"I wanna be touring the outskirts of the planet!": Guitarist Kee Marcello discusses Europe's Le Baron Boys era and his UK tour
The former Europe guitarist gets candid as he explains why he's 'Scaling Up' instead of slowing down unlike many of his peers as he gets ready to tour the UK.
At 58 years of age, Swedish guitar virtuoso Kee Marcello, who made a name as leader of the 80s glam rock band Easy Action, and more popularly as the guitarist of Swedish rock giants Europe, has no plans of slowing down. The intention is clear in the title of his last studio effort, 2016's 'Scaling Up'.
"For a while, I was reading in mags and online about rock stars my age talking about how they don't wanna tour as much. They don't want to record as frequently," Kee explains in an exclusive interview with Meaww. "Sounds like a retirement plan you know!" he says, appalled at the idea of stowing a talent away. "That's not the place I'm in at all," he says in a spritely, defiant manner.
"I wanna tour more. I wanna go to places I've never been. I wanna be touring the outskirts of the planet! I wanna write new songs, make new albums. But it seems like a lot of my colleagues are scaling down. I'm 'Scaling Up'," he explains the title of his fourth full-length solo studio effort, a follow up to 2013's 'Judas Kiss'.
While he 'scales up', Kee is hitting the road this October, with six dates lined up in the UK, kicking off with a gig on October 11 in Bilston, England and wrapping up on October 18 at The Ferry in Glasgow, Scotland. But before the tour premieres, Kee tells me that the band's going to start off with an intimate secret warm-up gig in London. "Just to get everything ready," Kee says about the gig. "We just invite people, friends of ours, to come and check the show out. It's always a great thing to do before the premiere of a tour so you get a hang of things and figure out what to change around."
Kee's also playing at Hull Metal Heaven on September 15 so the prog-rocker is a busy man indeed! For the upcoming tour dates, fans can expect a well-balanced setlist that includes crowd favorites from the Europe and Easy Action days as well as Kee's solo repertoire. "We're playing an Easy Action song called 'Talk of the Town'," Kee reveals. "And a lot of people want to hear it because it's been re-recorded by a Swedish artist. So it's a hit again. Which is nice!" he says with a chuckle.
Die-hard fans of Europe will be familiar with Le Baron Boys, a pseudonym that the band used for a performance at the famous Whisky a Go Go club in 1989. Europe also used the pseudonym while working on follow-up material to their hit album 'Out Of This World'. Two years later, the Europe album 'Prisoners in Paradise' was released, but was largely overshadowed by the latest trend in the music scene: the grunge era, propelled by the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam.
Kee will be performing material from the Le Baron Boys era on the tour, some of which also features on 'Scaling Up'. During the interview, he discussed his choice to go back to this era while working on his new album. "That kind of writing came to a halt for me when grunge came along," Kee explained. "When I came out of the other side of the grunge era, I came out with a slightly different idea on how to write riffs and all that. But I think I was on the right track before that," he said of his Le Baron Boys days.
"I tried to place myself in that era because I really love that time and that sort of music. With one foot in the Le Baron Boys era and one foot in the future, I tried to create something out of that."
Indeed, 'Scaling Up' does reflect that era's sonic feel, with the opening track 'Black Hole Star' starting with an intro reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult before launching into a full-fledged ax attack courtesy of Kee Marcello. The album also reflects on some heavy themes, especially on tracks like 'Finger on the Trigger', which in a happy coincidence, turned out to be both Kee's favorite track from the album as well as mine. It's a moody slow burner that's nothing like the rest of the album and as Kee revealed to me, was written from the perspective of a suicide bomber just moments before committing the final deed.
"It's actually about the thoughts of a regretful suicide bomber," Kee broke the song down. "I'm trying to picture a suicide bomber having regrets before pulling the trigger on a bomb. He starts to think about what's really basic and human. His family - his mother, his sister. He reaches a point of doubt."
As Kee revealed, 'Finger on the Trigger' was an out-take that he wrote in the Bahamas, one that didn't make it to the 'Out Of This World' album. "It didn't make the album. It was only a demo. So I found the old quarter-inch tape in my garage. That demo is from 1987 so you know what I had to do? I had to bake the tape. Have you heard of this?" he asked.
I admitted that had no idea what 'baking a tape' involved and Kee excitedly went on to give me a 101 in analog music restoration. "What they do is they put the whole tape in an oven. You put it in a special sort of oven and you bake it at 60 degrees Celsius. Because with tapes that old, the magnetism gets lost. So the material on the actual tape is falling off. By baking it, you can still play it back three to four times to make digital copies. So you won't lose it all. So I had to do that. And then I re-wrote all the lyrics but otherwise, it's the same song from the demo."
