By R.A. Dion

Joe Elliott is a cool dude. I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you he’s “just a regular guy” because he’s not – he is, after all, a mega-rock star many times over. But talking to him about music is easy, and fun – as I found out recently when I had the good fortune of being able to ask him as many questions as I could cram into a thirty-minute interview. I spoke to him about everything from his band’s latest album “X” to whether or not he secretly listens to Slayer, and he pretty much tackled everything I threw at him. Now don’t tell Joe this, but, going into our chat I was really keyed up, and I damn near puked. I mean… this wasn’t some ho-hum so-and-so that allegedly used to be in the Allman Brothers, this was Joe freaking Elliott, lead singer for Def Leppard! “Photograph”? “Pour Some Sugar On Me”? How many hit songs did they write? A billion? YIKES! So yeah, my stomach was jumping around like microwave popcorn as the day wore on and the fateful hour approached – but despite my worst fears (Joe scowls a lot in almost all of his pictures), Mr. Elliott was very gracious and loquacious – and in a very good mood! So after tripping all over myself trying to come across as Joe Cool Interviewer, I settled down and started firing off some damn fine questions, if I do say so myself, and he responded in kind with some damn fine answers.

R. A. Dion - “Duh…. uh…. duh…”

Joe Elliott - “Very cool!”

R. A. - “Ah… ubba dubba (whew!) mmmbah dubbah doobah?”

Joe - “Good point! It started out being called “Ten”, but we didn’t want to use the letters ‘t-e-n’ anywhere on it, we wanted to use the Roman numeral. And we got all this clever artwork with Roman numerals and then we scratched it for just this ‘splish-splosh’ kid of cross, and then it just looked more like ‘X’ (the letter, not the numeral). So, we really don’t mind what anybody calls it anymore, there’s three in the band that think it’s called ‘X’ and two that think it’s called ‘Ten’, and it goes down quite humorously with the audience when we’re actually arguing about it onstage!”

(Ok, I told you I settled down after a bit and here it is - my first intelligible question for Joe Elliott!)

R. A. – “Uh… umm… it t-took about a year for “X” to be written and recorded – was it a blast, or was it a long year?”

Joe – “It wasn’t really a long year because it wasn’t all in one go, it was like (it took place) over a year. You know, we started recording in July, and we finished about the first week in April. So, you’re talking about nine months to record, and, we were writing while we were recording. We only went in the studio with about six songs to start off and we wrote the rest as we went along. But it was a blast, because we had three different producers working on this record, we did it in three different studios; and when we recorded at my place we were recording in two studios, so we were getting two things done at once rather than waiting around. And that made a big difference.”

R. A. – “Did any of the stuff that you recorded in your home studio make it to the album?”

Joe – “Yeah everything! Nine tracks on the album were recorded at my house. Everything on the album vocally was done at my studio… all the backing tracks for the Marti Frederickson productions were done in L.A. and the backing track for the Andreas Carlsson / Per Aldeheim song was done in Stockholm but, other than that everything was done in Dublin.”

R. A. – “You must have one hell of a studio!”

Joe – “Yes, its pretty good – I mean, we did “Adrenalize” there, so we’ve been using that studio since ’89.”

R. A. – “You've worked with a bunch of different songwriters on this album. How does a band like Def Leppard go about doing this? Did you set up the whole band and jam with them, or just work on the lyrics and melodies and stuff and then ‘Def Leppardize’ it later on?”

Joe – “It was just Marti and Phil starting off, and everybody else joining in. So, it was exactly the same principal that we’d work with if you’d write with anybody; it’s just two people, three people, four people sat in a room with, you know, a drum box maybe, and two or three acoustic guitars, a pen and paper, and a little mini tape recorder to just record everything so you don’t forget it. That’s the way that we’ve always worked when we worked with Mutt Lange, it’s the way that we work when we work on our own – it’s exactly the same principal. All it is when you work with somebody else, it’s just… it’s a different opinion to what’s normally there. If me and Phil sit down and write a song with Marti Frederickson, he throws something into the mix that we don’t normally deal with. So it’s, you know, bringing in a new, fresh kind of approach, and that’s what we wanted do with this record, liven it all up a little.”

