inside story: Def Leppard

It's been seven years since the release of their last record 'Songs From The Sparkle Lounge', but now Def Leppard are set to release their first ever self-titled album, easily the best thing they have recorded since the mighty 'Hysteria'. Joe Elliott, Phil Collen, Vivian Campbell, Rick 'Sav' Savage and Rick Allen have been touring throughout the U.S.A. but are now about to embark on a sold-out U.K. tour with Whitesnake and Black Star Riders. To celebrate their return Ant Heeks caught up with not only Phil Collen but also Vivian Campbell, to bring you an amazing, in-depth insight to Def Leppard the band, the album and the men behind it. The first of the two guitarists in the hot seat, Phil Collen...
How's the tour going so far?
Awesome! We couldn't ask for anything more, we're playing to really big audiences, usually when the kids go back to school you see a real difference, we've got three or four sold out shows coming up in the next week. It's amazing, the reaction's fantastic.
Onto the new album, you all got together with the view of recording a three-track EP, next thing you know you've come up with your best album since 'Hysteria'! What happened?
Well basically, we didn't have anybody telling us what we had to do, which can give you Red Light Fever, people can go into the studio and just freeze up, and it's just not the best environment for being creative. I think what happened here, it's like The Rolling Stones, Bowie's done it, James Brown, all our favourite artists, they just write songs and record them and put them out. Probably in the Eighties you had the situation where the record label says "we need this" and the record company executive says "we need that", it creates a completely different type of product. We didn't have to do an album, in fact many bands these days don't because it's counter-productive, they don't really sell, the reason we did this record was because we had this music that we loved. From writing the songs and making the music, I think it's the truest Def Leppard album we've ever done.
This is the first album you have ever recorded without a record deal in place, do you think that gave you more freedom to experiment.
It totally did! It actually flowed a lot better, it didn't have that thing where you have to make the jigsaw puzzle fit, where you need a certain type of song or you need this and that. In a million years we would never have put this collection of songs together if we were tied to a label, the dynamic of it is completely different. That's just it in a nutshell really.

