Latest release: Out of This World (Atomic Fire)Website: www.outofthisworld.se
When Swedish guitarist Kee Marcello joined the ranks of Europe in late 1986, the touring machine behind the already recorded, major label album The Final Countdown kicked into high gear across the world. The subsequent album, titled Out of This World, was released in 1988 and charted well worldwide, with resultant further touring. But after Prisoners in Paradise didn’t fare quite as well as the multi-platinum predecessors, it wasn’t long until the advent of grunge saw the band collectively pull the pin as the new scene played out.  

 After Europe reconvened from hiatus in 2004, original guitarist John Norum returned and Marcello decided to concentrate primarily on pursuing a solo career. Following a number of well received albums and a recent project with singer Tommy Heart from German hard rock band Fair Warning, new band Out of This World was formed. Named in reference to Marcello’s tenure with Europe, the band’s debut album was mixed by legendary producer Ron Nevison, who also produced the Europe release Out of This World. The sonic results are quite spectacular with an authentic analogue sound.  

Marcello’s songs shine with his unique virtuoso guitar skills and Heart’s powerful vocal delivery bolsters solid song writing, all backed by established rhythm section bassist Ken Sandin and drummer Darby Todd. Plus, keyboard wizard Don Airey contributes his unique musical mastery to proceedings. Loud Online recently spoke to both Marcello and Heart about their new band and the self-titled debut album. 

 Europe finally toured Australia in 2018 and they play songs you contributed to in the studio.  

Kee Marcello: Well the other guy [Norum] couldn’t make it today. Ha-ha, to be quite frank, I don’t like it when he tries to play the Superstitious solo, it sounds horrible. But he is a great player, we have different styles so that’s just how it is. I absolutely don’t mind them playing songs I have written on or played on, in the past. To be fair, I still have to play The Final Countdown and Superstitious, the people don’t let me off stage if I don’t. 

 I mentioned it since you’ve named the band Out of This World. 

Kee Marcello: There’s a funny story about that actually and I totally get it. Tommy came up with that name. Our first release was in Japan and it later became number one in the albums charts as the work that JVC has been doing for us in Japan has been outstanding but before we had a band name, we had different sort of suggestions and my British publicist suggested a couple of years ago that I call my project Kee Marcello’s Europe and I said, ‘That is just horrible, I hate it.’ I remember when there were three different versions of the Sweet out on the road. How the hell are you supposed to be able to tell them apart? It is ridiculous, I mean, there has been two Saxons out there and presently there are two versions of Yes. It is the audience who are voting with their wallets based on who they choose for tickets to go and see. I think that is just bullshit. But then Tommy spoke to a friend of his in Japan who said, ‘Why don’t you call the band Out of This World? It is probably the one album that broke Kee Marcello’s career in Japan and it wouldn’t be much different than when Ronnie James Dio was signing in Black Sabbath.’ When they played live with Black Sabbath they couldn’t call the band Black Sabbath because of reasons with Sharon Osbourne – she would have killed them in court and totally sued them into smithereens. That was not the possibility so they chose to call the band after the album, Heaven and Hell. They played plenty of festivals under that name. It wouldn’t be much different to call the band Out of This World and so we thought about it, and actually, it is an album title that really works as a band name as well. It worked for us so we said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’  

 Tommy Heart: Kee came up with some great songs and then we decided that we needed to record them. We recorded a demo first, with three tracks [bonus on the album]. The cool thing was that during that time we were involved in the project called Kee of Hearts. So, we had a chance to play one show in Germany. We rehearsed for two days in Gothenburg and then we thought, ‘Okay, Kee has got three amazing songs, let’s record them.’ Then we decided to forget about the project and to come up with a real band instead. It’s a great album that Kee played on so that is the reason. You need to be honest with names, and we were looking for a good name, and some people came up with names like Kee Marcello’s Europe and all this shit, and I thought, ‘Hey, you cannot do these things,’ and then I thought, ‘Look at what Black Sabbath did with Dio, why not?’ Anyway, Out of This World sounded more modern, not dated. All the animals for band names are chosen already and anyway Kee liked the idea. All the fans would be reminded of the album so it is a good thing. 

