Go to Homepage   Phil Collen: One on One with Def Leppard's Guitarist

Phil Collen's guitar work takes center stage in "Armageddon It."
(Photo by Tracy McCartney)

The release of Euphoria early this summer thrust the British rockers Def Leppard back into the charts and brought them back to their roots as well. With hard-driving rockers such as "Paper Sun," "Back In Your Face," "21st Century Sha La La Girl" and heartfelt ballads like "Goodbye" and "To Be Alive," Euphoria takes listeners back to a time when rock-n-roll was all about having fun.  

This reporter caught up with guitarist Phil Collen in West Plains, Mo., August 9, during the band's Euphoria warm-up tour. In keeping with Def Leppard's reputation of "being there for the fans," Collen talked freely about Euphoria, current and upcoming tours, other special projects and his thoughts on music. 

So how has the response been to Euphoria? 

Phil Collen: This is the best response that we have had in the Nineties. Good if not better than the Adrenalize stuff. 

The first single "Promises" landed the album a spot on the charts, so what will be next? 

Phil Collen: "Goodbye" 

Phil Collen backstage before the show at the West Plains Civic Center,
West Plains, Mo.
  (Photo courtesy of Tracy McCartney)

What about "21st Century Sha La La Girl?" 

Phil Collen: Yeah, maybe later on.... 

So what is behind the title, Euphoria? 

Phil Collen: We were going to call the album "Def Leppard," because it sounds typically Def Leppard. I think that I was the one that suggested Euphoria, then we all thought, wow, this would have been a great title for Adrenalize, cause we were looking for something that ended in "ia" for Adrenalize, but we couldn't think of one, now eight years later.… [Laughs.] We didn't name it Euphoria because it ended in "ia" this time, but because we thought that it was a cool word, and it kinda summed up everything about it. The record company heard that we were toying around with Euphoria, and they were like, this is great, we gotta use that! So we said okay. 

What about this tour that you are on right now? How does it compare to a full-production tour? 

Phil Collen: We always do this kind of warm up, but this is the first time that we have started out in the States. It is always more inspiring to get out there and play in front of great audiences in small towns, and it doesn't cost us a fortune." 

What about a full-scale, world arena tour? 

Phil Collen: We are getting all of our ideas together now. When we leave here [the U. S.], we go to Japan, then back to the U.K., and after that we will start planning the big tour, hopefully. That's the plan anyway." 

So can you tell me what your favorite song to play is -- off of any of the albums? 

Phil Collen: At the moment we are all really enjoying playing "Paper Sun." It's cool -- you know, typical Def Leppard. 

What about your favorite Def Leppard album of all time? 

Phil Collen: The new one is always the favorite, but I always go back to Hysteria, because it was so influential. It didn't just influence other rock bands; you even had R&B acts getting stuff off of it -- vocals, recording techniques and the like. 

What do you think of the musical climate now as opposed to when Hysteria was released? 

Phil Collen: That was a different time anyway. Everyone was a lot happier back then, and then you entered the Nineties, and it is a reflection of what is happening in other areas of society.  

You have this whole grunge thing -- lot of that "vibe," if you will. And it seems pretty forced and fake, I think.  A lot of the kids think they are supposed to be pissed off, supposed to be angry. Then it just went around and it has also become passe. Now it has changed again, just look at people like Ricky Martin doing so well. People are just having more fun. I think that attitude allows [Def Leppard] to actually exist and be out there and do really well.  

Even the Seventies were that way, it was a happier, vibier time. Actually the Seventies, when you had the whole punk thing, was a reaction against all that. It just gets too much. We had so many bands copying us in the Eighties, and they screwed our vibe up -- crappy bands doing bad versions of us. Then people go, "You know what, we hate them and we hate those guys too." Then the same thing happens now. You have Nirvana, then you have Silverchair and a bunch other bands copying them, still copying them and missing the whole point. Then everyone goes, "You know what, I hate that as well now too." 

Phil Collen sings back-up on "Armageddon It."
(Photo by Tracy McCartney)

How about sharing some of your personal musical influences? 

Phil Collen: Everything. I listen to everything. 

Is there any new stuff out there that you are listening to? 

Phil Collen: Yeah, Buckcherry -- they are a great band. They are really cool. Real star quality -- great! There is some cool stuff out there right now. I do like the some of the hybrid stuff, but I would rather listen to Lauryn Hill. Actually I like everything. I even had the country station on yesterday. 

I know that Def Leppard just finished an episode of Storytellers for VH1, how did that go? 

Phil Collen: Fantastic! [The VH1 people] were freaking out. It is going to change the format of the show. They sent me all these tapes of other bands: Tom Petty, REM -- everyone really -- John Mellencamp, stuff like that. And the whole vibe of it was pretty serious and sensible and somber.  

So we got up there, and they asked us how we wanted to do it. And we said, well, we just don't want to get up there and [have] Joe (Elliott) say, "blah blah blah, this is a song about whatever." Give everyone a mic, and we can just goof off. And we did.  

We were kinda being silly. We messed a song up, which was great. They are gonna use that. We just had a lot of fun. We involved the audience. We talked to everyone, so it was very spontaneous and very, um, improvised. So it turned out very different than all the other Storytellers that I have seen. I don't think it was just our imagination, everyone there seemed really happy with it. 

Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott (left) looks on while guitarist Phil Collen lets it rip in "Demolition Man" at the West Plains Civic Center, West Plains, Mo. (Photo by Tracy McCartney)

Where do you see music going in the next millennium? 

Phil Collen: I see music not being as important as it used to be. It has become a backdrop to a lot of other things: to movies, to commercials, all that stuff. In the Sixties and Seventies it was a lot more important. It really had a mystique about it. Rock music especially. You think of [Led] Zepplin and the [Rolling] Stones back then -- there was such a mysterious vibe about it that people aspired to be like that.  

I am not saying we should be role models, because we shouldn't. That's not what it's all about. That's not why you get in a band. It's like someone wanting to play like [Jimi] Hendrix -- you aspire toward that.  

All that has changed I think. Some people want to be a "thug" like this person or that person and want to get arrested or something. And because of that kind of thing, music has suffered. There is so much information, so much music. On one hand it is great, but it definitely cheapens it. Now it is like anyone can make a record, but before it used to be like a real event. And now where anyone can do it, it has almost damaged the "specialness" of it. Yet having said that, I think that 2000 will be the year for Def Leppard. 

Tracy McCartney

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