Def Leppard have finally allowed their music to become available on Spotify and other services. Just don’t ask frontman Joe Elliott to embrace hip hop, writes.
One needs to take a tactical approach when interviewing Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott.
Not because he’s a difficult interviewee who offers awkward answers or shrugs at certain questions. No, with Elliott it’s almost the opposite.
Ask him a question and it’s quite possible you won’t be asking another one for almost 10 minutes. So spending 20 minutes with a man who has led one of rock’s most enduring and influential bands is an interesting task.
Wearing a tight black T-shirt, he removes his sunglasses as he sits behind a table at the Gibson Guitar Studio in London’s West End. He’s here to talk about the band’s catalogue eventually arriving on streaming services.
For Elliot, who used to take a suitcase full of CDs and DVDs with him on tour, it’s about time.
It was a long process though. Each song had to be remastered and the 58-year-old was heavily involved. He sat in the studio with the band’s sound engineer, Ronan McHugh, listening to almost every track before they were ready to be put out.
Elliott explains all of this in response to a query on why the band had chosen now to join Spotify and the like.
His answer includes the intriguing analogy: “Imagine this room is Def Leppard and everybody’s out there watching what we’re doing. Imagine we close the curtains, we’re still here doing stuff but you just can’t see us anymore.”
Asked what he thinks of streaming services and playlist culture’s impact on modern music, he launches full throttle into a lengthy response in which it becomes clear he is not fully aware of the huge effect it has had.
“This is a learning curve for me,” admits the longterm resident of Dublin. “People have been hitting the forward button since we had listening stations.
“We can’t stop people doing that. People do whatever people do. I’m not worried about it because it’s not going to affect the way I write songs in the future, and we can’t do anything about songs we’ve written in the past.
“For us it’s art and if you don’t like it, then don’t buy it.”
Keen to emphasise his point again, Elliott attempts another analogy.
Let’s imagine there’s a painting on that wall that I’ve just done and you come in and say, ‘I really like it but can you redo this bottom bit?’ No. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.
It sparks an interesting conversation about the music Elliott listened to as a kid in which he reels off Bowie, Bolan, and Slade as inspirations.
He thinks of contemporary music as he did back then. “There’s good and bad. There was plenty of shit music then, too.”
One genre which gets his specific wrath is rap. “I just don’t like it,” Elliot says.
“Anyone can stand there and talk. My mother could do that. There’s talent in the writing and the expression and all that kind of stuff but it’s just not my thing.”
As well as their arrival on Spotify and the like, Elliot and co have also announced a tour that includes a date in Ireland, as well as a tour with Journey in the US.
He has just arrived back from the States where he had been doing five days’ press with Journey’s Neal Schon. “We’re Cheech and Chong,” he says. “It was like Morecambe and Wise, hysterical.”
The UK tour is celebrating the band’s acclaimed 1987 record Hysteria, which dominated charts and is the 51st best-selling album of all time in the US.
Hysteria came at a pivotal point for the band. It was the last to feature guitarist Steve Clarke before his death and Leppard’s first since drummer Rick Allen’s 1984 car crash which left him with one arm.
Released amid a whirlwind of media attention, the album charted at number one in the US and UK, despite being plagued by delays as the band experimented with emerging and exciting production equipment.
Recording had originally begun before Allen’s car crash. “The world changed while we were making it,” he says.
“We kept updating the record to accommodate the change. The ’80s were a very creative time period. It wasn’t the writing, we had that down because we had all our ’70s heroes to reference, but when it came to production it was.”
Last year, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson titled his autobiography, What Does This Button Do?, which Elliot describes as his mantra during the making of Hysteria. The band spent hours rewiring machines, turning them inside out, endless experimentation.
“We were trying to make something that no one else has ever done, so of course you’re going to hit a brick wall every now and again, more often than not really,” he says.
We had all this human nature shit to deal with too. Steve’s decline, which was occurring at the time, Rick’s accident. It was tough to deal with but it brought the humanity out in the band and that went into the record.
The Hysteria tour in December, which comes after the lengthy run in the US with Journey, will include all the big hits, vows Elliott, who is indignant about artists that refuse to perform crowd-pleasers.
He has also coined quite a beautiful term in “Dorito boy” to describe fans who complain on the internet.
“Dorito Boy lives with his mum, sits in the basement, eats Doritos, and completely slags your setlist off but has never been to a gig.
“That’s the guy we never listen to anymore,” says Elliot. “Why would we abandon songs that got us into the O2? That’s why they’re coming.
“I look at the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, or anyone like that... yeah, you wanna play the new stuff, it feeds your soul, but don’t abandon the people that are out there.”