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Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen Talks Summer Tour With Poison, ‘Rock of Ages’ Movie + More

Phil Collen
Paul Kane, Getty Images

Guitarist Phil Collen has been churning out hits with Def Leppard since joining the band 30 years ago in 1982. With Def Leppard as popular as ever and the band plotting a summer tour with Poison, Collen stopped by the Ultimate Classic Rock offices for a chat and an exclusive acoustic performance.

In addition to playing two songs from his band Manraze (which we’ll post soon), Collen treated us to a special rendition of the title track to Def Leppard’s multimillion-selling 1987 album ‘Hysteria, which you can watch right here.

Collen touched on a number of topics during our interview, including the aforementioned tour with Poison, the upcoming movie ‘Rock of Ages,’ the possibility of a new Def Leppard album and much more. Check out our interview with Phil Collen:

Def Leppard just confirmed a summer tour with Poison; please tell us a little bit of what fans can expect from the tour and about the band’s relationship with Poison.

We toured with them a couple of years ago and we’ve obviously known them since the ’80s. When you’re a band that’s successful and there’s other bands in your genre, at some point you’re going to bump into them one time or another. So we’ve known those guys for years, they’re great and we get on well with them. I actually just played guitar on Bret Michaels’ solo record, I just did guitar solos and backing vocals and some rhythm guitars. I really admire Bret. I think he’s fantastic and [I respect] how much energy he puts into it. A lot of people give him a hard time, but he works his ass off. We don’t know who the third act [of the tour] is yet, [but] we are going to take a third act out.

We got this movie ‘Rock of Ages’  — it’s being released with Tom Cruise — we’d like it if the third act was kind of featured in that movie, so it’d be like three bands with all these songs that are going to be played all over the place on this movie on tour. We haven’t gotten any dates per say but it’s probably going to start around mid May and then going into the summer I think we’re going to be touring somewhere else. We only just got off the road like two months ago; we had just played London, we had Motley Crue and Steel Panther with us, which was fantastic.

You mentioned ‘Rock of Ages.’ I hear you were on set the day that Tom Cruise filmed the ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ scene; what was that experience like?

We were on tour and we were in Florida and they were interviewing us and they were like, “Oh they’re just filming down the road, if you want to come down.” So we said yes and we went down and we met Tom Cruise, he was great and ironically they were filming that part, he said he felt a little bit nervous that the guys that did this song he was singing. We were really impressed because he actually sung all the lead vocals, the backing vocals… he’d never really sung before that project so he just worked his ass off and got into shape and learned how to sing and everything and he nailed it. It was pretty cool and it was great seeing that; it was very surreal actually seeing Tom Cruise being the lead singer of a band doing one of our songs. It was kind of weird.

Did you ever see the Broadway production in New York?

I did, yeah, I liked it. I thought it could of gone a lot of different ways but it was catchy, it was campy, it was really fun and the story’s great. It’s really cool and the music is kind of secondary because you could’ve had any decade with that but it kind of makes fun of it a little bit without getting too viscous with it, so I loved it. I think you can’t really go wrong with the Broadway thing, we were actually talking about the ‘Spider-Man’ thing, when it came out everyone was like, “Oh my God this is terrible,” and they obviously fixed everything and now people are really digging it.

You mentioned Motley Crue earlier; they just wrapped up their Vegas residency and I was wondering if that was something Def Leppard would ever consider?

We’ve been talking about this for 10 years, me and [Def Leppard singer] Joe Elliot, more than anyone else. We [would] do [whole albums like] ‘Hysteria’ or we do ‘Pyromania’ one night and something like that would be great, but we’ve just talked about it. Obviously we haven’t got it into gear, it would be cool. It’s getting the time to do it in a venue; I think that’s brilliant Motley Crue doing it. The Joint in Vegas, it’s perfect for that kind of set up. A lot of people play there, but it would be really cool doing a residency and just doing it in one town for a little while. It’s wonderful being on tour and traveling and everything but it would be really cool if you could set up there, perhaps do some recording, do some new songs, it’s always been a bit of a dream.

You released the live disc ‘Mirrorball’ last year but it’s been four years since the last proper studio album. I just wanted to know if there is any plan in place for another Def Leppard album?

No, there’s not and I’ll tell you why: We actually did three new songs, three studio songs for ‘Mirrorball,’ which was great. I really believe in this day and age unless you’re going to do an album like [Manraze's] ‘PunkFunkRootsRock’ which we did in less than two weeks; I don’t think there’s much point in doing an album because it’s such a quick turnaround, you have a song and then it’s gone. For us to do an album, it’d take at least eight months unless we were doing it on tour.

What I think is going to happen — I’ve already started writing some of the songs — [is that] we release two or three at a time or something like that it’s kind of more like an EP or something attached to another project but a full blown album would just take us away for too long and by the rate everything is going by the time we finish the album and we go “okay here it is,” there’s no more recording industry left. I think you have to be careful with it, we’ve got some great ideas, I’ve got this killer song that’s totally Def Leppard, it’s not totally finished yet but I’m looking forward to getting that on the go as well. I think we’ll be doing it in dribs and drabs. I think there will be an album that comes out of something while we’ve been recording three songs at a time or all at once. That’ll be a bit later. I think for the very near future it’d be one or two songs attached to something else.

What is it about Def Leppard’s music that has allowed the band to be so massively popular for 30 years now?

I think it was a hybrid and honestly [producer] Mutt Lange has to take a lot of credit for this because he took a really good rock band and said, “Okay I’m going to blend it with pop,” and he’s famous at that. He’d done it with Shania Twain. I think he took country to the masses because before that it was Patsy Cline, it was Nashville, it didn’t really cross over — you hear of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash but he broke it over in a big way, and that’s what he did with us. Same thing with AC/DC, they were kind of a pub, R&B boogie band, old R&B, I’m talking about like blues and that, and he just broke it into a massive domain and he certainly did that with us.

With us, it was a bigger area to play with because we were big fans of Queen, but we liked the AC/DC vibe and we grew up on the [Sex] Pistols and the Clash, so you had this vocal style that didn’t sound like Styx, Journey, REO, where it’s all sweet sounding vocals, we would actually scream their vocals out more like British bands like the Clash or the Pistols, in tune, so it was the perfect hybrid. So I think that, coupled with (the fact that) we spent so long on getting these songs together, that all the substance went into recording these albums that actually stand up — and then the whole pole dance anthem of course didn’t hurt — but it was actually what we put into it that allowed us to last so long.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for the second half of our Phil Collen interview, in which he gives us the scoop on his other band, Manraze. And see his thoughts on the death of pop superstar Whitney Houston here.

Watch Phil Collen Perform ‘Hysteria’ at the Ultimate Classic Rock Offices

Part Two: Phil Collen Discusses Manraze

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