Metal Edge, February 1990
What do you do for an encore when you’ve sold upwards of 15 million records worldwide? If you’re Def Leppard, you go back into the studio and make some killer music. Singer Joe Elliott filled us in on Lep life after Hysteria.
You performed “Tear It Down” on the MTV Video Music Awards, a B-side you’re going to put on the next album.
Joe Elliott: Yeah. We liked it so much that we said, “This is too good for a b-side.” We don’t feel like we’re ripping anyone off ‘cause we’ve changed it. The version we did on MTV is closest to what’s on the album. It’s almost the same arrangement, we shifted the backing vocals a bit around the bridge. It’s probably the raunchiest thing we’ve done for a long time. It’s got that attitude.
How many others are done?
Elliott: Three. “Tonight,” Stand Up Kick Love Into Motion,” and one tentatively called “I’ve Never Wanted Something So Bad.”
What are they about? How can you compare this material to previous?
Elliott: Same old same old. Love-hate relationships with the opposite sex, which is always intriguing. There’s no Vietnam in there yet. I think it’s probably closer to Hysteria than any other album but we have more than six songs to do. We could end up sounding like High ‘n’ Dry by the time we’re done. The way we’re recording this album is a lot more loose, feel-wise, than what we’ve done in the past. If a take is a bit wide of the mark, and it sounds good, we’ll leave it in.
Is the whole band collaborating on the tunes?
Elliott: Everyone gets their little bit in, and the best idea wins. If someone comes up with a major idea and somebody else comes up with a minor change that makes the idea ten times as good, it gets equal billing.
Mutt Lange isn’t producing this time, you’re working with Mike Shipley. How has the change affected you?
Elliott: Obviously Mutt not being there is a major factor, but he’s still writing with us. We’ve worked with Shipley on the last three albums so he knows what we want and we know what he can do. We know each other inside and out in that respect. We’re co-producing with him, we get to make a few decisions that we’ve never bothered before. Mutt wasn’t worth arguing with so we let him decide everything we couldn’t decide.
You also switched recording studios.
Elliott: Yeah, we did so much work on Hysteria at Wisseloord Studios in Holland and there were times when it was hell doing that album. When we went back there it was like déjà vu, we hated going through the doors of the place. It’s a great studio – the sound, the staff, the way they look after you, but we just had to move. All our gear was in Holland, and we didn’t want to shift countries. We found this funky little hole about 30 minutes down the road, it’s nowhere as good as Wisseloord but it doesn’t have to be. For recording basic tracks Wisseloord is overly qualified and overpriced. We got the same sound at Studio 150 for ¼ of the price. We can do everything but mix there.
How is your on-and-off system of recording working out?
Elliott: Brilliantly. It’s so much more constructive. We could have taken a year off and then gone in the studio and spent a year or longer, it could have been three years again. This way we’re getting work done and we’re getting a break as well. So far we’ve got one rocker, one midtempo, one “Foolin’ ” type song, a ballad. Now we need more rockers so we don’t write more ballads. We’ll do some b-sides if we need ‘em, maybe a few cover versions for a bit of a giggle. It’s no pressure. We’re actually enjoying it. We don’t feel any paranoia.
You can put the fact that you’ve sold millions of records out of your mind?
Elliott: We’ve never been any kind of people to hang on past glories. That’s done. We have to go forward. When we write a song we don’t think about anything else – about food, about breathing. When we recorded Hysteria we were so aware of what Pyromania had done it was frightening. This time around we’ve sold twice as many records and we’re feeling the pressure less than half as much. There’s no point. You shouldn’t judge the success of an album on how many copies it sells, you should judge it on how good it is. If the next album only sold 10 million, is that a flop? Just because High ‘n’ Dry didn’t do what Pyromania did I think it’s still a good album for what it was.
Do you have a favorite Def Leppard song?
Elliott: “Sugar.” But it changes. I like things we’ve never played on stage, like “Comin’ Under Fire.”
Are there any plans to re-release the songs from the Getcha Rocks Off EP or other important b-side tracks?
Elliott: We’ve thought about it and hopefully in the not-too-distant future we’d like to do an album that would have everything that’s not generally available including the 12” remixes of “Sugar,” “Animal,” “Exciter,” “Rockit,” “Armageddon It.” We could call it Posterior!
We’ve gotten mail from readers who are convinced you say, “Jesus of Nazareth go to hell” at the end of “Love Bites.”
Elliott: It’s rubbish! I do not say “Jesus of Nazareth go to hell.” The “hell” bit is there – after I say, “If you’ve got love in your sights, watch out, love bites,” you can hear Mutt say, “bloody hell,” which is an English term for “good gracious.”
Have you thought about the next tour at all?
Elliott: The only thing that’s been talked about is Russia next April. Mrs. Gorbachev invited us over there. They had an informal poll asking which bands people would most like to see, and we came in third to Michael Jackson and Madonna.
When will you play here?
Elliott: Next summer. We’d have to warm up first, like we did in Ireland last time.
What about staging? The in-the-round setup was great.
Elliott: I don’t know. Maybe we’ll put the audience in the middle and play around outside! We’ll probably stay in the round, if we can rig everything from the floor instead of the roof. Some places we couldn’t play in the round because the roof couldn’t take the weight.
What are your goals now? What’s left to accomplish?
Elliott: We now are established as a big band. I think the goal is to maintain our standards and improve them, ad maintain our popularity.
How do you handle the fame aspect?
Elliott: I like to be recognized for who I am on stage. I hate being troubled in the shopping malls. It doesn’t happen to me on tour that much – I avoid those places. I wouldn’t say I’m the best person at handling it so I try to avoid it so I won’t piss anybody off. Rather than say “Get that camera out of my face,” I don’t go where there would be one.
Is it harder to stay at #1 than to get there?
Elliott: I don’t know yet. You’re judged on your last album so people think we’re good, but we could fuck up big time on the next one, or we could really confirm who we are. I suppose it’s harder to stay there than to get there, but getting there was pretty tough. It took a long time. We did it once in ’83, and to do it again was major. You can rely on the name – people have said we could put out an album of bee farts and people would buy it. We don’t have that kind of attitude. We’re not into cheating people ‘cause we’d be cheating ourselves. We have to live with this album forever so we want it to be good. We want it to be the best it could possibly be. I think it would be a shame if we hit our peak in four albums. We were so young when we started, and we’re still so young, our average age is 28. We’ve been around for a while, and we’re gonna be around for a hell of a lot longer.