 

It was certainly a nice touch to get Ron Nevison involved with the Out of This World band. 

Kee Marcello: Oh absolutely, and I am so happy. One thing that I have a problem with modern engineers is that a lot of them use compressors and limiters to make everything flatline. I want to hear some dynamics; lights and shadows, ups and downs. Dynamics is what makes music. Tommy and I were talking about this on the phone because I am in Gothenburg, Sweden and he lives in Berlin, Germany. He said, ‘Well, you know Ron, why don’t we call him?’ and I had kept in touch so I called him and he was very generous. Ron said, ‘Dropbox me a file of the song and I’ll do a mix. I’ll send it back to you and if you like me better than the other guys, we can continue the conversations from there,’ and he gave us a mix that absolutely blew our minds. It was exactly what we wanted. The song he tried out was Twilight and so it was a done deal. Then we just had to do some rearranging of our calendars so he could mix the whole album, which I am so proud and happy that he did. The result is astonishing. 

 Tommy Heart: The excitement was always there because Kee is an amazing guitar player and also a great songwriter who knows how to put a song together. It was great working with Ron, he is a legend. In the beginning, I was into digital sounds and I was on ProTools like crazy since the early 90’s. My ears got used to the digital sound so after the first mixes I had to get used to the whole analogue sound again. I am really thankful for it because it brought me back to the real, great sound. You need to be careful with digital because there is sometimes too much compression on vocal parts and music. Music is really something special and you need to treat it well. That is what Ron did with the way he mixed it. At first it was a bit weird because I know exactly how my vocals are supposed to sound. It sounded so different with the analogue sound, because of the kind of effects he used, and how he treated my vocals. I was really talking to Kee saying, ‘Hey man, what is he doing to my vocals? It is hard to understand.’ He said, ‘Listen to it, I think it is great,’ and after a while, I thought he was absolutely right. What he did was amazing and I am so thankful that I had a chance to work with someone from the era, who is more into the analogue stuff. It is the real thing that you need to use for rock music. 

 It is a clear mix which also helps the instrumentation and how they sit sonically. An example of a song that is different is The Warrior which is a boogie but again, the mix is brilliantly done.  

Kee Marcello: Yeah, it is magic and it is his speciality, you can hear everything so yes, it is amazing and I don’t know how he does it. When you ask him, he will diminish his part in it when I call him a genius. He’ll say, ‘No, I am just levelling stuff,’ and I reply with, ‘Levelling, my ass, you’re doing some magic to it.’ I cannot do that, I just love it. 

 The Warrior reminded of Paul Gilbert era Mr. Big. Your vocal delivery has an Eric Martin style to it. 

Tommy Heart: Oh really, thank you, it is more bluesy whilst the rest is melodic rock. This is the way that you need to sing rock music with a blues influence. You need to sing it like this, you know, Eric Martin, Paul Rodgers and David Coverdale. So, that is what I did. It is even a bit Bryan Adams sometimes as he did something similar on his first album, not like Van Halen but I am talking about more blues styled vocals. If the song needs those kind of vocals, you need to deliver.  

 Were you using a lot analogue equipment or adapting into the digital methods of today? 

Kee Marcello: It is a mixture, like always, when, thirty-two years ago, I first worked with Ron he was one of the pioneers to use digital machines. So, that album was recorded on two 32-track Atari digital tape machines for obvious reasons, as it is easier to edit with digital than it is with analogue. But, we use a lot of analogue outboard gear, especially when we are recording the drums, and it is always with real amplifiers. You know, with this stuff you can never get away from it, you can mention modelling here and there but fuck that, a [Marshall] JMP from 1980 is what I used on this album and it is on all of it, it is amazing. It is the same amplifier used on The Final Countdown tour and other tours and albums; it is the very same amplifier. 

 To some extent, it is a competing contrast of those who prefer vinyl formats versus earbuds. 

