I interviewed Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen on May 23 to advance the band's U.S. tour-opening appearance at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City on June 20. Here is the full interview:
DOUG FOX: Hi, Phil, how are you doing?
PHIL COLLEN: I’m excellent, mate.
DF: Good, well it’s a pleasure to talk to you. again. It’s been a few years, but I look forward to it.
COLLEN: Absolutely, yeah
DF: Where are you calling from today?
COLLEN: I’m at home in California.
DF: What part of California do you live?
COLLEN: We’re in Laguna Hills, you know, Orange County.
DF: I grew up in La Crescenta, down by Glendale, Burbank area.
COLLEN: My son lives in Burbank.
DF: So, what are you up to these days — are you enjoying some down time before the big summer tour?
COLLEN: We kind of did. I did a trip to New Zealand, which was beautiful. A lot of pretty colors there. The rest of the time, we’re getting ready for the tour. There’s so much going on, you know. We did the “Rock of Ages” stuff. We’re constantly writing, I’m always in a state of writing songs and stuff. There’s that and then there’s the Manraze thing, I don’t know if you’re aware of that?
DF: Right, uh-huh.
COLLEN: Again it’s just constant. I just really do like getting time off at home.
DF: OK, I was going to ask you about Manraze, then you mentioned it. What can you tell me about that, what’s the latest there?
COLLEN: The latest thing would be, we had a single out actually here. We did a song in a movie called “Showdown,” which was a documentary .... the second one we’ve done actually, so that was cool. We try to write songs for that as well, which again was very different. Just kind of like a regular rock thing, like a whole garage thing. That was a blast.
DF: So, you’re just kind of doing that in you time apart from Def Leppard, and just to kind of fill in the gaps? But I understand it’s pretty successful.
COLLEN: Yeah, pretty much. I mean it’s ... you know, you have to sacrifice a few evenings and such because of it. And then you get on tour and it kind of screws that up really, and there’s only Def Leppard things to be doing, you know?
DF: Now, your upcoming tour actually kicks off in Salt Lake City ...
DF: I’m sure that every show on a tour comes with its own built-in level of adrenaline and excitement, but I was wondering if that’s amped up even a little bit more for a tour-opening show, you know, at least until everybody settles in a bit to the routine of how things are going to be working on the tour?
COLLEN: I think so, especially this tour, you know, we’ve got a lot of new stuff going on. We’ve got a different stage, a new screen system, so it’s all different. There’s a bunch of different people actually working on this tour that we haven’t worked with before so we’re really excited about that. So, yeah, Day 1’s always an exciting thing — especially production, so many things can go wrong and we’ve had brilliant Spinal Tap moments in the past.
DF: What are some of the most memorable ones of those that have happened?
COLLEN: We played in the round once and it was Wichita Coloseum in Kansas and we’d open up with a Kabuki dropping down. This thing would go down and then the Kabuki would fly into the ceiling. My guitar would be the cue, they would say, “Do you wanna get rocked?” and I’d go [makes guitar sound to Let’s Get Rocked] but the guitar wasn’t on. And everyone just looked at each other under this tent, “What do you do now?” Then the guys let go of this weight, and then the Kabuki flies into the air and we kind of trainwrecked our way into “Let’s Get Rocked.” It really did affect us, I mean, how many shows do you do, thousands upon thousands of shows, and it still threw us, completely threw us, it really affected the mojo. We also had another moment on the Hysteria tour and this was true “Spinal Tap.” We had these three triangles and the wings were flowing, so there’s these three things and we were supposed to climb up with them into these clouds. And we hadn’t really rehearsed it. And we tried this thing and it was really dangerous up there, and we ended up not. We wanted to use it but we had to can it. It was pretty funny though.
DF: A good memory! When do you actually begin rehearsing for the tour, like, with the new production and everything?
COLLEN: Next week actually. Thursday the 31st.
COLLEN: Well, I think they’re great. I think in this day and age it’s what people come to expect really. The first tour I heard of like that, it was Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. In a million years you wouldn’t have put those two together. I think what happened on that tour, all the audiences loved it. They loved both guys. They went in there either a Bob Dylan fan or Willie Nelson fan, but they came out liking both guys. I think that was really cool. You can see that with the Journey thing. If you weren’t a Journey fan, per se, obviously you found you knew half the songs — and maybe you were a Journey fan and didn’t know it. So we really like it with these packages because it actually does that. So even if you weren’t a huge fan of the band, there’s a reason why these bands are up there. These double package things are really cool.
DF: I remember talking about these touring partnerships with Lawrence Gowan, keyboardist from Styx, this past fall, who of course toured with you a few years ago, and one of the things we were talking about is how they tend to be really great for camaraderie between the bands and he specifically mentioned how one of the highlights for him was that he was playing guitar backstage. He said he got to have you actually sit down with him before a couple shows and teach him how you exactly play some of your parts and things on Def Leppard hits.
