A Conversation with Phil Collen of Def Leppard
Phil Collen of Def Leppard is a very busy guy… In addition to his day job as a guitarist in one of the most successful rock bands of all time, he’s also a producer, and part of at least two other band projects as well: Delta Deep and Manraze. Def Leppard has sold an astonishing 100 million albums worldwide throughout their nearly 40 year career and show no signs of slowing down. Phil talked about his numerous projects including the latest Def Leppard DVD/Blu-Ray/CD release, And There Will Be A Next Time – Live From Detroit , the upcoming 2017 summer tour with Poison and Tesla, and producing Tesla’s next full-length album due out later this year. Phil also shares what it’s like sharing the stage with a couple of his guitar idols, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page…
On Tesla’s new album he’s producing: “It’s the rock version of Sgt. Peppers. It’s so diverse. It’s so thrilling. I’m so buzzed about this. I mean it’s got… it’ll sound like Zeppelin or The Beatles, or sound like Pink Floyd, or sound like Tesla obviously!”
Let’s start by talking about the And There Will Be A Next Time – Live From Detroit DVD/Blu-Ray/CD that is coming out on February 10th, correct?
If you say so… I think that’s the exact date. (laughing)
Yes, it’s being released on February 10th. This DVD/CD set was filmed last July 2016 in Detroit, MI. Did you guys film more than one show for this, or was this the only one?
No, this one’s the only one. Normally, like when we’ve done Mirror Ball, we did the whole tour. We actually recorded like 200 shows and chose the best songs from different places. But this one, Detroit was the first show to sell out on the tour. Everyone was saying, “Look. This is amazing. This is the best we’ve ever seen you guys.” And that’s really why we actually felt the need to do a live DVD. Although we had Viva! Hysteria, it wasn’t really like tour footage, the whole thing. So we really hadn’t done that kind of thing since the 80’s. So yeah it was the right time I think, and everyone was requesting it really.
Knowing that you’re only going shoot one show like you said, comparatively to other concert tours where you shoot 200 shows or so, and then pick the best bits… for this one, you had just one night. Is the pressure on even after all these years to deliver something great because you know it’s going onto a DVD as a product?
No, but yes, because normally we have this thing… We go with the 85%ers. One person in the band will go, “Oh my god. I had the worst night,” and “My singing sucks” or “My playing was useless.” And we say, “Yeah but 85%…” most of us are good that night. There’s always four of us that are usually [on]… it’s only one person who ever says that. But that particular night, I think it was about three of us or four of us that had a bad night on the same night.
Yeah, it was still great. It’s still 80% or whatever, so to me it was amazing. But things like you have a drone camera. I actually remember I was playing something. And I looked up and there was a drone camera flying near my head. I’m like “Oh my god. What’s that?” So, just things like that would kind of put you off. But it’s great because it adds to it. I love chowders or bum notes and stuff in a live show. I remember once. We were playing Hysteria, at Wembley Arena in London. It’s so easy to mess up the song, the guitar parts, because they’re so memorable, and it’s like a tune. And I hit this bum note on a solo, and I thought “You know what? I’m gonna stay on this bum note to just prove a point.” I owned it. It was like “You know, I’m not gonna try and get rid of it. I’m going to own this bum note.” So there was a little bit of stuff like that. It’s actually really cool that it was genuinely live, and appreciating that. But yeah, it was quite funny that it was a different thing, that we never get nervous or anything. That things like a drone would kind of mess you up or take your attention off.
A drone camera… was that the first time you’d ever been a part of something like that in your career with a camera flying around?
A couple of years ago, we were in Sweden doing “Sweden Rocks” which is this big festival. We’re backstage and there’s a drone floating around in the dressing room somewhere. This was pretty weird actually. Trying to look at people getting changed and stuff. So this was like a private person brought this drone thing and we go, “What?” And they had to try to get rid of it obviously. It was quite funny. This stuff’s all over the place now.
For this And There Will Be A Next Time DVD, there’s some backstage and behind the scenes stuff of Def Leppard correct?
Yeah, we’d done interviews and I think they’ve interviewed crew members and stuff. I’d actually done a Q&A with the people shooting the stuff. So, there’s a lot of stuff… just us talking about the live show really, and the whole tour. But like I said, it was really special because we actually think it’s the best we’ve ever been on that tour, so it was definitely time to share that.
Well, I appreciate you talking about the bum notes, and the 85% percent. Some of the guys were on, some of the guys were off… but that’s real, this is what it was. You’re honest. That’s really refreshing, especially for a band of your caliber after all these years.
I was in Madison, WI last year a few weeks after the DVD show was shot, and got some great photos of you guys that night. So, I can attest to the fact that the tour and the show was excellent. So, this DVD package looks great, and sounds like it comes with a whole bunch of extras, and people can get it via the Pledge Music campaign. Transitioning here Phil, the upcoming tour featuring Def Leppard, Poison, and Tesla Tour 2017 kicks off in April. It’s the first time in five years you guys are back together with Poison. Are you excited?
Yeah. It’s gonna be a hoot. Obviously with Tesla, we have a real close [relationship]. In fact, I’m with the guys from Tesla now because I’m producing the new album, so I’m up in Sacramento, CA recording it. But yeah, with CC [Deville] and all the guys [in Poison], it’s gonna be hilarious; it’s be like a comedy event with CC out there and everything. And everyone gets on. It’s just really cool. So yeah, I’m really looking forward to that. And I also think we’re going to a lot of places that we didn’t play [on the last tour]. That’s why we’re doing it. We’re continuing the tour, the Def Leppard self-titled album tour, and we’re hitting a bunch of places that we haven’t played for ages anyways. So it’s going to be really good for a lot of fans who didn’t get to see us at all.
