Def Leppard interview – Hysteria, Success and Touring with Motley Crue

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Now in his early sixties, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen is still very happy to be still playing in front of huge crowds. His band is currently on tour with Mötley Crüe, Poison and Joan Jett and with over a million tickets sold, he doesn’t take any of it for granted.

“The first 18 shows of phenomenal,” he tells me from his hotel room in Boston. “It was just like, great. You know people say, well, what’s it like this tour? And I said, well, it’s the culmination of everything you want when you first pick a guitar up, going out on stage in a stadium, just seeing it packed. It’s just awesome. We’ve kind of reached that stage, and it’s just really cool, especially with all the other stuff, the brand new album out, you know, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame thing. Just everything, you know, two of our albums gone diamond, and yeah, it’s just constantly moving into a different phase, like Queen did or the Stones did. And we kind of noticed that, and it’s just really wonderful because that’s what you plan when you first start.”

Def Leppard recently released their twelfth studio album, Diamond Star Halos, which has seen some of their best reviews in decades. Phil thinks it’s their best album since Hysteria, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this week.

“I think there’s just the integrity that the band’s got because we don’t really have to do a new album, but again, going back to the Stones, they always put new music out, and that is something we always thought was important. I think it’s really got just a whole different vibe about it. Cause like I said, we didn’t have to do it. Most of it was just me and Joe sending ideas, and the integrity is there. So it’s like, they’re all done for the right reasons, for the getting excited about writing songs again, the style of songs and the era that we got introduced in the music, which was, you know, when I was 14, late 1972 -73: Bowie, T Rex and all of that along with Zeppelin and Purple and all the other stuff that was at the same time. So, you know, when you’re 14, you’re a sponge, and for us, it was just incredible. So I think we kind of ended up celebrating that, and that’s really why we called it Diamond Star Halos. Cause it’s a line out of a T-Rex song, “hubcap diamond star halos.””

In the 80s, Pyromania and then Hysteria saw Def Leppard become one of the biggest bands in the world, especially in America, where both albums sold in their millions. Phil says the success was beyond anything he dared to imagine.

“I remember seeing Uriah Heap at the East Ham Granada in London, and Peter Frampton was opening up. It was before Frampton Comes Alive, but he was doing that set, and it was about, I don’t know what 2000 people max, you know, it’s a cinema, and I thought, oh god, this is what making it is like. And so I had this image of that. And you know, you obviously want it to be bigger than that. And it went way above and beyond, actually. And especially when we started touring the States and the record sales started coming and then obviously, with MTV which was really instrumental in our success because we weren’t just a regular rock band. We sounded a bit different. It was a pop-rock hybrid. And we looked different. You know, it was closer looking to Duran Duran than we were to say, Iron Maiden. And I think that all those hybrid things really helped it. And obviously, you had a visual with the MTV thing. So it pushed it into an area that you wouldn’t have seen before. Rock bands or albums, in general, would sell about two to five million, but this thing, with Pyromania, it kicked off, and it ended up doing 10 or 11 million in the States. And while we were doing it, it was just above and beyond. It was like, pinch your wrist time. But then when we finished it, and we went back to Europe, it was back to playing clubs. So that definitely kept you humble, you know, it’s like, oh, okay, don’t get too full of yourself, cause you know, everything is temporary. So that was one of the things we learned from it and continue to learn. You know, you’re only as good as the perception is. It doesn’t matter if you’re album’s great or whatever; you gotta be perceived that way for, for whatever reasons.”

With Hysteria celebrating its 35th anniversary, I wonder if Phil’s feeling a little nostalgic about that time.

“We often look back, and I often think that you know, I remember all of that. I remember recording it constantly. I remember the guitars I used in the studio, the room that we were in, you know, all of those things. And so, yeah, you kind of constantly think about that, but I think it’s a constant, and we have so many anniversaries that keep coming up cause you forget. Someone said, oh, it’s been forty years since you’ve been in the band. And it’s like, oh wow. And that was just a few weeks ago as well. So yeah, it’s interesting, but there’s always so much to do. We’re constantly busy, and I think it’s great to be able to do that. And it’s nice being reminded because it’s like, wow, there’s all these kinds of milestones of your life that tick by us. It’s pretty cool.”

Now that the band are back playing shows, and with so many hits in the catalogue, it must be a daunting task to come up with a setlist that includes fan favourites but also allows space for the new material from Diamond Star Halos.

“We constantly change it, so some things absolutely don’t work and they don’t work this year,” Phil explains. “They don’t work in this context. So you have to be aware of that and then you have this production, which again, we’re really excited about. So you have certain parameters and certain songs you must do, and ones that kind of come and go. So you want to put new songs in as well, but you have to be careful. You can’t do too many new songs because people go, well, I don’t know this. I just want to Pour Some Sugar On Me and Photograph, so yeah, you kind of constantly have to be aware of that. It’s just a matter of getting them past that thing where people go they’re acceptable and you can do that with production. We’ve done that before, you know, with a brand new song, if you do it first, with lots of flashing lights and lasers, and god knows what, you kind of get away with it cause people are just looking at the spectacle and accepting that you’re doing a new song. But you know, again, back to the Stones, you know, when they do a new song or Keith sings, everyone goes out to the bar or buys t-shirts and you actually see that. And so that doesn’t change. That still happens a bit. And then you have to just try and keep them in their seats. I mean, it’s not a bad thing.”

The tour arrives in Canada on August 8th with a stadium show in Toronto at Rogers Centre. TICKETS HERE

“It’s just great; it’s a show. And I think we learned from going out with Kiss, that it’s only as good as everyone is. You want everyone to hit their bar. We are all pretty radically different bands from each other. You know, Joan Jett goes on, she’s awesome every night. And she sounds just like Joan Jett and it’s all those songs. Poison, it’s the best I’ve ever heard them. Brett’s singing great, CC’s playing great and they’re going down a storm. So that’s really cool. Then Motley, that’s the best they’ve sounded, and they’re getting on like the house on fire. It’s just great. And we’re doing our thing. So I think everyone’s stepped up their game for this, and quite rightfully like, you know, when you walk out and you see that audience, you go, wow. And it’s kind of rare. We’ve had big shows and that, but when you do it every night, it’s like, you’re really blessed to be doing that. And every band on tour is actually feeling that as well. So, you know, as a unit, all the bands, we’re trying to raise the bar and make it amazing.”

Interview by Steve Gerrard

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