic, and it’s a lot of fun to play live; you see the people going crazy and jumping up and down. I will say that I like “the song “The Final Countdown” more today than I did when we recorded it in the ’80s.

So, it grew on you over the years?

Yeah, definitely. It sounds so much better live than it does on the album. When we played it live, we decided to tune the song down a half-step, so it sounds much heavier live than it does on the album. It’s a heavier song live. It’s pretty cool. I like it.

All images courtesy of Fifth Island/Sony Music/Tallee Savage

Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor for and may be reached at

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: