SINGER JOE ELLIOTT DESCRIBES DEF LEPPARD AS “A HARDCORE, HARD POP BAND”
Jonathan Dick of Spin magazine spoke with Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott. Excerpts from the interview appear below.
Spin: It’s been seven years since Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, making this the longest Def Leppard has gone between albums. Was that wait a deliberate decision?
Joe Elliott: Not really. The length of time was just what it was because we weren’t really planning on making a record at all. It could have gone on a lot longer had things not been the way they were. When we finished and released Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, it was the last album that we were contractually obligated to deliver to Universal Records. We were well aware of that when we were making it, so it was kind of like an end of an era… It’s a good album, I think. It has some good songs on it, but we just did it because we had to, and it’s what you do. You tour, you make an album, you tour, you make an album. We were in that hamster wheel, if you like.
When it came to doing this album, we didn’t have a record deal. We were watching, reading, hearing the world tell us that the album [format] is dead. We weren’t happy with what we were hearing. We didn’t necessarily agree with it, but we were listening because that’s what you do in the digital age, and we were thinking: Well, okay, some of these bands we’re aware of have been releasing maybe one or two songs on the Internet instead of doing albums, maybe we’ll try that and see if it works. We did three new songs on the end of the live album back in 2011… so we thought we can still do this. Let’s just do these three songs and see what we get.
We all got together in my studio in February of last year and started playing things and recording it on our phones. All of a sudden we had 12 songs up for ideas…. then the thing just evolved. It was like, well, why do we have to pick three? Why can’t we just put them all out? All of a sudden, then we had an album… It’s the most natural, artistic thing that we’ve ever done, because we weren’t tied down to some label or an executive from said label hovering over your shoulder looking for the hit, looking for the delivery date, keeping it on budget, and all that nonsense that comes with what is essentially a juvenile line of work. We did a bit of work for the new record in hotel rooms and dressing rooms during the tour last summer, because these days you can do that. You don’t need to be in Abbey Road to make Abbey Road. We chiseled away at it in our own good time.
Spin: One of the most distinctive things about Def Leppard has always been the band’s ability to appeal just as much to pop fans as you do hard rock and even metal fans. It’s even more noticeable now, with many of today’s hugely successful pop stars either explicitly citing you guys as an influence, or doing so implicitly with their music. Is that something you’ve seen more recently as well?
Joe Elliott: I notice when it’s pointed out to me, because I honestly don’t listen to much pop radio. But when I am made aware of it or just happen to be listening to whatever radio station my friend is tuned to in their car, it’s like, “Whoa, that sounds a bit like we could’ve done it.” I started becoming aware of our influence in pop music about 15 years ago when Pink did a radio show with us, and she was standing on the side of the stage singing every word. I was like, well okay, she’s a fan. [Laughs.] We have people like Jewel or John Mayer or the guys in Maroon 5, all of whom are huge fans. It wasn’t just RATT and Poison we were a part of…. [now] all of a sudden you’ve got Lady Gaga coming out and saying, “I f**king love Def Leppard,” and we had Taylor Swift wanting to work with us six or seven years ago when she was first kicking off. You are aware of it, and it’s flattering, but I think it’s down to the fact that we’ve always been more pop than metal, much to the annoyance of the metal press and metal fans. We were never Dio or Anthrax or Judas Priest… We’ve always been about [blending] that kind of quirkiness that Queen had with the power of AC/DC. It’s something we’ve always felt was kind of our blueprint. So, I absolutely hear it in pop because that’s essentially who we were. Def Leppard became popular not through being a rock band like Zeppelin or Sabbath. We became popular because our singles were on American Bandstand between Kool & the Gang and Michael Jackson. We were the white rock band from the U.K. that people were like, “What? How did they infiltrate the top ten?” And it was because we had these infectious melodies. We weren’t afraid of singing about relationships or love, which is something that metal would never do. We were never Dungeons & Dragons. We never will be.
Spin: Which would naturally explain why the band has been so successful, because it’s difficult to compartmentalize you guys into any one genre or sound, even with the early associations with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, for example. It’s risky, but it’s obviously proven to be well worth it for Def Leppard.
Joe Elliott: We didn’t ask to be included in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. We were just told we were in it by a journalist. We were happy to take the press, but the fact that it kept coming with this NWOBHM typecast, it became more of a “What the hell is this?” thing. We just kept having to say, “Well, it’s because of all these bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon and whoever else are coming out of England at the same time.” So, it was really more of a time-zone reference. Well, you might as well throw in Duran Duran and U2, because they came out at the same time as well, because I think musically we’ve got more in common with those two bands than we do with Iron Maiden. I’m not criticizing Iron Maiden, either, and I never have when I’ve used that comparison. It’s not a criticism where we think we’re better than them. We just think we’re different… We’re a hardcore, hard pop band. They’re not…If metal is based on the length of your hair, then what are Led Zeppelin? Are they a hair-metal band? Is Iggy Pop metal because his hair’s down to his arse? It’s the dumbest, most idiotic, lazy journalistic reference ever thought of, and it’s just rubbish….
Read more at Spin.
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Classic Rock Fanpack
With On thru the night and High and Dry they were a totally different band…not nearly the production of Pyromania or Hysteria, way more raw vocals and riffs…Phil Collens involvement “pussified” this band and his style is not as edgy as Pete Willis or Steve Clark. I do love Pyromania, but the songs I like are not the commercial successes of say Photograph and from that album on, they were not the same hard rock band they originally were…I would agree with Joe that they are a hard pop band, especially now.
Collen is one of the best lead players in the biz, he’s a cross between Angus Young and Gary Moore, you don’t get any better than him really. You are barking up the wrong tree, blaming him. Mutt, he gets the “blame,” if you will, though I liked Pyromania, much as you do.
Phil Collen didn’t pussify the band. Watch the In The Round live video and see how well Phil & Steve Clark played and fed off each other.
Unfortunately, the death of Steve Clark is what changed the direction of this once great band. Bringing in Vivian Campbell seemed like a good move. Dio guitarist joins the Leps should’ve been great. Too bad the first original thing they came up with was Slang. While he’s a decent player, he never brought any “edge”. Name me a DL song Viv wrote that rocks?
So, the pussification of Def Leppard falls mostly on a dude named Vivian.
I don’t think you could call the first 3 Def Leppard albums “soft”. They were very much on the line between hard rock and “heavy metal” circa 1980 – 1983. Just because they had a commercial sensibility with songs like “Photograph”, “Rock of Ages”, and “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” doesn’t mean they were weak. Sure, bands like Iron Maiden, Priest, and the fledgling thrash movement were “heavier” at the time – but I’d put especially “On Through The Night” and “High N’ Dry” not too far behind what Priest and Maiden were doing at the time. Pyromania was the zenith of putting together radio friendly hooks while still packing something of a punch. Hysteria is really when they watered it all down and decided to go for the top of the pop charts. It worked, but they were never the same again for many of us who had really gotten into them before that. Since then, “soft” is an appropriate description for the most part. There have been some good individual songs reminiscent (to an extent) of the old days, but you have to dig for them.
What a great band, regardless of era. Adrenalize is as rockin’ as anything on OTTN (not a great album by any standard) and while, yes, High and Dry is still my favorite Leppard album, to dismiss what came after as “bubble gum pop” is really a shame. And live… I just took my 14 year old daughter to Kiss and Leppard last summer, and she was blown away that people could play their instruments that well (and they certainly delivered the “heavy” with their little snippet of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”).
Great band, DOES belong in the RnRHoF.