Phil Collen onstage with his Jackson PC1 signature model.
It’s amazing that, after a 34-year career full of hits and sold-out arenas, Def Leppard is just now releasing its first live album. Mirror Ball: Live & More bristles with the same raw, visceral excitement that made the band’s music the inescapable rock soundtrack of the ’80s. It’s a power-packed, two-CD set culled from the best performances of their 2008-2009 tour. Staples such as “Foolin’,” “Rock of Ages,” “Too Late for Love,” and “Photograph” are served up with gut-level urgency, while three additional studio tracks round out the package.
Though the band first got attention based on the work of original guitarists Pete Willis and Steve Clark—as exemplified by hits like “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” and “High ’n’ Dry (Saturday Night)”— Phil Collen replaced Willis during the recording of Lep’s 1983 breakout hit, Pyromania. In 1991, Clark died from an accidental overdose, and in 1992 former Dio and Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell took his place. Since then, Collen and Campbell have constituted the band’s 6-string team, though both have also moonlighted in various side projects to keep their creative juices flowing in directions not quite fitting the Leppard mold: ManRaze is Collen’s edgy, punk-funk-dub project starring Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and former Girl bassist Simon Laffy, and Vivian Campbell is finishing up a dream gig touring with one of the greatest rock bands of all time—Thin Lizzy.
PG caught up with Collen and Campbell just before Leppard’s 2011 tour to talk about the new album, their creative process, and the gear they love.
Why did it take so long for you guys to release a live album?
Vivian Campbell: It’s well known that it takes forever for Def Leppard to make a record.
Phil Collen: [Laughs.] This is true. It’s been that cycle of album, tour, album, tour. Traditionally, when you’re with a major label they’re not really fond of you doing a live album because, historically, they don’t sell as well as a studio album.
Campbell: We were always focused on making studio albums and didn’t have the time to focus on anything else. Between tours, we’d take some time off, write some songs, and be back in the studio. We’ve always done that, and we’ve always wanted to keep moving forward that way. In fact, we didn’t actually record Mirror Ball specifically to release as a live album. We just started to archive it. In the old days, when you did a live album you had to get a mobile truck and it was big and expensive—and it was just one show. There was all the pressure and red-light fever—“Oh my God! I better get this right, it’s going on a record forever!” We didn’t have any of that because we were just doing our shows.
The technology nowadays is cheap, affordable, and portable enough that all you need is a laptop, some software, and a bunch of hard drives. Basically, we started recording every night, and we did that all over the 2008–2009 tour. It also takes the pressure off the band, because you forget you’re being recorded. The hardest part was actually going through the material and deciding what the best performances were. We left it to Joe [Elliott, vocals] to figure out which night he sang best on a certain song. He has the hardest gig, being the lead singer. The human voice wears down more than my fingers.