When: Late 1995
Where: This was held at either Le Parc or the Sunset Marquis (both are very chi chi establishments in the West Hollywood, California area).
What: By May 1996, when Slang was released, modern rock had reconfigured itself. Gone were the glam metal/pop rock textures that had originally brought Def Leppard astounding success on albums like Hysteria (1987) and Adrenalize (1992). That excess was replaced with a more organic, a more streamlined sound. And for this band hailing from Sheffield, England, minimalism wasn’t even in the vocabulary. So, when veteran Collen and newcomer Campbell sat on the plush couch in their expensively appointed hotel suite, they attempted to explain how they would be embracing this new stripped-down approach.
I had known Viv for many years prior to this conversation. In December 1983, I brought together Campbell, Pat Thrall, Dave Meniketti, Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson for a roundtable discussion for Guitar World. We talked about different artists – Edward Van Halen was a major topic – and styles and philosophies. One of the sentiments that remained with me was the Irishman’s view on band’s sporting multiple guitar players; he saw the situation as quite dross. Though he wasn’t attacking them personally, Viv did elicit some pretty indignant responses from Nightranger guitarists Gillis and Watson. At the time, he was the sole six-stringer in Dio’s band. He’d go on to play with Adrian Vandenberg in Whitesnake and in his earliest professional outing, he strummed alongside Trev Fleming.
So, it was pretty interesting when he ended up in Leppard with mainstay Phil Colleen. I’ve done a sort of A/B thing by taking quotes from that ’84 interview and splicing them into this current one; they’re pretty enlightening. Also, I’ve inserted bits from an interview I did with Phil somewhere between January 1991 and April 1992. Leppard guitarist Steve Clark had died on January 8 of ’91 and the band had not yet replaced him – that’s the little time slot into which this interview fits.
I’d run into Campbell again in 1991 when I interviewed him for the Premiere Edition of Hot Guitarist: Video Magazine, an instructional VHS-formatted project in which he talked all about his guitars and pedals and amps and things. At the time of this discussion, he was in ex-Foreigner Lou Gramm’s Shadow King.
And I’d also spoken with Phil as well. Though we’d never met, I called him one evening and we spent well over an hour talking about music and romance. Phil was a close friend of Grover Jackson and using Jackson guitars and the luthier kindly gave me his number and made the introduction.
So, when we met up in that hotel room, I expected a warm greeting from Viv and an, "Oh, you’re the friend of Grover that I spoke to on the phone all those years ago" type of salutation from Phil. Well, I did receive a warm and friendly handshake – but it wasn’t from Viv. Phil was congenial and laughing and genuinely engaged in the entire conversation. Viv sat sedately on the couch, barely registered the fact that we’d met several times previously, and somehow no longer saw himself as part of the hoi polloi. Now that he was a member of Def Leppard (albeit on the descending arc of their popularity), he couldn’t be bothered with trivialities like common courtesy and simple professionalism.
Still, this is a pretty trenchant evaluation of the band during a period when music was in a real state of flux. And Def Leppard really were fluxed-up by this stylistic upheaval. Combine this with the absence of producer Mutt Lange and drummer Rick Allen’s return to a traditional acoustic drum kit (since losing his left arm in that December 1984 car accident, he had used a multi-pad electronic kit with triggers), and you’re confronted with some pretty monumental challenges. Slang was their first release failing to command platinum levels in the US (though it did achieve gold in America and the UK).
With all of the enthusiasm that Phil managed to convey during this conversation, audiences reacted to the new material quite indifferently. They downsized from arenas to clubs and in concert they had to revisit the very classic material from which they were trying to distance themselves.
That’s what happens when you assume you’re sitting on top of the world. You tilt to one side, thrown off balance by the very weight of your own stuffed ego, and roll all the way back down the hill that took you years to climb up. That really wasn’t the cause for the album’s failure; in truth, it contained a variety of very cool elements.
Still, Viv Campbell was less than congenial and in a state of high dudgeon. Was he being punished for his arrogance? Probably not. But he could have been a little more civil in any event.
Def Leppard, during the late 80s and 90s, were the kings of a style of music we might now call heavy melodic rock. Under the masterful eye and ears of producer Mutt Lange (now Shania’s main squeeze), the band created a sound based on layered guitars and multi-tracked vocals. This became a sort of roadmap for an entire genre of bands. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so it is said, but with so many bands attempting to copy this style, Def Leppard themselves were somehow being looked on as dinosaurs. They were becoming fossil remnants of the very same musical DNA they’d created.
