Def Leppard is synonymous with the 80s hard rock glam rock scene that took over the main stage for nearly a decade. However, the band has never stopped, and just last year released their self-titled eleventh album. Last year, amongst a full tour schedule, they managed to find the time to put together a concert film for fans who were unable to see what is being called, “the best tour they’ve ever done.”
The Blu-Ray and two CD set titled “And There Will Be A Next Time”, takes viewers inside their most recent trip to Detroit, where a always loyal faithful witnessed a band mid-renaissance take the stage and play material they’ve been mastering for decades.
ARITSTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with guitarist Phil Collen to discuss the experience of filming Def Leppard’s live show, where the band is at now, and what is expected from a gang who never yields and never stops playing.
Christopher Friedmann: When we spoke, about 14 months ago, Vivian was just emerging from a series of cancer treatments. So, let’s start with first things first – how is Viv’s health?
Phil Collen: He’s great actually. I saw him a couple months ago, obviously on tour, actually we were up here (in Sacramento) recording some of the Tesla stuff, and he came out and he played with his band last night. He’s doing great, as long as he stays healthy and the treatment he was doing is working, it’s all good at the moment. All good news.
CF: We’re speaking today ahead of the release of a Blu-Ray and two CD set – “And There Will Be A Next Time”. It seems like you were touring and playing shows right up to the end of 2016. How’s the mood in the camp?
PC: It’s fantastic. What’s really great… it’s a drag that a lot of these other bands are kind of disappearing and going away, but I guess it strengthens us. I think the stronger we are as a band, and all the hard work we put in is actually paying off because the last tour was probably one of the best tours we’ve ever done, certainly since Hysteria. We’re thrilled, it couldn’t be better, it’s great.
CF: The film was recorded in Detroit. Can you speak a little about the choice of that location?
PC: It was the first show to sell out on the tour. Detroit has always been faithful and loyal, brilliant audience for Def Leppard, so it was a real no brainer. It popped up and early on in the tour everyone was going, “You guys, this is the best tour you’ve ever done,” so we actually thought, “Okay, well then we’re going to record it and share it,” record that moment if you like. So it was really cool and that really was the obvious choice, I think.
CF: You hadn’t had a concert filmed since 1988, before the July 15th concert…
PC: … Yeah we’ve done Hysteria, there was a live album, but we haven’t done the experience thing, and it’s changed so much that was around In Your Face, and this one, we are just so much better. We sing better, we play better, we are better as a band, and that whole concept of it is just way more thrilling to watch, and so absolutely, it was an absolute no brainer. We had to do that.
CF: What has changed about your live performances over that 28 year gap?
PC: I think you get more experience. Our integrity is very intact. We’ve never split up. We’ve never had a reunion tour. We’ve actually stuck to it, even if it’s been kind of a lean year or something or a lean period. So I think with all that having been said, the fact that we’ve never kind of gone away or restarted anything, we just keep improving all of the time. I hear it when we play live.
I still get thrilled when I hear the backing vocal, the blend between Vivian and Rick Savage and with Joe as well. It actually sounds like a record. I listen to it and it blows me away, and it just keeps getting better and better and better, and that’s because we keep playing together. That’s the thing, if you stop and you’re not really into what you’re doing, then it kind of shows, and I think the opposite is also apparent.
We keep pushing it out there, keep trying to improve the show as well, it looks good, all of our team, the screens are better, the lights are better, and before you know it you just have this thing that blows away anything you’ve done before. That’s really where we’re at.
CF: Rock shows can be so hard to translate to screen, who directed the live show? And can you talk a little on how the process was made in selecting the person you’d trust with that difficult translation?
PC: It was a difficult thing, and the company who is releasing the DVD, we had seen some of their other work, and I forgot what it was, I think it was the Stones, and just amazing quality and editing. This was the really interesting thing, when I saw the first block of footage and edits and everything, I actually didn’t change one thing.
Normally whenever we do anything, it’ll be like, “Alright the shot at one hour three minutes 35 seconds; we’ve got to change that, it doesn’t look too flattering.” But with this, these guys actually nailed it from the get go, and the sound was no issue because Ronan McHugh who is our producer for the last few albums, he was there mixing it anyways so we never had a problem with audio, just how the video part was going to look, and they killed it.
Like I said, I didn’t make one corrections to any of the editing or any of that stuff. It was just above and beyond. It was highly professional and they nailed it. All the things you want to see in a rock show that so many videos don’t show, you know you see these things on TV and go, “Yeah I was there. It doesn’t really capture the essence of the live show,” but with these guys it actually really did. It was amazing.
CF: You have a pretty extensive US tour scheduled for 2017, with Poison and Tesla joining you for a number of dates. What does Def Leppard look for in touring mates?