COLLEN: (Laughs) I’ve actually got a brilliant Lawrence story. He is an amazing practical joker. I probably shouldn’t tell you this.
DF: No, you probably should. I know him fairly well.
COLLEN: He’s always doing pranks. We were playing Reno, Nevada, and Joe Elliott was working out with our trainer doing some weights. There wasn’t really a big backstage area so we took, um, Lawrence, someone had bought some fake [boobs], and so you know those Billy Bob teeth?
COLLEN: OK, so he had the Billy Bob teeth, the fake [boobs] and he tucked his package underneath himself and he comes flying out of these curtains, “Whoa, hi, I’m John ... “ Everyone nearly just burst into tears. We were laughing. It was just the funniest thing, you know, you had no idea and all of a sudden this big lug pops out with [boobs] and teeth and no clothes on. So, yeah we did have a blast with those guys. Lawrence is great. It was actually a great vibe backstage and that really helps the whole thing as well.
DF: OK, so do you that kind of similar camaraderie with Poison, this year’s partner?
COLLEN: With Poison it’s a little different. We’ve known them since the 80s, so you know, it just really goes back in time. I’ve known C.C. [DeVille, Poison guitarist] for years. Over the years I’ve bumped into all of the guys. So, yeah, it’s great. It’s really opened up. They will be touring with the same band, it’s the original members, which really makes a huge difference. So, yeah, it’s going to be wonderful.
DF: I suppose that Hugh McDonald will not be appearing with them this year in Salt Lake? I don’t know if you remember that show a couple years ago when [Poison bassist] Bobby Dall got sick and Hugh, who was hanging out backstage, actually had to come out and play bass for Poison.
COLLEN: That’s right. Yeah. Everything’s back to normal ... they’ve got that under control.
DF: I read that the band is releasing some new renditions of “Rock of Ages” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” — what can you tell me about those — what prompted that?
COLLEN: Well, we’ve got, obviously the movie’s coming out. It’s such a big deal. As you know it’s pretty lame that we’re not on iTunes. We had a legal action against our record company a while ago, you know with the whole download scene with these guys, that they can’t have permission to put our stuff out. So we’ve been waiting and this has gone on for years. ... We actually have a ton of catalog, It’s pretty lame if we don’t have “Rock of Ages” and “Pour Some Sugar” out when Tom Cruise has got the song out and the movie’s called “Rock of Ages.” So we took it upon ourselves to make sure that we’ve done two new versions that sound identical to the other ones.
DF: Can you talk about “Rock of Ages,” what has been the band’s involvement with the movie coming out?
COLLEN: I think that I’m just flattered to be quite honest. It’s an honor ... you know, the whole thing, I don’t know if you’ve seen the Broadway play, it’s really quite fun as well ...
COLLEN: Yeah it’s based on that, but it’s a lot more, you know, obviously huge movie stars, really intelligent and funny and just the fact that they use 80s as a backdrop and the title is a Def Leppard song. We have three songs in there, one of which Tom Cruise sings, it’s almost like the highlight of the movie, as far the performance goes. So we were thrilled about that. You know we met Tom and saw him film that part when he was on the set ...
DF: Oh really? What was that like?
COLLEN: We were so impressed with the fact that he learned how to sing just for that role, you know. He actually said he felt nervous when we turned up. He said he wanted to get the song, because it’s so iconic, to get all the perspectives there. So that was lovely coming from the world’s biggest movie star. You know, that was great.
COLLEN: Yeah, he totally done us proud. And the other song he sings in the movie, I was, like, blown away. You know, really cool stuff. So the involvement there we really didn’t have to do anything, but we were definitely involved in the album sleeves and you know it was a very technical part of that era, I guess, so it’s pretty cool that it’s in there. I think we’re probably going to hopefully get some music in the play because again stuff legally wasn’t talked out when the play came out.
COLLEN: So hopefully now we can get all that out.
DF: I was going to say that I saw the touring production of that just three to four months ago and they didn’t have your music, just the music playing at the end, like, over the speaker.
COLLEN: Yeah, so we’ve changed that. So it should be in there, you know.
DF: Just yesterday, I was talking with Matthias Jabs from the Scorpions, who of course are wrapping up their farewell tour this year ... I know it’s still way too early for you guys, to perhaps be you know focusing on this, because you’re kind of the next generation past the Scorpions, but when it’s all said and done, how would you like Def Leppard to go out?
COLLEN: Well, we’re just getting started obviously. To be quite honest ... it’s a new lease on life, not that we needed one because we were touring and recording and writing new songs all the time. So I think, it’s not even crossed my mind. Not even a thought at the moment.