Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #128. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Def Leppard return to Australia in November to celebrate their mega‑smash Hysteria album. Phil Collen will be bringing some new guitar gear with him, too. Words by Peter Hodgson.
Def Leppard’s fourth album, Hysteria, has gone through an interesting life. Selling about a bajillion copies in the ‘80s, it was a slick, state-of-the-art record that blended pop melodies with a heavy rock sensibility. Over time, it started to sound quite dated – especially as bands went back to basics in the ‘90s.
Then, something strange happened: advances in recording technology meant it was easier to get that pristine, produced, orchestrated sound, and now, Hysteria sounds incredibly current again. Put aside the fact that you’ve heard “Pour Some Sugar On Me” a million times and listen to a track like “Gods Of War” instead, and you’ll notice that Def Leppard were employing production tricks in 1987 that producers use as a matter of routine now – except that Leppard were doing it all one track at a time. On tape.
“Credit for that should go to [producer] Mutt Lange,” guitarist Phil Collen says. “He was so ahead of the curve, and he still is! I last worked with him probably about five years ago, and he just gets better all the time. It’s crazy. He’s so talented, and I’ve never known anyone to work so hard. He’s great to be around, too, which makes all the difference in the world. He pushes you to be a better player, singer... Everything.”
Australian audiences will soon have the rare opportunity to hear this classic album performed in full, along with a selection of other choice cuts.
“You have to please most of the people,” Collen notes. “You have to do the songs everyone expects or they’ll be really upset. So you play the hits, and then you have a little bit of space for maybe one song for you. It’s a great problem to have; ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, ‘Photograph’, ‘Hysteria’, ‘Love Bites’ – you have to do those songs otherwise you really piss off a lot of people! But then we’ll put in a new song or throw a deep cut in. The fact that we’re doing all of Hysteria means we’re doing a bunch of songs we don’t normally do, like ‘Gods Of War’ and ‘Excitable’.”
In other major news, Def Leppard’s entire discography has finally made its way onto streaming services, opening up some deeper gems to fans who may have missed certain albums. And already, Collen is noticing how fans’ relationships to the catalogue are changing.
“You can actually see what countries – and even what towns – people are streaming from and what they’re listening to,” he beams. “One song that’s become really popular in the States recently is ‘When Love And Hate Collides’, which we never really released as a single over there. It got to #1 in England and #2 in Ireland and it was a big hit in other places, but not the States. But now it’s becoming a really popular song, so we’re going to play it this year on the American tour.
“You can literally look at the towns and say, ‘In this town, this song is really popular.’ I remember ‘Run Riot’ being really popular in Australia while it wasn’t in the States – we’d play it in Oz and everyone would go wild!”
Being an avowed guitar nut, Collen always has fun new pieces to talk about. “I’ve always got cool new guitars,” he laughs. “I use the Jackson PC-1. Me and Larry DiMarzio are really good friends, and he’s been working on a signature pickup for me that I’ve got in one of my PC-1s. I tried it on a Strat on the G3 tour, and we’ve been tweaking it and tweaking it, so I’m excited about that.
“But what I’m really excited about is the fact I’ve just changed my backline. I’ve used the same amps for pretty much 20 years – a Marshall JMP-1 with an old Randall power amp, through a Fractal Axe-Fx for the effects. On the G3 tour, the company Blackstar made this really lovely amp based on an ID:60 amp – a 300-watt version in stereo – and I had four two‑by-12 cabinets. But for the new Def Leppard tour, there’s a third gen Fractal and I’m not using any amps or power amps – I’m just using the Fractal, and these two little powered speakers by a company called Atomic, which both put out about 1,000 watts. You could put all of that in a backpack, almost! I’m so excited about that.
“Vivian Campbell came down last week; he plugged into my thing and went, ‘Oh my god!’ so I think he’s going to go over to it, and so is Ric Savage, and it’s a whole new format for us. John Petrucci got one to try out on the G3 tour and I heard this sound coming out of his dressing room. I walked past and said, ‘Oh my god, what’s that?’ And he said, ‘It’s this new Fractal. Grab your guitar!’ I plugged in, and it was the best sound I’ve ever had. So he sent me over his presets and my tech modified them for Def Leppard, and that’s the sound I’m gonna be using out on tour. It’s crazy!”
Friday November 2nd - Perth Arena, Perth
Sunday November 4th - Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Tuesday November 6th - Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane
Thursday November 8th - Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Saturday November 10th - ICC Theatre, Sydney