INTERVIEW WITH STEVE CLARK & PHIL COLLEN

SOURCE: Guitar World – September 1983 | By Joe Lalaina

To hear Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark tell it, “The band was starting to get a bit lazy” before latching onto its new member, second guitarist Phil Collen. “But now that Phil has joined, his enthusiasm has rubbed off on everybody and has given the band a new lease on life. Our guitar playing is also more adventurous than it was when Pete Willis was sharing guitar duties with me. Pete and I were usually chuggin’ along playing the same riffs. Phil has a different approach – we tend to play across each other. While Phil is concentrating on the high end, I will play the low notes and this allows us to get a fuller, richer sound.”

Their sound isn’t the only thing that is getting richer. In fact, before this British band had a chance to play a gig in America to promote its latest PolyGram release, Pyromania, it was already Top Ten on the Billboard chart. The group’s previous LP, High ‘n’ Dry, was also there – still hovering in the top hundred. Not bad for a band who’s first release, On Through The Night, was based on the same recycled riffs bludgeoned to death by every heavy metal band from Black Sabbath to Judas Priest. But now, with its third LP, Def Leppard has developed its own style and parlayed it into chart-topping melodic metal.

“We offer a lot more melody than most heavy rock bands, vocally as well as musically,” adds Phil Collen, who is seated next to Steve Clark in a New York City conference room, “There is a lot more emphasis on songs now, as opposed to just loud riffs and solos,”

Clark chimes in. “What we try to do is carefully work a solo into a song. Our fans want to hear the song, not the guitar solo. The solo should be part of the song and not stand out like a sore thumb. Many guitarists have the problem of not knowing when to end the solo. Soloing is a bit like painting – you’ve got to know when to stop because if you add too much you’ll ruin everything.”

Soloing is kept to a minimum on Pyromania. As Steve Clark establishes the music’s backbone with fierce rhythmic chops, Phil Collen burns up the frets with a rapid-fire succession of sixteenth-note runs, shaping them with tasteful note bends and a shimmering vibrato, “I approach the guitar the way Al DiMeola would if he were playing rock and roll,” Collen muses, reaching for a smile. “Ever since I saw DiMeola play on television in England, I knew I wanted to play like that. His style impressed me so much that I actually changed my technique from a Ritchie Blackmore-influenced one to a ballsy jazz-rock approach – without actually playing jazz-rock.”

Led Zeppelin was the band that has influenced Clark the most: “When I heard Jimmy Page, I said, ‘Dad, I want a guitar.’ What I liked so much about him was that he played amazing riffs with so much style and feel. From the moment i heard Page, I knew his type of music was what I wanted to play.”

Although Collen’s and Clark’s favourite rock six-stringers have come from one-guitar groups, both believe a band is better off having two axemen, each playing different riffs “A lot of guitarists in two-guitar bands play almost exactly the same,” Collen asserts, as Clark nods his head in agreement. “The style we adopted on Pyromania is not to play the same parts during a song. If you take one guitar away our music just wouldn’t sound proper. When we play different riffs that blend together it improves the sound incredibly.”

This playing style is particularly apparent on the current album. While Def Leppard’s previous LP demonstrated the guitar team’s ability to play harmonies, Pyromania shows a different approach to a popular technique.

Thin Lizzy was one of the first heavy rock bands to use guitar harmonies,” says Clark, “and many others were influenced by it. But I think it’s a bit dated now, which is one reason we didn’t want to do them on Pyromania. We did harmonies on our last album, but we didn’t want to get in a rut of being a guitar harmony band. So on the current album we do them on the chords instead, because I think that is taking the harmony thing a step further.”

Steve Clark with Gibson Les Paul

“We wanted to get the right guitar sound for every song,” Clark continues, “so we had to do a lot of overdubbing on Pyromania, which is something we haven’t done too much of in the past.

On some of the songs we laid down two tracks of Les Paul for the low end, two tracks of SG’s for the mid-range and then two tracks of Telecasters for the highs. By mixing them all together we got a full spectrum of guitar sound.”

Clark attributes the quality of Def Leppard’s studio sound to producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (also of AC/DC’s Back In Black and Foreigner 4, both multi-platinum sellers). “‘Mutt’ is a trained musician himself and he will change an arrangement around if it’s not right. He is able to put himself into a record buyer’s position. Besides, when you’re working with ‘Mutt’ you come out of the studio a better musician. This helps when you’re playing a concert because you now know the songs inside out and as a result it makes your guitar playing a lot better.”

Clark has three guitars with him on the Pyromania tour: a ’76 Gibson Les Pall Cherry Sunburst Deluxe, a ’75 Gibson Les Paul Standard and a brand-new Gibson Les Paul XR-1. Collen, on the other hand, uses a black ’81 Ibanez Customized Destroyer with three humbuckers and a precision-made Dave Story Tremolo. “Ibanez built a guitar for me in Japan when I was in Girl,” Collen reflects. “I really like the tremolo because once it’s clamped you can still fine tune it.”

As for special effects, Collen doesn’t use any. Clark though uses a Boss chorus, a Boss delay and a Morley volume booster. “The effects I use are so slight most people don’t realise I have them on,” Clark notes. “I don’t like real gimmicky effects that totally alter what I’m playing, just subtle ones that enhance my sound.”

In the near future Def Leppard will be seeking to enhance its double-axe attack even more. “On our fourth album we will be playing more songs where each guitar will be playing different parts,” Clark predicts. “And maybe we’ll add a keyboard player for our next tour. But no matter what happens, we’re not going to let the success of Pyromania get to our heads – no way. We are going to work so hard on our next release that it will be better than anything we’ve ever done.”