Clip from Wicked City featuring "Photograph" by Def Leppard
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ABC Music Lounge exclusive interview with Def Leppard!
ABC Music Lounge: There's a scene in Wicked City that recreates your 'Photograph' video as one of the landmark moments of the 80's. What are your thoughts on being touted by TV as one of the all-encompassing icons of that time?
Def Leppard: “Its great. I mean mission accomplished.”
Do you have any specific memories of making the 'Photograph' video?
“Yeah, It was immortalized in the movie Spinal Tap. It was at the time that everything was changing. We knew we didn’t look like other rock bands and that made a huge difference. Making that video was special because it made us different. We weren’t following the trends of other rock bands, we were making something iconic as MTV was giving birth to a new type of genre”
Do you enjoy having your music used in movies or TV shows? What is the experience like seeing one of your songs used when it may have a very different message from what you see on screen?
“We love it. That’s what you dream of, your stuff being all over the place. That’s the role of the artist, to get your stuff on as many mediums as possible, it doesn’t matter where.”
Along with a new tour, you also have a new album set to come out soon. What is it like for you guys to get in the studio and make a new album in 2015? Is it mostly the same process that it?s always been, or has it evolved over time?
“Totally different. This was the first album we have ever done in our career for ourselves and because we felt like which made everything different, the dynamic and vibe because no one was down our throats to record it. Hence the title Def Leppard, because it was our own. It had an artistic merit rather than a business merit.”
General thoughts on the new album, and the future of Def Leppard?
“Because of the new album, its just given us a new lease on life. First album in eight years, and best in 25.”
Looking at a lot of the rock bands that hit big in the 80's, you always stood out from the rest due to your strong musicality as a group. The sound was extremely distinctive, from the guitar tones to the drum hits, and of course the vocals? Even now there are few 80's hit songs that sound better on the radio than the ones from 'Pyromania' and 'Hysteria'. What would you attribute the uniqueness (and longevity) of your sound to?
“Mutt Lange our producer, who produced and co-wrote those albums. He made a standard good band in to something great.”
You're currently touring, what, if any are the major differences from the tour cycles of Hysteria and the one you are currently on?
“We’re back playing sold out shows in some of the same venues as the Hysteria success. Its integrity and trying hard and not giving up. You have to follow your gut and we’re just getting better. All of this is allowing us to come back and do what we were doing 30 years ago. It’s all down to hard work”
The 80's are one of the most celebrated decades for nostalgia. It was clearly a great time for art & music, and the culture was vibrant and carefree. What do you think it was about that period that made it so unique?
“There was still a cross over in the 80’s. The artists back then were artistic and creative, but also had some sense for business and that all changed after the 80’s. Business took over the industry in the 90’s and everything changed after that. When we hit the millennial period, it was all about corporate and business interests. The great thing about the 80’s is that you had a bit of both. Artist expression and business co existed in the music industry. That’s why it was so vivid and colorful.”
If you’re willing to look for it, there’s always going to be uncharted territory in music. With ten studio albums and countless sold out shows under their belts, it might seem like Def Leppard have done it all. However, while recording their self-titled eleventh full-length studio album, and first since 2008’s Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, the band members—Joe Elliott [vocals], Vivian Campbell [guitar], Phil Collen [guitar], Rick “Sav” Savage [bass], and Rick Allen [drums]—found themselves in a rather new, if not entirely welcome position.
“We’d never done an album when we weren’t contracted to do one,” explains Joe. “We’ve been independent for seven years, we’ve loved every minute of it, but we haven’t made an album as such. There were still expectations even when we did our first record On Through The Night. This time, there were none. We personally didn’t even expect to do an album when we first went into the studio! We just wanted to embrace our influences and write a few songs we could be proud of. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed making a record as much as I enjoyed making this one.”
In between their seemingly endless tour schedule and following Campbell’s treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma (he’s in remission now), the musicians convened at Joe’s home studio in Dublin, Ireland during early 2015. Co-producing with longtime collaborator Ronan McHugh, the initial thought was to just cut a couple of tracks and perhaps release an EP. Teeming with ideas, the band rode an immense creative wave and emerged with Def Leppard’s 14 songs.
“Anywhere we looked, it seemed like everybody kept saying the album is dead,” sighs Joe. “It’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes; you start believing it. We didn’t set out to make a full album. It just started to come together so naturally, and we were in such a great place. Because we hadn’t done a record in a while, I guess everybody was backed up with ideas. We had become fertile,” he laughs.
As a result, the Def Leppard hallmarks—stadium-size harmonies, bombastic drums, and heaps of riffs—remain as vibrant and vital as ever. That’s evident from one listen to the first single and album opener “Let’s Go,” originally penned by “Sav” early in the process. Driven by a muscular guitar groove, jackhammer backbeat, acoustic bridge, and massive chant, the track ignites their signature spark.
“I just remember ‘Sav’ came up to me and said, ‘I’ve written a Leppard song,’” laughs Joe. “That’s what you’d call it. It could be a distant cousin of ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ or ‘Rock of Ages.’ ‘Sav’ had most of it together, and it was the most Leppard-sounding song of all the new ones straight away. We wrote it all about being on stage. The lights go down, and the heat goes up. It’s the anticipation of a gig. It’s an anthemic rock song. That’s what we do. For years, we’ve been known for that. It’s something we’re proud of. We don’t try to avoid it. If anything, we try to do more of it.”
Meanwhile, “Dangerous” rolls from a razor sharp riff into yet another irresistible refrain amplified by a gang vocal call-and-response.
“From a musical point of view, it’s an out-and-out rocker,” continues the singer. “Lyrically, it’s that age old question, ‘Why do guys like dangerous women?’ You can’t just go for the librarian. You have to go for the spiky haired tattooed chick that rides a Harley Davidson.”
At the same time, they continue to make musical strides. “Man Enough” weaves in and out of a confident sonic strut on a funky bass line, “Broke ‘n’ Brokenhearted” breaks down into a wah solo, and “Blind Faith” tackles a weighty subject with an epic delivery.
“We’ve definitely pushed the envelope a little bit,” affirms Joe. “We want to stretch our wings, so we’re not just doing the same old thing on every single song. ‘Blind Faith’ was a good example. It’s a statement about people blindly believing in something flawed whether it’s those cults in Waco or the corruption in the Catholic Church. Everything is a question.”
There’s no question about Def Leppard’s impact and influence though. Since first forming back in 1977, the UK outfit has sold over 100 million records globally and earned two RIAA Diamond Certifications, which makes them “one of only five rock bands with two original studio albums selling over 10 million copies in the U.S.” Whether it’s “Photograph,” “Love Bites,” “Hysteria,” or “Rock of Ages,” their stamp remains instantly recognizable. They’ve consistently sold out venues across the globe and will continue to do so as their marathon of touring ramps up in support of Def Leppard.
Choosing to name the record Def Leppard not only nods to their history, but it hints at their future.
“The name itself sums everything up,” Joe leaves off. “It’s a misspelled nonsensical mad-looking two words. Everything about rock ‘n’ roll is the opposite of what everybody tries to teach you growing up. That’s what makes it fantastic. It’s loose, it’s wild, and it doesn’t follow the rules. You make them up as you go along. Def Leppard is no different. What does Def Leppard mean to me now? Success, stubborness, and blind faith. We blindly keeping pecking away at things, and it works out. It’s a bunch of guys that like each other and love what they do. That bounces back, and the audience can pick up on it. Musically, we’ve written some good stuff. I hope everyone can listen to it and enjoy it.”
This is Def Leppard in 2015. This is rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s go.