September 2011. By Jason McNamara
You can’t really say that Def Leppard are back because the fact is, they never left. Most of us know the band’s huge history … the ups, the downs and the tragedy that Def Leppard have gone through over the years. Yet through it all they remained strong and have been one of the world’s premier rock/pop acts for 30 years. Recently they released a greatest hits CD titled “Mirrorball”, with a fantastic twist … it’s live! Jason McNamara caught up with guitarist Phil Collen on the phone to chat about bringing the Mirrorball tour to Australia in October.
AM: On the Mirrorball tour in the US you had Heart opening up for you and much to the delight of Australian fans they are coming here with you too. How did the connection of Heart and Def Leppard touring together come about?
PC: It was kind of as simple as whoever was available really. Whoever is available at the time. You get a short list and there wasn’t that many bands because a lot of them are already out on tour this year, so we’d never toured with Heart and it just seemed like a good idea.
AM: So how has it been having both bands together on the bill?
PC: It’s been great. They also had loads of hits like we did. They’ve never broke up, although it’s a bit hard for the sisters to break up and they are great. They are really good at what they do. Ann is a great singer. It’s a pleasure to have them out with us.
AM: Have you ever come here simply for a holiday, social visit or non-full Def Leppard purposes like a more equipment based promotional tour or something?
PC: Absolutely. I’ve been there a few times. I have a cousin who lives just outside Sydney. Me and Steve Clarke did some promotion for the Hysteria album and I ended up staying and producing an Australian band called BB Steel. My Mum was out with me and we just hung. I saw my cousin and it was really family orientated. I know it’s a different country, but I also go to New Zealand a bit. I have a place in New Zealand on the South Island so I get over to that side of the world as much as I can. I love it down there. It’s great. Everyone in Def Leppard does. We all just love playing in Australia. On this tour I’ll actually be bringing my wife. She’s never been there and so it’ll be a new experience for her as well.
AM: If I’m not mistaken Def Leppard would have been one of the first bands to utilize sequencing and backing tracks in a live situation. My guess is it would have been around the Hysteria days of course with Rick, (Rick Allen the Drummer) losing his arm, but when did you guys first start using sequencing as a part of your show and how has it evolved with the way you did it back then to now?
PC: Rick actually hits triggers so it will be to a two or four bar loop. We never play to a sequence per say. We do on records. On records we do sequence a lot of the stuff and play over the top of it, which is great, but for live all of the vocals are real. That’s something I want to point out. I see so many bands who even have a great singer and backing vocalists and they still use samples to fill in the sound. That’s something we’ve never done. We only use the keyboard part off of “Too Late” or “Fallen”. Stuff like that “Love Bites”, but all of the vocals are live. Rick hits pads that trigger a sequence and he plays over the top of that. He has gotten even better at it. He’s just changed to a new kit, a Yamaha that sounds amazing.
AM: That’s pretty incredible about the vocals, especially because you guys still have a very thick vocal sound live. The way that Vivian, Sav (that’s Rik Savage the Bassist) and yourself do the backing vocals live is amazing for nothing on tracks.
PC: Mutt Lange, (producer) has everything to do with that. We really have to thank him for that because he actually made sure that we had another instrument in the band. It wasn’t just two Guitars, Bass & Drums. The backing vocals we use as another instrument.
AM: So I have to ask about your current rig. What are you using these days?
PC: Both me and Vivian have been using the same amps for the last 15 years live so nothing’s changed there. The only thing that has changed is I’ve probably got more new guitars. A few more flash ones. They’re all Jacksons. That’s all I play.
AM: Speaking of Jackson, in late 2009 you hand painted those Jackson 30th Anniversary “PC1” guitars. How many of them did you actually make?
PC: There were 30 that sold, but I’d made an extra few like Artist ones. I got two of them and there was a few more that went out for people who work at Jackson and stuff like that. But there were only 30 that got numbered.
AM: Here’s something interesting for you. One of my friends in Melbourne actually bought one of those 30 and he said if you’d like to use it on your tour, you’re more than welcome to it.
PC: Really? If he wants me to play it at a show, I’d be more than happy to. I’d gladly play two of them. I’ve got my one and if he wants me to play it, absolutely. I’d love to. We’ll get something sorted out about that.
AM: There are a lot of Def Leppard tribute bands around the world, hell we even have one here in Melbourne called Def Replica. How do you guys as a band feel about them?
PC: It’s great. It’s a high form of flattery. It’s wonderful.
AM: So here’s another side of that. How do you as a person feel having someone dye their hair like yours, getting their guitars painted to look like yours and all that goes with it trying to essentially be “you”?
PC: Again it’s flattering. They did a movie on VH1 which was the same kind of thing so if you can have that kind of effect on someone it’s so flattering. Absolutely.
AM: You’ve been a Jackson endorsees for a really long time now. I’m guessing you would be one of the longest standing endorsees in their history right?
PC: I think I’m the longest. Me and Scott Ian. He’s also been using them for 26 years or even longer.
AM: Is there anything you’d like to tell your Aussie fans about your new live album “Mirrorball” and about the up coming shows here in Australia?
PC: Yeah! The great thing is, that if you’ve got Mirrorball, we’ll sound exactly like the album. We’ve never really done a live album before and that’s what’s really exciting about it. It’s a real “live” album. I didn’t do any overdubs or no vocal drop ins or anything like that. Obviously stuff got fixed up, chopped up and thrown around, but I’m just really happy with that. I think it’s one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard. That’s how good I think it is.