Def Leppard


The first thing that you see upon entering Def Leppard’s catering room in Dublin, is a big table with a vast quantity of health food, some people running around for the last details of the show and…Rick Savage watching his beloved Sheffield Wednesday playing against Derby United. Vivian Campbell walks smiling towards our table and for the next 40 minutes we talk about everything…from Def Leppard and Whitesnake to Last in Line and Thin Lizzy. The interview starts, Joe Elliott enters the room a few minutes later and Sheffield Wednesday manages not to lose the game! Interview: Sakis Nikas Viv, this must be the most diverse album that you have ever released. Was it liberating for you not to have a label to influence the overall direction of the album?

Vivian Campbell: Yes, it is the most diverse album…no doubt about it. The label never dictated what we wanted to do. The band has always been autonomous. FoDefLeppard07r example, “Slang” was a very different record to us. Also, “X” was a completely pop record (laughs). We should have had a little direction on that album (laughs)! Come to think about it, “X” was the only record that the label came to us and said: “would you consider working on somebody else’s song?”. And that didn’t go well. We tried at least to play nice with the record label. The truth is that we started this record not really knowing if we are gonna do a full album. The only thing that we knew is that we had to record something…maybe just a couple of songs…an EP. Actually, this was the first record since “Slang” where we sat all together in the same room and started jamming on ideas. That was very easy, very quick and really exciting because it got us all amped up. Once we decided that this was gonna be a full record, then the whole thing became more focused and I’d say more intellectual. It’s typical with every Def Leppard album…there’s a lot of thought before we even start recording an album. The first 3-4 songs of the album were rock songs but as you know Def Leppard is not the typical, straightforward rock band. There are a lot of elements in our music. So, we had the rock element and then we started wondering what else we need in order to balance over this record. That’s why it’s not rare when a songs ends up completely different compared to the way it sounded when e first started writing it. We covered a lot of styles with this record and we even went to some areas we’ve never been before. Like the song “Blind Faith”.

Vivian Campbell: Exactly. That’s a psychedelic song but at the same time it’s a typical Def Leppard song because of the collective vocals. I consider ourselves to be the Beach Boys of hard rock because we are such a vocal band. The lead and backing vocals of Def Leppard are very characteristic. That’s the identifying factor, the clue that makes a Def Leppard song stand out. If someone asks me which the most representative song on the album is, I’d probably say “Dangerous” or “Let’s Go” that remind of “Photograph” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” respectively.

Vivian Campbell: Exactly (laughs). But my favorite one is definitely “Wings of an Angel”.

Vivian Campbell: Well, that was one of the early songs…it was written during those sessions that we sat together as a band in the same room. For me, it’s always easier because my guitar is my voice. Personally, I am not comfortable selling my own ideas. Joe and Phil especially will come into the studio without having even written a note for the album and go: “I got this great idea for a song”…and after a while they start singing a melody and they are all very excited! The only way I can bring something to the table is by playing my guitar or even better by bringing a finished demo of a song. I don’t have a studio anymore cause I got divorced a few years ago and the studio was in my house and that went down with the divorce…so, anyway I had this guitar melody on my head…you know that low-toned guitar riff on “Wings of an Angel” and then Sav suggested a riff that was a little bit like AC/DC. Another part of the song was written actually a couple of years ago when we were in Las Vegas. So, we married all these things and created “Wings of an Angel”. You know of course that Def Leppard is used to writing in this specific way by mixing various pieces and creating a song. That’s how Mutt Lange used to work anyways. There could be 4 different song ideas and in the end there was just a single song out of those ideas. Great songs were created that way…if you listen to “Animal” there are so many unnatural musical passages that were mixed together and we ended up with a classic song. I am glad that you like “Wings of an Angel”. That was a very easy song to make. Def Leppard is a song-oriented band that pays a lot of attention to the slightest detail. Do you feel restrained, as a guitarist, by the fact that there are not that many solos or even guitars on a song?

