A Reject Interviews Def Leppard
(Vivian Campbell, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen)
All-American Reject Nick Wheeler Goes Face To Face With One Of His Favorite
At first listen, it might be easy to lump The All-American Rejects atop the pile
of sugar-coated, power-pop acts dominating the charts as of late, but not so
fast. While the Oklahoma quartet are characterized by every bit of seemingly
superficial bounce that platinum-peers Good Charlotte, Sum 41 and Green Day have
played unapologetically guilty to, more than a cursory listen displays a depth
of songwriting character that few of their contemporaries can rival. In fact,
after even a few spins through their self-titled Dreamworks Records debut, it
becomes all too apparent that there's more to the band than just a few
radio-ready jingles. Barely removed from their teenage years, The All-American
Rejects transcend songwriting simplicity with orchestrations that are as rich as
they are infectious, bringing to mind a bevy of influences including punk rock,
glam rock, and a healthy dose of arena rock. To that end, when AAR guitarist
Nick Wheeler pledged his allegiance to rock icons Def Leppard in his band's
recent video "My Paper Heart," Metal Edge embraced the opportunity to turn the
tables on Wheeler, letting him conduct an interview, rather than be the subject
of one. Backstage in Tulsa, OK, Wheeler sat down with Def Leppard frontman Joe
Elliot and guitarists Vivian Campbell and Phil Collin [sic]...
Nick Wheeler: Pretty much everything I know about you guys I learned from
digging through my sister's tape collection when I was about seven-years-old and
found Hysteria. Was there any band that got you guys into music in the first
place, and got you into what you do?
Vivian Campbell: Actually, Joe and I were inspired by what was probably the same
performance, T Rex on a show called Top Of The Pops in like '71. Growing up
over there, everyone wanted to play soccer - football - so you had your football
heroes, your little football shorts, and you're out there kicking the ball and
along comes glam rock... You talk about your sister, when I saw Marc Bolan on
Top Of The Pops, that's when I knew that's what I wanted to do for a living -
Play guitar and wear my sister's clothing.
Joe Elliott: [Laughing] I had to raid my mother's wardrobe!
VC: I had a sister who was a year older than me, so she was a little bigger, and
her clothes always fit... Snugly, but they fit.
JE: The thing about British glam scene in like '71-'74, it was nothing at all
attached to this L.A. glam rock scene in the late '80s - The Warrant, Ratt shit.
It was Slade, T Rex, Ziggy Stardust/Bowie... There was rubbish, as well, but
even within the rubbish there was a decent song now and again from like Suzi
Quatro or somebody - She was like a leather-clad chick that played bass and
screamed, and it was deemed pop music. Nowadays, it's no heavier than a Motley
Crue record and it would be called heavy metal... Sweet was another one, like
guitar based, three-minute songs that we all had access to because they were on
the radio all the time, and appeared to be on Top Of The Pops every week. All
that "Sweet Home Alabama" that maybe you were weaned on, or your older sister
was, they never played that in England unless it was on a Saturday afternoon
from like three to five, while you were at a soccer match. So we were always
weaned on this commercial pop-rock, that was what we had. I'd always get
annoyed when I'd read these articles with like The Red Hot Chili Peppers
slagging us for what we do, but if they'd been born in Sheffield [England] or
Belfast [Ireland], they wouldn't be making the sounds that they're making now,
so it's just ignorance on their part. We were force-fed on that, but at least
for every "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" that was getting played on Top 40, we had "Gene
Genie" or "Get It On," then, of course, you cold veer off, because Viv grew up
with like Rory Gallagher, because he was in Northern Island, and their local
radio was playing all that stuff. Sheffield didn't have a local her, except for
Joe Cocker, and he didn't put records out to get played on the radio, and he
lived in America then, anyway, so we also had a mutual bonding with Thin Lizzy.
They were not part of the glam rock scene, because even though they were around
in '71, they had this one hit with a cover of "Whiskey In A Jar", then they
disappeared for three years. They were a rock band that had hit singles, which
is exactly where we thought we could fit in. Lizzy were a cool band - The press
liked them, the kids liked them, they had album tracks, and they had hit
singles. They weren't deemed as sell-outs to the rock fans, or too heavy for
the pop fans, they were right in that middle slot, and it was perfect. They
were a huge influence on Sweet Savage and Def Leppard.
