© Dave Ling - September 1987 - previously published in METAL HAMMER magazine
On the face of it, the last thing you could accuse Def Leppard of being is workaholics. In their decade-long history, they’ve managed to make a somewhat paltry four albums, but what isn’t immediately apparent is the amount of hard work that’s gone into them, especially the last two. Take the newie, ‘Hysteria’, for instance. Since ‘Pyromania’ burst onto the scene in 1983, the pressure has been piled upon the Sheffield band to deliver a follow-up. Of course, a combination of perfection and the worst possible luck – as everybody knows, drummer Rick Allen nearly died but did lose an arm in a car crash on New Year’s Eve of 1984 – has prevented them from doing so till now, but behind the scenes Leppard have been grafting hard to get the darned thing into the shops.
Finally they’ve succeeded, and whaddya know, it’s been well worth the wait – even if it did take four years. Allen, vocalist Joe Elliott, guitarists Phil Collen and Steve Clark and bassist Rick ‘Sav’ Savage recently spent a day at the Hilton Hotel in London to talk to the press about ‘Hysteria’ and the monumental problems they experienced while making it. Armed with a cassette of the album – edited to prevent pirate copies from leaking into the shops – Metal Hammer jumped into a cab to find out what they had to say.
"We can’t even spell the word ‘deadline’, let alone meet one"
After spending so long locked away in the studio in Holland, Leppard seemed relieved to be getting back to the business in hand, even if it was a series of interviews they were doing.
"We’re not really into the sing of things yet because we’ve not started properly," a grinning Savage said as he settled down to business, "but when we do it’s gonna be great. Even doing all these interviews before the tour begins is great because it makes us feel like a real band again, doing what normal bands do. It’s all a prelude for the tour, which is what we like the most. Playing in front of people."
Metal Hammer: It’s interesting that after all that time spent behind closed doors, you say that Leppard no longer feel like a proper group.
Rick: "In many people’s minds, we haven’t been one at all. We might as well have split up because we’ve been away for so long and apparently doing nothing. But believe me, we have been working. People don’t really want to know how long you’ve spent in the studio each day because if you’ve not got a product out, you’re not in the limelight at all. In some people’s eyes, we might as well not have existed. But it’s nice to be back and even to let ourselves know that we exist again."
Was there a point at which you doubted ‘Hysteria’ would ever be released?
"No. We knew it would come out, but that was only because of our single-mindedness and pigheadedness. We just knew that we would carry on and on and that eventually, provided we got little bits recorded day after day, it would get finished sometime. But you’re right, there were times when we felt the process would never end. We just knew in the back of our minds that as along as we kept ourselves together, it would come right."
"We wrote ‘Animal’ in 1984, before Bon Jovi were around. It kinda shows who sounds like who"
Thanks to the paranoia of the record company, all I’ve heard is five songs from the new album. But they seem even better than the ‘Pyromania’ material.
"You think so? We do, too. But this is a subject we’ve been asked about a lot. People say to us, ‘Why don’t you just get a record out?’ A year after ‘Pyromania’ came out, that would have been the easiest thing in the world to do. It really would. We just wanted something that sounded like it was obviously from the same band [that made ‘Pyromania’]. Something we felt more comfortable with now, but a little different to ‘Pyromania’ in its own sense.
"I think that’s what we’ve now got. It’s still rock music, it’s still got big guitars and guitar solos, but of course we didn’t just want to do ‘Pyromania II’. To be quite honest, since 1983 there’s been a fair amount of those knocking around. That’s not intended as a knock to other bands. Those who’ve done that [i.e. copied Leppard] would probably own up to it, there’s no hidden secret. When we did ‘Pyromania’ we kinda set some blueprint – not that we did it intentionally – that’s just the way it came out. We want the same thing with ‘Hysteria’, for it to become the blueprint for rock albums in the late 80s and early 90s. There’s no way we’d have managed that if all we’d done was to go in and create a follow-up to ‘Pyromania’. That’s why it took so long."
So the time factor was very important. Could you not have finished it, say, a year ago?
"I don’t really think so. It would have been nice to think that we could, but what we got with this album is exactly what we wanted when we started on it. We knew what we wanted and we’ve now achieved it. If it’d taken a year then that would have been great. It would’ve been a lot easier. But it didn’t."
No, it certainly didn’t.
(Laughing): "Er, no. There were a few problems along the way."
Okay, we’ll get onto those in a while. The songs on ‘Hysteria’ possibly seem to reflect the fact that they took so long to record. They seem a lot less urgent than the ones on ‘Pyromania’.
"I think that’s because they were better thought out, but I don’t wanna give you the idea that they are contrived. I read a review of ‘Animal’ [the LP’s first single] the other day which said it was contrived and with a Bon Jovi-ish chorus. That was funny because we wrote it in 1984, before Bon Jovi were around. It kinda shows who sounds like who.