Tommy Heart: I am a record collector and still have my big vinyl collection. I even have it in my recording studio so if I am in the mood to hear some music, I put vinyl on. But if you are recording your own music and vocals, you achieve things that you think are great with a bigger sound but you are losing some stuff. I’d lost that [sense of sonic space] and now it is back, I am hearing my voice. The first time that happened was when I was listening to the first Fair Warning album [Fair Warning]. That first album was like this, it sounded more analogue, and I think it is the best album we’ve ever recorded. Now, to compare that to Out of This World, it is the same sound quality and it was because of the producer. Back then, we were recording with Rafe McKenna, an engineer who was mixing Giant and Bad Company. These guys know exactly what to do with rock music. I am really happy that Ron Nevison showed me again, ‘Hey, shut up, sing, I will take care of the sound.’ 

 Kee, your fanbase would also expect your guitar tone to sound a particular way which presumably acts as a standard or benchmark to meet. 

Kee Marcello: Yeah but it hasn’t been too much of a stretch for me. Anyone that has been following my solo career, I have been pretty loyal to the melodic rock genre and I don’t really think that I am meant to do anything else. It is not like I am going to start hip-hopping any minute now. Melodic rock is what I do and it is what I do best so I am going to keep on doing that. To be quite frank, I’ve been writing the same style of songs since 1985, ha-ha. 

 How would you say the song writing processes differ with this band to your solo works? 

Kee Marcello: Well, I was on a crazy creativity trip which was partially due to the COVID situation. I was in isolation and I have my studio at home. I don’t live in the city, I live a bit outside of Gothenburg, about twenty minutes outside of the city. So, it was just me, I could just get up, close the door and get started. I was on a roll, man and the songs just kept flying out of me. For this album I wrote everything, except for Not Tonight, which was actually meant for Easy Action [pre- Europe] when I wrote it with the lead singer [Zinny J. Zan] and the drummer [Björn Höglund] but it never happened for Easy Action. I picked it out of the drawer and I let Tommy sing on it and Don Airey played the keyboards and it was, out of this world.  

 How did getting Don Airey to play on four album tracks come about? 

Kee Marcello: I have known him for quite a while and had a chance to work with him a couple of times. The first time that I met him was in 1987 when Europe was doing a double date at Hammersmith Odeon in London. At the meet and greet, Neil Murray showed up, the bass player from Whitesnake, whom I had known from before and he had Don Airey with him. I was in awe because I was such a big fan of his work in Coliseum II, with Gary Moore playing the guitar, as it was an amazing band. I love everything he has done, with Ozzy and with Deep Purple, obviously. We’d always been talking about doing something over the years but never really found the right project to get together, then when I had three or four songs, I called him and said, ‘Listen, I think I have something right up our alley.’ I sent him some files and he called me right back and said, ‘Fuck yeah, let’s rock!’ He played on four songs and I love it, I am very proud of the fact that I have him playing on this album. 

 Tommy Heart: I worked with Don before because I did a tour of Japan with Uli Jon Roth in 2000 so we played a couple of shows together. Don is a great musician and has a perfect ear, he played on so many albums that I love, with Gary Moore, with Ozzy, with Whitesnake. When I heard that he wanted to play with us on some of our songs, I was really flattered.  

 The first track of Twilight is certainly reminiscent of Steve Vai era Whitesnake. 

Kee Marcello: Oh, that is interesting. I think of music in all different ways. I don’t think in terms of styles, I think in chords and you know, it is really weird. My biggest song writing inspiration is Todd Rundgren, believe it or not, the soul rock guy, and that it where I get a lot of inspiration. When I get stuck, I think about my early inspiration of Todd Rundgren and that is always something that helps me song writing wise. It is not that I am copying or anything, he just gives me help by being an endless source of inspiration to me. Then of course, with my signature guitars on top of it, and the keyboards, it sounds like me, but obviously you’ll hear Def Leppard or Whitesnake or anything else from that era. Ha-ha. 

 Twilight is a fantastic opening song and at seven minutes long, makes a statement. 