NW: That's good to hear, I love that band... Talking about music in general, I'm
a complete music geek and taught lessons for like four years. I loved it so
much, I wanted everyone else to love it. Did you guys have any schooling?
VC: The short answer would be no! I had about a year of theory at school, that
I could remember next to nothing of. Out of all of us, I'd say Savage [Rick,
bassist] is the only one that could recognize a chord, the rest of us...
JE: Just know it by memory... Rick [Allen] could read drum stuff, but he was
taught properly, by Joe Cocker's drummer.
VC: As a guitar player, I remember when I first came to the States, playing with
Dio, I was doing interviews with guitar magazines and they were telling me about
what "modes" I was playing in, and how you switch to "this mode..." And I still
don't know! I'll take their word for it!
JE: I think there's a lot more fun in not knowing what you're doing, because
there's a lot more you can discover. I remember Elton John and Ian Hunter, from
Mott The Hoople, both saying separately in interviews, that they kind of lost
the plot when they figured out what the black notes did on a piano... They had
nowhere left to discover, because they've been everywhere.
VC: I wouldn't diss it, though, because there's a part of me that would love to
know what it is I'm doing...
JE: We just come up with a riff and backbeat for it, then start thinking about
melodies, like most musicians do. Let's not forget that the whole essence of
rock 'n' roll was to kind of kick against jazz - "I want to play onstage, but I
can't play like Paganini," or whoever was like 400 years old. Then, all of a
sudden Chuck Berry comes along and he only knows like three chords, and he can't
play for shit, he only knows one thing [humming "Johnny Be Good"]... You could
sing that over "Roll Over Beethoven." Musicians really didn't come into it
until prog-rock. Everything was like The Kings, The Who... Study Pete
Townshend, or Jimmy Page, and these guys weren't that good, but they got really
good. They developed a style and that's really important. There came a point
in like '84, that you couldn't tell the guitar players apart because they all
wanted to sound like Eddie Van Halen. It was like that in the '60s, but they
were more naive and had a charm about it. In the '80s, it all became Olympian
and about how fast you could play, then you had Yngwie Malmsteen and it all
NW: For my playing, I can't wail whatsoever, so I try and make up with it with
alternate tunings and chord voicings, and all my geeeky shit, but Jesus, there's
some killer solos on your records, and I was just wondering where some of that
stuff came from!
VC: I don't know! [Laughing] I really don't! As a guitarist, I find it really
hard to replicate what I do in the studio, because I don't know what I'm doing!
JE: That's inspiring because if you walk by the door when Vivian's doing a solo,
you're like, "Wow, that fucking great!"
VC: Just don't ask me to do it twice!
JE: Yeah, try and do it again, but don't lose that take, just in case! A solo,
like a vocal, can be a composite of five or six different attempts. Everyone
did that - We were just watching the Beatles anthology, and they did that their
VC: And of course it's easier now, with Pro Tools and all.
NW: How have a lot of the tricks and tools developed for you guys? You can take
a lot on the road with you, now...
JE: We've moved along a lot. In the early days, we had a little one of these
[picking up tape recorder[ and someone would play into it for like 30 seconds,
and at the end of the tour, you go back and listen to it, and you've got like a
hundred or so bits.
Phil Collen: But when we're in tour mode, we really concentrate on the tour,
which is a good thing. All day is based around the gig, then when we get off we
have the six month writing period, then a year of recording. That's a little
outdated now, like dinosaurs, because everything moves a lot quicker now. We'd
love to get more done on the tour, but we've got to do it first - We've still
got that mentality where you can wait between albums, and that's not the case
anymore. There's that three year gap where people go, "Where have you been?"
Well, we've been touring a year-and-a-half, then writing... I think we can
compress it a little more, but it's still going to be two years.
NW: In your case, you've established yourselves though, you've got like 10
records, you've got that liberty. With us, our record just came out, and people
want another record already.