R. A. – “Well all the songs are like, ‘radio ready’, I think you’re going to have a lot of hits off of this one…”

Joe - “There’s a lot of songs there that are potential hit singles. We’ve spent a lot of our career since “Hysteria” trying to avoid this ‘hit single’ thing by thinking we needed, you know, more album tracks and we shouldn’t repeat ourselves. And with this one we didn’t think, we just let it happen. There was no agenda; it wasn’t like “we can’t do this”. There was nothing that we couldn’t do, which is why we’re doing things that people are questioning, like outside songwriters, three producers, um… three ballads on one album, that kind of thing. It’s like, if the song’s valid and we like it, we really don’t care what anybody else thinks, because we weren’t trying to impress anybody except the five of ourselves, you know. All we wanted to do was make a record that we could all stand by and feel good about in years to come, not pretend that we like it now and then on the next album say, “Oh well, we didn’t really like it, but we had no option but to say yes” – I mean, we stand by it totally because, it was exactly how we intended it to be. We discussed before we started this record, what we wanted to do – and it came out exactly the way we thought. You know; multiple producers, all types of different stuff – stuff that will please “High and Dry” fans, stuff that will please “Pyromania” fans. And stuff that will please everybody that wants to hear a new kind of Leppard; things like “Gravity” and “Torn To Shreds” which are a little more, experimental, I suppose is the word, yet not as diverse as “Slang” (1996) was.”

“It keeps everybody a little bit more… I don’t know… it keeps us fresh, and if we feel fresh, our audience is going to feel – I imagine hopefully more with us. Because, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t when you change direction. It’s amazing, you know; we’ve all been doing hundreds of interviews, and everybody’s got a different favorite. There’s not like – it’s not an album where there’s the one obvious track and then eleven fillers. I’ve had people telling me that the most obscure thing on the record is their favorite song! And, you know, it’s really encouraging to hear; you say it’s “Now” and somebody else will say it’s “Four Letter Word” and somebody else will say it’s “Unbelievable” and somebody else will say it’s “Love Don’t Lie”. So, it’s encouraging that there’s depth and scope on there. I think “Now” is probably one of the most important songs we’ve recorded since… it has that vibe of like… the best quote I’ve heard - from a friend of mine - he says: “You know what I like about that track? It sounds like you, but then it doesn’t.” I can see what he means, because it has a ‘Def Leppardness’ about it, but it has no reference point to anything in our back catalogue. You know, there are certain songs you say, “oh, that sounds a bit like “Hysteria” or, “that sounds a bit like “High ‘n’ Dry”. “Now” doesn’t sound like anything we’ve ever done yet it’s still got our stamp on it, which is, you know, basically the fact that we don’t just piss songs off in three minutes.”

R. A. – “Do you have a favorite song on the album?”

Joe – “At the moment, “Every Day”. But it changes; it’s a lot like picking your favorite child. I haven’t actually played the album in about five weeks, so I need to listen to it again to see if I’ve got another favorite this week, you know. But we’ve been talking about it so much that I haven’t really had the time to sit and listen to it. I hear it in the background when we’re doing, you know, sessions and radio stuff and they play the odd track, and it’s there and everybody’s talking over it. But I haven’t actually sat down and listened to the record since the final pressing got reviewed and accepted. Once it’s done it’s done, you know, and it’s time to move on to the next project, which is basically advertising it – doing the press and doing the radio shows and all that kind of stuff. And then hopefully the – well, the tour starts in November, God willing, and then we’ll move on to stage three of the album. But… “Everyday”, I just think is really cool, it’s just got all the melodious parts of rock that I like. It’s got great melody, it builds really well, and it’s not over-pompous, it’s not overly big production wise – it’s a clever production rather than a big production. And, it kind of reminds me of like Cheap Trick, Beatles kind of pop, you know. I like it a lot.”

R. A. – “Yeah, it’s still got that “Def Leppard” sound too, though.”

Joe – “Well yeah. I mean, I’m not saying it’s a rip of anybody, but it’s just like the same kind of melody treatment that those guys always worked on, you know and… we can’t be System Of A Down, it’s not our style. There has to be melody when we do things, and that song, it was just born to be melodic.”

R. A. – Do you know if you guys will be playing any more New England dates around this area?”

Joe – “Well yeah, when the tour starts, absolutely. We start, I think, on the West Coast about November – no, sorry – December. And then once you’re in the States, you know, you’re there for three or four months. And then we’ll be coming back in the summer as well so, chances are we’ll be doing the sheds. You know, it all depends on how the record does. Obviously, we want to play everywhere, that’s our whole thing, you know, we really do. So we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in December.”