Their last studio record, Adrenalize (April 1992), came out over four years ago and during this interim they filled the gap with Retro Active (October 1993), a collection of B-sides and other oddities and Vault: Greatest Hits 1980-1995, a compilation of 15 singles released on the 15th anniversary of their 1980 debut, On Through The Night.
Since Adrenalize, then, they had not written any new material. During these intervening years, music made a drastic turn away from the mammoth productions that characterized Leppard’s music to a more stripped-down model: minimal overdubs, bare vocals, and generally, a more organic approach. Did the band feel like it was being blown about by the winds of change?
The band was well aware of this metamorphosis and on Slang, they stowed away all the elements that had brought them there and replaced an over-the-top attitude with a subdued theme. Gone were the multiple overdubs and sampled vocals, replaced by guitars orchestrated to sound like a Thin Lizzy record. Vocals in generals were reduced in volume. The arrangements were still there, the vocal and guitar melodies, as upfront as ever. Now, it was a less is more type of attitude.
Slang could well be their roadmap for the 90s,the songs exquisite little gems combining emotionally riveting lyrics with intense tandem guitar riffs. Phil Collen, the band’s longtime guitarist, shares the instrumental sections with newcomer Viv Campbell, the ex-Dio gun for hire. The album is fresh and biting and visits new lands while never forgetting where home is.
Phil and Viv spoke about this new adventure and what it’s been like making their way through this new sound tunnel. This is an important record for the band and the one they hope will pull them from the 80s and make them a legitimate force in the 90s.
In the last five years or so, an entire generation has passed us by. Rock as we once knew it is gone and the type of music you recorded on Adrenalize is now, for lack of a better word, dated. So, what feelings did you have when you began recording Slang? Did you feel anxiety and pressure or the promise of something new?
(Note: All responses to questions come from Phil Collen unless otherwise marked).
We did have a totally different concept this time. In England twenty years ago, you had the punk movement basically because the music business got very stale. We had a huge album with Hysteria and one of the big problems was everyone else copied it. And burned our sound out which is OK when you have a successful album. That’s fine but you can’t carry on repeating yourself which I think we did a little bit with Adrenalize; it sounded too similar to Hysteria in the way we approached it.
With this album, it was completely different. We actually changed all the rules if you like; there was no rules all of a sudden. That’s due not just to what’s been happening in alternative music, which is kind of an equivalent to the punk thing in England, but also because rap and hip-hop has turned a lot of things upside down. You had this very kind of standard style of black music and all of a sudden you had these upstart guys going, ‘No, we don’t want that, that’s boring.’ And then you had the grunge thing. We embraced all of that. It’s very easy for a lot of bands who have been in our situation to get very bitter about it and go ‘Oh, we’re better than that’ and carry on doing the same thing. Bear in mind that we enjoy a lot of this stuff as well. I love a lot of the black music and the alternative music as well and the occasional country things goes by that I like.
So we just took the whole thing and made what we thought was a hybrid of it. We were a lot more expressive on this album; there was no pressure in what we had to do. We achieved album sales and all that stuff so for us it was enjoying music. That goes for the guitar playing as well. In the 80s, guitar playing became a sport, it was competitive, and in the 90s it’s not. You can be expressive and if you do that kind of (80s) stuff, people laugh at you. And quite rightly because it’s insulting someone’s intelligence by saying, ‘Worship me, I’m amazing.’ But we’re not doing that. Thank God we’re actually enjoying playing guitar again and songwriting, lyrically, and avoiding big productions. Just because we’ve done it so many times and so much that we just wanted a change, I’m really excited about this album; more so than anything since Hysteria.
Let’s imagine for one moment that you’ve a new band and this is your first album. Would you feel comfortable being presented to your audience on the strength of Slang? And more generally, is the world of music in a healthy place?
"We had a huge album with Hysteria and one of the big problems was everyone else copied it."
Right this minute, I think there’s such a wealth of great material out there. And I don’t just mean in the rock field; the fact that TLC is a cross between hip-hop and pop. And we’ve even put elements of that into this album as well. And being open-minded is the bottom line. Yeah, I think it’s very healthy. It can be negative if you let it because there’s a lot of anger but if you look at it as an amazing period, you see people expressing themselves lyrically. Yeah, there is the corporate rock thing that everyone is guilty of, everyone signed to a label, but the good things is there are no rules. We’re not scared of that; we think it’s great.
Is what you’ve just described a sort of defense about why you didn’t work with Mutt Lange this time around?
