An Interview with Kee Marcello of Europe & Easy Action

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In a decade known for its guitarists, Kee Marcello was truly a standout from the bunch. Beginning with Easy Action, soring to fame with Europe and beyond with his solo work, most recently with Our Of This World, Kee has established a firm legacy as one of the better lead players within the genre of Heavy Metal and Glam.

Today, I’ve got Kee Marcello with us for a chat. We touch on his early roots, what led him to the guitar, the formation of Easy Action, world domination with Europe, his thoughts on Grunge, and much more. If you would like to learn more about Kee Marcello, you can head over to his Facebook page here. Enjoy this interview. Cheers.

Andrew:
Kee, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. How have you been holding up over the course of the tumultuous events of this last year or so?

Kee:
Well, at first it felt very strange to change my normal touring schedule with hundreds of travel days a year to – absolutely none. But during the spring of 2020, when it became obvious to me that I’d have to stay put for god-knows-how-long, I went ahead with my plans to move my studio (GEM Studios) from the premises in Högsbo, where I’ve been the past 15 years or so, into my house. This has proven to be a very smart move, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a creative patch as the past year.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, I wanted to go back a bit and touch on your early days. What go you hooked on music?

Kee:
In her early teens, my older sister Ingela was obsessed with the Swedish Pop group Hep Stars (which actually featured keyboardist Benny Andersson who later formed ABBA). So I got drawn into it, fueled by her enthusiasm. I was around 7-8 at the time., so I was pretty impressionable. I loved Hep Stars. We had all their 7′ singles, and we even saw them live twice. But once I started collecting 7″ records, it didn’t take long until I got into the Beatles. The first one I got was an EP with” I’m Looking Through You” on it, and I remember being totally blown away by their sound.

Andrew:
More on your origins, so to speak, where, when, and how did the guitar enter the picture for you? Who were some of your biggest influences? One’s who perhaps you owe your style the most to.

Kee:
The guitar came into the picture much later. I was playing around with my sister’s acoustic guitar a bit in my pre-teens, but what I really dreamed about was an electric. And after a long and resistant lobbying campaign (read brainwashing) directed at my parents, I finally got a used Hagström with single coils for a Christmas gift in 1973. It cost 150 Swedish Kronor, which would have been the equivalent of $15.

I immediately started picking up riffs like Purple’s “Smoke On The Water,” Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” Budgie’s “Breadfan,” Stones “Jumping Jack Flash,” Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice guy,” to name a few. I pretty much hurled myself at any riff that sounded cool. A couple of years later, after being able to wrap my head around soloing a bit, I discovered the 70’s UK band Patto’s excellent winger Ollie Halsall, and he’s since been by far my most significant influence. The vocalist of that group, Mike Patto, was also a considerable influence on my singing.

Andrew:
Let’s go all the way back now. You formed Easy Action in 1982, right? Tell us more about that band’s inception. How did things get started?

Kee:
If we want to go all the way back, we should mention Stetson Cody Group, which was my first band in Umeå, the town in the north of Sweden where I grew up. Originally we called ourselves Joker (I was obsessed with the Joker in the Batman comics). Still, after a change of drummer and the addition of my cousin, Sven Lövbom, on guitar, the other members prompted a change of band name. Now, we came up with a name such as Stetson Cody Group, only God knows.

I moved to Stockholm in 1979 and embarked on a couple of moderately successful projects, namely Kee & The Kicks, which led me to meet the guys in Noice and later join the band. It’s hard to talk about Easy Action without mentioning Noice. That’s where I met Peo Thyrén and, perhaps for the first time, seriously started to focus on my songwriting. I eventually performed on and produced their 1981 album Europa. Myself and Peo actually started scheming the launch of Easy Action in the tour bus while on the road with Noice.

After releasing our first album in Sweden in 1982 our manager, Sanji Tandan, went to the music business fair Midem in Cannes, France, and on his return, we signed a historical US major label deal with the founder of SIRE (Warner Bros), Seymour Stein. We were the first Scandinavian rock act ever to accomplish this, so it was all over the news. One has to remember that back in 1982, Scandinavian Rock acts weren’t really taken seriously by the US music business.

