It used to be unheard of when rock music and Las Vegas were put in the same sentence. A few bands have taken the plunge however in the last few years and the latest to do it is Def Leppard. The band has accepted a residency at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas in late March where they will play 11 shows.
For the first time, the band will be revisiting the Hysteria record, from start to finish as well as a special greatest hits set. I spoke with guitarist Phil Collen recently to find out all about it.
antiMusic: I guess the obvious first question is a few bands have done a Vegas residency --- what was it about this opportunity that appealed to Def Leppard?
Phil: Well, me and Joe have been talking about doing an album all the way through for about 20 years. I think the first time we heard of anybody doing this was with Cheap Trick, which is going back 30 years probably. They'd go one night in a theatre and just do an album. And we've been wanting to do it for ages and ages but we just never got the time.
And we actually mentioned Vegas about six years ago but no one would do it. So obviously when everyone started doing it and they asked us, "We said, well sure." We just felt we should have done it 20 years ago. But there ya go. The opportunity presented itself, finally.
antiMusic: I imagine that primarily the audience will be made up of your crowd but I imagine there will be some that might be business people or vacationers who are there more for the Casino. Does or did the possibility of converting potential new fans factor into your decision for these shows?
Phil: Yeah, I think whenever you play a place like Atlantic City, it's not just your fan base. There's a lot of the local environment, for whatever reason. I mean Vegas is very much like that, a very transitory sort of patron. So you will get that. The cool thing is that we are going to be doing 11 shows and obviously you don't have to get up and go. You can just hang for a bit. That's cool, that part of it. So yeah, there's always room for converting people. We're always up for that. Certainly whenever we do shows with other bands or tv shows you get a chance make a new set of converts. That's always very cool.
antiMusic: I understand that a special set design was created for these shows. Can you give us a hint of what the setup will look like?
Phil: We're using the rig that we've used on the past few tours and we're still kind of finalizing things right now. It's not a massive place but big enough to put on a really good show. So we've got screens and we'll be doing the Hysteria album and sort of a greatest hits set as well so we're going to be playing for quite a good bit of time. We still haven't finalized everything but it will be all the bells and whistles and all the fun stuff. Maybe we'll even have some photos or videos from back in that time period --- back in the '80s.
antiMusic: I imagine that from a logistics point of view that the shows will only benefit from the absence of tear-down and setup and travel. Might this spoil you from hitting the road in the future and look for a similar engagement?
Phil: Sure. Why not? I remember back in the day it was so uncool to do something like this but that feeling doesn't exist anymore. I think people are just glad to hear music and get some entertainment. I think that actually all faded away years ago when The Clash played the US Festival and it kind of changed the outlook on everything. It's become more entertainment than the art form which is kind of a shame but the fact remains that we still play our artform and how ever we can get it out there….
antiMusic: Considering that it's also the 30th anniversary of Pyromania, why the decision to visit Hysteria front to back?
Phil: Well, it was our biggest album, without a doubt. Pyromania ended up doing 10x platinum. I think Hysteria is at 20x platinum so you know it was just a bigger deal. It had more of an effect. It crossed over into pop music and it was a more pop-sounding record as well. The thing with Pyromania was that we were still very much in the rock genre and with Hysteria, we crossed over to a bigger audience.
antiMusic: Beside the music itself, the record was notable for the events that surrounded it. Mutt pulling out early on, then the Steinman episode Rick's accident, and Joe coming down with the mumps. Can you tell us what the band was feeling as you went from drama to drama? Was everybody close to sinking into a depression or did it become almost humorous in the end as each thing happened?
Phil: No, when you look at any family or anything, you've always got some ups or downs anyway. You go through deaths, marriages, divorces, births, accidents, diseases. Any permutation of a family within a four-five year period are generally going to go through at least some of these things so we just put it down to that. We didn't really think it was bad luck or anything like that. It was a cross-section of a four year period.
And yeah, Mutt Lange was brilliant. He was the right guy to be guiding us so that was a big bonus for us as well.
antiMusic: I guess the one good thing that you could say about the involvement of Jim Steinman is that it may you appreciate Mutt Lange perhaps more than you did already?
