DEF LEPPARD - Joe Elliott

04 July 2008
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"When people meet me, they normally see something beyond "Let's Get Rocked"."

On July 4, 2008 Britain's hard rock masters Def Leppard did their first-ever concert in Bulgaria. Just a few minutes before taking the stage, vocalist Joseph Thomas Elliott did an exclusive interview, which can be read in its entirety here:

Vassil Varbanov: You're in the middle of a very big tour that started in the States, but then you had some problems in Canada...

Joe Elliott: Yeah, I got a pretty bad viral infection that ruled out any kind of work at all. You just go down and there's nothing you can do. You can limp through certain situations, but you can't get through something like a viral infection. I was coughing for exactly one month, so there were no vocal chords to sing with. We have to reschedule and we're going back in August. We've not cancelled any of these shows - we postponed them all. Otherwise - yeah, we've been out since March.

V. V.: Obviously you're a fan of Ricky Warwick of The Almighty...

J. E.: I'm a friend, not a fan! We're very good friends.

V. V.: Yeah, I mean you produced his solo efforts.

J. E.: Yes, I produced his first two solo albums.

V. V.: Is there anything else you do in terms of producing?

J. E.: Yes. We've been coproducing our own records since 1989, the "Adrenalize" album, so to do that process for many, many years with a different artist is only like just removing the other four guys' opinions of what I think. I'm pretty strong-minded when it comes to doing production. I really believe I'm good at doing it. Even in the very, very early days, after we finished the "Hysteria" tour, I was in Ireland and a young band I befriended called No Sweat asked me to produce their single - they had a record deal for it - and it went to Number 1 in Ireland. This was the first time in the history of the Irish music business that a debut single had gone to No. 1 - even U2 didn't... So even back in 1989 I feel that I was good at doing this. A producer shouldn't interfere with the artist's process for a record unless he's asked to. What he should do is giude the artist though anything he wants to go and referee opinions between band members, not dictate. Mutt never dictated. Mutt was always like, "What do you guys think?" He always asked. He didn't say, "This is what we're gonna do," unless none of us knew what we were doing. That's what we wanted him to do. He's a leader. When you've got a democracy in a band of five people, even if one has a stronger opinion and the other four might not always agree with it, they need an independent to come in and sit around and go, "Well, I think he's right." Then I'll listen to him, because that's what normally they employ you to do. It's a strange job... With Ricky there was just the two of us making the record with our sound engineer, and we brought people in to do specific jobs, like a keyboard player and Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy to play guitar, and even to the point when we were asking Scott to do stuff he didn't knowВ how to do. Scott had never played slide in his life and we got him to do exactly this, even to the point when we said, "Look, do it! If you don't like it, we'll credit it to some... we'll make a name up, so that you won't get embarrassed by it, but we need it!" Then, when he heard it, he was like, "Oh, that sounds good! I've never done that before." So I brought something out of Scott Gorham that he didn't know he had. It's acting! It's like asking Laurence Olivier to play a tramp and then a millionaire - he can probably do both if he stretches himself. That's what Scott did. He played all the tasty stuff that we needed, including stuff he'd never done in Thin Lizzy. That's a producer's job for me, you know - just encouraging him to work.

V. V.: We know you're big soccer fan, but as you mentioned Mutt Lange - were you happy for him when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup?

J. E.: Oh, I don't know anything about rugby, I'm not a rugby guy. If England wins the rugby cut, then I'll be happy. I know my mom is crazy on rugby league. She is besotted with it! She's 76 years old and she watches the English rugby league premiership every week. She knows all the players' names, and she supports Wigan - I don't know why, as we don't live in Wigan... She just likes the team... and the players' legs! She's a bit of a slapper, ha-ha!

V. V.: Do you still live in Dublin?

J. E.: Yes.

V. V.: You moved there some 15 years ago...

J. E.: I moved to Dublin in 1984, so it's been 24 years now.

V. V.: Did you move there because of the lower taxes?

J. E.: No. We moved there, because the English were the highest taxes. We could have gone anywhere. We were offered all these exotic places like Luxembourg and Munich... Our lighting engineer is Irish and he said, "You guys should go to Dublin for a couple of weeks, just to test it out." They speak Engihs, they drive on the same side of the road, they've got fish and chips, BBC, Radio 1... It was a case of avoiding England, not going to Ireland. The whole thing about not paying taxes is a myth. You don't pay a tax on a certain amount of your publishing income, but that's mostly for Irish people - to encourage low-paid poets and painters, not so much for the millionaires. Trust me, I paid more tax last year than my father would have paid if he lived to be 230 years old. So no - I moved to Ireland because I like it. I lived in London for three years and I knew four people - two of those I lived with in my house and two were friends. I met a few people, but nobody ever said, "Here is my phone number," or something like that. Then I moved to Dublin and within ten days we had the people form U2, Simple Minds, and another band - they were calling us up, and this was before we were famous! "Hysteria" hadn't come out, and "Pyromania" did nothing in Ireland, so we could walk down the streets and nobody knew who we were... And these people were saying, "Look, we're going out for dinner tonight. Would you guys like to join us?" They were just being nice, as they knew we were musicians, although they didn't know anything else about us. We were foreigners in a strange country and they were very welcoming. Bono came to me at a Simple Minds gig and he gave me his number, saying, "If there's anything you guys need, just call me." Nothing like this ever happened in London... So that was the spark. Then, when I started going out into the countryside, I realized that there was this huge cosmopolitan city with all these great bohemian restaurants, and just 20 minutes on the other side it's like 200 years ago - with sheep, old castles and stuff like that. Thus I get a bit of both. I get relaxation, but I also can go and drink until 6 o'clock in the morning.