Another track that stands out is 'Scandinavia', a song about the excesses of California and a yearning for Kee's home of Scandinavia. Kee was talking to me from his home on the west coast of Sweden, outside Gothenburg, the home of melodic death metal. "I moved back to Sweden in '93. I moved first to London and then with the band to the Caribbean, where we resided. But we spent most of the time in San Fransisco and Los Angeles. We were with the same management that managed the band Journey, and we spent a lot of time there," he said.
Talking about the evident homesickness in the lyrics of 'Scandinavia', Kee explained: "If you listen to the lyrics, it's very much me in Los Angeles. Getting lost in Los Angeles! Creating a difficult time for myself by developing terrible drug habits and all of that. The reason I actually moved back to Sweden is because I felt that L.A. was killing me. Of course, not L.A. itself, but the lifestyle I was leading in L.A. was killing me. So I started to think about home and how easy living is in Scandinavia. Apart from the weather of course," he adds with a laugh.
The last few years have been pretty intense for Kee. In between releasing a DVD - 'Live From The Third Rock'; a well-received lead role in a top-selling Swedish version of the Broadway musical 'Rock of Ages', and induction into the Swedish Music Hall of Fame, Kee also released his autobiography 'The Rock Star God Forgot', in which his graphic descriptions of drug use raised quite a few eyebrows. When I asked him about his take on drugs now, Kee was quick to say, "I don't touch the stuff now."
"I mean I'm in the music business. Let's be frank, it's a big part of it. A lot of people are doing it. Back in the 80s, it was part of the whole deal. 'Sex, drugs and rock n roll', it was a complete package. And you know I had a friend of mine at the record company who send over a woman before every weekend who came and took orders. 'What would you like?' she would ask."
"Oh, you would like some Hashish? Ok you would like two grams of cocaine?" Kee does an impression of his old acquaintance, drawing from his drug-fueled memories from the old days. "It was picking up orders for the weekend! We'd get them packed in neat doggy bags." But those days are behind Kee now. He does enjoy his occasional beer, but that's about as far as it goes. "What about that hashish? The occasional puff?" I asked.
"I was never much of a smoker. I was more of a 'nose guy.' I enjoyed the blow!" Kee said, adding that he didn't need rehab to quit and just went cold turkey and "nothing happened!"
Apart from laying out all the songwriting, recording it and now, on his solo efforts, singing as well, Kee also produced the entirety of his last studio LP. He mentioned that he's always loved spending time in the studio producing, and shared an interesting anecdote of how producing got him in cohorts with Europe in the first place. "I've always been a producer, you know. That's how I met the guys at Europe. I was producing at Swedish Metal Aid, and me and my colleague compacted the album. We got all the Red Cross compacts and released it through them and I produced them. Joey [Tempest, the vocalist of Europe] was one of the singers, so I actually gave him his first Platinum record. That was the year before I joined the band. So I think that was instrumental in us getting to work together. Even before that, I was always producing."
"I was thinking about the next album, though. Maybe I should get someone else to produce it. Get a second opinion!" he quipped. But jokes apart, Kee is admittedly still scaling up, and in between all the touring, he intends to find time to record new material. He's already written three new songs, and he says it's just a matter of finding the time to sit down in the studio and get to work on it. "I don't really believe in sitting around for inspiration. I have to sit down in the studio and work on it," Kee said.
Since Kee's been residing a stone's throw away from the birthplace of melodic death metal, aka 'the Gothenburg sound', I asked him if he's into any of the local bands currently. Not so surprisingly, he's a big fan of In Flames, who he's quite good friends with too. Kee featured on the 1999 In Flames hit-album 'Colony', contributing the second guitar solo on the album cut 'Coerced Coexistence'. He also revealed that he recorded his 2013 album 'Judas Kiss' at In Flames' studio.
Finally, I discussed Kee's decision to respectfully decline Europe's request to rejoin the lineup for their 2003 reunion tour. "I think I had a completely different idea of how we would proceed if I were in the band," Kee noted. "They wanted to pursue music in a different vein and I wanted to go out there and play what people wanted to hear," Kee puts it simply. "I guess I wanted to make it a celebration of the music we created back then, but they weren't interested in that, so we decided to go our own ways. But it's worked out great."
'Scaling Up' is out now on all major streaming services. You can listen to the full album below via Apple Music. Spotify subscribers can check it out here. You can also get tickets to Kee Marcello's upcoming gigs here.