Def Leppard's JOE ELLIOTT

Alan Moore

reprinted courtesy of HIT PARADER

Climbing New Heights
British bashers break all records as Hysteria smashes ten million sales barrier.

There's just no stopping Def Leppard. Their Hysteria LP is still on top of the charts more than a year after it's release; their compilation video Historia has defended the #1 spot on the music video sales charts for better than three months; and now the Def Leppard Live video is here, promising more of the same energized, inventive rock and roll.

To true-blue fans, a home video release from Def Leppard is as exciting as a new LP. Some might even argue that the band owes the lion's share of their fortune to the rock video craze of '83. In truth these Sheffield, England, metalheads had only acheived moderate success both here and home until MTV began playing their video clips. To date, no band has ever had so many "most requested" videos on MTV.

Despite gargantuan 1983 Pyromania tour--which established Def Leppard as a hard-partying bunch of young Brits without a care--their next four-and-a-half years could easily be inscribed in the annuals of rockdom as among the hardest period any band ever endured. First there was drummer Rick Allen's tragic car accident on New Year's Eve 1984, which cost him his left arm. Then followed a deludge of lesser problems for the band. But what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. And as anybody who has listened to Hysteria or seen Def Leppard recently can tell you, it looks like the group never missed a beat.

"The older we get, the better the band appears," says Elliott of his onstage presence. "I don't mean that we're necessarily better looking, but the appearance is better-more experienced. It's a bit like Mick Jagger, who I think looks better now than he did 20 years ago.

Def Leppard avoided a home video release in the past, says Elliott, because they never felt there was adequate material. "Some of the home videos out there are just seventeen minutes long, which I think is really bogus," he notes. The new Def Leppard Live video will be at least an hour long, and more likely than not will run ninety minutes, like Historia.

Meth: Why did you start off Historia with "Hello America"? It doesn't seem to fit with the other, more-polished clips on the tape.

Joe Elliott: We did "Hello America" on "Top Of The Pops" in Britain and it never got broadcast due to an extended scientific program called "Tomorrow's World." They extended that show by twenty minutes and then cut twenty minutes off "Top Of The Pops." We were the new band, so we were the ones who got cut out. The clip sat on the shelf for the next seven years. It's a really embarrassing clip, but never being a band to shy away from a situation we thought, "Fuck it, let's put it on." It kind of puts everything into perspective, really. We didn't want to just glorify Def Leppard by including only the good videos.

Meth: What do you see when you watch the video?

Elliott: Well, I see me getting thinner (laughs) and I see me getting rid of my stupid curly hair-which all of a sudden becomes blond.

Meth: Well, you know what Richard Nixon said: "There's just no hiding a bad haircut."

Elliott: Right!

Meth: The band's evolution over only four albums--especially with the arrival of Hysteria--has been extraordinary. How would you characterize that growth pattern?

Elliott: If you play the four albums back to back, you can definitely hear a progression. On the first album, On Through The Night, you hear the ideas executed very badly. On the second album, High N' Dry, you hear us getting a lot heavier but the album is very tightly recorded. The third album, Pyromania, is where we came into our own--we had the ideas, the harmonies and the arrangements of the first album, plus tightness of the third album. With Hysteria, we took it one step further.

Meth: Was there a certain musical or visual concept that the band had in mind when you first started out?

Elliott: Just to be a rock band. It's like, I don't want to work in a factory all my life. We didn't really have a musical direction as such when we first got started and I think you can hear that in the first album. It's kind of all over the place influence-wise. But now we've got a sound. The only concept we have, really, is to keep improving on that sound. We never set out with a goal in mind as to how we'd turn at the end of a day. We just follow our noses. We fall down a lot because of that, but it's also kind of exciting because you never know what's going to happen next.

Meth: Tell me about your first influences. Which bands had the greatest impact on Def Leppard?

Elliott: When Pete Willis was in the band in the early days, he was listening to a lot of Pat Travers and Judas Priest, which is where the very heavy stuff came in. Steve (Clark), our main writer, was more into Zeppelin. Sav (Rick Savage) was a big Queen fan. And I was very into the glam stuff. I like Mott The Hoople, Alice Cooper, Sweet and Slade.

Meth: Do you still have the same taste in music?