V. V.: Back in the early 80's, at the time you met U2 and Simple Minds, were you thinking anything in the vein of, we're the rock guys, they're the softies...?

J. E.: No, not at all. I never saw U2 as a soft band. See, if you're gonna pigeonhole bands - as we often get pigeonholed - then pigeonhole us in the correct box! To call us a heavy metal band is ridiculous. I say that with hand on heart - if you've got Lemmy, Steve Harris and Scott Ian from Anthrax and say, "Def Leppard - heavy metal - discuss!", they'll just burst out laughing! At the same time I would burst out laughing if somebody said that Simple Minds and U2 were metal bands. They are rock bands, but rock bands in a different way to UFO or Thin Lizzy. However, it's still rock. We are of the same format as Judas Priest and The Rolling Stones. It's rock - drums, bass, two guitars and a singer. We don't come from the blues, but from the glam rock era stuff. I know for a fact that there is stuff we've done that the guys from U2 adore. I've talked to Larry Mullen for hours at a time - he dissected our songs, like "Animal" and "Sugar", and put them back together in my ear. I was surprised, but just because they make U2 music doesn't mean they don't listen to Def Leppard, Kate Bush, Lou Reed. They may never name it in the press, as it wouldn't be cool, but I know they listen. There's a great U2 biography where Bono actually admits to be picked up on the road by some hitchhikers who were playing "Pour Some Sugar on Me". He heard it, trapped in the car, and he made a realization that that's what U2 were missing - not the song, but the sound of it. He made them play it over and over and over again... So there is an overlap. It might not be obvious, but we all have a lot of things in common. People like me, Jon Bon Jovi, David Coverdale - they categorize us, but we don't. Robert Plant talks to Bono, I talk to Bono, Bono talks to me, I talk to Robert Plant, I talk to Michael Stipe, I play golf with the bass player from R.E.M., I play golf with Glenn Tipton from Judas Priest... There are many facets of being in a band, and it's not about what kind of music you play. We have a lot of things in common.

V. V.: There was a great picture in a British magazine some months ago - it was you, David Coverdale and Lemmy...

J. E.: That was from Italy in 2006.

V. V.: The idea was to show the dogs of war of the British rock scene. Do you feel something like a clash between the younger rock generations and you guys - I mean in terms of musicians, not the crowd?

J. E.: No. I don't ever feel competitiveness - it's thrown at me by the media. The media are always trying to make you competitive. I've been asked so many times whether we're in competition with Whitesnake. No, we're not! Now we're going out on a co-headlining tour as allies. It's as ridiculous as saying the British army is in competition with the American army in Iraq! They're working together for a common goal. What we are trying to achieve is 1 and 1 makes 3. We are a big band, they are a big band, and if we get together, we are bigger. This makes it more of a spectacle. It should be obvious to people that with the state of music business right now, which is just dying on its ass, the only thing that's surviving is live. We've been doing co-headlining tours for four years in the States - Bryan Adams, Journey - in 2005-2006 it worked brilliantly both for us and for those guys. To do it with a British band in Britain and now in Europe was a logical thing to do. You'll see over the next 4-5 years loads of people doing this. We were just the first to do it here. We did it, because in 2004 our booking agency in America had this brainwave to put Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson on the same bill. What happens is that when the baseball season is closed, these massive fields do nothing, so they just suggest, "How about renting them out to the rock'n'roll industry?" This way they get something, and we get to use these fields, which cost a lot less money, so everybody's happy. So Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson did it, and I saw that Bob Dylan - Bob Fuckin' Dylan! - is going as an opening act for Willie Nelson! And he's ok with this! That's brilliant! That removed all ego from the situation. So then, when we got off with Bryan Adams, we played at baseball stadiums in front of 23-24 thousand people. When we went out with Journey, it was a similar thing. And the same thing last year, with Styx and REO Speedwagon and Foreigner. With this one, for the British shows we were going out last. Tonight we'll also be last, but last night in Albania we were first. There's no ego, no competition. I want everybody to be successful! This is not the Olympics! I would love to see the charts full of rock bands again. Back in 1988 there was a little period in the summer in America where any given week there was either us or Guns N' Roses or Van Halen, and we were keeping people like Maria Carey and Whitney Houston out of the charts! I'd be more interested in getting together with these people. If you have to be competitive, try to get rid of rap and R&B, which I don't have anything against, but the way that the industry has tried to shove rock aside only makes it stronger. So I don't feel any competition with any of these bands. The only time that I will say something negative about a band is when I'm just being pissy, because they say something negative about me. If Ronnie James Dio - as he did - said on that YouTube piece when somebody mentioned Vivian, "I hope he fuckin' dies!", I would just say, "Ronnie James Dio, go fuck yourself!" So if somebody says, "Def Leppard suck!", then I'll just back the ball like in tennis and say, "No, you suck, man!", but generally speaking, I don't have these problems. When people meet me, they normally see something beyond "Let's Get Rocked". Once they get to know us, people start to think differently about us, not just seeing what's on the surface. It's just a matter of communication, and that's the biggest problem this entire planet has - the lack of it.