Vivian Campbell: I know what you say…Def Leppard was never a guitar-oriented band. I knew that when I joined the band in 1992. A lot of people find it strange that I went from being such a guitar hero type of guy in Dio to a band that was less interested in the guitar solos. But what I love more about being in Def Leppard is the singing. I feel like I am a better singer and songwriter since the day I joined Def Leppard. Maybe, it is a little bit restraining at times but you also have to remember that all our live shows our based on songs written before my involvement with the band. Phil is the one who played all the original solos on the record so it’s only natural to have him play all those classic tracks. But that’s what Last in Line is all about (laughs)…

DefLeppard04 We will get to the Last in Line chapter a little bit later on. Speaking of vocals, I always wondered how come you didn’t do backing vocals with Dio because only Jimmy Bain used to do backing vocals…

Vivian Campbell: I wanted to sing! I’ve always been interested in the vocals although when I was 20 years old I dedicated myself to the guitar and tried to become a good guitarist. For me, back then, the song was the vehicle for the guitar solo. After a couple of years I started discovering all those great Motown artists and started paying more attention to the vocals. I always admired the vocal ability of such artists like Aretha Franklin. I remember asking Ronnie if I could sing on stage. He was adamant…he used to say by pointing his finger on me: “Ritchie Blackmore never sang, Tony Iommi never sang. Guitar players don’t sing” (laughs)! He was that kind of person. And when I mentioned the name of Jimi Hendrix who played guitar and sang at the same time, Ronnie would fire back: “Shut up!” (laughs). After I was fired from Dio, I joined Whitesnake and David Coverdale was my first mentor as a singer; he had the opposite thought and he encouraged me to sing. Ironically, though, that version of Whitesnake had the worst backing vocals.  I wasn’t very good, I was just started learning how to sing but I was far better than the other guys. We sounded dreadful at times…I couldn’t believe it. We got away with it but… You realize of course that you are the connecting link on this tour as you had been a member of Whitesnake, you once played with Thin Lizzy and of course you are in Def Leppard for almost 24 years now.

Vivian Campbell: Yeah, I know (laughs)!

DefLeppard01 How’s your relationship with David Coverdale?

Vivian Campbell: It’s good. It was strange for a few years; we didn’t speak for many years…with Dio I was fired, with Whitesnake things kinda fizzled out. The tour manager at the time…after the end of the “Whitesnake/1987 Tour”, we were working on demos of what was supposed to be our next record and there was some evident weirdness even with Adrian (Vandenberg). We were getting along fine with Adrian but the truth is that he didn’t want another guitar player in the band. It was nothing against me. When he was hired in Whitesnake, they didn’t tell him that there would be two guitar players. Having said that, there was a certain rivalry in the air even though neither of us had played on the record and none of us could have a legitimate claim for a solo on the live shows. When the tour ended, David said to us that all the songs on the new record would be written by Adrian and himself because they had a great working relationship. Right then, I knew deep inside me that this wasn’t a band (that) I would last for too long. On top of that, my wife at the time and Tawny Kitaen (Coverdale’s wife at the time) didn’t like each other and during the tour, Whitesnake’s tour manager came to me and said that David didn’t want to bring your wife with me on tour. I had just gotten married and I was thinking: “what? Really…?”. Why the tour manager and why not David himself…? I mean, why didn’t David come to you and said it straight to you?

Vivian Campbell: Exactly. That’s the problem that I had with David because I always thought that he didn’t have the balls to come to me, look me in the eyes and say what he wanted to say. Even, when he wanted to let me go, he asked the tour manager to break the news to me. Several years ago, we did a tour with Whitesnake, I had the chance to sit with him and explain to him that he had lost my respect when he did that back in the 80s. David was very apologetic and pointed down that he was in this bad relationship…living in an ivory tower, having people do things for him instead of doing those things by himself. But all this belong to the past…we are all good now.

DefLeppard04 If I’m not mistaken the first time that you did a co-headlining tour with Whitesnake was in 2008 where you also played in Greece. What do you remember from that Greek show?

Vivian Campbell: By then, I still haven’t resolved the issues that I had with David, so I kept my distance. I had a great time in Greece because we had a couple of days off and I haven’t been to your country before. We got to see the Acropolis, the weather was unbelievable and the fans at the show were crazy! It’s very different when we played in America which is our biggest market. In America, people come to a concert because it’s an event whereas in Europe rock fans come to a show because they believe in it…they can’t wait for it. It’s a very more passionate thing you know… I guess it’s special for you to play here in Dublin and tomorrow in Belfast.

Vivian Campbell: Yeah! Tomorrow for sure…actually, whenever we do a UK tour, it’s like a hometown show for us…Joe lives in Dublin, Sav still lives in Sheffield, I am from Belfast, Phil is from London, Rick is of course from Sheffield…so it’s very special. Aside the fact that Belfast is my hometown, Belfast has some of the most passionate rock fans in the world! I am not saying that just because I am from that place…I really mean it.