Well, Easy Action changed that forever. It was only after our SIRE signing that Scandinavian bands like Europe and TNT got signed to US majors.

Andrew:
Your first two records with the group, Easy Action and That Makes One are truly underrated albums from that time period and genre. What do you recall about the recording of those records? Why do you feel they get lost in the shuffle, so to speak? Was it simply the glut of music coming out around that time?

Kee:
I believe that Easy Action mark I (as I now call it to be able to distinguish the two) were a bit too early to hit the US Glam wave with bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison, etc. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that the whole sleeze Rock thing took off. A quite convincing piece of proof of my hypothesis is the lawsuit that followed Poison’s release of “We Want Action,” which chorus was identical to that of Easy Action’s “We Go Rocking.” The whole thing ended with a “settlement out of court,” but I regret to this day that I didn’t drag Bret Michael’s and CC DeVille’s sorry asses to court after hearing Michael’s smug comments about it during the press conference when they played Sweden Rock Festival. A journalist asked him, ”Do you have a comment about “We Go Rocking” and Easy Action?” his reply was that he, “Hadn’t heard of any of them!” I can get over the fact that you stole my song, but at least own it, you coward!

It later turns out that Ric Browde (who produced Poison’s debut album), a big fan of Scandinavian Glam bands like Easy Action and Hanoi Rocks, brought our album to the studio during the recordings of Look What The Cat Dragged In and after playing it back prompted the guys to record a cover of “We Go Rocking.” The band’s reaction to that was, “Nah, some fucking Scandinavian Glam band? Let’s rip ’em off. Who’s gonna now?” (Ric’s own words). At the time of the lawsuit, I was far too busy with Europe to have the time to deal with it; my publisher Warner/Chappell Music, was running the lawsuit.

Easy Action mark II and the album That Makes One is a completely different story. In 1985 me and vocalist Zinny Zan had different opinions on which musical direction the band should go, resulting in him leaving the band. (He later moved to LA and had a pretty successful patch with his band Shotgun Messiah).

Zinny was then replaced by Tommy Nilsson, and we immediately started working on the That Makes One album. By that time, my self-confidence as a songwriter and producer had grown considerably, and I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the album to sound. By this time, we had a manager named Niels Kvistborg, and he had been to the US a couple of times and had stirred up some serious interest from labels, namely Geffen and Sony. It really felt like this was going to be the new big Swedish Rock export, but all that changed when Europe’s manager called me (as I was on my way to the photo session for the cover of That Makes One), and asked me to join Europe.

Andrew:
Shortly after you finished the recording of That Makes One, you left easy Action to replace John Norum in Europe. At the time, Europe was riding high off the success of The Final Countdown. Still, was it difficult to leave the band you had founded?

Kee:
Contrary to what the media seems to think, Europe wasn’t actually “riding high” quite yet at that point. Yes, The Final Countdown was already a hit in Sweden, and the band had a moderate following in Japan, but it wasn’t until after I joined that band that things really started to go crazy. While we were rehearsing for The Final Countdown World Tour in Stockholm, we constantly got new reports about how promotors had to change to bigger venues due to the increasing demand for tickets. This was, of course, not because of me; it was due to this amazing chain reaction that eventually got the single to go number one on the sales charts in 21 countries. Then followed a couple of crazy years when we really couldn’t walk down the streets of any big city without bodyguards!

Of course, I’ve had my fair amount of “sliding doors” regrets over the years, it wasn’t easy to abandon the guys in Easy Action, and That Makes One which was my baby. But I still believe it was the right choice given the circumstances at the time.

Andrew:
More on Europe now, when you joined, the band was about to peak. Was it a huge adjustment being inserted into that kind of situation?