Elliott: I still listen to that stuff a lot. I always liked big, ballsy hooks and big choruses. If you kind of mish-mosh the whole lot together, you end up with Def Leppard. Overall, as a band, our influences are Queen, Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy.

Meth: Did you ever cover these bands when you began playing?

Elliott: When we started off--I'm talking about in the rehearsal room, now, not onstage--we used to do Bowie's "Suffragette City," Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" and we even messed around with things like M"ade In Heaven" by Be-Bop Deluxe. But we never did any of that stuff live. The only covers we did onstage were Thin Lizzy. Generally, we always did our own material.

Meth: Are you a Zeppelin fan?

Elliott: Yeah. I was a late starter. I must admit, I never got into Zeppelin until I saw them in 1979. And they were finished by then

Meth: Did you catch their reunion at the Atlantic Records 40th anniversary special?

Elliott: I saw bits of it. It sounded good to me, but I enjoyed them at Live Aid and they were disgusting. Still, it was Led Zeppelin! I didn't care what shape or form I got them in. Steve got me into Zeppelin. He told me there was more to them than "Black Dog" and so I listened to them and discovered he was right. Now, I consider Robert Plant one of my favorite singers. I love his album, Now And Zen, as well.

Meth: How important are video clips to Def Leppard now?

Elliott: Truthfully, not that important. We're not going to spend $400,000 making a clip, but we will always make one. I remember when Journey said, "We're not going to do any video clips." I think it kind of screwed them up. We would never not do a video, but we refuse to spend a fortune on them.

Meth: So you see it as an essential part of marketing?

Elliott: Yeah, it's like a photo session which coincides with the release of an album. It's a necessary evil. On the other hand, I enjoy watching the videos later if they're okay. I hate making them, because hanging around for eighteen hours with hot lights on you and all that makeup and shit just to get four minutes worth of films is awful. It makes me realize that if acting were offered to me as a profession, I'd have to think real hard about it before saying yes. It's a lot of hard work and waiting around when you're making a video. Consequently, sometimes we get bored. And we're not the best actors in the world, so we can't always hide that. That's why I think some of the clips come across very "yawn," and we're a bit disappointed with those. But we do like the majority of them. I think the videos from Pyromania started a trend that's still going. It' seems like people are still making "Photograph" and "Rock Of Ages" although they were shot in '84 and look outdated to us now. But the idea behind them must have been strong and they must be well-regarded because people are still using them as models. With our new batch of videos, like "Animal" and "Hysteria" we made a consious effort to keep the bimbo look out of the video--the big tits and miniskirt thing. We decided that if we were going to have women in videos, they were going to be classy. The only time we let them slip, and it was on purpose, was the live version of "Pour Some Sugar On Me." There are girls in it with miniskirts, but that was legitimate because they were at the concert. The girls are there, so you might as well film 'em. Of course, the director chooses who goes in where. We tried to get the songs and the band's personality across in the later videos and not mask our inability to look good by throwing a big pair of tits on the screen.

Meth: What are the important things to keep in mind when making a video?

Elliott: We work with a group called The Factory and they always have a concept. They say, "It's going to go like this and it's going to go like that." At the end of the day, what we end up with is nothing like their concept, but it's still good. As long as you look good and it's well-filmed and edited and the lip-sync is tight, then you've got it down. I don't think you really need a story line, as long as the images you portray are good.

Meth: Okay--my favorite part of the interview. Assemble the perfect band for me.

Elliott: Not including us, and off the top of my head: The vocalist would be a mixture of Robert Plant and Robin Zander; lead guitarist, Mick Ronson; bass, Phil Lynott; drums, John Bonham; keyboards, Morgan Fisher of Mott The Hoople, and as an incidental, I'd have Ian Hunter there to talk between songs and because he looks cool.

Meth: If you were stuck on a desert island with only five albums, what would you bring?

Elliott: Mott (Mott The Hoople), Permanent Vacation (Aerosmith), Dream Police (Cheap Trick), Led Zeppelin IV and Billion Dollar Babies (Alice Cooper).

Meth: Do you ever intend to retire?

Elliott: Well, I can't see myself at the age of 48 doing what I do now. But I would like to be involved in some capacity, whether it's production or photography or whatever. I'd like to be a producer--I'd like think I'd learned enough to do that. Even now, I know more than most because I find a lot of people who masquerade as producers just sit with their feet up drinking tea.

(c) 1989 Clifford Meth


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