Tommy Heart: It was the first song that we played together and we thought, ‘What should we do with such a long song?’ We decided we should put it as the opener, that is the best thing you can do. Also, the ending of the song is amazing because Don Airey was playing a keyboard part, it sounded like a fanfare, like a movie soundtrack. Really, when he came up with the idea, which is also on the demo version, there is no keyboard ending. But I really love it and I think it is a great opener, and it was also the mood that we were into, we had this kind of Twilight feel. We also took care of the whole running order of songs on the album, even with The Warrior, if you get the vinyl format, when you turn the side over, it will start with that song which is a great choice.  

Talking guitars, there is the signature model Larrivee guitar that you’re holding on the framed magazine cover story [Guitarist] in the background. Do you still use it or is it entirely Gibsons? 

Kee Marcello: Ah yeah, this [picks up nearby actual signature guitar], it was forgotten about and was in a warehouse for twenty five years. My guitar tech found it so I just had it completely redone and it is top notch now. It feels exactly like it was back in 1988. I mean, there’s still the damages but I kept them because otherwise it wouldn’t have been my guitar you know, it has the scallops and all that, I love it, now it is beautiful, I am going to use it on the tour.  

 Nice, obviously a Gibson guitar is a lot heavier.  

Kee Marcello: Oh yeah, I mean I started to work with Gibson in the late eighties but they have been going through some problems lately with a change of ownership. The old CEO sold the company and for a while, they tried to make Gibson into Apple, that is what he tried to make it into, I think, and he changed the name from …I mean, that name goes back to the 1940’s – to try to change it from Gibson guitars to Gibson brands tells me that he is in the wrong business. This ain’t fucking Apple, man, this is guitars, you should do what you do the best. It is really like me starting to play hip hop, it is exactly what it is, Gibson should make guitars. 

 Indeed and speaking of guitars, the solos on the album are very well done. I notice you have that penchant or approach of revving up, so to speak, just before the solo starts properly. It might be a quick scalar pattern to being a high harmony note. Would you call that a signature stylistic aspect to your playing? 

Kee Marcello: Oh absolutely and what you’re talking about is rubato. I have my own timing where I can start slow and then get fast to then aim for a note and then land on that exact note. I would say that is unique for my type of playing or the way that I am doing it. A lot of guitar players find that to be my signature, for instance the Superstitious solo has a lot of rubato in it. It is often used in classical music where you only use sixteenths or triplets. Sometimes it just a particular bunch of notes that should be played over a period of time and you have to decide where to land in order to start, where you land, which is really interesting and this is why I like classical music. But that is the way that I approach it. Not to be too dramatic about it but to try to let the melody lead you where you want to go and use the technique to emphasis the melodies in the solos. That is what I try to do. 

 Some solos include premeditated patterns but I presume your soloing also includes elements of improvisation? 

Kee Marcello: It is definitely a mixture and if I find a melody, I will try to stick to it as it is a like a hook in a song. It is like a scene, if you wish, or a main scene with a solo so you might want to stick to that or come back to it but make it different on the second time around; maybe an octave up or in different phrasing ways. We have to play around with the melodies. A lot of it is improvisation as well because rubato, in itself is improvisation. You don’t know exactly where to land and if you’re aiming for the tune and you fuck up, it sounds horrible, because missing the two or the one, where you want to land makes it sound like you don’t know what you’re doing, and that is exactly what is happening. You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing and you land in the wrong place so, I mean, it is a skill that you’ve got to practise to get to the point where you can master it. 

 The outro solos on Lighting Up My Dark and Staring at the Sun are excellent. It goes back to 80’s levels mixing, focusing on one instrument during a fade out. 

Kee Marcello: Thank you, it is like that, exactly and also it is the point when the drummers asks, ‘Why doesn’t he ever shut up?’ Ha-ha. But I like that, you know, the slowly gliding out of the song, instead of just, ‘bam,’ and now it is finished.  

 Is it the kind of situation where a producer would normally rein you in saying to play the middle eight solo only, and take that sort of approach? 