Kee:
Like I just mentioned, the super success came gradually, so it was something we in the band all had to get used to together. But there is really no way to get prepared for something like that. A month or so into the TFC World Tour, in 1987, we realized that we had to do what we called “runners” after every gig. This means, after the encores, go straight off stage out the back doors, straight into the waiting cars and get the hell out of there. ASAP. We had learned the hard way that if we stuck around the venues after the concerts, we would end up trapped inside indefinitely by uncontrollable masses of fans!

When I’ve sometimes told these stories to friends, there’s always at least one wise guy that goes, “But what’s the problem with sticking around and sign autographs for your fans?” Like we were spoiled brats that didn’t appreciate the hands that fed us. The answer to that is “no problem” given normal circumstances. But how do you think that idea pans out when there are 20,000 fans pumped up to hysteria by having seen their fave band live, with their super still hit ringing in their ears, all wanting their autographs simultaneously?

We quickly realized that large crowds out of control could lead to hazardous situations. Not just to us in the band and our crew. Everyone around us. We got trapped inside hotels several times, with hotel guests and staff being endangered by crazed fans blocking the entrance insisting on getting into the hotel. And how do you think a police force of say, a couple of hundred officers, can control a crowd of 10-15,000 people? They can’t, and that’s when people end up getting hurt.

Andrew:
Your first record with Europe was Out of This World, which was a stand-out follow up to The Final Countdown but didn’t quite reach those same heights. What can you tell us about the recording of that record? Did the band struggle to step out of the shadow if and match The Final Countdown?

Kee:
After the TFC World Tour, I went to reside in the Bahamas. I’d been to Miami and bought a home studio, and I was now writing and recording demos for the coming album in my townhouse on Nassau Beach Road, while Tempest was doing the same in Stockholm. A couple of months before the recordings, we’d met up with the amazing producer Ron Nevison in Denmark to visit at PUK studios, where we originally intended to record the album. The studio facilities were great, but it was located in the middle of nowhere, and we just felt that it wasn’t going to work out for us.

We all met up in London for rehearsals before entering Olympic Studios in Barnes for the recordings. The first day in the studio, Ron presented a demo of a song written especially for us by Diane Warren, one of the most successful songwriters in the World. Nevison, being a “song man,” was notorious for plugging hit songs for bands that he produced, which he’d demonstrated brilliantly with many acts, most recently when he’d come up with both mega-hits “Alone” and “These Dreams” for Heart, whom he’d produced 2 very successful albums with. Ron plugged the tape in, and we all listened back to the song, and I was completely blown away! “What a super hit!” I burst out. Although the demo recording was basic, I could already hear Joey’s voice and my guitars on it. It turns out everyone in the band was excited – except Tempest, who looked almost insulted. “Europe isn’t a cover band,” he muttered. And that was that. Once Europe’s manager, Thomas Erdtman sided with him (which he always did), him and Joey outvoted the other four band members. This is when I realized that Erdtman really wasn’t Europe’s manager. He was Tempest’s. The song was called “Look Away.”

After finishing Out Of This World, Ron Nevison’s next producing mission was Chicago, which had lost their lead vocalist Peter Cetera a couple of years earlier when he embarked on a solo career. Although they had replaced him with great vocalist Bill Champlin, the word in the music business was that they would have problems reaching the heights of the Cetera era. Since we’d declined recording “Look Away.” Nevison now offered it to Chicago, who recorded it and got a #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart! Not only was it a smash hit, it actually became bigger than all the other hits Chicago had with Cetera! You don’t have to stretch your imagination to breaking point to realize just how profoundly such a hit song could have rewritten the band’s future!

The recording of the album was great, and Ron Nevison did an amazing job. A real pro. We had a lot of strong material for the album, so we were all excited. We sure felt that we had expectations to live up to trying to follow up such World phenomena as the TFC, but in the midst of recording an album, it’s not what you’re focusing on. We went with “Superstitious” for the first single, and everyone felt happy with that. I was using my Tommy Folkesson-modified Marshall JMP amp, and together with Ron Nevison’s ingenious tweaking, we created a legendary guitar tone. With its timbre reminiscent of a woodwind instrument, it became known as the “flute sound.” To this day, I daily get emails with questions about this guitar tone.