No, not at all; he was busy doing Bryan Adams to be quite honest. And his wife (Shania Twain). He was doing that and he couldn’t do us and we needed an album out. There were certain things we tried to avoid; we didn’t want the electronic drums and it was a big hurdle for Rick (Allen, drummer, who lost an arm in a car accident on December 31, 1984) to get over to play an acoustic kit again. But it also set the tone for the new sound.
We recorded in a house (in Spain) and some of the tracks were completely live. Rick was in the dining room with a comforter over the door and we used these little EV cabinets with one 12” speaker with Marshall tops, the SLX series. And that was the sound. Pretty much a Les Paul for the backing track. We sat in the dining room of this house with this brilliant view of the sea and it was very conducive for making a good album. And exorcising a few ghost from before because when we had to do Adrenalize, I didn’t want to go back into the studio; it was like going back into jail. I really didn’t want to do that anymore.
The way you describe, you make it sound like there was more pressure on the band during the recording of Adrenalize than there was here.
Totally; there was no pressure at all. We were open-minded and a lot of bands aren’t and I think that was our strongest point.
Do you think that’s one of the reasons why so many of your imitators are no longer around? Why do you think that is?
Attitude. There’s a certain rock star element or attitude that we don’t have. It goes back to Mutt and he taught us a lot. We never had egos or bruised egos.
Looking from the outside, the view depicts a whole band of enlarged egos and feelings of self-importance. Can you understand that? The music was so big and grand that you would just assume the people making it had egos to match.
Yeah, but it’s never been there; we’ve never been a limo band.
When Steve Clark passed away (on January 8, 1991, after a heavy session of drinking and drugging), did you immediately know you wanted to replace him? You wanted to be a two-guitar band?
I did that whole album (Adrenalize) myself but when we got Viv in, who was a great guitarist, that wasn’t the immediate criteria. We wanted someone who was a good guy, who was cool, and not a big head, and who could fit in with us. And could grow with us. That was the criteria; obviously he had to be able to play guitar as well but he sang which was a big benefit and since he’s joined, we learned things and we mixed it up and you go on forward. You get power from that and you get power from being open-minded.
(Note: Here’s a comment from Phil in 1991 before they’d replaced Clark with Campbell: “The thing with Steve means we have to get a new guitarist but we’re not gonna worry about it for the moment. But we will replace him. The biggest problem was we got on so well; it’s not a playing style. More than anything else, it’s the personality or it can just be a nightmare”).
It doesn’t seem, on the surface, that you would be the first logical choice in replacing Steve Clarke. You come from that Whitesnake/Dio heritage – heavier and louder – so to envision you positioned within Def Leppard seems like a bit of a stretch.
Viv Campbell: Why? Let’s see if I can explain this. Lou (Gramm, singer in Shadow king, a band Campbell worked with for a short period, and the original frontman for Foreigner) was absolutely the nicest guy I ever met. But it was just a bad time. He was going through a very, very heavy personal thing at the time (suffering from a benign brain tumor). With Dio, I was never that comfortable being this lead guitar guy. I started taking voice lessons right around the time I joined Whitesnake; David Coverdale encouraged me to sing and I always wanted to do that. As the guitarist in Dio, I wrote a few songs. My point of view at that time about writing songs was, ‘Here’s a guitar riff, it’s gonna be a great song.’ I don’t think of it that way any more. Now it’s, ‘I wrote a song, how am I gonna get a guitar riff in to make it a rock song.’ In that respect, I feel I was perfect for Def Leppard. I like to sing, I have a good voice, I like to write songs and I think the song is much more important than the band and certainly more important than the player. I’ve always been looking for an equity situation in a band’ there’s always been a glass ceiling. I’m not just talking about the financial rewards; I’m talking about the extent you’re able to get involved creatively. In Dio, the ceiling was about as high as he was (Ronnie James Dio is a diminutive character) and in Whitesnake it was a little bit higher but still not high enough. In Whitesnake, I felt there was no opportunity to grow as a songwriter. It was, ‘If you want to play guitar on this record or in this band and you can live with that, fine; if not, there’s the door.’
Because I had aspirations, I want to sing and write, and not just play guitar. I don’t even consider myself to be in the top 100 (guitarists); there are a lot of guys out there who play the guitar so much better than I do. If I was making my living solely on being a guitar player, I’d have an awful lot of work to do.