R. A. – “Can fans look forward to seeing you play the acoustic guitar parts for “Now” on this tour, or will Vivian or Phil actually do that?”

Joe – “Yeah, that’s my – that, and “Two Steps Behind” are the two times that they allow me to play the guitar (laughs).” “I play enough to be able to play that, yeah. I’m not – I wouldn’t say I’m a virtuoso but I can play enough, I mean, they actually encourage me to. You know, I’ve never attempted to play lead, but I don’t care to really.”

R. A. – “In the video for “Now” – it has a neat concept with a twist at the end, since everything really does end up on eBay these days… Do you ever check out Def Leppard items on eBay?”

Joe – “I have people occasionally say, “Go to this” and I will click, you know, and it will be something ridiculously expensive that used to belong to one of us. Or sometimes, fake photos – or photos with fake autographs on them. And you say, “That’s not my autograph! I’m sure every artist goes through the same thing, you know; eBay - it’s a godsend as much as it is a curse. It’s great if you’re looking for something, but there’s no guarantee it’s real.”

R. A. – (changing tack) “Vivian Campbell… got his big break in the ‘80’s, shredding his brains out on a couple of classic Dio albums. How well has he fit into Def Leppard’s style? Did you have to, you know, rein him in a little bit at first, and where can we hear him playing on the new album?

Joe – “Well, the thing is, when you’re a two guitar band you do take a certain identity away from any one guitarist. We’re lucky that with Vivian and Phil, that both wanted to be in a two-guitar band, and they both like the idea of having rhythm behind the lead. Vivian’s the more bluesy player and Phil’s more the shredder, nowadays. Everything is split fifty-fifty, all the rhythm parts are played by the both of them, so it’d be hard to tell them apart. You know, ‘cause rhythm is rhythm. The solos, we marked them up on the last album, with an English rose and an Irish clover. But we didn’t do it on this one because, you know, nobody really went, “Oh wow, what a great idea, now we can tell who’s playing what”, so we didn’t do it. And also, in fairness, there’s only four songs with solos on this album. It’s a much more song-based record than it is about ego or, you know, “I’ve got to get a solo in because I’m a guitarist”. They – luckily neither of them are like that! So, it’s never a problem.”

R. A. – “How about you? Can you still hit the high notes on “Photograph?”

Joe – “Yeah, I can still hit the high notes! But it – it kind of goes out of vogue, it’s like… in the ‘80’s it was cool to be Rob Halford, and even in the Seventies when Robert Plant was doing it. But, there comes a point where it’s not even singing anymore, it’s just like who can get the highest, it becomes like ‘vocal Olympics’. And I’m really not interested in that. It’s like, I go high on “Scar” and “Cry” when I have to, but on the new album, it’s more concentrated on the singing, which I really kind of enforced on everybody back on the “Hysteria” album; that I really wanted to be able to express other ends of my voice, like I did on “Animal” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, which are not high, but they’re good. I always saw a validity in what Jagger does, you know.”

R. A. – “Jagger?”

Joe – “Yeah, ‘cause he doesn’t sing high!”

R. A. – “No!” (laughs)

Joe – “He’s gonna go down on page three of the Ultimate Rock/Pop Magazine, you know!”

R. A. – “Alright, I know you’ve done a little acting, is this something you’d like to try more of some time down the road?”

Joe – “I never say no to anything. But I’ve got no immediate plans; I’ve not been offered anything. I mean, I was offered that (a guest spot on the Dark Realm TV series – the Lep vocalist plays the ghost of a rock star), and I thought it would be a bit of a giggle to do it. And we had some down time, so it didn’t take – you know… and it was right next door to where I live where it was shot so… it was all very convenient, and I just felt comfortable doing it. But I’m not bending over backwards looking for an agent!”

R. A. – “This summer, you guys played a free show in a parking lot, at a Wal Mart store grand opening. Was that fun, or was that a pain in the ass for you?”

Joe – “Yeah, it was great. Eleven thousand people - caused the town to close the road down for five miles. It was great; it was loud, they were into it, it was – you know, we also played the Mall Of America, as well, which was novel. You know, it’s like a huge place to play indoors. We opened up in a mall in Texas on our last tour as well. Just - on the day the album came out, we were just launching it. And then we did an autograph session as well. It was all tied in together with promo.”