The tour kicks off on April 8th, and runs all the way through the end of June. Tickets went on sale for that on January 20th. So, that looks exciting. Now, you mentioned Tesla. Of course, they were on the tour with you guys last year. Is the new Tesla track “Save That Goodness,” a song you co-wrote with band, or was that completely your song?
No, actually, it was going to be a Delta Deep song. I have this other band, Delta Deep with Debbie Blackwell Cook, Forrest Robinson on drums, and Robert DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots plays bass on it as well. We actually were gonna do it for that [band]. I wrote it with my wife, Helen, as well. Helen also writes with the band. And I played it to Brian [Wheat of Tesla], and he said, “We’ve got to do that. This is gotta be a Tesla song.” So, I played it to the guys and they loved it. When Jeff [Keith of Tesla] started singing it, they owned it. So it ended up being a Tesla song.
How is the new Telsa album that you’re producing coming along, and when might that be seeing the light of day?
We’re finishing it off right now. We’re doing guitar solos, and the odd lead vocal. It’s the rock version of Sgt. Peppers. It’s so diverse. It’s so thrilling. I’m so buzzed about this. I mean it’s got… it’ll sound like Zeppelin or The Beatles, or sound like Pink Floyd, or sound like Tesla obviously! But it’s got all of these different elements in it, the kind of stuff that the guys grew up on. All the influences… Instead of just being in one area, it’s right across. Really great songs. We’ve all been writing the songs together, and just putting so much emphasis on the quality of it, and the emotion and the passion of it. I’m thrilled to be part of it. It’s just amazing.
I can hear your enthusiasm for it in your voice. How satisfying is it for you as an artist Phil, to produce versus playing in a band yourself? Different worlds but similar right? Can you talk about that for a second?
Absolutely. You know, with this, I don’t know, a lot of producers don’t really get that involved, but you become a part of it, and I think you… you join the band basically. That’s what we do. It’s a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a giant, artistic jigsaw puzzle, and you use inspiration. Like the other day, Frank [Hannon of Tesla] was playing all these mandolin parts and sitar parts on one song. And then something else [on another song]. It’s so varied. There’s a piano on one song, and then some of the songs are just full-on. Frank and Dave [Rude of Tesla] are coming in to do a dueling solo, which is going to be really fun. And again, there’s just so many elements. And I think when you get involved at that level, even on the writing, and you all work together to create the most amazing thing you can actually get out there, it really is an inspiration. I think there’s many different ways to approach recording, or writing, or producing, or whatever. But, I have to be a hundred percent otherwise there’s no point in doing it. And I think everyone around has been just amazing. The ideas… You’ve got to hear it. It’s so diverse. It’s amazing.
Another question Phil: Will we ever hear from Ded Flat Bird again [the Def Leppard tribute band containing all the members of Def Leppard opening for themselves]?
I think so, yeah. That was a lot of fun actually. Yeah, I think we’ll do that. I don’t know when. But yeah that was a blast. It was a great opening up for ourselves as well. It was kind of a hoot.
It’s a very clever idea. And for those of us that go all the way back to the beginning with Def Leppard, hearing some of the deep tracks that you might not always get to hear from your catalog is really cool indeed. I’ll put my vote in now for that to return at some point in the future.
One last question: Is there somebody you’d like to interview if you could? If so, who would that be, and why?
Oh, to interview…? You’ve got me stumped really because I’ve met a lot of people, and a lot of the time I respectfully don’t get in their space. We’d just done this thing in Japan. It was the “Classic Rock Awards,” and I got to play with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page was saying “Here is how the song goes…” And it was just amazing to be within this group of people. But I didn’t wanna get fanboy with them, because you know, [you don’t wanna just] jump in and take photos because I was respecting their space. But, just having been around them and just talking about, music. Even being on stage, and Jimmy saying, cause he wrote “Beck’s Bolero” and we got out there to play it, and he’d say “Use this chord…” It was just amazing. It was surreal. So I kind of got to do that. I got to hang with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, and play some of their songs with them, in front of them. And that, to me, that was like that. Instead of actually asking them something, I actually got to really do that. In answering your question, I guess, those two guys right there. It was actually a whole lot more because I got to actually be beyond fanboy, I got to go out there and play.
Amazing! Even better than interviewing them, you got play with them like you said. That’s got to be a highlight for you as well. A lot of great stuff going on with Phil Collen and Def Leppard… And There Will Be Next Time – Live From Detriot is coming out on February the 10th. There are pre-orders available for that, and of course, the big Def Leppard, Poison, and Tesla Tour in 2017. Tickets are currently on sale for that. The tour is going to places they havn’t been recently. And we’re gonna stay tuned to see if we hear from Ded Flat Bird again at some point down the road. Any new music from Def Leppard coming in 2017 or into 2018 that you can mention?
Not that we can mention but I’m sure there is in 2018, definitely, because I’m constantly writing. We’ve got a live Delta Deep album coming out. We’ve got a second studio album that we’ve actually started writing. We haven’t recorded anything yet, but we’ve started the writing process, so that’ll be out at some point this year as well. So yeah, I constantly write and work all the time, so they all kind of join up really whether it’s Tesla, Delta Deep, or Def Leppard. And ManRaze as well, so yeah. It’s all going on constantly.
Very good. Thank you so much for your time and for talking with me today Phil. Very much appreciate it! And I’ll look forward to seeing you again out on tour in 2017. Take care.
Sounds good. Look forward to that. Thank you. Cheers.