(Note: Back in 1984, I gathered together a small group of guitarists including Viv, Dave Meniketti [Y&T], Pat Thrall, and Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson [Nightranger]. This guitar congregation talked about what made a heavy metal player, styles, and techniques. Here is what Campbell had to say: “I like new music a lot. I think the guitar is very, very limited and obviously it’s going to die very soon. It’s gone on for a long time and there’s really not that much more you can do with it. You can chop it up and light it on fire but that’s about it. I think guitars will last for a long time because obviously there are still a lot of people who want to listen to guitars. And want to play guitars. But at the same time I don’t think guitar music is going to be as popular as it is now. In a few years I see it taking second or third place to something else; because it’s an old instrument. Maybe they’ll come up with a fourteen-string guitar soon or something. The six-string electric guitar, think, is really going to change or die. There but there won’t be so many guitar bands and so much guitar music).
Were you intimidated in any way coming into Def Leppard knowing you wanted to write, sing, and play guitar?
Viv Campbell: Not remotely; I knew I was absolutely the right guy for the band.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not implying in any way that you were not qualified for the gig. It’s just that coming from such guitar-centric bands, you wouldn’t have been on top of the list of contenders?
Viv Campbell: A lot of people would think that, too. Def Leppard is not the the of band to change guitars players on every album but this is the first time in my career where I’m playing with people who come from the same background; they’re not foreigners and I’ve always worked with people much more my senior. So we can relate in this band on a much more human level as well as a professional level. And that’s important for a band where you’re living in each other’s pockets in the studio and on tour.
Describe the evolution of a Def Leppard session? Has there already been massive amounts of pre-production before entering the studio?
No, it goes all different ways. On this album, some songs came in completely written and then it was, ‘Can this song be knocked into that kind of state?’ And usually it can. It may be a lyric change but a good song is a good starting point. Some songs were wrong. We came in with about 36 songs between us and whittled it down to 11. The stronger ones just surface. We had guidelines – we broke a lot of our own rules – but we still had guidelines. Fashion and music are very closely linked and you can’t be wearing big shoulder pads in the 90s. Like people in the 80s didn’t wear flares and there were musical things you just don’t go near. There’s a reason you don’t sing a lyric because here’s been a whole anti-movement against a song like that. You take all this in plus we’ve been targets of a lot of that stuff.
But this album was great fun and as a guitar player it was the easiest album I’ve ever done. Because nearly everything was one-take; once we got the parts worked out we played them and that was the end of it. Same with the solos, one-takes, and in fact some of them were guides. Two of them at least were that way.
‘Truth’ with the Octaver on that one; I was just trying the sound out.
That’s the opening track of the album, the first new and original song your fans have heard in years. What do you want to convey on a musical and lyrical level?
Viv Campbell: It was different and not what people expected and that’s the best compliment we could get. That’s specifically why we put it first on the record.
Phil Collen: Yeah, people were going, ‘We were expecting something good’ (laughter). No, it has to be different; we had a certain sound and to be honest, it was like going back to jail to record in that (old) way. So that song was exciting. And like our first single, ‘Work It Out,’ it was suggested we release on of the slow ones, a more balladesque type of thing and we said, ‘Absolutely no way, kiss of death.’ We don’t want that association; we don’t want that perception of us. So we picked ‘Work It Out’ because it kicks, it rocks, it’s commercial; it’s got a pop element, it’s got a rock element, and it’s very contemporary. And again, the first track we had a lot of debates about; we probably had more debates about the running order than (choosing) some of the songs.
You mentioned earlier about using Les Pauls as opposed to the Strat-type guitars you used in the past; this is obviously another new wrinkle.
Yeah; I did use my new signature model Jackson which has a built-in sustainer (resembles a Stratocaster in body style, tremolo configuration, et al) on some stuff but the basic tracks were all cut on Les Pauls and Marshalls and that was it. I’ve got a ’59 Gibson re-issue Les Paul and I also used heavier strings: .012 to .052. And Viv used the same. We may ago heavier than that if we decide to tune down (for live performances).
Viv Campbell: The pitch thing you may have noticed on the record is that we vari-sped a couple of tracks. When we were mixing we said, ‘Let’s speed this up a bit, let’s bring this down a bit.’ But all the songs were cut in concert pitch.
Collen: It’s funny; using a different guitar changes your playing. On ‘Pearl of Euphoria,’ we did go nuts with the whammy stuff; at the end we did seven tracks each of solos but the thing was you couldn’t hear what the other one had done. We were just going to take little bits but Pete Woodroffe (engineer) put the whole lot up at the same time so at the end of ‘Euphoria’ there are like fourteen solos going.
‘Truth’ is followed by ‘Turn To Dust’ and that’s another sort of anomalous track for the band. That has a kind of Beatles sensibility about it.
