How Def Leppard Were Inspired by Their ’70s Idols for New LP
Def Leppard continue their tradition of honoring their influences with their latest release Diamond Star Halos, which guitarist Phil Collen calls a concept album.
The album’s title nods to Def Leppard’s love of T. Rex, and there are also references to Mott the Hoople and David Bowie. (Former Bowie pianist Mike Garson even appears on two tracks.)
Collen channels many of his guitar heroes, including Mick Ronson, on the LP. For "From Here to Eternity," which closes the album, he borrows from Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker, "two of my favorite guitar players."
There's a lot to dissect as far as what came from where, but there are also plenty of songs that sound like classic Def Leppard. See "Fire It Up," the latest single and others like album opener "Take What You Want" and "Kick."
The guitarist shared insights regarding the album, as well as memories of Motley Crue and David Bowie, during a conversation with UCR.
The tour with Motley Crue looks like it's finally going to happen at long last. I wondered what your memories are of hanging out with the guys back in the day.
Steve Clark, Tommy Lee, Bobby Blotzer [of Ratt] and me, all went on Bobby’s boat to Catalina Island. This was in the mid-’80s and we were all really drunk. We went to rent these little go-kart things and it was hysterical. The whole day was just a joy. It was really fun. We were four giant kids acting like giant kids, you know? We would hang out quite a bit, actually, back in the ‘80s, mainly with Tommy. I remember me and Steve would go down to [visit when] Motley were rehearsing. I think we jammed with Nikki [Sixx] and Tommy, me and Steve, once, just the four of us. It was just great fun. I’ve got really great memories, actually, with a lot of the guys and stuff like that. Especially in the mid-’80s.
Tommy Lee and Steve Clark seem like a lot of personalities in the same room.
Absolutely. Steve was very shy, actually. He was just a really funny guy and also, a very gentle soul. People get a completely different image when they see him on stage, because it’s like, just kind of extroverted and everything. But he was actually the opposite. He was just very mellow.
It's great that you have Mike Garson on this new Def Leppard album, playing on a couple of things.
I think Aladdin Sane is probably my favorite Bowie album. It was the apex of what he was doing. Hunky Dory there’s obviously wonderful songwriting, but he’s still trying to find himself, he’s the hippie with long hair. Within a year, Bowie goes from Hunky Dory to Ziggy Stardust, but he’s still trying to figure it out. I think with Aladdin Sane, it’s a lot more mature as a songwriter and as an entity. It’s touching on things. He’s telling stories. “Demanding Billy Dolls / And other friends of mine,” it’s the songwriting and his experiences are all coming together. As opposed to Ziggy Stardust, where he’s writing about a fictional character. It may be about him, but it’s still fictional. In Aladdin Sane, they’re real people that he’s talking and singing about. I noticed a difference in songwriting, the material, the playing. Ronson is outrageous on that album. I just love the stuff. You know, “Panic in Detroit” and all of that. “Lady Grinning Soul!” When I knew Mike Garson was going to be playing on "Goodbye for Good This Time," Joe [Elliott] was going, “I think it should be an acoustic solo.”
[My playing] is dedicated to Mick Ronson and the solo in “Lady Grinning Soul” and it has the same pianist on it. So that just blew my mind, right there. I demoed it on an acoustic and wrote [Joe] and he said, “Yeah, you’ve got to use that. [But] it’s got to be more expensive-sounding, can you mike it up?” He said, “Get your Neumann U87 and put it two feet from where you are and get the right spot.” So I did that and it sounds great. I got my Ramirez Classical Spanish acoustic and that’s what [you’re hearing]. The solo is kind of based around that “Lady Grinning Soul” solo by Mick.
Listen to Def Leppard's 'Goodbye for Good This Time'
The album itself feels like one you could have come across in a record store in the '70s.
This is a concept album. I know that’s not a popular thing these days, but it really is, in the classic sense. The songs all have a thread. When we were writing them, they all kind of started going back to why we got into music in the first place. The album kind of naturally evolved or devolved, actually. It was like, [there’s] a lot of David Bowie references, T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Queen, a lot of these things kept popping up as we were writing the songs. Me and Joe would always reference the era of when we really got indoctrinated into the music that we love. It was around ‘71 to ‘74. Those were really the important years for us. We’d always call it, “hubcap diamond star halo.” We referenced that because it kind of summed it up. When it came to a title, I felt, Why not use that reference anyway? Because that’s really what this is. It was the perfect thing. Even the sleeve, there’s a guy named Oli Munden who actually came up with it.
The label brought him in. We were discussing it and talking about the vibe of it and again, it kind of naturally evolved into this thing. He came up with these images. He said, “You could use different images for different songs,” or different feelings that were to do with this thing. We had Anton [Corbijn] involved [with the visuals as well], so it was all very within that moment and within that era, just bringing it forward to 2022. It was perfect, really. I’m really pleased that it’s a double album. It’s our first double album, you can open it up. I remember looking at the artwork on a record and reading the stuff and going, “Wow, this is really cool” and just getting immersed in the whole thing - the art of the music and the artwork of the sleeve, it’s very important.