INTERVIEW – Joe Elliot, Def Leppard – May 2015

INTERVIEW – Joe Elliot, Def Leppard – May 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

28 years after the world-enveloping success of their ground-breaking Hysteria album, DEF LEPPARD are returning to Australia for another tour, and bringing LIVE along for the ride as their support band.

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The operator connects me to lead singer and founding member – to many, the rudder who has steered Def Leppard straight from the start – Joe Elliot in Prague, where the band are based while playing a few shows in the area. To break the ice Elliot dives straight into a potted history of the city…

“We’ve been based here for like, five days. It’s an amazing city. It’s absolutely astonishing architecture. It didn’t get hit during the war, so everything’s intact… Hitler wanted to make it his home, so he didn’t really do any damage. It’s just got some incredible churches and stuff. I was told last night by our driver, there’s 147 steeples purely in just the downtown area. It’s insane.”

It really does sound beautiful – but we’re here to find out more about Def Leppard’s long-time love affair with Australia.

“Yeah, we certainly have [had a love affair with Australia] ever since we played a couple of club gigs back in ’84,” Elliot reminisces, “one of them on Bondi Beach somewhere. Then we did the Narara Festival [on Sunday, 29 January, 1984]. I remember, because the Pretenders were on, and a few other bands, and it rained like billy-o, it really did. It was a fascinating place for me: I’d never been before, I was a young kid. All I remember was saying things like, ‘it’s like America, but the houses are made out of stone, not wood.’

“Strange observations you make as a kid… yeah, we’ve been coming back as often as possible, it’s just a fantastic place to tour.”

I tell Joe that I recall first seeing Def Leppard in Perth ‘In The Round’ in the early nineties.

“Yeah, that would have been ’92,” he recalls, “that was the first proper tour we did. It was a bit of a strange one, because we weren’t scheduled to play Australia on the Hysteria Tour, because the album didn’t really take off in Australia. The album was released in August ’87 to great reviews, and sold well in Britain, [going to] number one – the first album we had go to number one in England. [It was] very successful for us in Europe, and then we went to America. Then it took off in the summer of ’88 – a year later, it went just through the roof in the States.

“And then lo and behold, in August of ’89, it took off in Australia. Of course by then we were off the road, recording what turned into Adrenalize, and we were like, ‘we can’t come,’ because they said, ‘you’ve got to come and tour.’ We were half-way through making a record, so it’ll have to wait. We ended up coming down in ’92, and we’ve come as often as possible since. The last time we played there [in October 2011] was amazing, we came down with Heart.

“We’ve got Live this time with us, which is amazing as well. I remember the first time I heard Throwing Copper, I was thinking, ‘this is a great band, they’ve got some good melodies and stuff.’”

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Not that Def Leppard hand-pick their support acts, but they do have the final say.

“No, we don’t pick them, but we’ll okay them. The promoters, the agents, they throw names at us, and we’ll look at them and go, ‘yeah, that one, that’s good.’ We don’t kind of pick the names out – because for all we know, they’re not available. They do the work, we make the decision: that sort of thing.”

I mention that the local supports – Electric Mary in Melbourne, and Baby Animals in Sydney and Perth are both fantastic and should give the headliners a run for their money.

“Good, we like that,” enthuses Elliot. “Because if you look through the history of this band, going all the way back to the Hysteria album, we’ve got bands like Queensryche, Tesla, L.A. Guns, Europe, opening for us. In the last ten years or so, we’ve had Journey, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Styx, Poison, Heart… We always like to take a band out with us that are a) a good band, and b) a band that the audience have heard of and know. It’s that old cliché: one and one making three. It’s value for money.

“In this day and age, the competition out there is immense, because touring has become the most consistent part of this fucked-up record industry that we are working in. If you’re going to do what you do, you’ve got to put on a great show, and you’ve got to put on a great evening. I think that it needs to kick off at 7.30, not at 9 o’clock.

“We’re believers in [having] as many great bands as possible. Last year, when we went out as a double-header with Kiss, we had the Dead Daisies on board for a while. They were great, they went down really well. It’s a good band, now they got Richard Fortus ruling the roost on the songwriting and stuff, it could turn out to be a really good band, that. They’ve covered a song by one of my favourite ever artists – they’ve done an Alex Harvey tune called Midnight Moses on the new record.

“Which is fantastic, because it’s just like, ‘why the hell have you done that?’ – T talked to Fortus, and he says, ‘dude, it’s just a great song.’ I’m like, ‘yeah, it is, well done, thank you.’ A much-ignored tremendous artist, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, one of the best groups ever out of Scotland, for sure when I was growing up, one of the most important things in my life, along with your Mott The Hooples and your Bowies and all that.”

Elliot has burned a candle for Bowie’s Spiders From Mars-era band, and also for Mott The Hoople with his side projects The Cybernauts and Down N’ Outz, respectively. Are there any other bands that he would consider revisiting the music of in a similar project?

“If you think about it, I’m such a music nerd and such a music fan that, that I could actually do a Down N’ Outz for fucking hundreds of bands! It’s one of the reasons that [Def Leppard] did the Yeah! album nine years ago – because for years and years and years, like 25 years, we’ve been telling people what our musical roots were. It kind of just went right over their head and they ignored us.

