“I think what happens to people in general is they forget how to be young.”
– Phil Collen
Who says you have to act your age? This year marks 30 years since Def Leppard’s fourth album, Hysteria, was released, solidifying the English rock band’s success as one of the greatest artists of all time and members Joe Elliott [vocals], Phil Collen [guitar], Vivian Campbell [guitar], Rick “Sav” Savage [bass], and Rick Allen [drums] refuse to slow down. Hysteria introduced six hit singles, including “Love Bites,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Hysteria,” “Animal,” “Armageddon It,” and “Rocket,” and was the band’s second diamond-certified album (over 10 million copies sold), exceeding the success of 1983’s diamond-certified Pyromania with singles such as “Photograph,” ”Rock of Ages,” and “Foolin’.” And Def Leppard continues to produce classics, most recently, “Dangerous” and “Let’s Go” from their 2015 self-titled album. Now the band, whose current line-up has stood the test of time together since 1992, hits the road again for a North American tour where they’ll be joined by Poison and Tesla.
Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen talks about persistence, escapism, and staying young at heart.
Before we start, I have to say thank you for all of the great memories I have of misbehaving with my friends to Def Leppard’s music. [laughs]
Ah, that’s wonderful. Thank you. Lovely.
So what do you think it is about Def Leppard that keeps people wanting more?
I think it’s a combination of a few different things. Joe Elliott and I used to talk about our favorite bands and were basically making a collage, if you like, of a combination of T-Rex, David Bowie, Rush, Thin Lizzy, and Led Zeppelin—just a mixture of everything. That was always a dream. So we actually got to do that. We both thought that was a great idea and then you put on top of that [Robert John] “Mutt” Lange, our producer, wanted us to be different and work a lot harder writing the songs and you create these kinds of anthems that were pretty much non-political. I mean we all have opinions and stuff, but we really make a point of not going there. It’s a landscape of escapism, whether it’s a live show or you’re just listening to something. So much awful stuff goes on in the world. It’d be really nice to escape. To just get away and get lost in some kind of artistic thing. And I know that our songs are not that profound, but they actually mean a lot to a lot of people. I think that was the plan and that’s something we still try and do. We still try and raise the bar with our live shows and also with the songs. They have to stick within certain parameters. Otherwise, they cease being Def Leppard songs.
Hysteria will be 30 years old this year. Did you ever imagine you’d still be performing these songs now?
No. I mean I’ll be 60 this year and I actually remember going on stage at 29. We just finished the Hysteria album. That’s when I stopped drinking, actually. It’s been 30 years since I’ve had a drink.
Wow, that’s amazing.
I remember going on stage thinking, “Wow, I wonder how much longer we can do this?” The album had just come out and it wasn’t actually doing that great initially and then later on it just exploded. It would obviously be the biggest selling thing we ever did and the most profound as well. Yeah we had no idea. I can remember being on stage and I felt maybe two or three years left at that point. [laughs] Double that and keep going. It’s crazy.
Can you name a few songs that you love to play live and why?
All of them really. I mean it’s like going, “Who’s your favorite child? l like this one today and that one I don’t because he’s been naughty.” Or else, I love them all exactly the same. I mean it’s just kind of that. I do like playing “Rocket.” I think that it represents Def Leppard. It’s got all the bells and whistles that make it us. But it’s also slightly different. A tribal African drumbeat and then we got this almost glam rock kind of guitar riff that goes over the top of it. It’s a bit weird. It’s quirky. I dig that one. It’s great, great fun to play.
Even though they’re all your children, if you had to pick one right now, which song would you be excited to play?
I’d probably play a deep cut or something like “Paper Sun” or “White Lighting.”
The band isn’t just defying age. You’re doing it personally. I know that you try to stay fit and you practice martial arts, but how do you maintain that lifestyle on the road? Any tips? You guys look great out there.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. It’s a no-brainer for me. I actually see some of my friends I used to go to school with and they can barely stand up straight. I think what happens to people in general is they forget how to be young. They poison the well. You know, they eat poison. Drink poison. They do all the things that they know they shouldn’t and the fact that I don’t rewards my body. People go, “Oh, you’re defying age.” I am not really. I’m just avoiding the things that make people age. People smoke and drink. They have too much sugar in their diet. They don’t have enough roughage. They don’t have enough greens and raw kinds of natural foods—fruits and vegetables that haven’t been cooked or fried to hell. That’s a start. Then I think you have to keep active, otherwise the body turns into a swamp. It actually stops circulating. Stuff gets stuck and that’s when you hear of people that get heart disease, cancers, and all that stuff. And then you add sugar. Cancer loves sugar. The main thing that’s in most peoples’ diet is sugar as an additive. That would be the tip.
I mean I have a cheat day…I lounge around on the couch and pig out and stuff and it’s great. But I don’t do that as a rule. It’s a treat…And obviously the more you work out the stronger you get. Muscle mass disappears as you get older… Honestly, I feel better now than I did when I was 25.
That’s awesome. Good for you. Since we’re talking about longevity, let’s talk about the band’s performance on the DVD you just released—And There Will Be A Next Time: Live From Detroit. What ran through your head watching it?
I loved it…The show was great. That’s why we went out and recorded it. Everyone kept saying this is the best they’ve ever heard or seen so we had to capture it…I’m really proud of it.
What’s one of your greatest Def Leppard memories?
I mean there are so many. Obviously, one of the most amazing moments was when we’d done the Donington Festival [Monsters Of Rock] back in ’86 and it was Rick Allen’s return to the stage after losing his arm. He practiced for like a year…Everyone stood up—a standing ovation. Everyone’s crying and all that stuff and there’s 60,000 people. It was really, really super cool. That was a moment. When we received our first Diamond Award for Hysteria. That’s something that goes over 10 times platinum in the U.S. That was really cool as well. I remember looking up and seeing Elton John, Jimmy Page, Pink Floyd and all of these bands. It was pretty amazing. That was another moment but there’s so many.
Yeah, it’s just amazing to look back.
Def Leppard is known for being very gracious with fans. In fact I met the band many years ago in New York City and experienced that myself. What kinds of stories do fans share with you?
I think the main thing that we get all the time is that people say, “You got me through high school.” Almost like it helped them figure out their teenage years or whatever. You get to be of service almost, which is kind of weird. It’s like I’m being a shrink or something. We’re not that at all, but I do get it because I’m a fan as well. I listened to certain music growing up and it spoke to me in such a profound way and had an effect on my life. When I first got into David Bowie stuff it spoke to me. Then when I first saw Deep Purple. Then Zeppelin. I was like, “Oh my God, this is the most amazing thing in the world.” Then I got into Jimi Hendrix. I’d actually never heard anyone who changed the face of the guitar like him…It’s nice to think that we can actually give back as well.
What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
I’m so grateful that we’ve worked so hard. We never took any time off. Never split up and reformed or did reunion tours. We actually had some integrity…we soldiered on. I’m really glad we did that. We put out our last Def Leppard album called Def Leppard. It went top 10 in like 20 countries and like number one in a few countries. Number five in the U.S… We were grateful and that is the reason we did the album. This is purely for us and we wanted to share it with our fans. We wanted them to hear how we felt about our music. I’m really grateful that we’re able to do this at this level and keep going. I think we keep getting better each year. I get such a buzz actually experiencing that. I’m totally over grateful for that. I think that what you put into yourself is what you get out. We work hard and it comes back.
Def Leppard performs at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY on April 15. For more information, go to defleppard.com.