PC: This tour is actually a little different. We are doing a lot the markets we hadn’t done. We are still promoting our self-titled album, and like I said, we constantly try to raise the bar that’s what we really try to do, and so many people haven’t seen this tour. America is such a huge place, and you can’t really fill it in. It’s great doing the obvious ones, L.A., New York, and Chicago, but it’s really nice to actually get out into the middle of the country and places that people don’t normally get to see you. The emphasis is really on that, bringing this show to places we haven’t gotten to before.
CF: Can fans expect to see any collaborations on stage?
PC: I actually go up and play with Tesla because I wrote and produced “Save That Goodness”. But everyone has such a limited time on stage that they really want to push or promote, so you really don’t get much time for that, even when we were doing “Save That Goodness,” there is a specific point in the set when I have to come run on stage and do that, and then run off and get ready for Def Leppard. So, like I said, everyone wants to do their show, so there’s really not much time for that. If you are going to do anything like that it’s probably backstage or something.
CF: We know what a good show feels like from the audience’s perspective, but what makes for a perfect show in the mind of Def Leppard?
PC: We constantly see other bands. Joe, for example, will come an go, “I just saw U2 and they had this….” and we kind of apply it to our show. It’s something we’ve always done, whether it’s a Rihanna show or a Rush show or whatever, you try and incorporate it. We do that must musically as well, we’ve always done it.
We’ve always felt we were a cross between a hard rock band like Zeppelin and stuff, but also the glam stuff like Bowie, and we tried to involve the characteristics of both. A live show is no different. You go and see stuff that you are really impressed with and go, “Wow. I saw this band and they did this…!” and then we incorporate it. It’s not stealing. It’s different when you do it yourself. We constantly do that. We are constantly involved in that.
Famously, Martin who is our production manager, he used to be our lighting guy even before I was in the band, he’s constantly – he works with all these other bands, Maxwell, Mary J. Blige, just a bunch of other artists and incorporates that as well. So it’s a team, it’s our team, it’s not just the band, it’s people that work with us and around us.
CF: The self-titled album was your first record in eight years, it managed to reach number 5 on the Billboard 200. When we spoke with Viv last year he credited the endurance of the band to the great songs – can we expand on that, and ask how your relationship with the songs has developed through the years?
PC: It was a brand new day that one because we had no record company involvement, no executives, no labels, management didn’t push us to do anything. We actually did it purely out of… We were actually going to do a single or an EP, and we sat around playing songs, and then it wasn’t long before someone else would say, “I’ve got this song,” and we’d get excited about it.
Me and Joe actually wrote a song in ten minutes, which was faster than any song we’ve ever written, “Broke ‘N’ Brokenhearted”, and we just got so excited about it, so what was going to be a single ended up being an album very quickly. We had 12 great ideas for songs and it was like, “Wow, we have to do this!” for all the right reasons. It wasn’t like a business agenda, it was an artistic one. That’s really the first time we’ve done that.
There’s always been in the background, whether it’s a label or whatever, there’s always been a motive or business agenda. This wasn’t. So it was purely artistic, so I think that’s the reason that the album came out the way it did. It was real. It was pure. It was natural. It was us. It was Def Leppard doing it for the love of Def Leppard music.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve have had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
PC: Whenever you get out on stage. We are actually getting rewarded for all the hard work we put in. We do work hard, whether it’s in the studio or live, and that can be everything from the moment leading up to the tour, you always try to get in shape and stay healthy and eat healthy, so you don’t get messed up on tour. All of that is paying off, and the fact that… last year we played St. Louis and it was 23,000 people there and it was like, “Wow, this is so cool,” and in an area and an industry where it’s supposed to be on the decline. It was kind of wonderful to see that paying off and to see people freaking out and getting into what we are doing, and that’s just the payment if you like. That’s all the hard work paying off.
It’s just wonderful to see that, because it’s not always like that. We’ve done tours when we got there and no one has shown up. We’ve released albums and it got really panned or whatever. So the fact that if you keep trying, your keep working, work harder than you can imagine, there is a reward in the end, if you’re up for the hard task and years of all that stuff, it actually does pay off. We’ll keep that hard working mentality. It’ll come around at some point. The trick is to not give up.
We’ve had lots of instances, like Rick Allen having the accident and just sticking at it and it paying off, all of a sudden he could play drums again. I had a weird thing that happened to me three years ago, my tendon slipped off the bone. It actually tore off the bone, and I couldn’t play guitar properly for a while, whatever, and I had an operation where they stitched it all back on. I had done all this therapy and everything and it didn’t quite go back fully, and I thought this is really going to bother me in a few years, and literally last week I was talking about injuries, and I realized I could actually clinch my fist all the way, which I hadn’t been able to do for three years.
It’s just that thing, sometimes it takes longer than you think it’s going to, but if you’ve got the resolve and you are able to put all the stuff into it – the time and the effort – it does pay off. And that was kind of symbolic actually. I didn’t even realize, but it all paid off.