Viva! Hysteria - Def Leppard Interview
To celebrate the release of Def Leppard Viva! Hysteria, a performance of the album at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas from March this year, in cinemas, we sat down with lead singer Joe Elliott and bass guitarist Rick Savage to talk about Las Vegas, mini golf and Blackpool.
[Joe and Rick sit down in a small office full of journalists]
Joe: This is very intimate, in fact we did a gig with less people than you.
Rick: New Brighton.
When was that?
Rick: In a place called New Brighton which is just outside of Liverpool.
Joe: There was a kid in one of the booths doing his homework. Never looked up once.
Rick: One guy came to see us, and he left after two songs.
Joe: That was also incredibly inspiring.
Obviously this is a film based on your residency at the Hard Rock in Vegas, can you take us through what made you decide to do a residency. It's traditionally thought as being a thing Cher and Celine Dion do.
Rick: That was one of the reasons.
Joe: We fancied wearing a dress. It's changing, the thing is it's evolving, Vegas is probably always going to be a residency town because that's pretty much what it was built on, but as time goes on Deano and Sammy David and Frankie all die off, and Elvis dies off, and something has to come along and replace it. Celine did a nine month residency and I guess the building thought "What are we going to do for three months?" and they bring in Elton John. Elton John was probably the first of what we may class as a rocker to do a residency there, and then a couple of years after that Cheap Trick went through doing the Sergeant Pepper album with a 36-piece orchestra. They were there for two, three weeks and then the Hard Rock hotel decided to take it another step further. They brought in Motley Crüe, Guns N Roses, and we were aware of the fact that when they were coming through, which was about two years ago, that we were about to get asked. We were just waiting. And then they did,t hey finally asked us about September, October last year, when we were just coming to the end of our American tour for our Mirrorball album, and it was a no-brainer to say yes. It's not the kind of Wayne Newton type place everyone seems to think it is anymore, it's all Pirates of the Caribbean.
Rick: Crazy golf.
Joe: Kiss Crazy Golf.
Rick: It's actually a lot more rock and roll than you'd imagine because I suppose the image was created from the 60's and the 70's with Elvis or whoever, or whatever, but seriously in the last ten or fifteen years it's been very rock and roll orientated. It just seems the logical thing now they're getting, apart from us, Guns N Roses have done it.
Joe: Prince just followed us in, The Who followed us in. They didn't do as long a residency, but they were still doing multiple shows. There'll be loads more coming through, seriously I honestly believe that, they have to settle down in their DNAs to want to do it, but I will not be surprised if they don't get the Foo Fighters or Linkin Park, that kind of band, Green Day, doing this, because it's really a swift turn. If you watch the original Ocean's Eleven and then the new one, there's not that much difference but there is if you dig deep, you can see a difference. It's the same thing. People think of a place that's just full of slot machines, as Blackpool, and you're instantly thinking negative or comical thoughts. Flanagan and Allen, David Essex or something. It's not like that anymore, it's really totally changed.
Would you have done longer as a band that tours?
Joe: We are a band that's used to touring, we're also a band that's fed up for being out for nine months as well. When you're 21 and you don't have a house or a wife or a kid, you've got to get on tour, you don't want to be at home. But then when you get ten, fifteen years older, twenty-five years older than that, priorities change and you have an obligation to tour, but you also have an obligation to be a dad or a husband as well, so you've got to find a fine balance. This is a great fine balance. We'll still tour, of course we will, because we actually enjoy playing live, but it's nice to stagger it a bit of it. Would we have done longer than eleven shows?
Rick: Yes. Categorically can say yes. Now how many is a harder question to answer, but the experience was so good.
Joe: I don't think I could do nine months like Celine. We aren't divas, what she did, apparently she had a house on the backstage made as an exact replica of where she lives, so it looked like she was at home. I don't blame her, I get it, and that's the part of the diva thing that I get. The million people entourage thing I don't, but for someone to say "If I'm going to be here for nine months, I want it to look like where I live" so they spent half a million dollars doing it up, they're going to make four hundred million, they can afford it. That bit I can understand. We'd have played more, they've asked us to go back so at some stage we are going to come back and do something different to Hysteria, I imagine. But we'd go back.
Rick: I'd go back and do Hysteria all over again. It would have to be presented differently, obviously.
Joe: There's a lot of people that didn't get to see us that wanted to, even when they added the extra dates in. They could have added more but we were in a situation where we couldn't, because day one of rehearsals is when we found out that Vivan had cancer and so consequently he had been given permission by his doctors to do the Vegas thing and start chemo straight away afterwards, but there was no way we could have extended anyway.
