Wednesday, May 21, 2008

LEPPARD ROARING BACK , A LOOK AT DEF LEPPARD TODAY


Def Leppard may be seen as Sheffield’s finest sons but talking to singer Joe Elliott, you soon discover the Midlands have played a crucial role in shaping the band into the rock superstars of today.

But you have to back track a long way to get there.

Back past the multi-million selling 1980s success of the Hysteria and Pyromania albums, with legendary producer Mutt Lange shaping the band’s sound and guiding them into the stratosphere.

Past the car crash that cost drummer Rick Allen his left arm, and past the alcohol-related death of guitarist Steve Clark.

Back, in fact, 29 years, inside a building in the Staffordshire countryside designed for agricultural events but which was at that moment filled with 10,000 Midland rock fans.

“Supporting AC/DC at Bingley Hall in Stafford in 1979, that was the first time Mutt Lange ever saw us,” recalls Elliott.

That connection was to prove crucial, as Lange later took the natural talent and raw energy of five northern lads and helped turn it into a global monster, breaking album and concert sales records around the world.

“He said ‘I can see they’ve got something’,” says Elliott, but it was to be a while before band and producer would hook up together.

“By the time we came to do our first record he wasn’t available but by High and Dry (Def Leppard’s second album) he was.”

The rest, as they say is history, with the hit singles Photograph, Animal and Pour Some Sugar On Me among the results of that extraordinary chemistry.

“We also played Wolverhampton Lafayette Club, earlier in 1979 . . . about June,” says Elliott.

On that occasion there was another important music biz contact in the audience, American record company man Cliff Bernstein, who had flown over especially to see the teenage band in action and who would later manage Def Leppard.

But there’s another reason the Lafayette gig sticks in Elliott’s memory.

“I split my trousers seconds before we were due on stage,” he laughs. “I had no option but to go on. I had to literally gaffa tape my trousers together.”

Now Elliott and his bandmates are set for another Midlands connection, an appearance at Birmingham’s NEC Arena on June 18 to promote their new album, Songs From The Sparkle Lounge featuring the single Nine Lives.

The NEC gig sees Def Leppard line up alongside co-headliners Whitesnake, fronted by David Coverdale. But Elliott insists it won’t be all egos and prima donnas.

“We’re both the same size on the poster!” he says for a start.

“I’ve known David for 25 years. There’s no rivalry other than comic rivalry . . . who drinks the most honey and lemon for their vocal cords.

“We must e-mail each other 50 times a week and it’s all comedy, Black Adder jokes and Monty Python.”

The co-headline tour, which also features newcomers Black Stone Cherry, makes a lot of sense, says Elliott, and follows on from successful jaunts in the States with Bryan Adams, Journey, Styx and Reo Speedwagon.

It seems to be a success over here too, with the sold out signs ready to go up at many venues.

“We could do 4,000 seater venues on our own,” says Elliott, “But put us together and we’re doing 10,000 seater arenas.”

When I ask how he feels about having to follow Whitesnake on stage he replies: “I think it will bring out the best in both of us. A lot of people will think it’s a match made in heaven.

“You can’t beat a sold out show. Teams and bands play better to a big audience.”

The new album’s unusual name comes from the “Sparkle Lounge” an area set up backstage before gigs with a few guitars, amps and a small drum kit surrounded by glittering lights to create a suitable ambience for songwriting.

It’s a far cry from the band’s previous recording practices, where the band members have met in the studios with separate riffs, lyrics and ideas and then spent an age starting to mould songs together. This time the songs emerged from the Sparkle Lounge more or less complete, an idea championed by guitarist Phil Collen.

It meant the band entered the studio already knowing the songs inside out, much as they did with their previous album, the covers collection Yeah!

Elliott explains: “We normally finish a tour, take a few months off and then get together. This time we forced ourselves at Phil’s insistence to go into the Sparkle Lounge every day we had something to do.

“We only wrote two or three songs in there but we did filter other stuff in there. Most songs were just started there but they all went through the Def Leppard meat grinder.

“Following the covers album it set us up. We said ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go into the studio with it already written, so we know the songs before we record them.’”

There are myriad influences apparent on Songs From the Sparkle Lounge, from AC/DC to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Queen and even the Glitter Band, but it all adds up to a sound which is undeniably Def Leppard.

“We tried to make a record that covers all bases,” says Elliott. “It’s the heaviest thing that we’ve done for a long time.

“Nine out of 11 of the songs were written by one guy but performed by five guys. Just like Queen – the songs were all different but they were all Queen.”

With the song Nine Lives, which also features country singer Tim McGraw, Def Leppard are also celebrating making history by being the first band to release a new single as a download through a video game before it’s traditional release. In this case the song is available as a download through the game Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock.

I tell Joe that the Guitar Hero series in particular has introduced my son and stepson to a whole host of classic rock music they wouldn’t have had a chance of hearing on the TV and radio – there’s a whole new audience of youngsters getting into rock.

“It’s great,” he says. “They’ve got kids in America now going round singing Foghat, Kiss and now Leppard. All these opportunities are coming to us because the older people that are running these companies are into us.”

With the current upsurge in live music, a resurgent interest in rock in general and sales of the new album and single performing strongly, things seem to be swinging Def Leppard’s way.

“There’s not much of a downside to being in Def Leppard in 2008,” says Elliott.

“We are not a burned out force. We’re still capable of writing the best song we’ve ever written.”
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