Def Leppard look back with live album, book

BMS talks with guitarist Vivian Campbell about the band's latest projects and more

, Contributing Writer

The music industry is a finicky business. There are very few bands that stand the test of time. Bands whose music you will buy in full and that you will go see time and time again because you know they will deliver a great show and leave you wanting more. Def Leppard is one of those bands. They’ve been bringing the rock to fans for thirty years and show no signs of slowing down. This week they are performing two shows in New England – one at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts on Thursday and the other at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut on Saturday.

Earlier this week Boston Music Spotlight talked with guitarist Vivian Campbell about life on the road, the release of Mirror Ball, Def Leppard’s first live album of their career and “Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History”, a coffee table book for die-hard Def Leppard fans.

Boston Music Spotlight (BMS): You’ve just released the first live album of Def Leppard’s thirty year career. What took so long?

Vivian Campbell (VC): Well, the band has always been focused on doing new music in the past, and that was really the only reason. Def Leppard has been notoriously slow in the studio. You’re talking about a three to four year cycle: writing songs, recording songs, doing promo, going on tour to promote that album. You know, that’s three or four years right there. A live album was just never high on the agenda. The technology, in recent years, has become very cheap and affordable and so, you know, we basically decided to start recording everything a few years ago. Not necessarily with the intent of doing a live album but after a while we had amassed so much material and we started listening to it [to see what we had] – specifically, Joe Elliot – and we thought it was good enough. We basically cherry picked [the songs] where a traditional live album is from one particular show, like say, Live in New York or whatever, this album is culled from different shows. And in that way it was better for us than the old school way. It’s expensive [to make a live album]. You have to bring a mobile recording truck in and do it one or two nights only and then there’s a lot of pressure because you know you’re recording. There were nights we actually literally forgot that we were recording these shows. You know, I never went on stage and said, “oh my God, we’re recording this”. It was always just something that was running in the background. There was a lot less anxiety.

BMS: Do you think that works best for a live album or just this particular situation with Def Leppard?

VC: Well, it certainly works best for us. And I’ve recorded live before. I remember the first time I recorded live was with Ronnie Dio in ’85 and I had a lot of anxiety about that show because I knew that it was live and it was going basically direct to disc and there was no chance to fix it.

BMS: There are also three studio tracks on the album. There’s one called “Undefeated” that could essentially be played at a sports arena to rally the troops, so to speak. What can you tell me about the new songs?

VC : Well, yeah, there are three new songs on the record; they’re very different songs. One of them we’re playing live on this tour, that is the song “Undefeated”; it’s a Joe Elliot song and it’s a great tune. It’s classic Def Leppard and works very, very well live for us. The other two songs are pretty different. “It’s All About Believin'” is a Phil Collen song. It does have elements of Leppard in it, specifically the guitar point of view. The most different is “King of the World”, the Rick Allen song, which is quite epic. I think it’s something that we’ll never, ever play live.

BMS: Why not?

VC: It’s so involved. We’d have to bring about 50 other musicians on stage with us to play it live. It’s very much a studio track. It’s very much an homage to Queen. Sav is a huge Queen fan and I think he finally got it out of his system [laughs]. But the song “Undefeated” we’re playing live and it’s real straight rock and roll and works well with our live shows.

BMS: It is really a great song. When I was listening to it I could definitely hear it at Gillette Stadium with the Patriots playing, or even Fenway Park or the Garden with the Celtics and Bruins. It’s really great.

VC : We’d love to hear it at Fenway Park.

BMS: We’d love to hear you play it at Fenway Park. That would be good.

VC: That would be better still then.

BMS: The album is called Mirror Ball. Who came up with the title and what’s it all about?

VC : Joe came up with the title because the songs were recorded from the Sparkle Lounge tour. Our last studio album is Songs From the Sparkle Lounge which came out in 2008. That tour ran over two summers – 2008 and 2009 – and those were the shows we recorded for this album. It’s just an extension of the Sparkle Lounge thing to go with Mirror Ball. Another one of Joe’s snappy ideas [laughs].

