I could start this introduction by saying how important this exclusive interview is to Rockpages…this is something easily acknowledgeable. But I want to underline that, for this editor, this is by far one of the highlights not only of his professional career but of his life in general. Sentimental…? Of course, I am! Def Leppard was the first band that I listened to 25 years ago and its music was, is and always be the so called “soundtrack of my life”! Here in Rockpages, 2011 is definitely a year dedicated to the Sheffield lads, as we run a huge Special Feature on them that will make hopefully an ideal companion to all our readers for the rest of 2011! And this is only the beginning! Enough with my rumbling…ladies and gentleman, Mr. Joe Elliott…

Interview: Sakis Nikas

Rockpages.gr: Joe, first live album after all these years. Two questions: Why now and why “Mirrorball”?

Joe Elliott: First of all, this is the best opportunity we had to do a live record in all the time we’ve been together as a band. Most live albums, at least the ones we grew up with, were put out by bands that were doing a studio album per year. Usually the studio version of the songs didn’t have a good production and when the live record was being released one thing was immediately evident: that the live version of the song was far better than the studio one. For example, Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me”…the live version is much better than the studio version. The same thing goes with Peter Frampton and “Show Me The Way”. We didn’t have that problem because we were working with Mutt Lange who is a fantastic producer and in fact with had the opposite problem…some people were thinking that we couldn’t play these songs from our albums live because they were so well-produced. Also, Def Leppard was never a band that put out studio albums every year…quite the opposite! Whenever we finished a tour, it was maybe three years since the last album, all of us wanted to go back into the studio to make new music. Now, we are in the very fortunate position to have no record contract and we are actually free to do whatever we feel like. We took 2010 off the road because we had been touring for five years non stop…we needed a break. During the tour for the (Songs From The Sparkle) Lounge album we recorded almost every show and we knew that we had plenty of stuff to choose from. All in all, it was a perfect timing for us. As for the second part of your question…“Why Mirrorball?”…as a title…two reasons, really…one being that this whole image of “Mirrorball” ties in with the “Sparkle Lounge” Tour and the second reason is because I absolutely hated the idea of calling the record simply “Def Leppard Live”! It sounds so boring and after all everybody has done it in the past. I wanted an album title with an image so we could go on tour with it….“Mirrorball” sounds good…looks good and gives us the opportunity to play visual games with “Mirrorball”…real ones or digital ones on the screen. We want to go all the way with the promotion of the album on stage! So, we get to have a live album with a name instead of simply calling it “Def Leppard Live”.  

Rockpages.gr: You have included three brand new songs on it. Are they showing us the direction of the new Def Leppard studio album, although I must say that all three of them are quite different?

Joe Elliott: Yes…that’s it. They are extremely different from each other. Look…“Mirrorball” is a project, an effort that we are very excited about…the direction of the new Def Leppard is actually all these three songs combined; the direction is going to be everywhere! All three of them are vastly different from each other and this is what we really want to do in the next Leppard record. As a matter of fact, the last time that we had that much freedom during the preparation of a bunch of songs was on “Hysteria” because we had so much time to write the record. We were in a studio for many, many, many months…were there in a studio for at least two years for “Hysteria”. For these three songs on “Mirrorball”…the great thing was that they had time to “breathe”. “Undefeated” was written by me, “Kings of the World” by Rick Savage and “It’s All About Believin’” by Phil Collen. I never asked Phil when or how much time did it take to write his song but the thing is that we had been preparing these songs for almost a year. But, with “Undefeated”, I started messing with that song around August, I did a proper demo in September; I lived with it and I made changes to it because I was in no rush to finish it. I was listening to the song six weeks later and I said: “something’s not right”, so, I change a few things. For example, with “Undefeated”, I wasn’t comfortable with the vocals on that first demo…they were too low. I sounded like Elvis or Billy Idol, you know…so, I redid the song in a totally different key until I was comfortable with the track and felt excited about it. When you are under a record contract and you should deliver the songs on a deadline, there is a good chance to end up with the wrong version of a song on one of your albums. We had plenty of time to work on the songs and we really loved it. It’s a luxury that most people don’t have…time! We were writing these songs for ourselves and we didn’t ask the opinion of an executive of a label or something. The songs were done when we felt that they were ready and not a minute before that. We almost had a fourth new song on “Mirrorball” but we had to stop ourselves because we would miss the release date of the record…

Rockpages.gr: Did you have a title for it?

Joe Elliott: Not really…we didn’t get that far…we didn’t get to that point. It was just an idea we were working on and that song was never really finished. But, we all said to each other: “Let’s work on it when we got more time”. So, we saved it and there is a good chance that we will finish it during this tour. But again…with the direction of the next Leppard record…we can go anywhere…really! We could do more things like “Undefeated” or we could actually do things that are very different.  

Rockpages.gr: Being your first live album, wouldn’t it be cool to include at least one song from your debut album or even “X”?

Joe Elliott: No, because this is not a compilation of recordings over the past 25 or 30 years. It’s a documentation of the last tour. Every song on the album has been played by us during one of the shows for The Lounge Tour. There are songs in there from “High N’ Dry”, “Pyromania”, “Hysteria”, “Adrenalize”…we didn’t include any songs from “Slang” because we didn’t play any songs from that album on the last tour, although we did some songs on the tour before that. The same thing with “X”…we may play songs from those records on the next tour. We wanted the recordings to be from the shows that we did in 2008-2009. But, sometime down the road, we’ll do a box-set that will probably include a live disc of material that is not on “Mirrorball”. We are always aware that you can’t please everybody. There are those fans that want to hear “Gods of War”, “Die Hard The Hunter”, “Rock Brigade”, “Wasted” etc.