Have Def Leppard ever had a Record Label interfere and pressurize you into recording a specific type of album?
Not really, because we always had Mutt Lange producing. If we were getting bullied into anything he would just step in and say "get the fuck out of here, don't come and interfere with my band while we're trying to be creative". So we had that for sure. I just think that in the back of your head you're thinking "O.K., we've got to get this finished by a certain date, we've got deadlines, we've got schedules, is it gonna be right, are the fans gonna like it", where with this one we didn't have anything like that at all. It was like being a band who is making their first album, you've got this collection of songs, you want to share it, you want to record it and that adds a different feel to it in a very artistic way. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, that's what they used to do, non-corporate and totally artistic. That's the difference right there, that's why we enjoyed doing it that way.
Have you followed the same guidelines as the '...Sparkle Lounge' album where you wrote the songs individually, or have there been more collaborations this time?
It depends, some songs were done that way. The great thing about this record is there were no rules, no strict guidelines or parameters - if you start having that parameter bullshit you get something that is more uptight. With this one certain songs work a certain way, other songs work in a different way, and that's really the way the whole thing came out. It was a very natural experience.
Where did the idea come from that you would all sing lead vocal parts on the song 'We Belong'?
It was Joe actually, he'd had this song sitting around, he first played it to us backstage as long as seven years ago, and then it came to fruition where suddenly we'd demoed it in less than a day, then it actually turned into a master and we thought it would sound really lovely if everybody sung a few lines on it.
What about 'Sea Of Love', there's a bit of a Glam Rock influence in there.
A little bit, the backing vocal thing which is interesting, because me and Joe are big T-Rex and Bowie fans and all of that stuff, and we thought it would be great if we could get like a Black female type of voice on there singing these high parts. Obviously I'd been doing the Delta Deep album at the same time as we've been doing this Def Leppard tour and album, and Debbi Blackwell-Cook, who's just an amazing singer, actually helped out with all the backing vocals and sang those lines with Joe, she totally had the voice for it, it was perfect. It kind of reminds you of some of the earlier T-Rex stuff.
There is a lot of diversity throughout the album and I think a lot of the songs hark back to different periods of Def Leppard.
Yeah, I think so, and the great thing about it was that we didn't put any restrictions on that, because we've done stuff before where we go "we want it to sound like 'Hysteria'", but with this one it was totally wide-open, and it was great. Each song had a different flavour to it and it's definitely refreshing to be able to do something like that.
A song like 'Blind Faith' could have been on the 'Slang' record.
Yeah, it's funny how that came about. We started in February 2014, I was staying in Dublin in this little cottage, it was snowing, it was bloody horrible weather, I came to the studio and I had the melody and the guitar part, and I had to stop and record it on my phone. I got to the studio and said "play this" and that was the demo that started everything off, and everybody kind of pitched in with their ideas after that. We wanted to have this kind of Beatles-type thing in the middle with Cellos and stuff, very different. It was work in progress for the longest time, then Rick said "you had that demo about eight years ago, why don't you stick that on the end?" It almost sounds like a 'Freebird' type of ending, it just worked so perfectly. The whole album was very much that way, nearly every idea that anyone suggested kind of worked, just because we didn't have any kind of restrictions, I really think that was it.
Do you all still record together in the studio at the same time?
No, every song's different. Some songs, like 'Invincible', we actually went in and sat around, Rick played drums and we got the basis of the song from that. Some of the songs that we had demoed before, we went in and gave them the live treatment and recorded them like that, then did the overdubs over the top of the vibe of it. A song like 'Energize' is totally a studio song, we got a drum part down and added weird guitar parts that sound like violins, then we recorded a demo vocal that we ended up keeping, that became the whole thing. So every song's different, it was more fun doing it that way, it was less of a gruelling thing. The other great thing about it was that we did it over three different sessions, we started it in February 2014, went on tour with Kiss, then we went in and finished some songs off and took them to the next level in May that year, then we completely finished in February 2015, and then obviously Joe lives at the studio so we could just go in and do little bits, we would do some things on tour like go backstage and record backing vocals, Viv would come in and add guitars because he was away in hospital, so there were no hard, fast rules, anything that could make it work basically.
So why did you decide to simply call it 'Def Leppard'?
I came up with that, again I thought this album was about us, it wasn't us responding to what fans wanted, or the record label or anyone else, it was purely about us. And we'd never used that title before, so it seemed very apt to do that, especially because it seems to be coming less and less likely that bands put albums out. It seems to represent where we're at, I think.
Is it somehow signifying the closing of a chapter of the band, or even opening a new one?
I think opening, but the great thing is it could be either, I'm not quite sure what it is right now. Without putting too much deepness in it, it's just us saying this is where we are right now. It's certainly a new way of recording, it's Chapter One as far as I'm concerned. As far as records in general right now, the fact that you can stream records now and all that stuff, it's kind of the end of the music industry in that respect, so it could also be the closing of that chapter at the same time. I think you're right, it could be a bit of both.
Quite a few of you have projects outside of Def Leppard, does this help invigorate new life into the band when you get back together?
I think so, I think it can actually influence it. Obviously Delta Deep is very different to what I do in Def Leppard, the guitar playing and singing is exactly the same, it's just what we do with it, it's usually one take and pure expression. With Def Leppard I have to think of another guitar player fitting in there, even when we do vocals I can't just do a scratchy third take vocal, I have to do it thirty times to do a vocal harmony, then thirty more times if you're doing a third part, then somebody else has got to sing it as well so you have to get it more precise. That adds something else when you get the Def Leppard choir sound, it's different in that respect, but having said that I do like the fact that you get inspired to write things when you go somewhere else when you're doing a different style of album with different musicians you normally wouldn't get to play with. It helps you be more creative, it opens up your arsenal where you get more influences to draw from. That makes you a better person, better musician, better everything. It just adds to the experience.
Do you ever write a song for another project then think "hang on, this could be a Def Leppard song"?
I did that with 'Sea Of Love' actually! I thought it was going to be a Delta Deep song, I played it to the guys and they thought it was great. I was doing it while we were doing the 'Def Leppard' album, I was out by Joe's pool doing it on my laptop, and Sav said "this is great, we could do this", so we did! It sounded amazing as soon as Joe started singing, ironically Debbi Blackwell-Cook sang on it as well so I got both at the same time!
You're on tour at the moment, do you think the three-band bill is the way to go these days?
On this tour it is, we're playing places we played on the 'Hysteria' and 'Pyromania' tours, we've just played The Shoreline in San Francisco to twenty thousand, eighteen thousand in St. Louis, seventeen thousand in Chicago, really crazy stuff! It's really working, Styx are better than they've ever been they've got more of an aggression to their playing which really suits what they do, Tesla are just killing it, they're sounding amazing. All three bands are singing their own vocals, you've got no Pro-Tools sessions or sampling or any of that stuff, so there's an integrity out there that a lot of people are picking up on, and people are just loving it. For these three bands right now it's definitely the way to go.
Is there any frustration that you only have a limited time slot for your set? You have quite a back catalogue...
No, you just make it work, it makes it more exciting. Even my favourite artists, like I went to see Prince a couple of years ago and it was brilliant, I was in there for about two hours, he went off, I thought "great, I'm off home now", then he came back on and played for another three hours! That's too much for me. We've done the shows, like when we did the Las Vegas residency and played the 'Hysteria' album and did all these deep cuts which was cool, but we couldn't do that at a regular show because people would get bored, they wouldn't know some of these songs and they might walk out. You've got to be mindful of that as well. I think it's fine to cram it into an hour and a half, you have to drop some songs, you obviously have to play the favourites, but it keeps you on your toes.
A lot of the new album will be great live though...
I think so, I think it's going to really work. We've been rehearsing 'Let's Go' and that sounds brilliant, as always whenever you do a new album you're always going to want to play it so you have to find a slot for the new songs and decide what's going to work live, we have no idea yet.

This article was used with kind permission and co-operation from FIREWORKS MAGAZINE

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