BMS: You also have a book that’s coming out: “Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History”. What do you hope fans get from the book? It’s being sold as a companion piece to Mirror Ball, correct?

VC: Not necessarily. It’s more a collection that’s coming out at the same time. We just have over thirty years’ worth of images from Ross Halfin. Ross has been around the band an awful lot. It’s thirty years in the studio and on tour and obviously he’s become very close with the band, so it’s a lot of very candid shots. Many of which have never been seen before. And so somebody went through all of them and decided what we would use. I can assure you it wasn’t me – awful lot of work there – and then we were sent the photos and those that evoked memories and those that did we wrote a little paragraph for a more personal touch. Definitely more personal for the fans. Someone who’s only a casual fan of Def Leppard is only going to put their coffee on it [laughs].

BMS: So you guys are on the road this summer with Heart, which is a great double bill. There seem to be a lot of pairing up with super groups from the 70s, 80s and even 90s. What do you think still attracts the crowds to the shows to come check out what you guys are doing now and hear the past hits?

VC : Well, bands from our generation, classic rock bands, it is a growing live market because it’s very generational. It’s not just people from our generation coming to see us and it hasn’t been that way for the last decade. It’s been the future of the touring industry to book bands together – catalogue acts – we can go on stage and play for an hour and a half and just about every song we play is a genuine hit. Even casual fans will know them and I think that’s true of bands like Heart, Foreigner, Styx, Journey. Bands that have depths of catalogue and that’s kinda seems to be what people want. It’s been great touring with Heart. We’ve never played with them before. They do have a lot of hits and they are very professional and a pleasure to work with. So far, so good. We’re only a week into the tour but it’s going well.

BMS: You’re going to be here in Boston on Thursday night and Connecticut on Saturday night. What are some of your favorite cities to play? And you don’t have to name Boston.

VC: Boston [laughs]. No, I do like Boston. There are very few places that aren’t fun to play, I gotta say. People don’t pay the amount of money for a ticket and come not to have a good time. It is a party atmosphere at a Def Leppard show and, you know, our music is pretty high energy. I would have to say that consistently, for me in my many years of touring, Montreal is one of the best audiences in the world. I don’t know why. It has nothing to do with the venue.

BMS: Canadians like to party.

VC: Well yes, but specifically Montreal more so then say Vancouver. And also my hometown in Belfast. It’s a pretty roaring crowd.

BMS: Speaking of touring it can be tiresome. You’re on the road for extended periods of time and away from your family. What keeps you going and giving the fans the best you’ve got every night?

VC : That is the hardest thing about what we do – being away from family. I have two daughters that are ten and twelve. That’s the most difficult aspect of my work. They do come out and visit, which is nice. But we plan our tour accordingly so we can have family come and visit or there are certain breaks on the tour. You know, we don’t do this all year round. The summer is the season in North America basically from late May through mid-September. We do get a lot of time the rest of the year where we’re basically 24/7 at home. And I think the most important thing for us is we still take great pleasure in what we do. We still believe it’s a privilege to do this as a career. It’s all we ever wanted to do. As kids we wanted to play drums, play guitar, play rock and roll and we’re very, very fortunate to do it. And we realize it.

BMS: Does it grow old?

VC: Aspects of it – the physical aspects of traveling and whatnot– yeah, that can get tedious but not all the time. There’s still pleasure to be had in that too. Airports are never fun but it’s part of the job. We don’t take it for granted. I think if we weren’t doing it we’d be missing it.

BMS: It must be different between touring in the past and touring now. People always hear about wild stories from the road in the 70s, 80s, 90s. It seems that as the musicians are getting older, there is a different atmosphere on tour.

VC : It’s very different. We travel with a juice bar and a personal trainer and a massage therapist, stuff like that. Instead of a coke dealer [laughs]. A lot of things have changed. Not to say that Def Leppard did in the past but I think Def Leppard were probably one of the more sober bands. It’s always a matter of degrees [laughs].

BMS: Well, Viv we want to thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to talk with us. Have a great rest of the tour.

VC: Thank you.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Def Leppard NOW : Vivian: “It’s a privilege to do this as a career”

Leave a Reply