JE: The whole industry has changed. We were discussing this a few weeks ago -
The new Linkin Park record's come out, three years after the first album... Over
that same period of time, when we were kids, Alice Cooper released five albums.
Linkin Park obviously toured a lot more that Alice Cooper did, and further
afield, and that takes longer to do.
VC: The industry's changed, because Linkin Park, when you have a successful
record, have the world market to play for - You go to Japan, you go to Europe,
and you go to America and Canada, and all points in between. Then you become a
prisoner of that success, because the label's got you out there and you want it
to be more successful, and the incentive is to sell that record, not to make a
new record, and then they tell you at the eleventh hour that they need new music
and you don't have anything yet...
PC: And they really don't give a shit about you. They really don't care.
VC: And the attention span in radio, and with media and fans, is so much
quicker. Your 15 minutes of fame is like 15 seconds - You've got to be right
there and you've got to follow it up. Music isn't as important to people as it
used to be.
JE: No, it's not. We didn't have Nintendo to fight against, or Playstation 2.
Nine out of ten kids in my neighborhood wanted a guitar for Christmas, or a drum
kit, if it wasn't a bicycle. Now it's something else, and the drum kint or the
guitar is really far down the list of priorities. Now, if people want to be
musicians, they want to be like Moby, sitting behind a computer doing it all on
their own and being a geek. They don't want to stand in the mirror with a
tennis racket going, "I want to be a star."
PC: The mystique really started to disappear when videos started, which was
great for us, but now, you're starting to see the results of that taken even
further. Everyone can do it now, and it's not worth as much, so people think,
"You know what? This isn't the magical thing I thought it was." That's good in
some respects, but then they're stopped by the industry, because they can only
get so far without a label, and it's very cliquey.
JE: How many albums did you sign for?
NW: We were originally on an indie label, Doghouse, and they had us for three,
and they sold us to Dreamworks and they tacked two on to that...
JE: So you've got a five album deal? That's interesting, because we've been
talking about how al these new bands coming through don't have the luxury of a
three, four, five album deal like we had, where you're allowed to fuck off now
and again! You're allowed to make a record, and there's something that used to
be called Artist Development, where your first album wasn't supposed to sell, it
was just supposed to lead up tot the one that made you go through the
stratosphere. And that's exactly what happened to us! Recently, if your first
album doesn't recoup, you don't make a second album, because you didn't make a
profit, so fuck off! If you think about our second generation competition, you
might want to call it - Live from the mid-'90s, Soul Asylum, Candlebox, where
the fuck are they? I thought that Candlebox record wasn't a bad record, and
they were on Madonna's record, and they were opening for Van Halen in front of
20,000 people a night. Then the second record came out, which is technically a
better record, and they're headlining on their own and not playing in front of
20,000 every night, and the accountant at Madonna's label goes, "See ya..." How
many bands from say '91 are still hanging in there and doing what a Beatles, or
Zeppelin, or a Stones - or to a lesser extent, even us - did? Very few of them.
Nobody really cares about Pearl Jam anymore - You don't see people making a big
deal about Eddie Vedder anymore. Counting Crows have been around for ten years,
but they're only having mild success, it's a different generation. Sav said
something the other week - We're in our 40s, the Stones are in their 60s, and
Aerosmith are in their 50s. If Aerosmith become the Stones, and we become
Aerosmith, who the fuck becomes us? There's nobody there! Sugar Ray? They've
pretty much disappeared! It's just a product. It's like putting out another
version of Sprite - It's not like anyone gives a shit. It's so in your face
when it comes out, everybody knows about your personalities when you first come
out, because it's everywhere. There was a mystique back with Led Zeppelin, but
there can't be that anymore. You have to reinvent yourself, but not everyone
can be Cher or Madonna.
PC: Because of the TV, because of that whole thing... Now you're a rock fan
going, "Oh they're not cool any more..." Like Sugar Ray - They were like an
alternative band, then they tried to jump on every bandwagon, and it's like a
boy band thing, you can't push too far.
