Def Leppard’s Phil Collen talks Vegas ‘Hysteria’

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After more than three decades, Great Britain’s Def Leppard is still creating “Hysteria” for fans. The group is bringing their iconic album to Vegas for a nine-show residency at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. “Viva! Hysteria” starts March 22 and will run through April 10, 2013.

The show will feature all of the group’s greatest hit songs and the band performing the album “Hysteria” in its entirety. This is the first time in the group’s history that they have performed an entire album live.

“Hysteria” was released in 1987 and spawned seven hit singles, including “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Love Bites,” “Women,” “Rocket” and the title track. The album went on to sell more than 20 million copies worldwide and contained the group’s first Top 10 hit in their native England. “Hysteria” also reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart in the United States.

In addition to “Hysteria,” the group’s illustrious career has produced a series of classic groundbreaking albums, making them one of the definitive arena rock bands of the ’80s. With more than 100 million albums sold worldwide, Def Leppard is one of the best-selling music groups of all time.

The group is also well-know for overcoming several major set backs early on in their career. In 1984, Rick Allen, the group’s drummer, lost his arm in a car accident. Despite this, he found a way to play drums and create his sound through the use of a custom-designed Simmons electronic drum kit. In 1991, the group suffered another loss when guitarist Steve Clark died as a result of his struggle with substance abuse. The group added former Dio and Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell to the lineup as a replacement. They have continued to tour and release new music.

Today, Def Leppard consists of Joe Elliot (lead vocals), Phil Collen (guitar, backing vocals), Campbell (guitar, backing vocals), Rick Savage (bass, backing vocals) and Allen (drums). had a chance to talk to Collen about Def Leppard’s upcoming residency and what fan can expect to see at their shows. Here’s what he had to say:

Q.What prompted the group to do this residency in Vegas at the Hard Rock?

A.“A lot of other bands do this stuff, but I think it’s a little bit more special because ‘Hysteria’ was one of the diamond albums, especially in this day and age there are not that many albums that achieve that kind of status. That’s why it’s so important to us, it’s such a big selling album. It’s a challenge as well. We’ve never actually done that before. We’ve always said yeah we could do ‘High ‘n’ Dry.’ ‘Hysteria,’ that’s a lot more challenging. A lot of the songs on there are hard to sing and play at the same time.”

What sort of preparation do you have to do to be able to play the entire ‘Hysteria’ track list live?

“ We’ve been playing several songs off of ‘Hysteria.’ Even this summer on the tour we did with Poison we were playing seven of the songs because we had seven singles off the record… So much went into that record, that we’ve been playing the hits for 25 years now. Some of the other tracks on the album, just going back and listening to the whole thing, you realize just how much went into that record. Obviously Mutt Lange had a massive influence, and the whole thing about that, so we’re just totally excited. They are such amazing arrangements that you forget.”

What is it like for the group to be playing that music for fans in Vegas?

“I think it’s really cool, like I said, it’s kind of an honor. We want to put on a really good show. We don’t want to do what everyone else does. It’s going to be the whole album. We’ll probably do a greatest hits set, plus if people come to see you play a whole album, I think it gives us license to do stuff that we haven’t done for years in the other part of the set. The other thing we’ve been talking about is just changing the set up every single night… We’ve got so much to chose from plus the hour-long ‘Hysteria’ set too.”

What do you think it was about that album that continues to attract fans today?

“Mutt Lange is a genius. He said we can do an ultimate rock album or we can do a rock version of ‘Thriller,’ where we have seven hit singles. But to do that, you have to put the extra effort in. The attitude when the album came out, a lot of people didn’t like it. They thought, oh this is too pop or they didn’t understand the crossover because it’s a perfect hybrid between rock and pop. If you look at Mutt Lange’s track record, his biggest successes are for example, Shania Twain. He definitely brought country to the masses. He successfully fused rock, pop music with country, and I never thought I’d see the day. I remember being in Japan and hearing Shana Twain when I was going up and down in an elevator. That for us, like I said, it was the perfect hybrid of pop and rock that was actually acceptable. A lot of rock fans didn’t like it at first, but by the end of that year everyone had the record. You couldn’t really escape the whole thing. It was pop music but done rock. We kicked our ass on it. It was very different from anything that had come before it actually.”

Has performing those songs changed for you over the years?

“I guess a little bit. ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ took on a whole life of its own, the stripper pole anthem if you like. Wherever you play that song every girl actually turns into a stripper, it’s really interesting. Again, that’s how that song became successful… So I guess all the songs take on something a little different after a few years… They’re not exactly like they were on the record. They certainly take on their own lives. It’s really interesting. It’s just wonderful to be part of one of those classic albums.”

Do you have a favorite song from that album to perform?

“They’re all different. The song that really sums us up more than anything else is ‘Rocket.’ The subject matter is a tip of the hat to all our influences. On the music video you see Mick Jagger and you see David Bowie and other stuff. I think it was done with over the top guitars, anthemic singing and all that stuff. So in a nutshell, I think that sums Def Leppard up. I love playing that song live for that reason actually. It’s the typical Def Leppard song. Then there’s stuff like ‘Love Bites’ which was our first No. 1 single in the states. Again, when I played the demo for my mum she burst into tears.”

The group has had some ups and downs over the years, but what has continued to inspire you to perform?

“A lot of people say, ‘You’ve had ups and downs, people died, people had accidents.’ But, you take any family, and that’s what happens. Everybody dies at some stage. You have ups and downs, you have accidents, but the one thing is, I’ve been in the band 30 years, and most families don’t exist that long. People leave, people get divorced, kids leave home, so we’ve actually got this thing going longer than most families I’ve ever come in contact with. So that makes that easier for sure. Obviously, everyone’s very different when you start the band. You have personal ideals and ways of doing things. As you get older, you develop your own personalities. So you have to deal with that. That actually is what breaks most bands up. They can’t deal with the fact that someone isn’t like what they were when they were 17. So it’s a very interesting scenario to be in, but I think if you know that and you’re aware of that, it kind of makes it easier.”

To so many people Def Leppard is who they think of when referring to an iconic arena rock band from the ’80s. What is it like to be a recognized for that?

“Well I can see why people would say that because it does sound great in an arena. That’s really what is was born out of, and people would react to that. That bracket is fine. They call us the iconic arena rock band, that’s fine. It’s exactly what we are. It’s a great description I think, but to do that you have to have iconic songs. I think the fact that our songs are very anthemic, ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me,’ ‘Rock of Ages,’ ‘Armageddon It’, ‘Photograph,’ you can really sing along to these songs. So it has to be the style of music for it to really work.”

“Again, coming to Vegas where everything is really show oriented, we want to continue that theme really. It works better when there’s theatrics behind it. That was always the plan. We were always such huge fans of big rock music, Queen was a great example, AC/DC. You have these great songs that had such impact, and you have the visual as well. So, it’s continuing this theme, actually making a hybrid of it because like I said, we crossed over to pop as well. All of that, plus a bit more.”

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