Andrew:
Ultimately, you would only go on the record one more record with Europe, which was 1991’s Prisoners in Paradise, which is an excellent record that seemed to succumb to the same fate as a lot of your peers at that time. The early 90s was such an odd time for Rock bands from the 80s. What can you tell us about the reception for that record and for Rock and Heavy Metal music at that time in general?

Kee:
It was a great recording period in LA with producer Beau Hill, and I felt that we had material with a heavier edge to it, more in line with what musically was going on in Rock ‘N’ Roll at the time. It definitely felt like we were on the right track. Unfortunately, record labels don’t reason that way. After four bosses of Epic had visited the studio to listen to the songs we’ve recorded, they refuted the album, telling us to write more ballads. Labels rely heavily on stats, and they knew that the biggest song on the charts for us in the US was “Carrie” from TFC. And unfortunately, the label really had us by the balls. Our tour agency had already started booking the next world tour; if we didn’t release an album before that, we would lose astronomical figures. So we had to replace rockers like “Break Free” and “Yesterday’s News” with co-writes like “Halfway To Heaven” and “I’ll Cry For You.”

I can’t say I was happy with that decision, but in retrospect, the album turned out great. And unlike a lot of our colleagues that got dropped from their labels when Grunge came marching in, we had our label hounding us for a follow up to Prisoners In Paradise. Why? Because we were still selling millions! Which label in their right mind would drop a winning act? What finally made us decide to go on hiatus was the general evolution in the Rock music business. We didn’t feel like Europe belonged in a World of Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Andrew:
The early 90s was such an unfortunate time for Rock/Metal. Here you have all of these incredible bands and players who were at the time of their game, and they were all seemingly told to just go home? To me, that always seemed so crazy- you guys played too well? Can you expand on that at all? What are your thoughts on Rock and Heavy Metal’s downfall in the 90s?

Kee:
It was heart-wrenching. Suddenly, it was fashionable to go on stage and act like a homeless person with very limited musical skills, and a lot of the bands that went through these Grunge moves got picked up by the majors. It was a sheer mass psychosis. Of course, there were good acts that survived over time, but it seems like people have forgotten all the shit bands that got a following because of this anti-movement. And it lasted for about 5 minutes. I remember that Stone Temple Pilots refused to be called Grunge already when they released their second album. So, 5 minutes that killed Rock ‘ N’ Roll. (Well, temporarily. Rock ‘N’ Roll never dies).

Andrew:
As I mentioned before, the 90s wasn’t overly kind to rockers; that said, you formed Red Fun with Freddie Von Gerber and put out a great self-titled record, and you put out an excellent solo record in1995 called Shine On. You sort of experimented with some County sounds with this record, right? Tell us more about that record and your other endeavors during the decade
.

Kee:
Well, with Shine On, I felt that I wanted to do something different than what I’d been doing the past decade. Although Red Fun was promising with support from the Cheiron label and Live Nation, it just didn’t stand a chance of survival in the Grunge era. I remember getting this question by Vanessa Warwick in an interview on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, ”Do you really think it’s a smart move to release a ’good time Rock ‘N’ Roll album’ in the midst of Grunge?” Well, in hindsight, probably not. But what the fuck did you expect me to do?? Make a Grunge album? Fuck that! I’m so happy I didn’t jump on that one-way train to hell. Some of my colleagues did and effectively ended their careers by doing so.

With Shine On, I got to explore a different dimension of my song writing, doing arrangements with acoustic instruments, and for the first time sing all the lead vocals. I’m very happy with that record.

Andrew:
In 1999, Europe reunited for a one-off show, and this ended up being the only time that you actually shared the stage with John Norum. Tell us more about that experience. Why didn’t the band continue on at that point? Ultimately, when Europe did regroup in 2003, did you have discussions with them about rejoining at that point? Any chance we see you with Europe again?