It's a great venue as well.
Joe: The Hard Rock hotel is a fantastic venue because it's a presidium stage, but it's massive, so when you actually step foot on stage it's like walking onto Madison Square Gardens but in front of less people. The stage is the same size pretty much. We weren't like "Oh god, it's like playing the Academy", we still had all the room to do whatever we wanted to do, and the whites of their eyes are still there at the front, but you can't see the back of the arena a lot of the time, or a stadium or a field, the furthest seat from where we were was 155 feet, and there's boxes there, the balconies. It's a much more intimate get together, if you like. It looks good from when you're standing on stage, it doesn't look like you've come down a bit.
Did you go to the Kiss mini-golf?
Joe: I did. While we were in Vegas we took advantage of the fact that we were there for the month, and we actually shot a documentary which has yet to see the light of day, not a reality show I must add, but just filming us doing whatever you do when you're not on stage, and one of the things I did was...when I drove past it, because I know Gene, and he said "You've got to go play my golf course", I'm thinking it's a real golf, thinking "Wow, they've really branched out" I thought they bought four hundred acres of land, I didn't know there was grass in Vegas. But it was an indoor mini-golf all done in black, with coffins and the usual, platform shoes.
Rick: Basically it's for people who can't play golf.
Joe: And of course they wanted to film me going, so I went over there with our tour manager.
Rick: Gene Simmons wouldn't do anything unless there was an angle in it for him. Getting Joe to be filmed at his golf course is perfect.
Joe: I did go, and it's like every crazy golf course, it's stupid but its funny. Instead of having windmills that you have to time it, you have platform boots or tongues to shoot down.
Any plans for your own golf course there?
Joe: No, I don't get on other people's golf courses often enough. I've got a council course down the bottom of the hill where I live, it's only fifteen quid a round and that's good enough for me. I'm yet to play at par.
Rick: most golf courses that we've ever played, and we play when we're on tour once a week, sometimes twice a week, they go round clockwise, but Joe's left handed and he completely forever swerving to the left.
Joe: I slice.
Rick: If a golf course was shaped to the left, he'd be brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Joe: It's like watching the Red Arrows display team.
You get left-handed scissors, why not left-handed golf courses?
Joe: The thing is I'm left-handed at golf but I'm right-handed at everything else. I'm kind of, not ambidextrous, but bi-dextrous. I'm left-handed at throwing, golf, right-handed at tennis, pool, writing with a pen. Right-handed with a drill and a screwdriver, but I'm left-handed for anything to do with a bat or throwing.
How about a knife and fork?
Joe: If I was eating with one utensil, which would be a fork, it would be my right hand. It's weird. Hair-dryer, right hand, comb right hand.
In regards to the film, have you guys seen it and do you enjoy watching yourself?
Joe: Twice I've seen it.
Rick: I absolutely have no desire to sit and watch, I was there, the thought of sitting there and watching what you do.
Joe: We've never been that kind of band that sits there jerking off at ourselves on telly.
Rick: "Isn't that great?", we spend so much energy doing what we're doing, whether it's a record in the studio or even the Vegas thing, once it's over, it just disappears into the background and you're looking to the next thing you really want to do. Very rarely do we retrospectively spend an evening wallowing in our greatness.
Joe: You get that image of an old Hollywood actress that sits there with a gin and tonic, watching her old movies.
Joe: Yeah, it's not really our thing.
Are you critical about yourselves?
Joe: Oh full on, especially when you see your head fifteen foot high. Oh man, and it's HD. It ain't really friendly, but that;s the point. We're all growing older, we all look a certain way, we all do what we do, and we have a great thing on our side called Keith Richards. He's still pulling it off and he looks craggy as hell, nobody cares. In fact he'd look ridiculous if he didn't look ridiculous, so for us it's more about the experience of doing the entire album from start to finish, which is something we'd never done before. Actually being able to pull it off, because it's old history now, but an album that takes two-and-a-half years to do, as was the way in the 80's, it doesn't matter if it's us or U2, loads of people... The Blue Nile spent five years making a record. We put this thing together that, when you listen to it, it's a monster. It sounds like its been made by twenty people. Ten versions of Bohemian Rhapsody, which when you hear that song you instantly know "Well, how can they play that live?", the thing is they can't, and they never tried. They cheated, well, they didn't cheat, they used the tapes and they made it obvious they were using the tapes. But that album, we made a conscious effort to try and pull off a live version of it, close as we could to the record, and that's just testimony to the musicianship of the four guys specifically in the band that they could actually play all that stuff.
