When it comes to touring, Joe Elliott believes that “ageism has gone out of rock ’n’ roll.”
The ever-cool Def Leppard frontman is noting that while some will see the band’s 45 years in existence as monumental when you measure their tenure against the Rolling Stones or The Who, “there’s still a long journey to go,” he says.
Elliott and his melodically rocking cohorts – bassist Rick Savage, drummer Rick Allen and guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell – are preparing for an eventful year. On Friday, the band releases “Diamond Star Halos,” their 12th full-length release and first new material since 2015.
The album – its title nicked from a lyric in T. Rex’s 1971 glam-rock stomper, “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” – has already spawned the rock radio hit “Kick,” a characteristic Def Leppard anthem that pairs a mellifluous chorus with serrated guitars. It’s their first mainstream rock chart appearance since 2003.
New songs such as “Take What You Want” and “Liquid Dust” fit comfortably in Def Leppard’s canon of tuneful rock – “Hysteria,” “Photograph,” “Animal,” “Let’s Get Rocked” and the unavoidable “Pour Some Sugar On Me” among their enduring smashes. But the album also surprises with a cameo from bluegrass maven Alison Krauss on two songs, “This Guitar” and “Lifeless.”
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Def Leppard intends to slot a couple of new tunes into its upcoming live outing as co-headliners with Motley Crue on the Stadium tour, kicking off June 16 in Atlanta. The bands plan to swap headlining slots at each fist-pumping show, which also includes Poison and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.
Elliott, Collen and Savage spoke with USA TODAY via video from London to delve into the new album, Def Leppard’s undeniable chemistry and what Elliott would like written on his headstone:
Question: The glam-rock era of the ’70s has always been among the band’s influences, but you’ve gone all out with the new record, starting with the title.
Phil Collen: The title came later when we realized we were going in that direction; we didn’t plan it that way. A lot of these songs had a thread and a theme to them and we felt attached to that (glam-rock) era, that moment we all experienced together as teenagers. We were always saying “hubcap diamond star halos” as a reference to the era, so it seemed appropriate.
Q: Alison Krauss is not a name you’d expect on a Def Leppard album. How did this pairing materialize?
Joe Elliott: We’ve known Alison a long time. She’s a big fan and a lot of people don’t realize when we worked with (producer) Mutt (Lange), a lot of the harmonies had a bit of a country tinge to them. But by coincidence, our manager was talking to hers and mentioned we were making a new album. I was texting with Robert Plant about soccer when he asked what we’re up to and he said, “Alison is going to love this because you're her favorite band.” She brought an amazing amount of color to those two songs.
Q: The Stadium tour was postponed for two summers, but now we’ll finally get to see it. At any point, did you lose your desire to do the tour?
Rick Savage: That’s why we started a band in the first place, to play live. It’s the biggest tour Def Leppard has ever done and after 45 years, that’s an unbelievable feeling.
Elliott: It’s been an incredible lesson in patience. We’ve been sitting on (releasing) this album for 18 months.
Question: After four decades, you have enough songs to do a six-hour show. Aside from the obvious plays, what goes into the set list process?
Collen: We learned from the Rolling Stones that you strategically place new songs in the set – maybe two at first – and as they get momentum and traction you can start incorporating more. But it’s tough.
Elliott: We’re growing into the legacy touring like Paul McCartney or Billy Joel, The Eagles, AC/DC, Aerosmith. There comes a point with the crown jewels of songs, you don’t get out of the building alive if you don’t play them! People come to the big shows to celebrate who you are and a lot of that is what you’ve done before. If it’s Springsteen, they’re itching for “Born for Run,” McCartney it’s “Hey Jude” or “Live and Let Die.”
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Q: You’re a band that had so much heartache, between Rick’s accident (Allen lost his left arm after a 1984 car accident) and losing Steve Clark (the guitarist died of an overdose in 1991), and yet 45 years later you’re still here. Do you think the band's resolve is part of Def Leppard's legacy?
Collen: It’s making songs that make people feel joy. During the Great Depression, people got into music and it made them feel better. We think we do that when we play live. It makes people feel better about themselves. There is an escapism in there.
Savage: There’s a chemistry within the band. It’s always been a real band, a proper gang. We’ve been slaves to the song, but we also love being in the band and what that represents.
Elliott: I’d say there’s plenty of resolve there. When Rick lost his arm, we let him make the decision (to stay in the band or not). When Steve passed away, we were halfway through an album ("Adrenalize") that we wanted to finish; we didn’t feel it was right to stop at the time. I’d like to think the most important thing is the songs we’ve created. It’s nice that people see this gang mentality that we have. There will be more to come from Def Leppard. The plan is this is not our last album. We love writing new songs and long may it last – that’s what I would like written on our headstone.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Def Leppard 2022 tour to highlight new album 'Diamond Star Halos'