Kee Marcello: Well, since I was the producer on this one there was nobody that could stop me. But when Ron Nevison was producing me, for instance, he could be a pretty harsh critic sometimes. He would say things like, ‘You should not play there.’ But often, when I got into the game, he would just let me go and see what happens. I did a similar thing one of the songs. At first, when I started doing an end solo, he just looked at me and said, ‘Oh, not again.’ But when we listened back to it, it was really cool so we ended up keeping it. If you never try it, how are you going to know if it is going to work? 

 Do you think a lot about vocal arrangements? The song Teach Me How to Love Again almost sounds like you have a backing choir. 

Kee Marcello: Oh yeah, I arranged all the backing vocals and I sing all of the backing vocals. Then with Tommy, Ken [Sandin] and myself, it means we have three voices for all of the four part harmonies so that is why the backing vocals sound so big. But also, not only that but I sing on the demos so my phrasing is ever present in my song writing. Song phrasing is very much at the heart of a song. To make a phrase really happen, you have to do it the right way and there are only a couple of ways to do good phrasing on a sentence. 

 Tommy Heart: Kee is a genius with this; he knows exactly what to do and sends me his ideas and then I put my vocals on it. It all happens pretty fast when it comes to backing vocals because when Kee is writing, he is already working on that and they are fixed. Everything works very well and I am really surprised because I was always fighting hard for great backing vocals [in other bands] but with him, he is sending me plenty of ideas to try. He is really a great musician and I am lucky to have him in a band. 

 A vocalist usually has to sing the melody line, work in with guitar harmonies and then discuss arrangements with the rhythm section. I gather at this sort of level it was all very intuitive. 

Tommy Heart: It was amazing. Sometimes you need to discuss parts with the rhythm section and so on but here it was so different. In the beginning we would hear an idea for a song and would soon be recording it. We didn’t have to instruct anyone on playing because everybody was doing it from the bottom of their heart, they would play a take and you’d keep it like that. It worked so well, we didn’t need to talk. In other bands I’ve been in we’ve had to talk to the drummer and say, ‘Hey, keep cool, it is a ballad,’ or something like that, but it was not here in this band because of the quality of the musicians. 

 Staring at the Sun has a big introduction with the song demonstrating great spatial production. 

Tommy Heart: Yeah, I would say that the introduction is a typical Out of This World sound, and that is our sound with all of these big intros including keyboards. Then, all of a sudden, it changes and this is why I love Staring at the Sun so much. It becomes a different song when the vocals come in and this is what I really like, and then in the chorus, we are back into the arena rock music. It is a great track. 

 In your experience with the Swedish pop machine, as it were, what have you learned about getting that vocal melody hook? 

Kee Marcello: Oh man, it is so crucial. It is recognition, I guess but also to make other people feel what you feel, which is not always easy. If you look at my song writing, coming from Europe and now, in Out of This World, if you compare me and Abba, it is not a stretch. It really is not as much of a stretch as you would think, at first glance. We both come from Swedish folk music which is very melodic. There’s that A minor melodic and C major key for beautiful folk music and I think that it influenced all our song writing, even for guys like Max Martin, the pop song writing genius, and all the other similar song writers. We come from this sort of melodic Scandinavian musical environment that influences us all. I think that it is really important to find the edge of a melody in everything you do, otherwise you are not going to be able to make anybody interested in what you’re doing.  

 Tommy Heart: It could be in his blood because of Abba, it could be. The Swedes are educated when it comes to music. They are really good. 

 Early on in your career and during the early eighties, were there a lot of singers in Germany trying to sound or deliver like Klaus Meine from Scorpions? 

Tommy Heart: I was a big fan of Scorpions during that time but when I was fourteen, all these bands that I was listening to did new wave of British heavy metal like Iron Maiden and Priest. I started because of Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan and Bruce Dickinson. That is the reason that I started singing because before that, I was a drummer in my high school band, but they decided to pick someone else and they said, ‘Hey, if you want to stay in the band, you need to work on your vocals,’ and that is what I did. They gave me three albums and I learned my lessons listening to On Stage, Made in Japan and of course, The Number of the Beast. 