On, say, a song like Hysteria, it's so orchestrated I think there's eleven different guitar parts, and there's only two guitarists, so you have to "Which bit are you going to play when", you go for the one that may be the most memorable. Sometimes you put little bits into the background, you'd miss them if they weren't there on the record but you don't necessarily miss them live. It was a case of just picking all the right bits and doing a version of it that sounded as close to the record as we could possibly do, and with the grace of a fantastic sound engineer. By the way, it is all live, there's not one overdub on this thing, so it is warts and all. There may be a few bits that are a bit off, but it is what it is. Generally speaking, from a sound point of view if anything else, I can sit and listen to it, but watching it three or four times, there's going to have to be some serious wine involved.
Speaking of the fact you did Hysteria from beginning to end, with the running order exactly the same as the album. Pour Some Sugar On Me is probably your biggest hit and you'd usually end a gig with that. Is it weird playing it so soon in the set? What's the audience's reaction like?
Joe: The first couple of days in rehearsals it was a bit weird.
Rick: We thought it would be weird, not only from our perspective, but the crowd's perspective. It sounds stupid, but it can go through your mind thinking, are half of them going to bugger off now we've played 'Sugar?
Joe: Or am I gonna say goodnight after song five?
Must be the same with Love and Affection too?
Rick: It was a bit of a worry, but from the first night on, in the concept of what we were doing, it was absolutely perfect. The crowd bought into the whole concept and that's the important thing, so it actually felt natural. It just didn't feel strange whatsoever. In fact, it would have felt strange looking back if we mixed the order up, it would have been stupid to do that, in order to accommodate, shall we say, Animal, Hysteria, and Pour Some Sugar On Me as the last three songs. It wouldn’t have been the same as it was. To do it as the album, with a crowd who are familiar with the album, that added to it. So Love and Affection, although your first instinct is to go, you can't end a set like that – it actually really, really worked.
Joe: I can see where you're coming from, I think that under normal circumstances on tour, to end on Love and Affection would be suicide, but you see, that's what we weren't doing, we were playing Viva! Hysteria. It is what it is, there's no way you can do it in any other way. We bought into it within about two or three songs and the audience were into it straight away, they totally got it. What are they supposed to do? Not play it at all? Or stick it in the middle? It's not going to work.
Was it difficult?
Joe: Yeah, by the time we got to the end of the set I was all warmed up. There's higher things earlier than that! From a physical point of view, from a singing point of view, Run Riot. That was the one where you just hope that you don't screw up, because when I start singing, it's just me and the drums. I have nothing to hide behind. When we wrote Run Riot, we were very aware of the fact that we just totally ripped off Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran, because that's exactly what it is, in its own, unique way. There's nowhere to hide, and it's a ridiculously high vocal line. You've heard the stories, you've read the interviews, you've seen the TV performances of people like Robert Plant, who don't go near that register anymore, even when they were in their 30s. I'm 53 at the time, trying to hit those notes and I'm thinking, what am I doing? But you know, true to the melody, our music is not blues based, there is no room for manoeuvre, we've come from a song writing school – and this is not supposed to sound pretentious – but it's much more Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards, than say, Blind Lemon Pledge. You've got a melody on Eleanor Rigby, that's what McCartney sings until the day he dies – you can't change it. Whereas Robert can change things on Rock'n'Roll or whatever and get away with it, because it's a 12 bar. Our stuff is like The Beach Boys, it's melodic, it's tied in, and there's really not much room for manoeuvre.
Rick: There's not as much scope to vary the melodies, without actually devaluing the song. We've created that beat and we're happy to do it, I just didn't expect to be doing it 25 years later. Let's be honest, even in '87 there weren't many bands that had been around for more than 15 or 16 years, so we're in totally unchartered territory right now. The songs are leading the way and we follow in their slipstream. Aerosmith behind them, AC/DC and us, Duran Duran and The Cure and whoever else was around in the 80s.
On your current tour you played Europe, but not the UK – any reason for that?
Rick: Yeah, we just headlined Donington twice in three years. We had also just finished the year 2012 with a British tour with Motley Crew, so that was right at the end of last year.
Joe: We haven't played France or Spain in 17 years. So we're trying to readdress the balance of some of our European cousins.
Rick: Also, especially now we've played the UK, we always feel there needs to be a real reason for doing it, like promoting something, rather than just going out because you can. We wouldn't want to get into that sort of thing in the UK, it's got to be special, you know, to bring audiences in anyway. So that's the way it's always going to be in the UK.
