Interview with Steve Clark & Phil Collen

SOURCE: CIRCUS MAGAZINE – JUNE 30TH 1988

During their 1983 Pyromania tour, Def Leppard established themselves as a hard-partying bunch of young Brits, seemingly without a care in the world. But that was before the now well-documented four-and-a-half years of struggle; Rick Allen’s tragic car accident, producer Mutt Lange’s ill health and schedule conflicts, plus a catalogue full of lesser hassles and delays.

Their current Hysteria LP is approaching the multi-platinum sales level of their ’83 breakthrough, but it’s not a case of back to the good old days. The Def Leppard that’s on the road today is quite a different animal from its predecessor.

The band will be returning to the U.S. for another leg of their almost year-long tour in July and August. Before departing for Japan last May, the twin guitar team of Phil Collen and Steve Clark took time out from their eternally crazed schedule to open up about the life and times of Def Leppard, circa 1988.

When things get really hectic on the road, what do you do to relax? Any particular hobbies or sports?

Phil: We really don’t have much time. In the summer, we play soccer. Otherwise, we get up in the morning, get to the next place, do soundcheck, meet people, do interviews, do the show and then it’s 1:00 and time for bed.

Steve: (quips) This is so exciting! [Kids will read it and say], “I wanna be a milkman.”

Phil: If you stay up all night, you feel like crap the next day. We were in a smoky nightclub the other night – we must have been out about twice since we’ve been on tour – and the next morning we were all (coughs at length)… and we couldn’t sing properly.

Steve: [Our going out is like], “YEAH, ROCK & ROLL!!, uh, where’s the cab [home]?” We are the most boring band in the world.

Steve with Gibson Firebird '76

Did you ever think you were too normal and not ego’d out enough to be rock stars?

Phil: I don’t understand bands that act rock star-ish – unless they’re Mick Jagger or Sting or Springsteen – because I don’t think it’s justified. We’re just normal guys.

Steve: We have to wear Def Leppard t-shirts, like I’m in the band.

You had a much wilder reputation when you first started out.

Steve: It was so new to us before, we used to go all rock & roll. Now, we’re more into getting on with our lives individually, not hanging out every moment. We all know what we like to do. If I want to go to the gym, I’ll ring Phil. If I want to go to a bar, I’ll ring Sav [Rick Savage].

You’re not big on bars anymore Phil?

Phil: I stopped drinking ten months ago. Complete teetotaler. We were doing a video, and since I’d spent four years in the studio, I had these love handles. I thought, I gotta stop drinking beer and look right for these videos. So I stopped for two, three weeks, and I felt great. Woke up in the morning and didn’t feel shitty, the colour came back to me face. It made such a difference that I just carried on doing it. I thought, now as I get back to touring, I’ll have the tequila and Jack – but I just kept away from it, and it made such an improvement, you wouldn’t believe it. Joe [Elliott] stopped four months ago as well.

How about you Steve?

Steve: (Emphatically) It ends with Joe.

What about other bad substances? Ever get into them?

Phil: (quips) No, they’re bad for you.

Steve: Next question.

Okay, how about sex? Do you have regular girlfriends and what do they do in real life?

Steve: Mine’s a model. (laughs) What a fucking cliché.

Actually, strippers seem to be the big fad this year, at least with L.A. bands.

Steve: Well, I better train her to be a stripper, then.

Phil: Shame I’m not from L.A. But no one in the band’s married or anything…

Steve: Oh, let’s get one point clear right now. I’m not married. Everyone in America thinks I’m fucking married.

Phil: You are…

Steve: Listen, you wanker, shut up. I’m not married. I never have been. Thank you.

Phil: Marriage wouldn’t work out. It’s the way the band is. We don’t live anywhere. We spent four years in studios in Holland and Ireland and Paris, and then we went on tour. So we’re not really in one place long enough.

For a long time you were more popular in the U.S. than in your native England. Why do you think this is so?

Phil: It’s not really so anymore.

Steve: In England – and this is just a generalization – they resent any kind of success ‘cause they’re so unambitious themselves.

Phil: In America, you see a Rolls Royce go by, you think, “someday, I’m getting one of them.” In England they think, “rich bastard.”

Steve: Plus, the English music business is very fashion-oriented. You gotta dress up like Boy George, and you only last as long as the image. In the U.S., they still listen to Led Zeppelin. In England, it’s kind of the flavour of the month. I guess we’re the flavour of the month now.

Phil: We went to the U.S. and so did Iron maiden, but we got all the flack for it. People think we walk around with a million dollars in our pockets, and it’s not like that.

But now your countrymen think you’ve suffered enough?

Steve: I think that’s it.

Phil: In a horrible way, maybe it was Rick losing his arm and all that shit we went through the last four years. Maybe they think we’ve paid our dues.

During those fateful four-and-a-half years, did you ever think it wasn’t going to come together?

Phil: Oh yeah, every day.

When did you really believe it was going to turn out okay?

Steve: (Laughs) When Mutt Lange phoned us and said, “I’ve finished the last mix, boys.” We were also thinking [then], “If we ever get this together, is anybody gonna care?” After all the stuff we went through, it was amazing there were any fans left.

Phil: But we got over feeling nervous about it after the first year. We’d blown our momentum, so we were gonna have to do a good album.

Steve: We decided, we won’t settle for second best. And if it does all fall apart, so what? Here’s a guy [who] lost his arm and he’s still playing. So who are we to complain?

How did that time change you?

Steve: As a band, we’re so much better, so much more professional. We were laughing about this the other day. We used to take everything for granted – playing-wise, back-up vocals. You’d stay up all night and then you’d expect to be out singing the next day. We listen to old tapes versus the new stuff and think, “we got away with that?”

Phil: As individuals, everyone realized it’s not worth worrying about little things. We miss the train, we say “so what” and get the next one. If we could get through [the last four years], we could get through anything.