Vivian Campbell: Def Leppard Guitarist Calls Songwriting 'A Painful Process'

artist: Def Leppard date: 10/21/2009 category: interviews
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Vivian Campbell: Def Leppard Guitarist Calls Songwriting 'A Painful Process'
Vivian Campbell has in many ways been the rock world's go-to guitarist over the past few decades. The Belfast native cut his teeth in Dio, briefly toured with Whitesnake, and eventually landed his current full-time gig, acting as one half of Def Leppard's guitar team. As a replacement for the late Steve Clark (who passed away in 1991), Campbell admits that creating riffs for the legendary rock group hasn't always come easy for him. The 47-year-old guitarist considers himself more of a blues player, and he says that switching to "rock mode" has been a fulfilling challenge. Campbell did find time to satisfy his craving for the blues in 2005 with the release of his solo record Two Sides Of If. With a stripped-down approach to recording and an altogether new group of musicians with which to play (including Missing Persons/Frank Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio), Campbell called the experience the "polar opposite" of his usual studio sessions in the rock world. In 2008, Campbell once again found himself switching gears to record Def Leppard's 10th full-length studio album, Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, an effort that combines a classic rock sensibility and a contemporary feel (accentuated by a song featuring country artist Tim McGraw). Campbell took the time to chat with Ultimate-Guitar on (of all days) his birthday, and after a brief serenade from the members of Cheap Trick, the guitarist gave us insight into what has shaped his playing over the past three decades. UG: Happy Birthday, Vivian! I understand that you were just serenaded by the members of Cheap Trick. Vivian: Thank you very much. Yes! They had a surprise birthday thing for soundcheck. It was primarily Rick.

"I thoroughly enjoy playing live. That's the main reason why you pick up your instrument in the first place."

Have you been on tour with Cheap Trick in the past? Yeah. The first time we played with them was maybe two or three years ago. They're great guys, very professional, very easygoing. It's always a pleasure. I really, really like their new record. I could listen to it over and over again. Do you still look forward to taking the stage after 30 years in the business? I thoroughly enjoy playing live. That's the main reason why you pick up your instrument in the first place. You get that instant gratification in front of an audience. We've done it all before, but I still get very excited about doing it. As far as getting nervous before a gig, I don't really. I get apprehensive, but I wouldn't say it's really nervous. There is an excitement and an adrenaline. I enjoy it for what it is. Like everything else, nothing lasts forever. I try to enjoy it every day. I'm sure that each member of Def Leppard has a unique way of approaching the songwriting process. Do you wait until you get off the road or are you someone who might bring along a makeshift studio on the tour bus to record demos? I don't normally write on the road, but occasionally I have. You never know when you're going to be inspired by something. I come up with something while I'm on tour, but all I'll do is make a note of it. I don't demo it on the road. I do have a full Pro Tools rig at home. We did bring that on tour once in 2006 when we were writing Songs From The Sparkle Lounge. That was the exception because I had my portable Pro Tools on my laptop. So it was easy for me. That was the only time I've ever actually demoed something while on tour. Normally I collect ideas and then when I go home, I have the home studio and do it there. We all have very different styles. And to be honest, it's a bit of a struggle for me to write for Def Leppard. It's not really my natural inclination to write Leppard-like songs. I always find that I have to kind of step outside of the box and try to be objective about what I'm doing. I'll say to myself, Is this going to work for Joe? I especially think that because of the way I sing. On my demos I tend to be more of a soul-type singer. I've come to realize that Joe doesn't naturally follow the same thought process in terms of the melodies. I'm not a good enough songwriter where I can write to order. If somebody says, Write a song for Britney Spears I can't do that. I'm not a prolific songwriter. I'm not one of these songwriter hacks who can churn out a song a day for so-and-so. It's a painful process for me. I'm also not a great technician when it comes to engineering. I rely on the generosity of my clever engineering friends who help me to do things that I can't. Your blues-driven solo release Two Sides Of If was a huge jump from what we hear in Def Leppard. Is it safe to say that blues is your first love? I wouldn't say it's my first love. Rory Gallagher was my first blues study. Marc Bolan was the guy that made me want to play guitar, but then a year or two later it was Rory. The first album that I had was Live In Europe by Rory Gallagher. So he was the first guitar player where I really sat down and studied. From there I went on to Gary Moore. Certainly I would say that my guitar playing style is blues based. When I sing, yeah, I've always gravitated toward blues-styled singers and soul bands. I've always admired singers, and particularly singers who are more soulful than technical. People ask me, What kind of music do you like? And really, there are only two kinds: good or bad. It's like food. You love pizza, but you don't want to eat it every day of the week. You have variety, and that's what they say is the spice of life. It's the same with music. The older I get, the more diverse my musical tastes will be.

"I don't normally write on the road, but occasionally I have. You never know when you're going to be inspired by something."