"With this album, it was completely different. We actually changed all the rules if you like; there was no rules all of a sudden."
That’s the serangi you hear (similar to a sitar) sound. The interesting thing is, the guy we sampled that from is a guy named Ram Nurian. He is the guy who played on the Beatles stuff in the 60s. So that was very observant of you! And then we added other things thing to it – strings and tabla and this thing called a dhar. Not just for the sake of it but to make it sound better. We actually used real strings before on ‘Love and Hate Collide’ and ‘Two Steps Behind.’ Michael Kamen (a well- known music composer) did the strings on those two songs and the guy who did the strings on this new song was Craig Pruiss. I guided some of it out on the guitar and played little ¼ note things on my Jackson with a sustain and stuff and they actually copied it on strings. It sounded great. And then he went off and added and added and it was really exciting.
The title track is endowed with a huge guitar sound. This is not tuned down?
No, that’s concert (pitch). I’d describe this as hip-hop with fat guitars. Like Metallica-type guitars. Who’s to say you can’t mix them up? And then we added an element of humor with this big percussion thing which is us all playing percussion. Basically me and Rick and a few other people just bashing things. When me and Viv did the backing vocals on this, we tried to get a similar thing to the Montel Jordan thing – jus the sound in the voice. The backing vocals on more commercial rap and hip-hop songs have a certain voice and it was just a combination of all those little elements. It was fun.
Because the two of you have played together for several years now, is there a certain kind of unspoken chemistry you create? Does one automatically know what the other is going to play?
We actually play way different and there’s a radical difference in our sound. A lot of the time we played through the same amp and guitar and the sound would be so different. And that’s what you want, you know? You don’t want to guitars that sound the same or otherwise you may as well have just one guitarist. A two-guitar band should be, and a lot of people don’t realize this, like an orchestra. You have a bunch of string things and that’s how we view it. It’s two different instruments but everyone with the same goal and that’ show we do it. We try and not play the same things but if it warrants playing exactly the same thing, fine, we’ll do that. There are no real rules; you just try and build it up and make it more exciting.
On ‘Slang,’ for example, there’s a real James Brown thing but we did it with Marshall distortion and Les Pauls. It hasn’t been done, not really. Even when the (Red Hot) Chili Peppers do it, it’s with a skinny old Strat. But this is fat and it broadened our horizons.
But yeah, we can tell what each other is going to play – sometimes. And that’s the beauty of a two-guitar band.
(Note: Here’s another aside from that 1984 roundtable discussion with Campbell: “I don’t like rhythm guitar players. I don’t like two guitar players in a band. I really don’t see the point. In my previous band, Sweet Savage, there was another guitarist but he was strictly a chord player. I don’t think I’d be into playing with another guitarist because I’m too much of an egomaniac”).
Were you a fan of two-guitar bands? The Stones, Aerosmith …?
Stuff like Thin Lizzy, yeah. We were into the Stones but more so Thin Lizzy because there were two lead guitarists. We’re both lead guitarists and in Guns ‘N’ Roses it’s Slash and another guy and the Stones has Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. We’re two lead guitar players and the fact we play in the same band and don’t over do it, I think we can give ourselves a bit of credit there. We try and play as a band.
‘All I Want Is Everything’ is the big ballad.
We try and avoid the word ballad because when you say that you think of Heart and REO Speedwagon. The big power ballad.
Viv Campbell: It could be described as a ballad but it never reaches that crescendo; it’s more a subtle song. The demo was on one level all the way through and when we worked on it it took on a new life. We played the track live and that was very key to the sound of it because we were right there with each other with the exception of Rick who was in another room listening through headphones. And it was important that we got the dynamic of the track so it could breathe and it worked beautifully. So the basic track is a live take.
On this I’m using an Anderson Strat (custom made instrument) sort of on the middle position to get a Stratty tone through one of Phil’s vintage 50-watt Marshalls to get a cleanish, semi-dirty tone. And I did the solo with Phil’s sustain guitar (Jackson). Just because it happened to be there. That was the criteria of what guitars we used – you grabbed the nearest guitar. Or unless you specifically felt it had to be a Les Paul but as the album wore on, I grabbed the nearest guitar. Pete would say, ‘OK, you’ve got to do this part’ and I’d grab whatever was in tune or had fresh strings o it. But nine times out of ten, they were Les Pauls because they just sounded so good. With a Marshall. I used Phil’s a lot and I had a Les Paul Standard that I used on a few tracks. I used one with two P-90 pickups (40th anniversary model) and that was it basically.