“Every time we talked about this, they go, ‘you guys are part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal,’ and all this stuff. We’ve said, ‘look, you may say that, and Geoff Barton may have created that title, but just because we came out at the same time as Saxon and Iron Maiden doesn’t mean that we sound anything like them, or have anything in common with them in musically!’ Not that there’s anything wrong with them – there’s nothing wrong with them. I think Iron Maiden are a great band, I just don’t think that us and them sound like each other.

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“I don’t understand why people keep putting us in the same [genre]. Steve Harris [Iron Maiden bassist & leader] would probably say the same thing, so we thought, ‘well, they don’t listen when we talk, so maybe they’ll listen if we sing and dance.’ So we said, ‘let’s pick 12 songs that we all agree on – it could have been a hundred of them – that represent telling the world where we [musically] came from.’

“That’s why, on the covers record Yeah!, you get David Essex, you get Roxy Music, you get Badfinger, John Kongos, The Faces, as well as more standard ordinary stuff, if you like, like Thin Lizzy, but you’ve got T.Rex and David Bowie and Blondie, that kind of stuff.

“It’s like, they say, ‘why are you covering these songs?’ Because these are the songs that made us want to be in a band. You listen to John Kongos: he’s a South African guy, he had a couple of hits in Britain, and the song He’s Gonna Step On You Again, it’s kind of cosmic, kind of space-age and futuristic African kind of Burundi Black drumming – that absolutely influenced Rocket. There’s no doubt.

“That’s one of the reasons we put it on there. We wanted people to go, ‘that sounds a bit like Rocket,’ so we could go, ‘duhhhh!’ When you think about it, any one of those songs that we covered – I could have [started] a T Rex or Blondie tribute band. This is the stuff that I tend to listen to when I get on a treadmill or whatever.

“I don’t go charging out for the latest Muse record. We’ll all listen to that in the van when we’re travelling around, but when I’m in solitary confinement under a pair of headphones, I’m listening to Electric Warrior [by T Rex] or Hunky Dory [David Bowie] or something, because I like to listen to the stuff that makes me think happy thoughts. You can’t beat being twelve years old and wishing you still were.” Elliot laughs un-selfconciously.

If there’s a pet peeve here at 100% ROCK HQ, it’s lazy media saying ‘headbangers rejoice, heavy metal band Def Leppard is coming back.’ They’re a rock band for fuck’s sake, man!

“Seriously, I just think that some people only look at the surface. They see, like, a cake and they kind of forget that underneath the icing there’s some substance, otherwise the whole thing would collapse. Have we done heavy metal songs? Yeah we have. I would suggest that maybe something like Stagefright – or part of it anyway – is heavy metal. The same way that you can say that Immigrant Song is heavy metal, but is the rest of Led Zeppelin III?

“Of course not. When you do songs like, say, Love Bites, or Two Steps Behind, or even stuff like Promises which is just phenomenal pop rock in my eyes, or another song off Euphoria called All Night, which could have been … Christ, it could have been Toni Braxton for what it’s worth, it’s just a great song. We happened to play it on guitars, and people kind of confuse guitars with heavy metal.

“Which I find astonishing, because as I say to people, ‘it’s funny how you think we’re heavy metal, but you never say the Rolling Stones are, and they’re exactly the same line-up [2 guitars, bass, drums & a vocalist] as us.

“It is lazy journalism, it absolutely is, but you can’t fight it, so you just go, ‘alright, well, that’s your opinion, I would disagree with you.’”

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I believe you’ve been working on a new Def Leppard album for the past 12 or so months, how’s that coming along?

“Yeah, on and off – on and off being the important thing there,” Elliot begins to explain. “We started on it 14 months ago, just out of… I don’t know… curiosity more than anything else. We weren’t touring, it was like, ‘let’s see if we can write something…’ We were going to do an EP – because, I mentioned earlier on [about] the [music] industry being a bit messed up. 14, 15 months ago, we were convinced that the album was a dying thing, and maybe the way to go was an EP – just do a Def Leppard EP with two or three new songs, like how we put three new songs on the end of Mirrorball.

“That was the way to go, so let’s come in and see what we’ve got. We hadn’t written any songs together for Leppard since about 2007, when we were prepping for the Sparkle Lounge album that came out a year later. Consequently, when you haven’t written an album for seven years, everybody’s backed up and stuff, they’re just teeming with ideas. We all played each other what we’ve got, and the three songs that we were going to do turned into 12!

“We’re looking at each other, and we were really happy with what we had. We had 12 songs and one of them got abandoned, so we were down to 11. That was like February of last year. The four of us got back together in May. Vivian was at home having treatment for his cancer, so the [other] four of us got back together just to work on what we could.

“We wrote two more, so then there [were] 14 songs, and then we went away on tour for four, five months, whatever. Then I’d nibble away at it doing lead vocals while a bunch of the guys were at home. I went away in December on a Down N’ Outz tour of the UK, and then we got back together and did a bit more work in February/March again this year, and we finished it off. We were just nibbling at it [here and there].