JE: Once you've seen him hosting the 15th Best Ever Top 100 Videos Ever, you
might as well see Connie Chung or Walter Cronkite doing it, because that's all
they are. There's nothing to learn about this person anymore.
PC: You lose respect for them as an artist.
JE: It's really interesting that you've got a five album deal... As long as the
record company is still there, and the people that believe in you are still
working at that label when your third, fourth, and fifth album come out...
That's what we're up against now - Never mind when we signer our deal in '79,
there's nobody there from when we recorded Slang. Nobody. People there right
now don't even know who we are, but we've got a 500-page contract, so they go,
"Oh, another record from Def Leppard... Who are they again?" We're signed to
your label, you twat. We paid for that desk you're working on, and that marble
fucking floor that you eat your sushi off of at dinner time, I paid for! Not
that we're bitter or anything, it's just an observation. [Laughing] We're beyond
bitter, because it becomes humorous. Look at Prince... Prince was huge, and he
had to go around with "Slave" tattooed on his head for three years to get his
NW: Going back to where we were before we got sidetracked, it really is hard to
get things done on the road - Between interviews, sound checks, meet and greets,
and it all centers around, for us, that 45 minutes that we get to play... What's
a day like for you?
JE: It's exactly the same as yours...
PC: This morning I woke up and went to Starbucks, came back, took a crap...
[Laughing] It's good being a tourist sometimes, if you're in the mood, but
sometimes you're not, and it's different every day, but it's still about the
show, and you can't go too far.
NW: Is there anything you'd tell someone like myself, or a band just getting
started? Any advice?
JE: Yeah, learn to bite your tongue.
PC: We actually love being on tour with each other - We've been doing it for 20
years. We started when we barely met, but now it's easier because we can get
along. We got beyond everything early on, and that made it a pleasure. You
discover each other's idiosyncrasies, you find them out early on...
JE: They don't change, but they're a little less, and everyone knows when to
back off and when to confront someone. When he jerks off into my coffee, I can
just say, "Please don't do that anymore..." We've been on that road to
discovery, and we're three-quarters of the way down it. We know enough about
each other, where you can tell when they walk off the tour bus or get out of the
bunk that there's a problem, and you don't bother them about it. You discover
things as you go along, and as you achieve different levels of success, it
affects people differently. But if you're all there at the same time, there
isn't someone who feels left out because he was taking a shit when the manager
told you that you went No. 1, and all of a sudden he thinks he's Ring and isn't
as loved as the other three... If everybody's on the same level, it kind of
helps, because if one of you starts floating off like a helium balloon, the
other three can pull you back. But one of the best things about being in this
band is that we can't totally just see each other. Phil and I have certain
elements of our lives in common, like we go to the movies, and Vivian and I will
discuss football, Sav and I will discuss something else, Sav and Rick will have
a different conversation, and those little snippets or pockets that you want to
tell someone will mean more to one person than they will the next. It's like a
family, you just know. There's no need telling your dad you're in the mood for
cherry pie if your mother is the cook in the house, he's too busy cleaning the
garage... A good sense of humor - You've got to have a sense of humor to be in a
band, that's for sure. Once you've reached that point where nothing shocks you
anymore, you can just laugh at everything. People are always asking what advice
we can give, but you can't really give advice - What's right for us might be
wrong for someone else. The best advice I can give is, "Don't listen to my
advice!" Go with your heart, until your heart doesn't know where it's going,
then ask someone else...
NW: Looking at the writing credits over the years, is there a way you prefer to
write? Mutt Lange did a lot for a few years...
JE: Pyromania, Hysteria and Adrenalize, he co-wrote every song but one on those
three albums. He did some on High And Dry, but not as much. He was there for
the other stuff, and he was like number six to us - He would take our riffs and
be like, "Try that there..." He was the guy that we wanted to work with, and we
didn't want to upset the apple cart - We were young, and we were still students.
A band like Foreigner with four platinum albums, they've got an opinion. We
wanted to learn from him, he did Back In Black for fuck's sake! If he made
suggestions, we were young enough to want to learn from the guy. What's the
point of working with someone if you can't learn from them? We don't mind who
we work with, though. If Vivian is walking around the dressing room, and he's
playing something that I've never heard, but I like, the first thing I'll say
is, "What's that?" If he says it's just something he's doing, I'll say it's
great... All of a sudden he gets excited because I'm excited, then we pursue it
and it gets at least that far. If everyone thinks it's a cool riff, we know
we'll work on it for the next record.
