Def Leppard Guitarist Talks New Live Album and DVD Set, Tour Plans
It’s hard to believe that in over 33 years, rock legends Def Leppard have never released an official live album. Instead, they’ve kept on plugging away through great times (the ’80s), hard times (‘the ’90s) and pretty good times (the ’00s). Through it all, they’ve toured non-stop, whether playing sold-out arenas or amusement parks.
This summer, after playing the Download Festival in England, Def Leppard will hit the road in North America with support from Heart starting June 15 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The band will be touring behind its first multi-disc live set, ‘Mirrorball,’ which will feature a batch of live songs, new studio recordings, and a full-length DVD.
“If this was vinyl, it would be a triple album,” Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen said during a recent interview with Noisecreep. “It’s 21 live tracks, three studio tracks, and then a DVD with five live tracks with a whole movie.” We asked Collen to give us some more info about the release and the band’s future plans.
Noisecreep: The last time U.S. audiences saw Def Leppard was on a joint headline tour with Poison. Heart are a very different kind of band. Are you trying to tap into an audience from multiple generations?
Phil Collen: Not really, because we do that anyway. It really came down to who was available. We wanted to have someone with a big catalog of hits. That’s worked well for a few years. We went out with Poison, Journey, Bryan Adams, Billy Idol, Styx. And Heart seemed to fit the bill.
Why finally put out a live album?
We’ve been promising it for years. We were finally able to do it because we had a year off. And that’s really the first proper year off we’ve had in 30 years, which is kind of ridiculous, really. We never got around to doing a live album before because it wasn’t a high priority from a record label’s point of view. But this time, with the year off, it seemed like the perfect time to make one.
Lots of bands that tour regularly have numerous live albums. Why weren’t you able to squeeze one out between tours and studio releases?
Yeah, but they don’t take three or four years to make one record. That’s the difference. [1987's] ‘Hysteria’ took three and a half years, [1992's] ‘Adrenalize’ was the same. There’s a lot that needs to be done for a live album as well. It needs to be mixed, you have to select the tracks. That was another thing. We were selecting the tracks while we were doing the last two tours. Everything was recorded on a hard drive and our producer took notes on what a good version of a certain song was on a particular night. When we got off the tour, he actually sifted through the recordings and said, ‘We’ve got most of a live album here.’
How many shows were recorded?
We taped 50 or 60 shows between 2008 and 2009. We record pretty much every night. There’s a huge back catalog of stuff to choose from.
Could you describe the three new songs?
They’re very Def Leppard. We’re really excited about them. There’s one called “Undefeated,’ and it’s a real chest-banging arena rock anthem that [vocalist] Joe [Elliott] wrote. There are tribal drums, huge guitars, and an anthemic chorus. There’s a song called ‘It’s All About Believing,’ which I wrote with a friend of mine in L.A., C.J. Vanston. It sounds like a hybrid of stuff that was on ‘Pyromania’ and stuff that was on ‘Hysteria,’ but with a bit more of a modern sound. And there there’s another song [bassist Rick Savage wrote] called “Scenes of the World,” which almost sounds like Queen through modern technology.
When did you write the new songs?
Actually, since we got off tour — that’s when they kind of surfaced. We really got seriously into recording them in October and November. And we decided to float them into the live album. We started to do more [new songs], but we didn’t have time to finish them. Personally, I really like the idea that we just did the three songs. The album [format], right now, isn’t really the way to go. It’s a little bit of an antique model to be quite honest. People download mainly one or two songs at a time. I think it’s great to do that because you can put more into it. And we put more into these three songs than we have for some whole albums and I think they’re better for it. The production’s fantastic. There are crazy over-the-top overdubs and everything.
Why did you call the album ‘Mirrorball,’ which was the name of a 1995 Neil Young album with Pearl Jam and also the title of a Sarah McLachlan record?
Well, we didn’t want to call it ‘Def Leppard Live’ because that’s not all it is. There are these new studio songs and the DVD. And we had an album [In 2008] called ‘Songs From the Sparkle Lounge,’ which had mirror balls on it, so it was a little tip of the hat to that.
How have you stuck it out for 33 years without breaking up once?
Because we care about each other and the music we make, not what’s trendy at any particular time. Certainly, the fans that have grown up with us still come to the shows, which is great. And also, there was this retro thing that happened a few years ago where everyone loved bands from the ’80s again. But really, we’re just a band that actually never went away. We didn’t have to reform and do reunion tours. We’re the real deal and our integrity is intact. So, I think, because of that, the word gets spread. We still see lots of 16 year olds in the crowd as well as older fans.
They say you can’t choose your audience.
We just feel glad to have one. Through our career, we’ve had a real mix. There was an almost Duran Duran girl audience for a bit, and then we had these hard rock guys who looked kind of like jocks. And there’s been everything in between, with different age groups right across the board.
You also have a book, ‘Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History’ coming out on May 18.
Yeah, it’s 30 years of photographs of Def Leppard taken by Ross Halfin, who was our official photographer for 30 years. We got everything from the first Def Leppard gigs to the first time I ever played with Def Leppard, which was 1983. So it’s got the whole catalog and there are pictures of us in Japan, Mexico, Indonesia, all over the place. I feel like it’s a really cool addition to everything we’ve done.