You could do two or three nights of Hysteria in London to make up for it?
Joe: We've been saying this, but where else can we do residencies? Apart from Blackpool, I can't think of a place in England that is a mirror image of Vegas. There isn't really one yet. Now, somebody should do something about that, even if it means turning The Millennium Dome into a mini Vegas or something...
There's the smaller Indigo at the O2...
Joe: Yeah but at the same time it's just still a gig. There's got to be an infrastructure and it's gonna take decades for people to accept it. At this moment in time I don't anywhere other than Blackpool that sounds a bit like somewhere where people go [like Vegas] but normally that's where people go to die [laughs]. And we're not quite ready for that yet! I'm sure there are people who think that we're past out sell by date.
Rick: There was a time when the concept of doing residencies was definitely a little naff but that's gone. The whole idea of doing residencies, from our point of view at least is a great idea. You've got the best parts of being on tour which is playing in front of an audience, and none of the negatives, which is getting on a moving bus and travelling to the next city.
Joe: B12 injections every three days, sore throats, air conditioning units blah blah blah, its crap!
Rick: Just to be able to perform and sleep in the same bed for three weeks, it's little things like that that just make such a difference.
Joe: Especially when you're not 21 anymore, they do make a difference. But as we said earlier, unless you've been to Vegas or spent a bit of time there recently it's not what you think it used to be. A lot of people think about Vegas the same that I was joking about Blackpool. It's really not like that, it's changed. If Blackpool did then maybe we'd do residencies there. Someone will do one day. Sooner or later somebody's going to wake up and figure something out and make something, somewhere in England like what Vegas is. But at the moment what you've got in England that you'll never anywhere else is the beauty of stuff like Glastonbury or T in The Park or the Hyde Park gigs. You don't get that anywhere else really; there are muddy fields in Finland and Norway and Sweden but they don't have that magic the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury have. They're like Woodstock but way better because of the reputation and the fact that people want to do them. The fact that you can have the Rolling Stones and Bruce Forsyth on the same bill, that in itself almost makes Glastonbury in its own unique way a one day a year residency if you will.
It must be humbling for you to know that some 25 years on you're still able to play it in front of sell-out crowds in Vegas.
Rick: What's even more humbling is actually seeing people really into the shows and wearing the Hysteria t-shirts that are younger than the record itself!That's when you go there is longevity in this, it's not just 50 year old women and guys that were there when it happened, that are just reliving it. There's a whole new generation that are going back. Their reference points are the bands of the 80's rather than their own [generation's] bands. Which in one sense is pretty sad for the music industry as a whole but for bands like us it's brilliant because it's like being reborn again!
Joe: I think what we are is we're the recipient of a very fortunate time frame that's gone away forever. The saturation video channels like MTV and VH1 say from 1983 to around 1992/93, I don't think you'll ever see the likes of that ever again. Maybe not so much in England in the early 80's because for a start it didn't start here until August 1st 1987, but once you've had a video played 400-500 times on a TV channel - whether it be Let's Get Rocked, Photograph, Pour Some Sugar on Me, Love Bites or whatever - if you're a fan of the music or if you're just from that decade and you were a fan of the idea of having video channels, basically radio with pictures. ZZ Top for example with the furry guitars and the fancy cars; the image is in your head for the rest of your life. We've soaked into people's DNA along with Rio by Duran Duran, or Run to The Hills by Iron Maiden, Thriller by Michael Jackson. We may be coat tail riding but we're part of that era that's just sunk into people's DNA and we can take advantage of that as much as we want because I think we've got an audience that's always going to be there. Much more so than bands that came before because you really have to kind of go mining for The Monkees or Crosby, Stills and Nash and nobody really seems to give a toss about anything afterwards. Once Seattle kind of came and went it was left up to people like My Chemical Romance and they've not lasted the course. Muse are doing it now but they're in a different era so we'd have to talk about Muse in 2055 to make a comparison to where we are now to how they're going to be then. They'll still be around doing something or maybe they won't, that's up to the personalities of the band that stay together. We've stayed together and by staying together we've also got that advantage of the fact that there's this infrastructure of touring, putting records out and media that have shown an on and off interest in the band because we're still here and they remember us from back then. Whereas I think in 20 years’ time, trying to talk about anything other than One Direction, nobody's ever going to remember them and hopefully we won't remember them either. [laughs]
Def Leppard Viva! Hysteria will be shown nationwide on September 19th. For booking info please go to www.defleppard.com