This is the first time you’ve a Les Paul in a while?
Viv Campbell: Since the Dio days, huh. I really enjoyed it because they’re much more suited to me because it’s a more solid guitar. Even my Anderson Strats, and I’ll take a couple of those when we go on tour because it does have a certain sound because of the pickup configuration and the single-coil vibe, but I’ve had floating whangy bars where you can pull up as well as push down and I just can’t get into paying them anymore. Because I’m so used to bending the pitch on a Les Paul that it’s totally different when you play on a guitar with a bridge that gives. So I’ve had my Andersons blocked off. The Les Paul is a more musical guitar for me because it’s more suited to my ham-fisted approach. I can play more in tune on a Les Paulo. I appreciate the tonality now that I’m in my 30s.
Is there a slight country feel on ‘All I Want Is Everything?’
Initially it was way more country. One of the good things about it is it’s a groove and when we done it we still weren’t sure of the chords. I had a double-neck Jackson and I used a 12-string on that and the sustainy guitar for the Ebo bits in the middle. We were unsure when we played it. Rick didn’t even know what he was doing but we really liked it. And we came in the next day and realized it was very powerful; it really says something. In a million years, we wouldn’t have used it in the past; we would have said, ‘It’s a good start, now let’s improve on it.’ And of course we wouldn’t of. That is a really good example of less is more; it was very short and again, minimal overdubs. Really natural that one.
And then there is ‘Work It Out’ which is the first single. There is a very distinct effect on the guitar.
Viv Campbell: An SR-16 Alesis. Pete had this idea to program a 1/16 note program with a few offbeats on the Alesis drum machine and we sent that through an Aphex Noise Gate and the gate opened and closed according to the drum machine. And I just played a Les Paul through a Marshall and hit the block chords and the machine did all the work. We tried to do that live and the only way to do it was to shut the volume off on the front pickup of a Les Paul and then use the toggle switch. Which is OK for a couple of bars but you get cramps in your forearm by the time you get to the first chorus. But I think I’ve got it sussed live because Bob Bradshaw has this new super tremolo device which stutters the guitar so I’m going to use that with an offbeat delay. At the worst case, I’ll just toggle that switch. That set the tone for the track and it was a good idea by Pete because there’s this big, fat monster Les Paul tone and it’s like a big train wreck.
During the solo there’s a wah-wah and backwards guitar?
Viv Campbell: The wah-wah is on the bass. I used a DigiTech for the backwards effect. But basically the guitar tone, again, is Marshall, Les Paul, through a BBE, with a comforter (blanket) over the cabinet. They were really quiet but you still had all that power.
The days of the Rockman are over?
Yeah, all of Hysteria (was recorded on Rockmans). But the beauty of that was there were so many different guitar parts, it allows you to hear all the parts. On some of the songs there were sixteen different guitar parts and you can hear them because we used Rockmans. And we had the big drum thing so everything was taking up space. The guitars actually suffered a bit in their size. Adrenalize was similar, the Rockmans, but they were a bit more up front. But on this one we were ready for a change. We were tired of doing that, the climate had changed, people wanted some sweatier stuff. They didn’t want such precise stuff and that suited us just fine. I think I’d have a nervous breakdown if I had to do another album like that. So it was perfect. It gave me a break and I got to play guitar as opposed to record something in the studio. Do you know what I mean? Seriously, I remember my hands bleeding on Hysteria. There would be blood on my right hand; it was a common things. That’s no fun. It turned out great. I’m not knocking it, they were fantastic albums, but this was a lot more fun to record. A lot more expressive.
‘Breathe A Sigh’ was another, well, I don’t want to use the word but it was a slower song in the vein of a … ballad.
We tried to mix U2 with Boyz To Men. We tried to get a more modern, current hip-hop drum loop pattern happening. And in fact this guy who works with Michael Jackson helped us out. We had the song and it was all OK but there was something wrong with the feel; then this guy came in and rally helped us out and all of a sudden it swung. It was literally breathe a sigh. We had the big vocals on this song because it warranted that type of approach.
The chord changes on that song are very cool.
That’s me playing a Gibson 175, a 1954 re-issue. I’m playing it really light, really jazzy, and then when the band kicks in we’re both using Les Pauls and wah-wahs and the Sustainiac and all this stuff. There’s actually a lot going on with the guitars. There is a distorted Hammond organ sample going through a fuzz box. We done that a lot actually, put the keyboards or bass through fuzz units. A Grunge (DigiTech) pedal to be more specific. Even put vocals through it; on ‘Truth,’ the backing vocals.
