Def Leppard kick off the UK leg of their current world tour in Belfast tonight. Simon Rushworth caught up with guitarist Phil Collen during rehearsals in Sheffield this month.
RUSHONROCK: How often do you get time to reflect on Def Leppard’s career and how proud are you of what the band has achieved?
PHIL COLLEN: I’m really proud. Ultimately I’m very, very poud of what we’ve achieved. What’s really interesting is that the first time I found a moment to properly reflect on what we’ve done was when we received our Diamond Award in New York for Hysteria. I don’t think it had really hit home until that point. That was when I had time to really think about what we had done as a band. I took time to think about what had been important to us up until that point and what we might achieve in the future. Now I make the time to remember what this is all about. When you think of what we can still achieve – I’m so proud of the new album and it shows what we’re still capable of doing. This record came from nowhere but it was always within us. We rolled up at Joe’s in February 2014 and wrote a song. Before we knew it we had a whole album. It was mission accomplished just like it always has been for this band. I’m so proud of what we’ve done and what we’re still doing at the highest level.
RUSHONROCK: What are the secrets behind the band’s longevity?
PC: A lot of the time I put it down to the fact that being in this band is pretty easy. There’s no stress. Not compared to a real job. Every day you’re getting to do something that you’ve dreamt of doing since you were a kid. I just don’t understand how people can become upset in that situation. As an individual and an artist you’re getting such a free reign to express yourself and do the job you love. We do pretty much what we want to do and it’s amazing. I have never understood how bands can split up over such little things. If you’re realistic about the situation then there’s no reason why you can’t experience a long and enjoyable career. But if your take on reality gets a bit fuzzy and you’re boozing all the time and you allow that to affect your judgement – that’s when the problems could start. A lot of bands lose their grip on reality and before they know it they’re in a different frame of mind and I suppose that can become destructive. For the most part we’ve always had a healthy grip on reality. We’re all working class blokes who had that sense of reality drilled into us by parents who lived through the blitz and had it really tough. They instilled into us a value system that we’ve always retained.
RUSHONROCK: Has it been easy to keep the band together through thick and thin?
PC: Yes and no. It all comes down to whether you have the strength to deal with the hand you’re dealt. When Steve died and Rick lost his arm – those were huge setbacks. But Rick never complained. He bounced back and as a band we did the same. You look at that and where you’ve come from and it makes you stronger. Those potential setbacks put things into sharp perspective. A lot of things that might upset other bands just don’t bother us. We know what really matters and we brush off the little problems that might escalate in other bands.
RUSHONROCK: A few years ago there was talk of Def Leppard ditching the album format for good…are you pleased you stuck with it?
PC: I think the new album is the best record we’ve made since Hysteria. The sound is great and it’s everything we wanted to do. Because this was made on our terms and without any label pressure we were able to achieve something that wasn’t possible before. I’m as much at fault as anyone else when it comes to being too rigid in life. I do it all the time: say one thing one day and really mean it only to change my mind the next. If you stay rigid and blinkered then it’s a very risky way to approach life. At one point we did think Songs From The Sparkle Lounge might have been our last album. Then we wrote and recorded 12 songs and suddenly we had another album. In an era where bands don’t sell many records anymore I think this has been really well timed. Just as the new album came out we were selling out shows that we hadn’t got near to selling out for years. And I think Def Leppard (the album) reinforces our integrity as a band that still has something new to offer.
RUSHONROCK: Let’s Go was a typically bombastic choice as lead single from the new album – how long did it take to decide to open the live set with the song?
PC: Cream rises to the top and that song is tailor-made to open up a show. When you’re recording an album those songs present themselves to you and it was the natural choice to kick off with. Then again we had a few problems deciding which song should be the follow-up from the Def Leppard record. That’s what happened with Hysteria but when you’re spoilt for choice you can’t complain. The first couple of times we played Let’s Go live it didn’t look like the best decision. Although it’s done really well and reached number one on the rock charts in America the first few times we played it you could hear a pin drop! But by the time we headed to Japan people knew the words and even the last few shows in the States people had started to pick up on it. We knew it would come good but it’s never easy when you take the decision to play new songs – however good they are.
RUSHONROCK: Is there a song that the band will point blank refuse to play or is Leppard’s entire back catalogue open for discussion every time you head out on tour?
PC: We’d always consider every song. We approach a setlist by making sure we include all of our hot chestnuts – for example we can’t ignore the big Hysteria singles. But the chances of playing the new songs or some of the deeper cuts are few and far between. We’d been playing Promises and Paper Sun, from the Euphoria album in America earlier this year and we had a blast doing it. But we only have an hour and a half on the UK tour so we’ve had to think really carefully about what we’re going to play and when.
RUSHONROCK: Which song gives you the most pleasure to play live and why?
PC: I love all of our songs. I really do. But I suppose I like playing Rocket more than most. It’s got the big drums and the big guitars and the chanting: it’s a metaphore that represents everything that Def Leppard is all about. It’s not the most serious song but sonically it’s amazing. It has an infectious groove and melody.
RUSHONROCK: When you’re waiting in the wings on the UK tour which Whitesnake song will you want to join in with?
PC: I like In The Still Of The Night. That would be the one for me. The last time we toured together I came out and sneaked on stage to join David and the boys when they started playing it.
RUSHONROCK: How is Vivian right now?
PC: He’s still going through his treatment but at the moment the signs are good. He has to undergo treatment every month and has to go back and forth to get it done. But we’re so pleased he’s on this leg of the tour. He goes way back with David Coverdale and of course he has strong links to the Black Star Riders guys. There’s so much history there and Viv was determined to be on the road in the UK.
RUSHONROCK: And of course you’ll be hooking up with David Coverdale again after he guested on your new Delta Deep album…
PC: That’s right. David contributed to Private Number on the new album. We actually got to record the song together which was brilliant. I can’t wait for the Whitesnake shows on the UK tour.