 

Is there a particular song on this album that you’ve most happy with at this point? 

Kee Marcello: Well, I think that it is really ten good songs on this album but then, of course, you have, I think perhaps for instance with Staring at the Sun. It is a pretty cool subject and obviously I wrote it about the situation with the former US President [Trump] and all that. There are a lot of smart people out there that are not staring into the sun but he was, for sure. The arrangement of the song, where the chorus goes open wide, has the guitar voice with more of an Andy Summers of The Police tone, with a clean riff. I like those kind of lights and shadows where you go down on the clean sound in the verse and then you half open up in the pre-chorus to go full blast on the chorus. I like the dynamics on that song, and the melodies, of course.  

Can you elaborate on how the line-up all came to be? 

Kee Marcello: We have Tommy doing lead vocals, I don’t know if Fair Warning was an item in Australia but it definitely in the EU and they had an amazing career in Japan and still do, actually. We were working on an unrelated project where I brought in Darby Todd, who is the drummer from The Darkness, Gary Moore, and was recently playing on Devin Townsend’s new album. He is one of my favourite drummers actually. He and the bass player, Ken Sandlin, from the Swedish band, Alien, are the rhythm section from my solo band [the Kee Marcello band] so we go way back. We have done hundreds of gigs together so I really wanted to bring them into the mix with me and Tommy and that is how this started. We were rehearsing for the only gig that we have done for this line up. We were doing the H.E.A.T. Festival in Ludwigsburg in Germany and a couple of days before we met up in Gothenburg, Sweden, to rehearse, at Top Floor Studios, where I normally record all my drums and stuff. As everything is with this band, it turned out to be as easy as pie and we had the set down, just after playing it through after three or four times. So, we had loads of spare times and I said, ‘Listen guys, I brought three mp3s that I would really like you to listen to. Maybe we could take the time and record some of these tracks and we’ll have some new music?’ So we listened back and before the evening was over, we had three basic tracks; Twilight, Lighting Up My Dark and In a Million Years. Even though we didn’t have the band name yet, that was when the band was born, so to speak and we really thought this is going somewhere as it was so easy working together and it was effortless. In that way, we’ve already suffered all over the place. We had shopped these three basic tracks and that is how it started; our manager showed it to JVC who signed us in Japan. Then we had to wait, as even though we were number one in Japan, our manager heard about these guys from Nuclear Blast starting the Atomic Fire label and we thought, ‘This label is going to be perfect for us,’ but the only downside was that we had to keep this secret for eight months.  

 You’ve also worked with Uli Jon Roth. 

Tommy Heart: He was a bit before ‘96 because when I joined Zeno he wanted to check if I was the right singer for that band. Before Fair Warning, there was Zeno named after band leader Zeno Roth who is the brother of Uli Jon Roth. He needed a new singer and they called me up, then I met Uli for the first time. It was kind of weird because I was only 21 or 22 years old and I am from a tough area in Berlin with gangs and stuff, then I flew over to Hanover and I faced Uli and he came to me and say, ‘Hey, Tommy, how are you? Let’s go straight over to the studio, I want to check if you are the right singer for Zeno,’ so I was surprised. I was not a big fan or Uli Jon Roth but only because early Scorpions wasn’t really my kind of music. Later on, when he left, yes, and I was a big fan of Michael Schenker, I really loved his guitar playing. Uli’s guitar playing is more for guitar players, it is different. He influenced so many guitar players including Eddie Van Halen, as you know, but for me it was not something special, it was just Uli. Ha-ha.  

 Do you prefer playing a club show or at a festival? 

Tommy Heart: I love both but playing in a small club is more of a challenge. I love playing on stage and it doesn’t matter to me if I am playing in an arena or in a nightclub. I don’t care, give me a microphone, have a great band behind you and let’s go and rock it, you know. We would love to tour the band and to come to Australia after we go to Japan, as it is just around the corner, right?