"But yeah, the songs were slightly more thought out this time, it was the main way to get away from what we did on ‘Pyromania’. We wanted to keep it in a heavy rock vein, but to try to get as much song quality as possible. People can call it commercial if they like. But the songs that you’ve heard aren’t completely representative. They’ve literally put the potential singles onto that tape. Side Two [of the vinyl edition] is one of the most heavy metal sides [of a record] we’ve ever done; hard rock songs like ‘Billy’s Got A Gun’ [from ‘Pyromania’] that aren’t commercial singles."
"The first thing that Phil Collen said to Rick Allen when he came around in hospital was ‘You inconsiderate bastard. We’re slaving away doing the record and you have to have a car crash – you bastard’."
So Leppard see themselves as a straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll band?
"Yeah. That’s the way we like to think."
Nevertheless, the album’s poppier than I expected. Some of that must be attributed to the excellent, glossy production of ‘Mutt’ Lange, who also oversaw ‘Pyromania’ and its 1981 predecessor ‘High ‘N’ Dry’.
"You know, maybe that’s what’s confusing you. Technology-wise, we’ve gone to town in just about every aspect. That’s one of the reasons it took as long as it did. Some of the effects we created you just can’t get overnight, I wish to God you could. Sometimes it does take a week to get five seconds of music; that’s sometimes how slow it can be. We’re single-minded about things like that. It we get an impression of how we want something to end up sounding, that’s what we do – even if it takes three months to achieve. We don’t compromise and get it done in a week."
You’re lucky to be able to afford that luxury.
"Well, there is that aspect to it. We can’t even spell the word ‘deadline’, let alone meet one. But having said that, it was mostly our money [that paid for the recording]. We’ve been financing studios all over Europe, that’s how it feels. Everyone’s broke because their money’s gone into making this album. If we’d known how long it was gonna take, it would have been a lot cheaper to just buy a recording studio of our own, complete with all the gear and everything."
Still, you’re likely to get a decent enough return on your investment. I was in the States in January and even all this time after the release of ‘Pyromania’ they were still playing two or three tracks on the radio each day.
"I was out there when ‘Women’ [also the first US single] was sent to the radio stations. It’s kind of staggering. After four years of being away, you’d have thought that people would have forgotten. But fortunately they didn’t."
Did you also worry that your British audience would forget?
"We were worried that everyone around the world might have. Fortunately, it looks as though America is gonna be as good as ever for us, but England’s a different kettle of fish because we’ve never commanded anything like that status here.
"We were very confident that once the record was out, people would like it. The thing that we were most worried about was that since we’ve been away there’s been an upsurge in two particular bands that I’m fed up with being recognised as in airports."
Let me take a wild guess. Bon Jovi…
"And bleedin’ Europe. We can see it now. People will hear this ‘new’ band called Def Leppard and they’ll think, ‘They’re alright, but they’re a rip-off of Bon Jovi’. That’s not gonna go down too well with us, although we’re good friends with Jon Bon Jovi. He won’t mind me saying that he was influenced a hell of a lot by ‘High ‘N’ Dry’ and ‘Pyromania’, he’s said so himself. We’re gonna have to bite our lip if people say we sound like Bon Jovi. If anything, we’ve moulded their sound to what we were like four years ago."
Nevertheless, that band’s popularity and credibility won’t do you any harm in the UK at this stage, will it?
"Well, ‘Animal’ has been well received by Radio One; they’re playing the shit out of it. I dunno if you should print this, but I’ll say it anyway: the deejays in England kind of know that single or the band is gonna be pretty big. They know we’re massive in America and they think that it’s just a matter of time before it happens here. I think they’re all trying to be the one that broke us in England, so they’re all playing our record and saying how brilliant it is. Maybe they actually believe it, but that’s the impression I get. Fair play to Andy Peebles and Peter Powell, they’ve been behind us for years. Buy when Gary Davies turns round and says that it’s a brilliant song, either we’re poppier than we thought or something’s up. Either way, we’re not complaining."
Is rock on the increase again in Britain?
"Yeah, a shitload. We set Bon Jovi up in America and I think the same thing’s gonna happen in reverse over here. They’ve done us a favour in a way."
"Since we’ve been away, Ratt have come out and had three platinum records. Now they’re supposedly has-beens"
The next step is Leppard’s world tour, which kicks off in Ireland.
"It’s gonna be brilliant. We’re looking forward to England again. It’s been a long time since we toured England [in July of 1981] although we’ve done a few one-offs like Castle Donington [in 1986, beneath headliner Ozzy Osbourne and the Scorpions]. Admittedly, we’re not doing anything like a three-month tour, but it’s 18 dates which is more than some bands."
Maybe people will start to appreciate Def Leppard on their own terms now? The might realise that you’re not toe obnoxious brats of old anymore.
"I hope so. To a certain extent, we deserved all of that. We still tend to come across as arrogant, but that’s because we don’t pussy around. We tend so say a lot of things that we feel, especially Joe [Elliott]. It’s just one of those things. We’ve never done ourselves any favours, publicity-wise. We’re not a PR woman’s dream. In America, they think that we’re clean-living Englishmen that play nice rock ‘n’ roll. But in England, you have to prove yourselves that bit more. It’s a bit of a busk, which can be quite nice really.
