Rick Allen Of Def Leppard Talks About Band’s First-Ever Live Album ‘Mirror Ball,’ Past Music Video Regrets
As we prepared to talk to Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, we were once again surprised to realize that the British hard rock veterans had never released a standalone live album in their 30 years together. The band are now rectifying that with ‘Mirrorball – Live & More,’ a three disc package that includes two CDs of live material, plus a DVD of additional live and bonus material.
The album is proof that Def Leppard is still vital on stage, and nicely balances both the expected hits with a few fan favorite nuggets to spice up the track listing. The band hits the road for a summer tour that will include U.S. dates with Heart. Read on and you’ll see Allen had plenty to tell Ultimate Classic Rock about the release of ‘Mirrorball’ and other happenings in the Leppard world.
A lot of people seem surprised that it took this long for you to release a standalone live album. What was the impetus to release one now?
Well, I’ve heard a few suspect recordings, bootlegs of the like and this was really the first opportunity we got where we actually went out and we recorded pretty much every show and it was kind of a no-brainer. The nice thing was that instead of it being a specific date we were recording, because we recorded every show, you kind of forgot about the fact that we were recording. So the versions that we did were very natural, and to my mind, it conjures up the Def Leppard experience better than anything else I’ve ever heard. This was the first opportunity we got to really put the effort into making it sound and look fantastic.
How has your playing developed over the years, specifically, what’s different now with your gear and your playing compared to the ‘Hysteria’ years?
[it's] a little more deliberate. My left leg is not as accurate as my left hand but over the years the learning curve has pushed me in a direction that is really cool. I think these days, what I’ve really emphasized is celebrating my uniqueness and the fact that I can do things that other people can’t necessarily do. Obviously that works both ways, but I’m really happy with what I do and with how I play. It’s different than how I used to play, but different is good.
Lindsey Buckingham recently spoke about the classic rock audience and their disdain for hearing new material in concert, but said that Fleetwood Mac would continue to tour and record. Def Leppard also continues to make new music, with three new tracks on this live album previewing an upcoming studio release. What is it that keeps the band interested in creating new music?
Because we’re music fans! I think whenever we’re music fans, we’re always going to push the envelope and come up with new material, and that’s the thing that keeps it fresh. It keeps us wanting to go out there and play live. If we were just relying on all of the classic [hits], it would get kind of boring. But the fact that we can throw in new songs, it really keeps the whole thing fresh.
Looking at ‘Undefeated’ and the rest of the new material on this album, what was the creative process like this time around and were there any specific things or inspirations that fed into the material that you ended up recording?
The themes are really positive, that’s the one thing that really stands out. ‘Undefeated’ in particular really reminded me of either recording ‘Sugar’ or the jungle drums we did on ‘Rocket.’ To me in particular, that song is really exciting. I think the other thing is that it’s okay for us to be inspired by songs that we’ve done in the past and I think that’s one of the things that people are going to realize that it’s unmistakably Def Leppard.
The last album found Def Leppard branching out to collaborate with Tim McGraw. Are there any similar collaborations planned for the upcoming album or perhaps people that you’d like to collaborate with?
Not as of yet, but these things they kind of turn on a dime — it could be a chance meeting, that’s basically how ‘Nine Lives’ came about with Tim. My brother was working with Tim, he came to see us at the Hollywood Bowl. Within a few weeks, somebody came up with an idea… and that was it.
In addition to this new live album, there’s also an official photo book coming out soon. How involved was the band with the assembly of that and what were some of the images in the book that really stuck out to you?
We were very much involved with that. All of the images were chosen by us and any of the quotes that were done were all done by us. I think the time period that really sticks out for me, was [playing] Donington [in 1986]. That was a pivotal moment, it was a crossroads in my career, going from playing drums with two arms and then all of the sudden being thrown into this situation where I had to make the whole thing work with one. I think Donington really gave me the confidence to move forward, to this day.
With the 30th anniversary of MTV approaching, I’ve been looking at a bunch of videos, and Def Leppard was definitely doing some of the more engaging videos during the time period, particularly with ‘Photograph.’
The video is unbelievable, just really funny. From blowing Joe’s crotch up [in the video for 'Photograph']….I mean it was all [happening] in that same time period. Working with [video director] David Mallet, some of the things he asked us to do were pretty out there. Looking back at the videos now, we probably wouldn’t have done a lot of the things that we did, but at the time they were really funny.
Watch the video for ‘Photograph’