Viv Campbell: Very live; two Les Pauls, two Marshalls, live drums, lots of fun.
I love the way the solo finishes with just a few notes on the wah-wah.
Viv Campbell: I like wah-wahs. People always ridiculed me for using wah-wahs but now they’re real hip. And I’m using the coolest wah-wah, a rackmount thing that Dunlop sent me so you can tailor the tone of it. I love wah-wahs, very expressive.
‘Gift of Flesh’ is a pretty huge rock tune.
Yeah, that was again dictated by the drums. We wanted Rick to sound like Paul Cook from the (Sex) Pistols. And he did it; he did such a great job on this whole album, it’s a real credit to Rick. It was a real crutch for him, electronic drums, and for him it was like, ‘I can do this.’ He overcame something. On this track, he’s stunning and on ‘Work It Out’ he does some great shit. But that sort of set the tone for ‘Gift of Flesh’ and lyrically it’s sort of an updated version of ‘Sympathy For the Devil.’
‘Blood Runs Cold’ was an amazing track. On a song like this, a down-tempo tune, do you look for a different guitar tone than you would for a faster rock song?
No; again these were pretty much the same guitars. Except I used the Jackson double-neck 12-string. But again, Les Pauls through Marshalls on these again. Rick’s whole thing was it was OK to be Stewart Copeland (drummer for the Police) on this song. Because it really needed that feel; it has the hi-hat thing with the delay on it. We didn’t want to do the big backing vocals on the middle eight section but we experimented with it and said, ‘OK, this song really needs it.’
Lyrically, ‘Where Does Love Go When It Dies’ seems to be the real standout on the entire album.
"I feel I was perfect for Def Leppard. I like to sing, I have a good voice, I like to write songs and I think the song is much more important than the band and certainly more important than the player."
Yeah, that’s cool. I play mandolin on here and I’ve never played one in my life. And Viv plays a dulcimer which he’s never played before. We didn’t even know what one looked like when we rented one. We rented a mandolin, a dulcimer, and a hurdy gurdy. We failed miserably on the hurdy gurdy; it sounded like a cat dying. Or someone who can’t play a violin, that’s what it sounded like. But we actually got the mandolin and dulcimer bits down. Every song was its own little project and this one was to get it to sound like it had American folk instruments anywhere from the 60s right up to the REM song ‘Losing My Religion.’ And obviously it ends up sounding a big bigger than that. And we all played acoustic guitars on it. We messed around with this on our last tour and it ended up being this song. And it had that very charming appeal to ti. And Viv played his part and that was the icing. Because we were trying to make the acoustics sound like these great folk instruments. There’s a string sample on the middle musical bit.
How will you handle those acoustic parts live?
We want to avoid a lot of acoustic live because basically we’ve done an Unplugged promo tour for the greatest hits. It’s become so passé and a bit of a bore so it’s dangerous ground. We don’t want to have the acoustic segment which is what a lot of bands do. ‘Two Steps Behind’ is an acoustic song and so is ‘Where Does Love Go When It Dies’ and if we ever do them live that’s how we’ll treat them.
Viv Campbell: Or we might do it with fuzzbox!
Collen: I actually did use a wah-wah acoustic on ‘Blood Runs Cold’ on the second verse where it kicks in. That was a Guild acoustic.
And ‘Pearl of Euphoria’ is the closing track.
Viv Campbell: Part of the beauty of working on (Alesis) ADATs is that we all did our demos on ADATs and that was actually the one song where we worked off the demo. We just added another tape in the machine because Joe originally had the idea. We liked what we had on the demo so we just looped that.
We did the entire album on ADATs on a Mackie board, three 32-channel Mackie boards in this house in Spain. We used four ADATs (32 channels) and we did have two channels of SSL EQ to run guitars and vocals through.
And all the guitar sounds, as diverse as some of them are, were done on the same amp; if we needed a clean bit, we’d just turn the gain down. For instance, there’s a guitar at the end of ‘Breathe A Sigh’ and we just turned the amp down on the 40th anniversary model. It was great fun and left us wide open to be creative. In the past, we’d spend months if not years trying to get a guitar sound which is ridiculous. You could get a studio for about $15,000 and make the album we made. And we had a good engineer and that helped; he’s been with us since Adrenalize and did Retro Active, and his first hit he did with us was ‘Two Steps Behind’ which we did in about three hours. He was on the same wavelength.
If Pete Woodroffe wasn’t available, did you have other producers in mind? Or is what Def Leppard and Pete do sort of inextricably tied together?
