Teased hair, soaring vocals and a tragic story from drugs to death is just the beginning of what comes to mind when thinking of the legendary power rock band Def Leppard -- Joe Elliott (vocals), Vivian Campbell (guitar), Phil Collen (guitar), Rick "Sav" Savage (bass) and Rick Allen (drums). Formed in the late 70s Def Leppard would reach the pinnacles of superstardom with albums like Pyromania and 1987's Hysteria, which would go onto sell over 17 million albums worldwide. Def Leppard was recently honored in the U.S. by the RIAA with two Diamond Awards; the Diamond Award recognizes sales of over 10 million, which only a small group of British artists have achieved (The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Eric Clapton).
Def Leppard is still causing "hysteria" with their upcoming summer tour joined by another legendary rock band, Journey. They are feverishly promoting their new album Yeah!, which is a journey of rock music by paying tribute to great bands like David Bowie, Roxy Music, Free and many others. Thirty years later and with more than 65 million albums sold worldwide Def Leppard is still a staple in rock music. In a recent interview with Men's Fitness Online Def Leppard's lead guitarist Phil Collen spoke with us about the new album, the band's legacy and surviving the dangerous world of rock and roll.
Men's Fitness: Tell me about the new album and what made Def Leppard decide to do a cover album?
Phil Collen: Basically it's the covers of a very specific era like early to mid 70's ... it's really where we got into music. At a certain point in your life you go - this music is designed especially for me. We've always wanted to do this record for years, we got the opportunity and we tweaked it like a Def Leppard record. We didn't want to do another covers album. A lot of bands go out there and cover the Beatles and the Stones, just something that is very obvious -- for us, we wanted to avoid the obvious.
MF: How was the selection of songs chosen to cover?
PC: They were all basically quite easy. We had a short list of about twenty. We wanted to do a Bowie song, but even within that we had restrictions. We didn't want to do like "Ziggy Star Dust," you know, the obvious ones. We choose "Drive-In Saturday," which was a hit in England. We didn't get into any fights, or anything -- everything worked.
MF: Which song did you reinvent the most?
PC: "Rock On," which is by David Essex, initially the song had a lot of strings and stuff; we kind of really turned that one around. Actually it sounds like a Def Leppard song -- that's the great thing. Some of these we copied verbatim like the Bowie one, the Thin Lizzy song we pretty much stayed faithful to the original. However, we did a tribute to bands like Queen and Zeppelin without actually doing a Queen. or Zeppelin song.
MF: This summer you'll be on tour with Journey -- what brought the two bands together?
PC: The Journey thing came about because a couple years ago Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan went out together no one would've actually paired those two, but it was a really successful tour. Our manager came to us with the idea and this Journey thing popped up, it was totally the time slot we had and they had.
MF: When you look at current rock acts today do you see a Def Leppard influence?
PC: Not so much on a rock thing, but certainly on a pop/R&B thing, especially in the 90's you would hear everything like Boyz II Men to a lot of the stuff you hear now -- the very big vocal. Kind of funny because we got the idea from Queen but we've done it in slightly different way, that's become our thing. I tend to it hear it more in R&B.
MF: How did Def Leppard feel about being thrown into the "hair-band" category of the 80's?
PC: Everybody gets thrown into some kind of category. I think the problem we had, or anyone who has had a really successful album like Nirvana, Alanis Morisette - you suffer all the copy bands. That kind of blows it for the original act. It was a bummer getting lumped with a lot of those not so great bands, not very original. It was a real drag, but we came out just fine.
MF: What do you think of criticism that Def Leppard is more pop now with songs like "No Matter What" (released in 2005)?
PC: The great thing is we would rather be called a pop band than a heavy metal band. A lot of people said, "Oh, you guys aren't really metal!" Well no, we're not -- we're a rock band. That's all we ever said we were. Give me the pop over the heavy metal thing any day.
MF: When we will see a new album of original material?
PC: We're actually working on it now. We have a bunch of stuff that's getting developed as we go on - the big problem we have more than anything is getting the direction. You always want your latest album to be a polar opposite to the first one you just put out. Our next album will hopefully be a little more live sounding.
MF: What did Def Leppard think of Mariah Carey's remake of "Bringin' on the Heartbreak"?
PC: Loved it - I love her. I remember the first time I heard her singing, I didn't expect this little skinny girl singing this big huge voice, so much soul - it blew me away. So, I've been a fan of her for ages.
MF: Did she get Def Leppard's blessing?
PC: You don't really have to - anyone can do anything because it's published. You only have to get permission if you're actually going to use part of the song. I just always think it's a great thing even if it's an artist you don't like -- it's still a compliment.
MF: Health wise - how have you survived rock & roll?
PC: I stopped drinking 18 years ago. I'm the healthiest I've ever been right now. Also, when you're on tour you're in some towns where there's nothing to do, you can always find a gym, or you can always just work out.
MF: What did you think about people who are just getting in the business and they think it's mandatory to drink, or do drugs?
PC: I just think it's the hardest thing in the world, not just being in a band. I know people who are borderline alcoholics, it's just glorified and in our faces all the time. It's just a really hard one ... some people can deal with it. It's a personal thing, that's why I stopped drinking - I couldn't quite do the social drinking thing, I'd have to do all or nothing. I just feel great now -- I wake up in the morning and go, "Wow, I physically feel great." I'm able to do stuff; I get more hours in the day. I think unfortunately a lot of people have to have the experience, they can take advice, but for the most part they just want to experience it themselves.
MF: Why do you think people are still interested in Def Leppard thirty years later?
PC: I think the main reason is the fact that we actually stayed together. We didn't do the splitting up and the reunion thing -- that certainly gives you integrity. The other thing is there were periods when the grunge thing came out and people didn't like us because we got lumped in with all the hair bands, or whatever. We carried on touring, putting albums out, we stuck to our guns and I think that coupled with the fact that it's almost like a reality TV show. Everyone seems to be obsessed with a story; we've had all of these funky things happen to us that were highlighted with VH1 and the movie. I think people are interested with the story - plus we're actually still doing our thing.
Def Leppard hits the road with Journey on June 23rd. Their latest CD Yeah! is in stores now.