Kee:
It was a fun experience. We performed on a raft in the middle of Stockholm’s Ström, facing the Royal Castle, in front of 250,000 people. The event was initiated by as brilliant as crazy billionaire Jan Stenbeck. It was his idea to build the raft and do the concert in the water of Stockholm’s Ström in order to get as many people as possible to be able to see it. I remember that we got delivered a personal message from the Swedish king saying, “Myself and the Queen will be watching your concert from the balcony of Stockholm castle. Rock out.” Sweden’s got a cool king!

There were talks about a reunion with both guitarists after the concert, but it never happened. And I’m glad it didn’t. I don’t care for any of the albums they’ve released since the reunion in 2006. They don’t have a trace of the good songwriting that was the mark of the band in the past. With the exception of “New Love In Town,” which originally was written for Prisoners In Paradise, I don’t hear any great songs. I’d consider a reunion tour for the occasion of celebrating Out Of This World or Prisoners In Paradise, but never a situation where I’d have to play the songs from their new albums.

Andrew:
Onto more recent events, in 2017 you formed Kee of Hearts, which is now called Out Of This World, and in 2019, you rejoined Easy Action. What led to you finally making your way back to the band?

Kee:
Myself and Tommy Heart, who work amazingly together, didn’t get along with Frontiers Records, so we took a step back to consider the future of our band project. At the time, I was suggested by people in the business that I’d call it “Kee Marcello’s Europe” for the sake of recognition, but I thought that was an utterly stupid idea. Eventually a Japanese friend of Tommy’s came up with the suggestion to call the band Out Of This World, and I liked that from the get-go.

For instance: When Black Sabbath reunited with Ronnie James Dio, they couldn’t use that name for obvious legal reasons, so they chose to call it Heaven And Hell. Us calling our band Out Of This World uses a similar line of thinking. We’re releasing our debut eponymous album on JVC Victor in Japan on April 2. It’s produced by me and mixed by none other than Ron Nevison! I’m so glad to be working with this amazing producer once again, for the first time in 33 years! And considering our band name, who would be more fitted for it? He’s done an absolutely amazing job mixing it, and we’ve also got the legendary Don Airey (Deep Purple, Ozzy, etc.) playing keyboards on 4 songs.

I’m very proud of this album. It’s the best songwriting I’ve done – perhaps ever! Tommy’s vocals and my guitars are just meant to be, and this is my first priority musically from now on. Also, we now have Darby Todd (The Darkness, Gary Moore) on drums and Ken Sandin (Alien) on bass (both from Kee Marcello Band), so it feels like the perfect line-up.

Easy Action reunited for the Swedish Rock Festival in 2019, but COVID got in the way of further touring plans. I’ve since written new material for the band, but it wasn’t until “Dazed” that we figured out how we want Easy Action to sound 2021. Check out the “Dazed: official video: here.

Andrew:
Now that the hard ones are out of the way let’s talk about vinyl. Are you into it? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital?

Kee:
Unfortunately I’m very digital, mostly since I spend a lot of time in my studio, so digital makes sense. I’m on the hunt for a high-end vinyl player though, I so much missing having one.

Andrew:
What’s next on your docket these days? What else are you passionate about? How do those passions inform your music, if at all? Can we hope for some new solo work soon? How about a long-awaited new record from Easy Action?

Kee:
Well, I’m afraid my music is such an omnipotent passion that it pretty much overshadows anything else, except, of course, my family. And after decades of spending a lot of time on the road, this past year, I’ve discovered how much I enjoy being at home. So in the future, there’ll have to be some serious gig offers to be able to drag me out of the house!

When it comes to musical enterprises: All I have on my mind right now is Out Of This World, so a new album with Easy Action will have to wait.

Andrew:
Last one. You’ve had a long and multilayered career in music. As a veteran of the scene, what advice would you have for young artists looking to dive headfirst into music?

Kee:
Work hard and stand your ground!

Cheers // Kee

Interested in learning more about the work of Europe? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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