We didn’t think of anyone else. The only other person was Mutt. Mike Shipley we worked with but again, he’d worked with Mutt. And Nigel Green had worked with Mutt so again they were from the same camp.
Would you say that Retro Active and Vault sort of brought to a close Def Leppard Mach 1?
Yeah, just cleaning out the closet really. We had to do that then so we could get on with this. We knew we were going to do a different sounding record and it would have been really bogus if we’d put out this different sounding record and then put out those other records with big drums and big hair videos.
What you look back at that period and the records you made then, can you verbalize what it was that people were attracted to? What was it that Def Leppard did so well, so uniquely perfect, that the result was the sales of millions of albums?
Yeah, I know exactly what you’re asking. We crossed pop perfectly with rock. It was the perfect hybrid. It’s like with TLC, that’s why that album was so successful. That took a very popular and contemporary music, i.e. hip-hop, which started as a street thing and then crossed it with pop. When you do it right, and so many people fail, it’s very powerful. And Mutt knows how to do that. And he’s done it again with his wife – he successfully crossed pop with country music. I listen to Hysteria now and I’ve heard a million records that sound that way since but at the time it was so cool. When I was involved in it, I was very vocal in the recording of it but it was Mutt’s whole thing. He said, ‘We should make a rock version of Thriller.’ That’s what he said and that’s how it turned out. We had seven hit singles off of that. Mutt is the most incredible musician I’ve ever met. He’s very humble. He’ll work twenty-four hours a day and he’s totally focused. He’ll say, ‘Let’s try this’ and a lot of it is a process of elimination.
What is it you hope people will hear and feel after experiencing Slang?
I hope they don’t go, ‘It’s too varied, it’s too diverse.’ I don’t think they will because to me it sounds like something we planned; it’s all in context. Because if it did sound too wacky or left field, we’d slap it back into the mainstream of the album. We hope people will listen to the lyrics because it is more expressive. The emphasis is on the band and not on production. It’s us baring our souls, playing guitars and Rick playing great drums. Here’s a guy with one arm and it’s great. And Sav (Rick Savage) is playing bass like he’s never played before. All these elements added up. Joe Elliott is not singing in the Joe voice; he’s singing lower and trying to experiment. There is an R&B feel to some of these songs and he’s trying to go along with it. Everything has changed but it all sounds very natural. We just want people to enjoy it as much as we did.
Now that’s is completed, do you feel that you faithfully captured all these elements?
If it sells one copy and my mom buys it, I think we achieved something. I swear to God. I had the same feeling when we did Hysteria and that’s the only other time in my life I felt like that. I don’t care if it sells one copy, I’ll be happy. I swear to God. We’ve already achieved that so it doesn’t have to be a commercial success.
In a way, Def Leppard has become a sort of great white hope. That is, the band bridges the old and the new, is aware of the importance of the song and is always reaching for something just beyond what its done.
Like we mentioned before, when music gets stale there’s a counter-movement. And it’s getting stale again. I hate slamming or even naming other bands but in a band like Bush, I’m hearing it all again. The genre is repeating itself. IN England, out of the punk movement you had great bands like the Police, Elvis Costello, and the Pretenders who used that aggression and used that power and they wrote songs. Songs like ‘Watching the Detectives’ and ‘Walking On the Moon’ and ‘Message In A Bottle’ came from that. Alanis Morissette is good but it’s taken from the same genre. No one has been that broad minded yet to say, ‘We like the aggression of Pantera, we like the Mariah Care record, let’s somehow combine that.’
They’re scared to do it and I think they’re a lot more close-minded than I think they’d like to admit. The big problem is peer pressure. You could have a Stone Temple Pilots record and a Boyz To Men record but some people are afraid they can’t be seen doing that. The whole alternative thing was to wash that away. A lot of people have lost their jobs making the wrong decisions thought Kurt Cobain was great; I thought he wrote great songs and had great energy. But you can’t expect someone who only looks at numbers and stats to understand that. People don’t listen with their ears or look with their eyes.
That’s why the 60s was the most fertile period of music – you had so many unique bands and no one cared about selling records.
The record industry wasn’t that much of a business then. When it became so high-powered and people wanting to cut your throat, it changed. With the grunge movement and independent labels, it sort of got back to that but that’s become corporate now. The only hope is when an artist is self-expressive. That’s what we’re trying to do and we hope people like it. We’re giving a service but we’re pleasing ourselves as well. We hope that people like it and that’s why we made it.
Interview by Steven Rosen
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