Def Leppard is one of music’s most iconic bands.
After more than three decades of making music they are still touring and selling out arenas and amphitheaters around the world. In the 1980’s, their Pyromania and Hysteria albums became two of the biggest selling of all time, each moving more than 10 million copies.
It was also during that time that Def Leppard gained a reputation of playing hard on stage, and really really hard off-stage. The stories of Def Leppard’s partying became part of rock-n-roll folklore, some of it true, other parts becoming highly exaggerated as time passed.
But that was then.
Today, lead guitarist Phil Collen has been a vegetarian and non-drinker for over two decades and has become known as much for his intense workout regiment and chiseled physique as he is for his lightning-fast guitar riffs.
So when Collen’s upcoming new book is released, don’t expect it to be a repeat of Motley Crue’s sordid autobiography “The Dirt.”
“Anyone who plays in a band goes through all of that stuff, and it’s been so documented so many times, the sex, drugs, rock-and-roll thing, it’s really boring at this stage. I haven’t had a drink for 29 years, actually. It’s good to talk about the other stuff, about the hard work and what comes from that,” Collen told the Deseret News during a recent tour stop in New Mexico.
What interests Collen nowadays are deep, meaningful conversations.
Raised in London’s eastside, Collen could truly considered a working-class man success story, dropping out of school at age 16 to work in the local factory. He quit his day job to join the glam band Girl before getting a call from Def Leppard in 1982 asking if he was interested in replacing their recently fired guitarist Pete Willis. The Leppards were about to go into the studio to record what would become the Pyromania album. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Achieving such phenomenal success has allowed Collen to meet people he would never have otherwise come in contact with.
“Just the fact you come out fairly uneducated, I was fairly uneducated, and then you meet these incredible people (that you would have never met otherwise),” he said with both a tone of amazement and thankfulness. “I love meeting people who are actually doing something and learning from life.”
Collen calls conversations with awe-inspiring people “magical.” People like Charlotte Gerson, whose husband Max developed alternative therapies for cancer treatment and other chronic diseases through juice therapy; MMA trainer Greg Jackson; or a Rwandan native he met whose family fell victim to the atrocities being committed in that country.
Collen said he had dinner with Jackson just the other day and talked philosophy of life.
“I find that fascinating,” he said, “I cherish moments like that when you can have an amazing, deep conversation.”
These are the kinds of stories Collen has put into his new book. In reality, he said they are stories that aren’t new. They just aren’t typically the kind of topics he’s asked about when people interview the rock guitar hero,
“I’ve been talking about this stuff for 35 years. Everything that’s in there I’ve probably said at one time or another,” he said, “People just don’t ask you stuff like that.”
But Collen is also a key member of one of the biggest bands in the world. And Def Leppard is getting ready to release what he believes is the best album of the band’s storied career.
The new self-titled album will be released Oct. 30. The first single, “Let’s Go,” is already climbing the charts on rock radio. It has a very “Pour Some Sugar on Me” feel.
But the new album won’t be a complete throwback to the ’80s. Sure, there are the traditional Leppard elements of heavy guitars and a wall of layers of harmonized vocals. But Collen said the album is more diverse, with elements of blues, funk and what has been described as “rock powered soul music.” On the new album, he said for the first time, the band wrote and recorded something for themselves.
“That’s something we wouldn’t have done before. We would have had a routine or a box that we would have said, ‘OK, we can’t work outside these parameters.’ With this album, because we went in to record a single as opposed to an album, we had no restrictions, we had no record company executives saying, ‘We want this from you.’ We actually did this record for the love of music. And I know that sounds corny. But we had a totally different feel and flow about it. One minute we had a song that sounded Top 40 or it might be on an Imagine Dragons record or something. And then all of a sudden we got saying it sounds like it could be on Pyromania. We didn’t have that thing, that kind of stigma that’s like, ‘Oh we can’t do that parameter.’ We actually didn’t care about that. For the first time in our career we actually made a record that we wanted to totally do ourselves. That’s why we called it Def Leppard,” he said.
“Even with the Slang album and the X album we knew we were doing something that was different and it may not go down well with our fans. With this one we actually didn’t care. We don’t care if fans like it, don’t like it, we don’t care if anyone likes it or not. It was actually done for us. And I think because of that, the motivation behind that actually added some amazing artistic creativity that can actually get stifled if you think about something else,” he said.
Collen called the new album “pure artistic bliss and release.”
“My favorite part of artistic process is being taken somewhere else and not being so cookie cutter,” he said. “It was just a joy to make an album that wasn’t what we thought it would be…It shocked us in a really good way.”
But don’t expect to hear any of the new material when Def Leppard returns to the USANA Amphitheatre on Monday with Tesla and Styx.
For one, Def Leppard is bringing their typical large-scale, highly theatrical stage production to USANA. The lights, lasers and video screens are programmed in such a way to compliment each song, that Collen said they don’t want to shortchange their new material by randomly dropping a song into the set list.
“You don’t want your new song to sound great but look weaker than the rest,” he said.
The other reason, he said, was to prevent people from being exposed to new material through a bad bootleg.
“You spend lots of money and time and effort to make a record,” Collen said. “You don’t want some crappy ole crummy bootleg representing that song. You want the first time anyone hears it to be what you intended it to be.”
When Def Lep plays Monday, fans can expect to hear mostly the hits: “Photograph,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Animal,” “Hysteria,” “Rock of Ages,” “Armageddon It,” “Love Bites” and more. Essentially, it’s 80% to 90% of the same set list they’ve been touring with for the past several years.
When asked about why the band doesn’t add deeper cuts from their first three albums into the set list, Collen said, “You do that and half the audience would walk out.
“You’ve got to please an audience. You can’t please a very small minority by playing deep cuts,” he said.
Collen recalled a sold out show in Wembley Arena where the band was talked into adding “Wasted,” from Def Leppard’s 1980 debut album On Through the Night, onto the set list.
“The set was going great. We’re slaying it. We throw this song in there and it was like the ultimate cooler. It just killed the vibe,” Collen said.
In 2013, the band actually dug deep into their catalog during their Las Vegas residency show. The second half of the show was the Hysteria album from start to finish to celebrate the album’s 25th anniversary. The first half, however, included songs that the current lineup had never played in concert. In that case, Collen said the band knew diehard fans traveled from all over the world to see them, so the deeper cuts made sense for the occasion.
“When you’re on tour it’s a different set of rules. You have to be on your A game, and throwing in deep cuts sometimes doesn’t do that.”
As for the rumored Pyromania residency and a return to Vegas, Collen said it’s been planned about three times, but then put on hold for the new album and touring, which he called more important.
For the past two summers, Def Leppard has started their entire tour in Utah. They even flew in early last year to play a couple of dress rehearsal shows at USANA. This year, Utah gets the Leppards near the end of their tour. But Collen said he’s looking forward to returning.
“I’ve got friends there and it’s such a cool place. It’s always great to have a place you can chill,” he said.