DefLeppard05 Would you say that the new album is the best Def Leppard album since you joined the band in 1992?

Vivian Campbell: Absolutely! The irony for me is that I had the least to do with…I only co-wrote two songs on the album. But the important thing is that is a great record. Personally, I think the best song on the album is “We Belong” which Joe wrote. I believe that Joe writes the best songs because he is a singer and the rest of us are instrumentalists. Joe appreciates or even better knows the importance of the simplicity of a song. When you are a guitarist you only tend to think about the guitar parts. When you are a singer you think of the melody of the song and that’s what people wanna hear…the melody. The simpler songs are the best ones. Would you like to talk a little bit about Last In Line?

Vivian Campbell: I would love to talk about Last In Line! I am very excited about the record.

DefLeppard06 When did you decide that the time was right for a studio album?

Vivian Campbell: When we were offered a record deal. The truth is that we didn’t do that much…we weren’t so active. We were doing some shows here and there when the schedules were right…songs from “Holy Diver”, “Last in Line” and a couple from “Sacred Heart”. It was a fun thing and we weren’t really looking for a label. You know…I’d seen videos from Dio Disciples and they were…man, these guys weren’t in the original band. They were crap really. I’ve heard the versions of our songs and they were dreadful. I did the tour with Thin Lizzy in 2011 and that tour reignited my passion for playing guitar again because Thin Lizzy was such an influential band for me. I knew the “Live and Dangerous” album inside out! Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson were big influence to me but I must say that Gary Moore was a huge influence! Gary Moore was my guitar hero. Doing that tour with Thin Lizzy re-awakened my inner 16-year old guitarist and that was a great feeling.The first thing that I did was to call Vinny Appice and Jimmy Bain and asked them if they wanted to jam a little bit…all I wanted was to play again with those guys. We all live in L.A., so we rented a rehearsal room and we started playing those Dio songs again. At that point…that was 2011, we haven’t played together in 27 years! We just started playing and the chemistry was instant. The band was so tight and then we asked ourselves that it would be a blast if we had a singer. Vinny suggested Andrew Freeman and when he came down to sing some songs with us, I had an epiphany for a moment…Andrew sounds nothing like Ronnie and that’s the best thing. If he sounded like Ronnie, that would be creepy. Then Frontiers Records offered us a deal for an album and we decided to give it a go. If Ronnie would still be alive, I wouldn’t be doing this because Dio was a band and it had his name on it. The fact that he fired us all one by one…that was his choice. But you know…Dio Disciples are just murdering our art…that’s the truth! Why the hell are they out there playing our songs? It’s Wendy’s (Dio) little project to earn some extra money. We are the guys that played in the best Dio records and by the way we never got paid from them; so we said “let’s go out and do it properly”. The debut Last in Line record was done exactly the same way as the “Holy Diver” album…being in the same room with Vinny and Jimmy writing riffs, coming up with ideas. I remember Ronnie coming in the evening, listening to our ideas, adding the lyrics and some melodies, suggesting new stuff or changing things…it was a proper band! This record was recorded very organically and very quickly…the way “Holy Diver” was created back in the early 80s. We recorded the album with Jeff Pilson who is an old friend of ours and a great producer…as a matter of fact, Dokken opened for Dio in 1984 during the US leg of the “Last in Line Tour”. It was kind of a full circle thing. When we first saw the video “The Devil In Me”, we really enjoyed that old school vibe of the song. What can you tell us about the musical direction of the debut album? Is it gonna be like “Holy Diver” or “Last in Line”?

Vivian Campbell: “The Devil In Me” is the most Dio sounding song on the album. That’s the one song that reminds me a lot of the “Holy Diver” record. The others are more modern but at the same time the production is stripped down with not so many overdubs…as I said, it’s very organic. We gave very specific instructions to Jeff regarding the sound of the album…we wanted everything to sound very organic and very…natural, you know…we didn’t want a modern, compressed sound. It’s a pleasing record to the ear. I am so excited about the album! But I’d say that song wise is like a modern version of the “Last in Line” record. To me “Last in Line” was the peak of Dio. “Holy Diver” was us finding the way…knowing each other. With “Sacred Heart” things started to go wrong. The vibe of the band was gone by the time we were making that record.