R. A. - “I think you only played one or two new songs from “X” on those shows, what other new songs are you going to be playing on the tour, do you know yet?”

Joe – “We’ll probably do about five. We don’t want to overdo it, you know - there’s nothing worse than going to see the Rolling Stones and hearing nine new songs. You’ve gotta nurse them in, if you play one every twenty-five minutes I think you’re ok. But we’re going to mix the set around a bit this time… we’re gonna pull some more old stuff out that we’ve not played for awhile. But I can’t tell you what because for a start, I don’t want to give it away, and, I honestly don’t know yet.”

R. A. – “What are some of the bands you listen to, when you’re racing around the English countryside in your flashy sports car?”

Joe – (chuckles) “Well, for a start, I live in Ireland, so that doesn’t happen…”

R. A. – (laughs at own stupidity)

Joe – “And I’ve got a Jeep, so that doesn’t happen either! But um… what I’d normally listen to? I don’t have the radio on. But if I’m listening to stuff… there’s only two kinds of music as far as I’m concerned: good and bad. So, I can be listening to anything from Linkin Park to Tom Waits. I’m listening to a CD by a Scandinavian group that Per Aldeheim and Andreas Carlsson were involved in, called Lambretta. And they’re like a cross between Garbage and No Doubt – they’ve got a female singer but they’ve got tuned-down guitars, and it really rocks, but it’s very commercial… and it’s fantastic.”

R. A. – “That sounds really cool.”

Joe – “It’s not got an international release yet, I think it’s only out in Scandinavia, but it’s really good. And I’m playing that a lot at the moment. The new Springsteen album I think is stunning. Um… the two Tom Waits albums that came out about three months ago are really good; “Blood Money” and “Alice” are great.”

R. A. – “Do you ever listen to, like, real heavy stuff like Slayer or old Black Sabbath or anything like that?”

Joe – “No – old Sabbath I can listen to, but um, no… I was never into Slayer or Manowar or anything like that. I was always much more into melody. You know, if I was going to listen to rock, I’d listen to Cheap Trick, Zeppelin… um… like (Thin) Lizzy and UFO. I have a soft spot for the “Destroyer” album by Kiss. But mostly, I listen to the older stuff if I’m listening to rock because – I mean, I like the first Pearl Jam record, it’s great, but they got worse and worse with every album they put out. “Nevermind” is a great record; certain areas of grunge are great, even Alice In Chains had their moments. But it was just so depressing… that, once the world cheers up the stuff sounds more depressing than it really is. So, it’s hard to listen to. It doesn’t have the longevity of a Lynyrd Skynyrd as far as I’m concerned.”

R. A. – “Hmm! Yeah, I kinda liked Soundgarden, but that was about it for grunge.”

Joe – “Yeah, “Superunknown” was a brilliant record, we were listening to that a lot when we were doing “Slang”. We were talking about copying it!”

R. A. – (laughs) “What about a live album, is that a possibility down the road?”

Joe – “No - what I always say is like, put the DVD on or the video, and just don’t turn the telly on. Put it through your stereo and you’ve got the classic Def Leppard lineup, or what people consider the classic lineup, with Steve (Clark, who died in 1991). We may do it one day, because we’ve been putting it off and off and off… because most people put out live albums to give themselves more breathing space for a record, but we always take like three years, four or five years between albums anyway, so we don’t need to do it for that reason. But, I’d rather work on new songs than be listening to the millions of versions of old stuff. I mean, we’ve got loads of stuff, we could put a live album out any time we like, you know, we’ve archived every tour we’ve ever done.”

R. A. – “I saw you guys, back in… I think it was 1981. You opened for Ozzy at the Ocean State Theater in Providence. You guys kicked ass, and it was – it’s nice you see you still kicking ass… I want to thank you for talking with Sound Waves, and for giving me the scoop of the year over our other writers…”

Joe – “It’s been my pleasure! I look forward to seeing the magazine…”

(At this point it all came unraveled for me, as in a great rush of relief that I was ‘outta there’, as we say in the interviewer business, I inexplicably told Joe Elliott that I ‘loved’ him… and he just as inexplicably returned the sentiment! Hey, I think it was supposed to be more of a “Hollywood” kind of thing than a gay thing, but I spent the next several days getting royally roasted for it by my wife and daughter, so I have sort of edited that part out of this transcript… Anyway, hope you enjoyed the interview!)