“When we made an album in the past, it’s been, ‘okay, here’s your contract, you’ve finished your tour, now get us some songs written, do an album, deliver it here for this amount of money, we want it delivered now, at this time.’ We financed this ourselves, with no record company hanging over us, [and] we did it in our own time because, let’s be honest, at the age that we’re at now, we’ve got all the things in our lives that we didn’t have when we did Hysteria, like everybody’s married with kids, et cetera.

“You’ve got to balance your time a lot more carefully with family and career. It was nice to be able to actually do that, so neither of them would interfere with each other. We weren’t in a mad rush to get this record finished, we just needed to make sure it was good, not quick. That in itself, the approach to it and the way that we did it, was so much more relaxed, in the way that we weren’t under pressure to get this vocal done today or whatever.

“I could wait a day if I had a sore throat, and do it again and do it better in a week’s time. We ended up with a fantastic record, 14 songs that represent us collectively and individually, because everybody brought finished stuff in and we also wrote things together. The variation within the songwriting is immense, but it still comes under the umbrella of Def Leppard, which is always going to be energetic, hard-pumping melodic rock with big vocals and large guitars and drums, and a few other things thrown in for good measure.”

We’re almost out of time and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet, so very quickly: will the album be out before the tour?

“Yes it will, for you guys,” he confirms. “Not for the Americans. The Canadians didn’t get it [before we toured], the Europeans aren’t getting it [before we tour there], but you guys will get a couple of new songs for sure.”

How’s Viv doing, is his cancer still in remission?

“Yes, the cancer is gone, as far as I’m told,” the singer says, “I mean, I’m not living inside his body, but… I think with something like what Vivian had – I say he had, not has, he had – you’re always going to have to revisit it and just make sure everything’s okay. I don’t know whether he’s totally out of the woods yet, but I think he’s like 99 percent out of it, and he’s certainly healthy. He’s out on this tour, he looks great, he’s playing and singing great, he’s in good spirits. I know he’s got follow-up treatment, but everybody does for five or six years after they’ve been pronounced okay. It’s just the way it goes.”

That must be a huge relief both personally and professionally?

“Absolutely, yeah, of course it is. We’ve been through the wringer when it comes to this kind of thing many times, so for us it’s not like, ‘oh God, no, not again.’ It’s like, ‘look, we’ve survived it before, we can survive it again.’ If shit happens in the future, we’ll always be there for him, to support him as best we can. As of right now, he’s fine, he’s back.”

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That’s excellent news. It’s certainly not viable anymore to record the way Def Leppard did back in the Hysteria and Adrenalize days with those huge recording budgets, big-name producers, etc. Does that mean we’ll never see an album that’s as groundbreaking as those records again?

“I think it’s possible that you can do that, yeah, because it’s so much [technologically] easier to do it now than it was then. You can record an album like Hysteria or Dark Side Of The Moon on a MacBook Pro. It’s not the actual equipment you record it on, it’s the music that you write and record. I just think that for every band, there’s a finite moment. Queen could never do another Night At The Opera, you could only do it once.

“We were very fortunate that we had two groundbreaking records that were vastly different from each other. I think the impact was more obvious because they were five years apart, not a year apart like most people were doing. I think it’s possible, I think people like Muse have made pretty ground-breaking music, maybe 15 years ago the Foo Fighters were doing it. I think it’s possible, and you don’t have to have an enormous budget, but I think that we’re running out of new styles.

“I just think that music has kind of run its course without going jazz-rock. AC/DC made a statement when they came out with things like Let There Be Rock, et cetera, and they never really changed what they do. So all you can do is either cover versions of what they’ve done, or better versions of what they did. It’s just a case of which side the coin will land when you toss it.

“I think when they did Back In Black, they set their stall up, but they did Back In Black in about five months, which in comparison to most records, is pretty damn quick. U2’s breakthrough record – you know, a lot of it is the fact that it’s THEIR breakthrough record and nobody’s heard THEM before on a grand scale. They had their cult following with the first three records, and so did we with the first two, but then it breaks through and then people are aware of who you are, so the expectations change.

“It’s hard to keep topping your own ceiling. It is difficult, but you’ve got to be happy with what you do. Rush made a few breakthrough records. Loads of people have done it once or twice. It’s really impossible to do it every single time you try. You can make something different each time, like, say, David Bowie does, but it doesn’t necessarily make it ground-breaking.”

Our fifteen minutes has turned into twenty, and Joe Elliot is a busy man.

“I enjoyed that, thanks, I’d stay on longer but I’ve got more to do,” he says, graceful to the last.

Don’t miss Def Leppard in Australia this November, with LIVE in support, and special appearances by Electric Mary or Baby Animals at each show.

SYDNEY
Qantas Credit Union Arena – November 17
Def Leppard with special guests LIVE & Baby Animals

MELBOURNE
Rod Laver Arena – November 18
Def Leppard with special guests LIVE & Electric Mary

PERTH
Red Hill Amphitheatre – November 21
Def Leppard with special guests LIVE & Baby Animals

INTERVIEW – Joe Elliot, Def Leppard – May 2015

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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