Joe Elliott’s Down ‘n’ Outz Move Past Mott With Third LP
Last year at this time, Joe Elliott was on the other side of a busy year with Def Leppard.
The band had shared the stage with Journey for a tour that jumped between arenas and stadiums, ultimately selling more than a million tickets before the run was finished. And that was just one part of their 2018 tour schedule, which also took them overseas for additional dates on the heels of the trek with Journey.
“I’ve been promoting this thing since at least Journey, so it will be a full year of talking the walk and then performing it," he said at that time. "So I’m going to want a bit of time with the kids and the wife and the mom and my friends and my record collection and my two cats and my bike. It’s funny, every time I get home off of tour, all of my equipment is out of date. I have to redo everything. It’s like, why do I even bother? I now see why people still have record players from the ‘70s, because they just couldn’t be bothered to keep updated.”
Also in Elliott's sights was wrapping up work on the third album from his side project Down ‘n’ Outz. After several years working on songs, he could see the finish line. When the band started, it amplified the work of Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter’s related projects to a larger audience. Their initial gigs included a show supporting Mott the Hoople at Hunter’s request; they eventually carried the celebratory feeling into the studio, recording two albums of favorites from Mott's catalog that were released in 2010 and 2014.
Listen to Down 'n' Outz's 'This Is How We Roll'
For Down 'n' Outz's third album, Elliott wanted to level up and record some original material. Based on their previous area of focus, it could have been an epic task, but the frontman removed a lot of pressure right away by not writing songs that sounded like Mott the Hoople, though some of the earlier band's DNA naturally emerged.
“I wrote nine songs at the piano, and I wrote two on guitar and the two on guitar," he noted last year. "They’re just more rockers. The other ones are rocky, but they’re rocky in the sense of, like, uptempo Elton John or uptempo Mott or Queen or anybody that has a piano in their band.
"It’s more of a ‘70s thing than a specific band. It’s certainly a rock record. It’s all drums, bass, loads of guitars, but it’s got piano. So writing on the piano gives you different scopes and different challenges than just writing on the guitar. That’s why these songs are nothing that I would have ever presented to Def Leppard, because they weren’t written with them in mind. So yes, it will sound like me, but it won’t sound like Def Leppard underneath me.”
Listen to Down 'n' Outz's 'Another Man's War'
Listening to that new album, This Is How We Roll, it’s easy to hear what Elliott means. It's a record where he puts his love of glam and ‘70s rock epics on prominent display. It sounds big and analog from the moment the opening track, “Another Man’s War,” comes storming out. As the closing moments of the song fade, the band grabs hold of the moment, with guitars kicking in on the title track and offering a sound that’s reminiscent, instrumentally at least, of some of AC/DC's musical interplay from the end of that decade. It's almost brotherly in tone.
Which makes sense, considering the bond Elliott has forged with Down ‘n’ Outz's other members -- guitarists Paul Guerin and Guy Griffin and keyboardist Keith Weir, all from the Quireboys, plus ex-Vixen bassist Share Ross and drummer Phil Martini of Wayward Sons -- over the past decade. The long-running relationship played into the songwriting process.
“I kind of wrote it for them -- for us,” Elliott tells UCR now. “I wanted to put holes in the songs that showed off Paul Guerin’s ability as a lead guitarist, which I think we got to get across on most of those songs. Keith Weir is a fantastic honky-tonk piano player, so he brings that Jerry Lee Lewis thing to it.”
Listen to Down 'n' Outz's 'Goodnight Mr. Jones'
Like so many great albums from the era, This Is How We Roll takes listeners on a journey; it was carefully considered and constructed to deliver just that experience, says Elliott. “To put together the album in the running order that we did, that’s me also taking note of the way that [Pete] Townshend did things like Tommy and Quadrophenia," he notes. "It’s really telling a story, from the first note to the last note."
The cover of the Tubes' fan favorite “White Punks on Dope” that shows up at the end was also strategic. “We’ve proven the fact that we’ve written this record, if you have to prove anything to anybody," Elliott says. "We’ve showcased the fact that I’ve written these songs for this band, and now this is the encore. We’re coming out and we’re going to just do this kick-ass version of “White Punks on Dope." It's not like, well, 'They’re relying on covers again.' We’re not. We did that one totally for a gas.”
He also says that song is significant. ”That particular bit just hints at the fact that the band started out as a covers record, but it also shows us moving on, because it’s not a cover of a Mott song,” Elliott explains. “Any relationship to Mott the Hoople on this particular album is literally anything that anybody hears and goes, ‘Yeah,I can hear what he’s doing -- that sounds a bit like something from Brain Capers or that sounds like "England Rocks."' But I think they’re equally as likely to say, ‘Well, that sounds a bit like Queen. That sounds like Sparks. That sounds like David Bowie. That sounds like Bruce Springsteen [or] Leon Russell.’ Anything that’s got a piano in it, it’s going to have that leakage comparison a little bit -- and I’m happy with that. Because that’s what it was set out to be.”
In short, This Is How We Roll is a musical melting pot that offers a welcome flashback for those who own the same albums that populate Elliott’s record collection. And if you don't, the record helps to punch the ticket and unlock the layers on a new journey of old sounds waiting to be discovered and explored.
With any luck, the group will get a chance to play some live dates in support of the album. As Elliott notes, they’re all at the mercy of “everybody’s motherships” since Down 'n' Outz's members have other commitments that keep the band relegated to a true side-project status. For the moment, he’s thrilled with how the record came out. “Everybody’s hearts and fingers were in the right places," he says, "so that it sounds exactly the way I wanted it to.”