"But you know what? I’ve sensed a change when I go back to Sheffield – that’s something I do at every available opportunity – and it’s strange, people now want to talk to you. Whether that’s because of what the band’s done in America, I really don’t know."
Of course, you no longer live in Sheffield. How does it feel to be a tax exile?
"It’s strange. Since that happened to us, we haven’t earned a single penny. It’s all been spent on making the new album. The money we did make came from ‘Pyromania’, which was all subject to tax anyway. At the moment we pay 40 pence from every pound [Sterling] we earn. Still, that’s not as bas as it sounds. Brian May from Queen told us that at one point they were being taxed at ninety-five per cent [of their earnings]."
Okay, let’s talk about serious matters. Was there any temptation for the band to call things a day at the time of Rick Allen’s accident? The album wasn’t going too well at the time, was it?
"The album wasn’t going at all [laughs]. But that thought didn’t enter our minds for a moment. We’d just got rid of our first producer, Jim Steinman [Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler] after about three months of working together. It was a total mismatch; we were two complete opposites. We were used to working with a producer who became part of the band. To be honest, Jim wasn’t contributing anything. We ran through the tapes and realised that there was nothing worth keeping. When Rick had his accident, we were naturally really knocked back.
"It’s bad enough to have an accident at all, but to do it on New Year’s Eve was a bit bleedin’ inconsiderate if you ask me. Every New Year’s Eve from now on will never quite be the same. The first thing that Phil [Collen] said to Rick when he came around in hospital was, ‘You inconsiderate bastard. We’re slaving away doing the record and you have to have a car crash – you bastard’.
"You have to know us to understand the full effect of that. Afterwards we continued working, but really we were going through the motions. We didn’t get anything else done."
Did you have the drum tracks down by that point?
"No, actually we always put those down last. We use a drum machine first and then put the guitars down. Then when everything’s done, we do the drums, before the mix. It’s completely different to the way that most bands work. But we stayed in the studio [after the accident] without getting much done. And full credit to Rick. The doctor’s told us not to expect him back for six months. He was actually back in Holland after six weeks. But he had that determination and the question of quitting never entered into it. It makes it sound pretty trivial, but it was almost like me cutting a finger and not being able to work for a while. The rest of the band get pretty pissed off if it stops you from working, but it’s no reason for somebody to get kicked out. It’ll heal in time, and that’s the way it was with Rick.
There aren’t too many rock bands with one-armed drummers.
"No, but we knew that he’d sit down and practise with his kit. And if he wasn’t up to scratch then we knew he’d tell us because he’s too much of a professional not to. The question of us getting another drummer never arose, because he didn’t let it."
During the lay-off, as we’ve already discussed, numerous bands who’ve been influenced by Leppard have materialised. Which ones do you like best?
"It’s funny, we get so picky when we do our own records that you end up judging everybody with the same ears. Of course, that’s really unfair because you start judging bands who’ve taken three weeks to do their whole record…"
…And you’ve done a guitar solo in that time?
"Yeah, seriously. But who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong? Like Ratt, for example. Since we’ve been away, they’ve come out and had three platinum records. Now they’re supposedly has-beens. Was that because they chose to do it really quickly?
"But getting back to your question about new bands, I like some of the Cinderella stuff though it sometimes gets a bit boring. Are you familiar with ‘Nobody’s Fool’ [from Tom Keifer and company’s 1986 debut ‘Night Songs’]? And are you familiar with [Leppard’s own] ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’? That says it all. Our management went through the rood when they heard it. But what really pissed them off was that ‘Nobody’s Fool’ went to No. 3 in the American singles chart and ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’ did nothing [laughs]."I like Tesla, the band who are going to be supporting us on this tour. Their singer [Jeff Keith] is brilliant. People ask us what we think of thrash metal and we just tend to come out and say it’s shit, but I do like Metallica. We’re managed by the same people and they give us lots of tapes. That [Metallica] stuff is a bit hard to get into at first, but there are some good songs. What we don’t tend to like about thrash is that the bands don’t seem to have a sense of humour."
Is there any degree of humour to what Def Leppard do then, Rick?
"Sure. We don’t think we’re God’s gift to anything. That may sound stupid after spending so long making this record, but we really are five kids who have had a bit of luck. We don’t take it much further than that. Music’s only entertainment when all’s said and done."
The official Def Leppard website
Christ on a bike, was it really 17 years ago that Def Leppard unveiled ‘Hysteria’? It seems like yesterday. I’d never met Rick Savage before, but he was friendly and refreshingly honest. Reading it back now, I love the quote about how much he hated being mistaken for a member of Europe at airports. Likewise, the meteoric rise and comet-like fall of Ratt during the album’s genesis must have been equally disconcerting. As we all now know, Savage’s confidence in ‘Hysteria’ was justified. He was right all along – it would be released and it did re-shape hard rock in the 1980s and beyond. Indeed, it’s now sold more than ten million copies, placing Leppard among just 45 other acts to have achieved such a distinction. If you ever meet him make sure you say, “No-one likes a smart ass”. (24th September, 2005)
Please send me your comments on this article.