Was the recording process of your blues album a different experience altogether from your work with Def Leppard in the studio? Yeah. It certainly is the polar opposite of the way Def Leppard records. With Leppard, we totally do everything separately. In recent years, for Songs From The Sparkle Lounge and a couple of tracks on the Yeah! album, Phil and I would record together. There is one track where we actually recorded the guitar solos live because we trade off in a couple parts. That was the first time we had ever done that. Other than that, everything is one guy at a time. It's very piecemeal and it's a very tedious process. Although with the first Dio album that we did, we did tracking live with Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice and myself. Then Ronny would be singing the vocals. With Two Sides Of If, we were taking it a stage further. Not only was I cutting all the guitars live, but I was also cutting the vocals at the same time. When I listen back to it, it's kind of hard for me to listen to sometimes. I'm always thinking about my performance. If I'm singing I'll say, Oh, I'm a little flat there or That guitar was a little sharp. If it was a rock record or a regular record, you could fix it. To me, there had to be a certain integrity to it. It had to be live. As far as your equipment setup, did you opt for a completely different route on your solo record versus Def Leppard? It's totally different. The Leppard rig I haven't used for many, many years. Although, I will be changing. Next year I'm going from Marshall amps to Diamond. Phil's guitar tech has an equipment rental company in Los Angeles, and he very generously loaned me a bunch of old amps for that record. I can't even remember all of them! I went to Gibson guitars and they loaned me an L-5 custom hollow body guitar, a 335, some Les Pauls with P-90s as opposed to humbuckers. I even played different picks. I play these metal picks, and Phil has the same ones when I play with Leppard. I find you need a lot more attack with Def Leppard. With the blues, they are too clicky. So I went to use these different picks for a whole year when I was playing the blues and making that record. I learned to use these Tortex picks instead of the metal ones. It totally changed the way that I played. Even today, if I were to go to a blues club and jam, I would have a hard time because I'm not in my blues mode at the moment. I'm in full rock mode. It's a very different discipline to the way you play when you play the blues. You really have to find the right mode and the right expression. It's not about technique. Whereas when you play rock music, there's almost that sense of urgency that is driving your arms. You kind of want to overplay, for want of a better expression. That's what I really, really like about the blues. It's not so much about technique. There's a certain amount of technique, but it's more about trying to find the right expression. Were you completely self-taught as a guitarist? Yeah, totally. I didn't want to be, but growing up in Belfast there weren't a lot of guitar players. In my school there was one other guy who played guitar, and he was about four or five years older than me. He was a really good guitar player, but he didn't really have the time of day for me! If I could find anyone who played guitar I would be like, Show me a chord. Show me a lick. Then the rest was me just listening to records and figuring stuff out. I have two daughters, and they play cello and violin. They go to a very good school in L.A. My daughter asked me about musical theory. She said, Daddy, is there a B flat in the key of F? I said, Honey, I have no idea. I'm a professional musician and have been my whole life, and I have no idea if there is a B flat in the key of F. I don't know what I'm doing! It was a big realization to know that a nine-year-old knows more about music than I ever will.

"I'm not a good enough songwriter where I can write to order."

Are there any techniques or methods that you would suggest for a beginning guitarist? Yeah. I think that it's because I taught myself that I am here where I am. I believe that the idiosyncrasies in your playing and your style make you unique. That becomes your signature. There is no one in the world that plays like me, and therefore there is no one in the world that sounds like me. That got me the first gig with Dio. He auditioned Jake E. Lee and a bunch of other guitar players in L.A. While they're all fine guitar players and amazing technicians and certainly technically better than me, there was something about my playing that was unique. That's why I got the gig. It becomes about passion. It's about trying to find the right expression. It's not about technique. That's one thing that I tell kids when they come up to me. Yes, you need a certain amount of technique. You have to get over that hump to be able to play your instrument. It's not about trying to play fast. It's about playing in time, in key, in pitch, and expressing yourself. It's finding your place. What new additions are included in the deluxe editions of Pyromania and Adrenalize (released this past June)? The original albums will be packaged with comprehensive liner notes and photos that you've never seen before. Then the second disk that is on Pyromania is a live recording from the L.A. Forum in 1983 when the record was released. The second disk on the Adrenalize album features all the B-sides and some unreleased songs from that same era. There are tracks from the start of our tour that I play on. So those were my first years with Def Leppard, 1993. It's collector's stuff. You've played with so many legendary musicians that I can imagine you've accrued some amazing memories. Are there any particular moments that have stood out to you? No. I think it's only recently that I've really come to appreciate it. When it was happening, I wasn't in the moment. There have been a lot of good shows and good moments. Now at this time in my life, I'm very cognizant of each and every show that we do. I'm trying to be present and trying to be there. Interview by Amy Kelly Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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