With more than 65 million album sales worldwide under their belts, and two prestigious Diamond Awards to their credit, Britain's premiere arena rock band, Def Leppard
- Joe Elliott
(vocals), Vivian Campbell
(guitar), Phil Collen
(bass) and Rick Allen
(drums) continue to be one of the most important forces in rock music. Over the course of their illustrious career, the group has produced a series of classic groundbreaking albums that have all set the sound for generations of music fans and artists. The group's spectacular live shows, filled with powerful melodic rock anthems, have become synonymous with their name and are an institution in the touring industry as they continue to sell out arenas worldwide.
recently released their 14th studio album, Songs From The Sparkle Lounge
- upon release the album debuted at #5 on the Billboard Top 200 earning the group their highest-charting debut since 1992's, Adrenalize - which included the hit single Nine Lives
, a groundbreaking collaboration with country music superstar Tim McGraw
. Recorded last year during month-long stints at lead singer Joe Elliott
's Dublin studio, the album's title refers to a backstage area called The Sparkle Lounge
on Def Leppard
's 2006 tour where the band would go to write songs. Thus far this year, group have been heavily touring behind their new opus across the globe. While the group were enjoying a small break between legs of the current tour, Joe Matera
caught up with guitarist Phil Collen
to discuss the new album, touring, how the band is coping with the ever changing musical climate and the secret to writing great songs.
UG: The band's most recent studio outing, Songs From The Sparkle Lounge features a mixture of both old and new sounding Def Leppard that is underscored by a raw and reinvigorated energy
Well we started the album while we were on tour so it didn't have the usual 'take six months off, try and get re-establish in the studio and forget what you're doing' thing happening. When you're on tour, you're playing every day and so there is a bit more aggression there and you also tend to play a little bit differently and sing differently too. But when you're off tour, you really do forget that you actually get into a different mode and are a bit more comfortable. So that was the main thing and reason why there is a bit more of a spark to it than the other studio stuff we've done previously.
The band has never been afraid to tip its toes in other genres, for example, Nine Lives comes close to treading into country rock terrain. And I remember reading an interview with Joe Elliot once where he stated that he hated Def Leppard being labeled a heavy metal band as such because he believed a band had to straddle different genres in order to remain successful and sustain a long standing career.
Yeah, but I don't even think that. I just think it would have been very unnatural for us to have done it that anyway. We're just a rock band and it would be very unnatural for us, for example, to play death metal music. It's not what we're really are about. Nine Lives is closer to The Stones and AC/DC than it is to some of the other bands. And for us, that is not a stretch as both of those bands, we were every much influenced by. And again, doing country would have been a bit weird for us to do, but we've done it in a kind of bluesy rock thing really. And that is what Nine Lives turned out to be. And again, it is not too much of stretch for us to do that at all.
You recently licensed several tracks for use on Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock?
|"We're just a rock band and it would be very unnatural for us, for example, to play death metal music."|
Yeah and with Nine Lives we released it as a single and were the first band to actually do that on Guitar Hero. As the record industry is changing and it is morphing into other stuff, you now need other outlets for your music. And that platform was perfect for us, having it come out and released on a game.
When it comes to touring today, how does it compare to touring during the '80s. What do you think are the main differences?
The main difference is the state of the record industry today. I think on the grand scheme of things, records are less important now. I mean, for an artist you still need to do that, make a record, but from a business point of view you really end up not having an album to promote at all as opposed to having it the other way around. The way it used to be like. It is very hard to get stuff out there on a major level today but on a grass roots level, it's very different as you can get stuff out there on the internet. And do stuff like that which is very exciting. And because of that, it creates a lot of artists who are not afraid at doing their own thing, and are not being told what to do by some A & R guy. So they're following their own noses and being very natural about it. And I like that aspect to it. And that is the main differences from when we used to tour before to today. And I think music is very, if not, more important in people's lives than it used to be too.
So have you started the writing process for the next Def Leppard album?