PC: The funny thing is, usually if the first take goes well, it's better than
any other version will be, that's the magical take. A lot of engineers don't
get that. In the classic rock 'n' roll sense, it's great when you get that
magic, and if you don't, you try and recreate it.
JE: More often than not, a lot of the stuff we've done with Mutt wasn't in the
first take, but he makes it sound like a first take. It's totally acting. You
have to sound real, and that's all he wants from you. You have to get past the
boredom factor to the point where it's in your DNA and it's natural. If you're
singing, hopefully you've still got your voice at that point. It's like
climbing a mountain, you can't appreciate it until you get to the top.
NW: We were making this video for one of our songs, and the Director wanted me
to wear a Clash t-shirt, but I found a Hysteria shirt and said, "This needs to
be in the video..." The weird thing is, [Clash drummer] Joe Strummer died the
JE: Don't blame yourself!
NW: It's funny, because in the last scene, the guy and girl breakup, and the
things he got from the girl he chucked off a cliff - I told them that they
needed to use a stunt t-shirt, because I was taking that one home! [Laughing]
And, ironically it's the High And Dry tape was sitting on the dashboard of the
car... So thanks for putting up with me!
JE: It's a pleasure, because you come from a totally different angle. It's
interesting, because Bon Jovi interviewed me for something on the Slang tour
back in '96, but other than that, this is the first time we've had actual human
contact with someone in a band who admits to liking us, and growing up listening
to us. We went through the '90s being the Antichrist. Kurt Cobain, Alice In
Chains, Soundgarden... If they could have lined us up and shot us, they would
have. It's only now that music is becoming more uplifting, major key over minor
key, happy choruses and hooks, and humor - There was always humor in everything
we did. You listen to a band like Staind, and they're good, but it's like a
needle in your arm sometimes. I just read something about them said, "More
misery from the boys from Staind." More misery? What's there to be miserable
about? They just got an eight million dollar check for their last album, what
is there to be miserable about? They've paid their mortgages, they paid for the
cars. Even if you're miserable to begin with, that's got to cheer you up a bit!
VC: Unfortunately, Def Leppard get lumped into that whole '80s hair band thing,
as heavy metal. Def Leppard aren't a hair band or a metal band. Guilty of a
few bad mullets, maybe, so was Bono! Ripped jeans? Everyone was guilty of
fashion fopas [sic] in the '80s, but that's the only thing you can really pin on
Def Leppard, after being associated all that shit music that came from that era.
Finally, the band is getting respect because we never quit, we never went away,
and we actually made music and went through the '90s and came out on the
topside. On top of that, we don't suck, we're actually really good! We do what
we do very, very well.
JE: And it's really gelling well on this tour. We don't count wrong chords. We
have never had post-gig discussions, "Look, you're fucking up too often." If a
mistake is discussed, it's in the shower with tons of laughter - "Was that you
that played that bum note in 'Rocket'? Fuck that was a good one!" Nobody
PC: By the time we get on tour, it's a payoff for all that hard work, and that's
how we treat it. It's fun, and it's supposed to be. You're supposed to laugh,
you're supposed to fuck things up, because it's fun.
NW: I just thank God that bands like you and Bon Jovi, bands that play in major
keys and obviously enjoy what they're doing and aren't making kids cry.
JE: We're escapism - Come see us for two hours and forget you have a mortgage,
or that your wife just left you, or that you hate your boss. That's what rock
'n' roll is supposed to be, escapism. That doesn't mean that we're not
intelligent, we've probably got more brains than most of the bands that pretend
they're intelligent. We make music to entertain, not to educate, they've gone
straight over people's heads - "Rock Of Ages," "Photograph," and "Let's Get
Rocked" are going to get remembered before "Desert Song" or "Where Does Love Go
When It Dies," which are intelligent lyrics.