V. V.: I believe people respect you at least for one thing - back then, after that accident with your drummer, you didn't fire him but went on with him, despite the fact that he lost his arm. I think this is probably the biggest gesture in rock'n'roll history.

J. E.: We can't take too much credit for it. We are a family unit - you don't kick a brother or a sister out after a car accident. Plus the fact that we were too scared to kick him out, ha-ha! He's got so much will power! He probably wouldn't have gone if we had fired him. Our whole attitude towards Rick's accident was that it's his choice. If he can't make it, he'll know and he won't wanna be below what it was before, so he would have quit and we wouldn't have to fire him. That's why he is still in the band. Rick is not an excuse to like this band. I'd respect the fact if somebody says that we suck more than if somebody's sorry for us. I don't want people to feel sorry for us.

V. V.: Back in the 80's bands were more like a family unit, while now some of them are a lot more like a corporation...

J. E.: Oh, absolutely. Take Whitesnake for example - excluding David, there's probably been like 37 people in this band. It's really David Coverdale. Whitesnake is more like David Bowie than a real band. It's basically David Coverdale, but the name Whitesnake is a franchise that's gonna work. David Bowie has probably worked with more musicians than Whitesnake, but he doesn't get criticized for it, because he's David Bowie. This is where the solo artist always wins over a band... Everybody in the music business knows that we're good guys, we're ego-free, we don't carry security, we don't have ring of guys pushing the fans away, we go with the fans when it's raining and sign autographs... unless I'm sick like I was in Canada, ha-ha! We communicate with people in the best way we can. When somebody knows that and then they say, "Alright, but I hate their music," then I'm fine, I don't have a problem with that. I don't expect people to like our music because of us being nice people. I expect them to like our music because they like our music. These are two separate issues to me, and I don't lose sleep over either of them. It's just business. Once you put yourself in the fiery line, half the world will want to kiss you and the other half will want to kill you.

V. V.: If you had to play a Whitesnake song and David had to sing a Def Leppard song tonight, which Whitesnake song would you choose and which of your tracks, according to you, would they do?

J. E.: Oh, great question! I'd say that we probably have equally as much fun doing "In the Still of the Night" - I love this song! Besides, I really like "Best Days" off their new album - I think it's brilliant! Actually I think David's new record is the best Whitesnake have ever made... I don't know if David would do any of our songs, because he's more bluesy... He was born under a bad sign... and I was born under a Stop sign, ha-ha! We come from two different eras, and I think he'll probably do okay singing something like "Gods of War"... or "Make Love Like a Man" because of its extremely sexy lyrics - it's not like Manowar, but more like Jagger having fun...

V. V.: Last question: Tonight you're in Bulgaria for the first time ever. What was coming to your mind when hearing the name of this country until now?

J. E.: Holidays. The mom and dad of my best friend in Sheffield used to go to Bulgaria in the 70's and 80's every third year. They used to come here and rave about it, and I didn't get it, because I didn't know it had beaches. It wasn't Spain or Portugal, and I was like, "Why would you go to Bulgaria for a holiday? Isn't it just mountains and rain, foreign language and food?" That's what I thought when I was 17-18 years old. Today I was sitting on my hotel window on the 15th floor, soaking up this hale storm, looking at the mountain and thinking, "This is not what I thought it would be like," ha-ha! It's like in England - raining all the time. The only good time the world sees England is Wimbledon. Except for that, everybody's opinion on England is that it's raining all the time. I mean we're all ignorant as kids, but the world opens up - you start seeing the Bulgarian football team, then you start seeing Miss Bulgaria in the Miss World competition, and finally you think, "They're not that much different from us after all..."

Copyright: Tangra Mega Rock