It is early days but looking at my little tape recorder in front of me that I switch on every now and then, there are probably about fifty ideas on there already. I haven't physically sat down and started doing stuff as yet. But they're in there and it is just a matter of plugging into it and getting the time to do it.
In a previous an interview with me to discuss the Yeah! album, you stated that when it came to recording guitars in the studios, you began using mic-ed up amps rather than just plugging straight into the board. Did you continue with this method for Sparkle Lounge?
Yes, on Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, that is really all that we did. But the Man-Raze album wasn't done that way. It was actually done mainly by DI-ing straight out of a Marshall JMP. But the stuff on Sparkle Lounge was all miked up. And it was nice of us to do something a little bit different. Obviously, live we wouldn't do that, we just use a Marshall JMP that goes through a Palmer Speaker Simulator which gives you a really nice clean clear tone.
Has your stage gear changed much from the typical Jackson PC-1 guitar, Marshall JMP pre-amp rack mount, Palmer Speaker Simulator, Randall Power Amp, [an old '80s solid state model] and TC Electronics multi-effects set-up?
No it's the same though I have now got a smaller version of that same rig. I have an 'A' rig and a smaller 'B' rig. They're almost identical though differ in size and depends on what country we go to in deciding which one I take out with me.
How many guitars do you tend to take out on the road with you?
I usually take about ten guitars with me at a time as well as a couple of acoustics too.
You also perform on acoustic guitar for a couple of songs live, how do you approach that side of things from a live performance perspective?
First up, because I hate DI-ed acoustics, I rather mike them up. But, obviously when we're playing in an arena, or in a big building or outdoors, you just can't do that because of the hum. And because I'm standing up playing the acoustic as well, that is not going to work either. I have this little cheap Fender Malibu which has a Fender headstock and a Fender type neck and it just sounds great.
Do you have many acoustic guitars in your collection?
|"I think music is very, if not, more important in people's lives than it used to be."|
I have several acoustics but a Gibson J- 200 is probably my favorite acoustic guitar, but again you to really mike it up. And if you're not going to do that, then it isn't as important I think, because you're not really hearing its true acoustic sound. You're only hearing some nasty acoustic pre-amp version of it. So you're not really hearing the true guitar tone, then you're hearing something else.
When it comes to both the studio and live environment, do you prefer one over the other?
I think touring is easier because you don't really have to think about it. But I really do enjoy constructing a song, or producing it, or writing it or whatever and so that is good too. But there is always an element of frustration to the studio as well, whereas touring is kind of a no brainer. But I think both are totally essential. You tour and you do all this stuff and after that you're craving a kind of experience where you're being creative. And it is very rewarding. I think it is light relief to actually do a tour since you've written all these songs and you're just having fun with it. It is like a tonic for the other stuff, which is, pure creativity in itself.
What do you think are the elements that make up a great song?
It could be many different things. But lyrically if you create an image of some sort of like for example Hotel California, that song actually puts you in a place every time you hear it, even from the very first time you hear it. You have an image of what it is going to be like, you have a solid picture. And to me that is really good songwriting. And melodically, you have to the hooks as well as it has to sound natural. If you are just doing it gratuitously, then it will tend to sound a little bit fake. But then again, there people who make millions of dollars writing songs in exact that way. For me, I tend to get a lot of inspiration straight off the bat and then from there for the rest of time, it is a lot of hard work. That is how the songwriting process usually works for me.
With your Man-Raze project, you also put together a documentary recently which is still to be released?
Yeah we done a documentary for the UK but I don't know when it's coming out over here in the States or elsewhere. We did like a showcase show in Burbank in California which was to coincide for whenever we go out on tour which we'll be doing over in the UK in December from the look of things. And we are also looking at touring the States too.
Finally there have been rumors that there may be a Girl reunion in the works?
No there is no truth to any of those rumors, as I'm just too busy. When I'm not working with Def Leppard, I've got the Man-Raze stuff and that pretty much takes up a lot of my time. And I'm really looking forward to the Man-Raze stuff so there is not much time to do anything else.
Interview by Joe Matera