Phil Collen Looks Back at 40 Years With Def Leppard
Forty years is the ruby anniversary – and Phil Collen is certainly looking at his with Def Leppard through understandably rose-colored glasses.
"It just flies by, you know," says Collen, who's in the midst of rehearsals for Def Leppard's Stadium Tour with Motley Crue, Poison and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. "It's like when someone asks me, 'What's it like being 64?' In my case, it feels great. I know more than I did the day before, and I behave accordingly.
"We kind of take that approach with the band," Collen adds. "I honestly think so many artists in bands don't reach their full potential 'cause they actually give up before that happens. I think with all the experience and everything we've had in 40-odd years, if you can apply that moving forward then you're way ahead of the game than anyone else 'cause they never get to reach that magical period. For us, and for me, it's onwards and upwards, constantly."
Collen's tenure with Def Leppard could have come even earlier. He was with the band Girl at the time, and well acquainted with Def Leppard before joining was even broached. "They were friends," Collen tells UCR. "They're from Sheffield; I'm from London. They'd sleep on my mum's couch and on the floor and she'd make breakfast for everyone. I'd stay at Joe [Elliot]'s house up [in Sheffield]. So we were friends, we were buddies beforehand."
During Def Leppard's 1981 tour supporting its second album High 'n' Dry, however, Elliott told Collen that Pete Willis "was going through some things early on. He said, 'Can you come out and do some of this Ozzy [Osbourne] tour with us?' I said, 'Yeah, sure,' and he said, 'Learn these 16 songs.'"
Ultimately, however, "it got smoothed out and everything was OK again." But the following year, as the band was working on Pyromania, Collen received another call from Elliott. "He said, 'Yeah, it's not going great with Pete. Can you come down and play some solos on the record?'" Collen recalls.
He still has detailed memories about the first song he played, "Stagefright." "Mutt [Lange] said, 'Here's a cassette of the song. Figure out a solo and come in.' I came in, plugged my Ibanez Destroyer into my 50-watt [amplifier] head and did that and everyone was like 'Whoa!' It's a really cool solo, actually. It turned out great. So that was it — 'Stagefright' and from there it was like, 'Let's attack 'Photograph' and solo on that,' and then 'Rock of Ages.'" Before long, Collen found himself doing more than just providing guitar solos, too.
Listen to Def Leppard's 'Stagefright'
"It was like, 'You can sing; sing on this. Play some power chords here,' all the fun stuff, lead runs and licks and all of that — and obviously the vocals, which is a big part of our thing," Collen says. "I was part of the whole thing." His personal and musical rapport with Steve Clark, meanwhile, led the two to be dubbed the Terror Twins. When the band decided to fire Willis for good, Collen was in place, not only the right but the only man for the job. "We just rolled from there and haven't stopped," he says.
He's now been part of 11 studio albums with Def Leppard, in addition to live sets, the Adrenalized: Life, Def Leppard and Beyond memoir, and side bands such as Delta Deep and Man Raze. It is, of course, a rosy time for Def Leppard, with the new Diamond Star Halos album and a tour that kicks off June 16 in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Collen says the band is still inspired by the virtual recording process for Diamond Star Halos, and with four additional songs in its pocket already, a new album in comparatively short order may not be out of the question.
"We finished one of those but didn't have enough time to record it, so we've definitely got a starting point," Collen says. "I did all my guitars and all of my vocals [for Diamond Star Halos] on this laptop I'm talking to you on. This is my companion; it follows me everywhere. That kind of inspires you in a lot of different ways to be able to take your studio with you and be able to do something anywhere you go. It just makes it easy. So I think there's going to be a lot of writing on tour this time and a lot of music around when we're ready to [record again]."
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