Steve: “But there’s a big fallacy about studios – that if you’re in a great studio with all the most up-to-date gadgetry then you’re going to get a great sound. And that’s total bullshit. If you know what you’re doing you could be in any studio. And it’s always the songs in the first place.”
Much has been said about Rick Allen’s tragic accident, but technological developments and the vast array of electronics open to today’s drummer have helped keep him in the band. The specifics of Rick’s kit are covered elsewhere, but I wondered whether they had become more interested in the technology side of things. (At the moment, Hard Rock bands as a breed are generally reluctant to embrace new developments in band hardware.)
Steve: “What happened in the accident was a terrible experience, obviously, especially for Rick. But if that hadn’t happened he’d still be using an acoustic kit and we’d be a standard Rock band – Marshalls and everything. But it opened our eyes up to technology that we would otherwise never have got into.”
Phil: “Rick’s is an instrument that we can turn down, and as we do a lot of backing vocals that’s a real bonus. You don’t get drums going down the vocal mikes, and as there’s no mikes on the drums, apart from the overheads for the cymbals, you don’t get guitars going down the drum mikes and whatnot.”
Steve: “When we realised what could be done with the kit it just led us to other things. The next thing was the Marshalls. We looked at them and decided they aren’t that great. And they’re not! We’ve binned the Marshalls and totally use Randall amps now. We’ve got the rack mounted ones, a couple each that we run in stereo. The great thing about them is that the EQ actually works! We went to America and just went through loads of amplifiers – a ‘working’ vacation – and ended up picking the Randalls.”
Phil: “We also used Gallien Krueger’s on some bits on the album, and Rockmans on quite a lot of the stuff – but with lots done to them in terms of EQ. Every sound is always a combination of different things; it’s never one amp for one sound, or whatever. As for keyboards, we actually used less on this album than before. There’s one track, Love Bites, that we’ve got keyboards on, but on the rest of the tracks we started to use more – and tougher – guitar. I got a guitar synth, and for the first week or so it was good fun, but being a guitarist I wanted to hear guitars, so in the end I binned it. Things move so fast. When we started the album, the Fairlight 1 was out, and when we finished it, the Fairlight 3 was out! We even had to update some of the earlier stuff, because it was already starting to sound dated.”
Steve: “We always thought that Pyromania, for it’s time, was a very well recorded Rock album. But dynamically there’s nothing there, compared to what we’re doing now. We were very conscious not to make ‘Pyromania II’.
We always try to do something slightly different with every album, and for this one we had a sort of standing joke between us – which we actually carried out – which was that at any particular time we never played the same chord. There’s always two different guitar parts going off at the same time, which don’t necessarily make any sense in the backing track unless you hear both of them together.”
I show them a copy of a Def Leppard Beatroute from some while back and ask if much has changed.
Phil: “Cor, bloody ‘ell! It’s totally different. You can scrap that! I’m now using Jackson guitars, new Sony transmitters, which have no noise at all, unlike the Nadys, Randall amplification and TC electronics for having lots of different pre-sets.”
Steve: “I endorse Gibson, who went through a really bad phase, but I think they’re coming back. They’ve just done me some that are really good – even updating the wiring and things for me – so I’m happy with Gibson now. Backline is pretty identical to Phil’s.”
Producer ‘problems’ and accidents were obviously major factors in the ‘why three years?’ saga. But ask the two guitarists about their method of putting down tracks – the bit by bit construction or the all in the studio together, ‘live’ approach – and it’s surprising they’re still not on the backing tracks.
Phil: “None of us play together. We get a drum click track down to play to and do the guitars next. It may not sound like it but we do so many guitars. Some of the stuff on there has chords where we recorded each string individually to get the fullness. We spend a lot of time on guitars.”
Steve: “There are certain notes that you might want to hit in a chord that might be musically what you want, but you get modulation – like if you hit a C# and a G. We might put a track of that down anyway, but then, as Phil said, we’ll play every individual note of that chord perfectly in time, to get the clarity. And we might do that eight times each. Yes, it takes a lot of time! And it’s very hard to get it not to sound like it’s been done that way.
So we do it that way, over the click track, then do backing vocals… and the bass last. And by then, if we could get enough dynamics playing just to a click track, with no cymbals or anything, then we knew that when we put the drums and cymbals on it was really going to elevate it.
But who knows how we’ll do the next one. We may do the fifth album ‘live’, with everyone playing together and everything going straight down onto tape.”
Phil: “We’ll probably do something of a combination. Whatever suits; if it’s a Rock track we’ll record it as a Rock band; if it’s something more involved we’ll probably do it this way. It’s not the way that we always record, it’s just the way that we chose to do this album.”
The way things stand at the moment, Def Leppard are preparing to go off on a tour that will keep them away for more than eighteen months once they get started. After the amount of time they’ve been stuck in studios it’s going to be like coming out of prison. Perhaps surprisingly the Hysteria experience hasn’t put them off poking their heads into a recording studio ever again.
Phil: “We’ve started writing for the next one already. It’s one of the things we’ve learned. You have got to start now. If we had some time, we’d start recording it now.”
Steve: “An idea we’re toying with now is that if we get four or five days off anywhere while we’re on tour, and we have a song ready, we’ll go into a studio and put it down. We might even have five or six tracks finished by the end of the tour!”
I was thinking of asking whether, in that case, they’ll only need 18 months in the studio to do the rest of the next album, but I thought better of it.