Rockpages.gr: You have completed, also, the work on a book full of photographs that span your entire career. How did it feel to revisit once again those photos with that curly guy from the 70s?

Joe Elliott: (laughs) We own those photographs that Ross Halfin took and we certainly didn’t want to leave them lying on a shelf. Eventually, we managed to do something with them. I remember that we were always complaining of the fact that in all the hotels that we were checking in there were coffee table books on Rolling Stones and The Beatles…but there is not a Def Leppard one. So, we decided that it was the right time to do that book now because…really…we wanted our own coffee table book! We have a very loyal fan/friend…a Japanese kid called Nori who has key photos of every year of Def Leppard’s career….there are many photos of the early years, before Phil joined the band. Every era of the band is covered in the book. In the future, we have plans of releasing more photographs because, as you can understand, not all of those photos were included in the book. We might do something like…different eras of the band…the early years, the “Pyromania Years”…different chapters. But that’s for future time. For right now, we are very happy with how the book turned out.  

Rockpages.gr: The big question is: will you work with Mutt Lange once again?

Joe Elliott: I have no idea. Mutt is working on different types of music these days. He didn’t do rock music for the longest time. He’s recently done Maroon 5 and Nickelback. Before that, it was Shania Twain, Billy Ocean... He lives a lot of the time in New Zealand…we never say “no”. We would like to work again with Mutt; it’s just a case of right timing.

Rockpages.gr: I know that you are a big Thin Lizzy fan. Describe to us your feelings when you were given the task to handle the Thin Lizzy reissues?

Joe Elliott: Actually, I worked with Scott Gorham on some of the remixes. It was a fantastic feeling. I was a huge Thin Lizzy fan as a kid…I still am! I’ve been friends with Scott for almost 30 years and I really wanted an opportunity to work on some Lizzy songs. Scott thought that the production of some of the songs on the original version was not that good…he didn’t like them, he couldn’t listen to them anymore. He always preferred the versions on “Live and Dangerous”. So, I said to him: “We can fix this”. Scott was very excited of the prospect of updating the sound of those songs and since Def Leppard was off the road in 2010, it was a good opportunity to work on the tunes.   

Rockpages.gr: I’ve been following your career since the mid-80s and all through those years I hardly saw any good comment from the British Press. What’s the deal?

Joe Elliott: I have no idea! You have to ask them. The thing is that there are specific magazines, both print and on the web, that are open minded about rock music and some that are not so open minded…these magazines worship bands like U2, REM, Bruce Springsteen and they hate Bon Jovi, they hate Iron Maiden…Def Leppard. It’s their problem. There’s nothing I can do about it and I don’t know what the deal is. It’s really snobbery, if you know what I mean.

Rockpages.gr: Joe, I have to say that here in Rockpages we had been running a huge Def Leppard Special that features interviews with people that have worked with you. Apart from the great response from all over the world, there is absolutely no one that has to say one negative thing about you…

Joe Elliott: These are the people that know us; once someone gets to know us, he sees who we really are…an easy band to work with. So, we only work with people that we enjoy working with. I’ll tell you this…the people who criticize us, not our music but the band members don’t know us. It’s stupid because…really…how can you criticize someone that you’ve never met.  

Rockpages.gr: Joe, when was the last time that you passed from the Old Spoon Factory in Sheffield?

Joe Elliott: I was there last year! It was April the 30th, 2010 to be exact.

Rockpages.gr: Really?

Joe Elliott: Yeah.  I was there shooting a video for Down N’ Outz (“England Rocks”).

Rockpages.gr: I’ve seen the video, but I didn’t know that it was shot in that location…

Joe Elliott: You see me walking down the stairs at the beginning of the video. These are the stairs of the spoon factory and if you bought a copy of the Down N’ Outz DVD, you could see a 20-minute documentary where you get to see a lot of scenes from the Spoon Factory.    

Rockpages.gr: Have you kept those posters that you drew in school with the imaginary Deaf Leopard concerts?

Joe Elliott: Well, I did for a while and I probably have them somewhere but I’ll be honest…I don’t know where they are. I have many items, great pieces of Def Leppard memorabilia stored away in boxes. So, the posters are somewhere in there but it would take me a week just to find the right box (laughs)!

Rockpages.gr: Joe, how easy is it to retain a certain bond as a band when the band members are scattered literally all over the world?

Joe Elliott: It’s very easy actually because we only go home when we are not working and even if we lived in the same town, we would probably not see each other anyway apart from the time when there is work to be done with the band. We have families, friend and people that you wanna spend time with. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in the next street or a different country. We keep in touch all the time through Skype, emails, phones…you name it. But we also see each other…I mean literally…we just performed twice in America…we did the Leno and Lopez thing. We were there for five days, we rehearsed, we went out to dinner together, we did the shows…we hang out and all in all we had a good time. Don’t forget that as we speak we are getting ready for a tour in America, so…we will see each other a lot!

Rockpages.gr: The classic “deserted island” question: if you had to take just a 7’’ single with you, I am sure that the one side would have a Mott The Hoople song. What about the b’ side…which Def Leppard song would be on it and why?

Joe Elliott: You are most definitely right about the A’ side! As for the B’ side, I’d pick one of our songs that I don’t sing live everyday or obscure…if I had to pick just one that would be “Desert Song”…after all, I’d be somewhere deserted (laughs)!  

Rockpages.gr: Joe, has parenthood changed you as a person?

Joe Elliott: I don’t think so. I’ve always been a very compassionate person anyway. Obviously, it changed me in the routine; my life has changed but as a person, I am still the same guy…I am still doing the same things that I always did. Being a dad, though, has made me more aware of responsibility. I was always pretty responsible…that’s my nature. I was always very serious in my relationships; in the band…I have more things to do now and actually it’s extra job for me that I enjoy doing it. It’s a cool little kid.


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