Phil: Absolutely. Without a doubt! He's my favorite person and I think he's the best producer in the world. And he's just fantastic that the way he approaches everything. I've never seen anyone work so hard. It's pretty amazing. He's just brilliant.
antiMusic: Was there anything that you could say was salvaged from Steinman 's tenure as producer even in terms of songwriting or perspective in the studio or was it a total mistake?
Phil: It was a loss. A total wipeout, actually. No, we didn't salvage anything. We didn't actually get anything that we'd want to put our names to. No it's just didn't happen. It just sounded like bad demos. When Mutt came around again, the writing really picked up. It took about a year from that point on to get all the songs written. Then it was just a matter of getting the performance and the sound and the zing and everything. And we did that. Mutt had a clear vision of what it should sound like. He didn't want it to be just another rock record.
And I think that was the main thing with Mutt was to make a hybrid of two styles of music, which he does so amazingly. Look at what he did with Shania Twain. He basically brought country music to the masses. I mean, you could go to Japan and hear Shania Twain in an elevator. That's when you go, "OK, fair enough." He knows what he's doing." And that record really crossed over to certain places in the States. I mean you could hear the record in Lithuania, India, Japan and places like that. That's a pretty big impact.
So that's his genius really. So yeah when he got involved again with our record, he just made it sound like he had heard it in the first place. It was great.
antiMusic: I'm sure you entered the studio kind of apprehensive since Pyromania was such a world-wide breakout. At what point did the band kind of look at yourselves and breathe a sigh of relief because you knew you were confident that you could follow it up in such a big way?
Phil: Honestly, I do think the thing about being an artist is that you want to push the boundaries a bit. After Pyromania, we wanted a different sounding record. We actually hadn't achieved the sound. It had a sound, obviously, but we knew there was still a bit further we could go with it. And I think that's what Hysteria was. That's why it was such an important record for us. It did cross over and it was a big world-wide hit and it didn't stay genre-specific. It moved in other areas. It had other influences and other stuff like that. We weren't scared to show an influence if it was waaayyy off what we would usually do.
I think that's what happens with a lot of genres, people get close-minded about something. With Hysteria, at the time everyone was listening to Prince, rap music…I mean Run DMC was popular at the time and we were definitely listening to some of that stuff. Frankie Goes to Hollywood and all of those kind of sounds. I mean, it wasn't just like it was the usual Sabbath and Hendrix and every kind of heavy thing out there. And I think in the end you could tell that there were a lot of other influences that went into it.
antiMusic: Since Elvis was on the guest list for the all of the Hysteria shows, I'm sure it's only natural that this can be expected for Viva Hysteria?
Phil: Well, I don't think we're going to be doing any Elvis songs but I'm sure there will be an Elvis impersonator or two in the audience.
antiMusic: I mean, I understand that it was the job of one of the staffers to make sure there was an Elvis poster back stage and he was listed on the guest list for the Hysteria tour.
Phil: You know what? I completely forgot about that but every night there was a velvet poster of The King. Yeah. You just reminded be because I completely forgot that. That's a good point, yeah (laughs). I've actually got a friend called Elvis who's actually coming over from France for these shows.
antiMusic: What does the rest of 2013 hold for Def Leppard after these shows?
Phil: Just recording really. I'm constantly writing and we have a Manraze thing on the go as well. Yeah, I'm really looking forward to that. It's just three or four songs but I can't wait. One of them is a very soulful version of an old song and it's a real vocal thing. It's very different to what we've done before. One's actually almost like dubstep and the other sounds like The Police meets Def Leppard. Again, I'm very excited about that. And as Def Leppard, we're going to be doing some writing when we're altogether at Vegas. I mean, it's probably going to be 2014 before anything comes out but the Manraze record should be out this year.
antiMusic: Is there anything about the residency you'd like to mention that I didn't ask you?
Phil: Only that it's going to be pretty unique. We've never done this before. You do all these tours and you become a road dog. You do all this stuff for years and years and years but we've never done a residency so we're really looking forward to doing this. It's very different from what we've done before. Again, we're up to the challenge. Actually though, I think it will be a lot easier than touring. So it will be an interesting thing to see how it works out.
Morley and antiMusic thanks Phil for taking the time to do this interview.
For more information about this set of shows, please visit www.defleppard.com.