DEF LEPPARD Guitarist Says Grunge Was 'America's Punk Movement'

BigMusicGeek.com recently conducted an interview with DEF LEPPARD/MAN RAZE guitarist Phil Collen. Several excerpts follow:

BigMusicGeek.com: Overall, aside from not collaborating with the other members of the group, how did the songwriting process for (the MAN RAZE debut) Surreal historically differ from your experiences writing with DEF LEPPARD?

Phil: "In the '90s, we had an album called 'Slang'. We put out that album as a sort of response to all of the things that we had been doing before, ya know? 'Hysteria' and 'Adrenalize' sounded very similar…and then there was the whole grunge thing, which really was America's punk movement. We saw that whole thing exploding for absolutely all the right reasons and we thought it would be a great opportunity to star recording something a little different. But the fans and the industry didn't like it when we actually veered away and did something a little bit more special and natural for us, ya know? That kinda stung, really. But with that being said, with MAN RAZE, you can push that sort of thing a little bit further. …We can go dub reggae; we can do full-on punk if we want. It's a great. Like I said, it's great…it's very liberating. With DEF LEPPARD, we spoke about it a million times, but we were like, 'Well, we can't go there.' It's a shame, ya know? Because you want to draw out more as a band, but it's a lot more difficult in DEF LEPPARD. We have to think a lot harder about who we're appealing to and how we're not going to put people off. It's a real drain. You can't just go 'Okay, I'm just gonna create something and express myself'. With MAN RAZE, you can actually do that. This was our first album and we could have done anything we wanted. We'll see what happens (laughs). We may have to keep doing this because we've painted ourselves into a corner or something (laughs)."

BigMusicGeek.com: Does DEF LEPPARD's past, and thus the group's established sound, ultimately dictate what the group can and cannot do creatively?

Phil: "It does. We just put out this album called 'Songs From The Sparkle Lounge'… And what we learned from our covers album (2006's 'Yeah!') is that you can't succumb to everyone. People we're like, 'Well, you guys should do this song. It was a hit.' And we were like, 'No. We wanna do 'Drive-In Saturday' by DAVID BOWIE.' Nobody knew it, but it's really special to us, so we wanted to do it. 'Yeah!' was a very selfish album, but the good thing about it was that a lot of people actually liked it. We actually did the next album kinda like that, ya know? In this environment, it totally worked. We had all these songs that were slightly different like the thing we did with Tim McGraw ('Nine Lives'). Everyone brought in these different ideas, but they all kinda worked. We'd done it very quickly for a DEF LEPPARD album, really. So that was kinda exciting. But again, with MAN RAZE, it's a totally different thing where you can be totally free, even lyrically. You can write about what you want."

BigMusicGeek.com: How do you respond to those that insist that vocally, you sound too similar to Joe Elliott?

Phil: "I think they're listening to the wrong record. To me, it sounds nothing like it. Obviously there's little things that Joe and I sound similar on, but we both pretty much learned from (legendary producer) 'Mutt' Lange, so you're gonna have that. After a while, you just get this blend that you can't really describe. We all learned from the same guy and we started to have a natural blend with our backing vocals… It is something that happens when you sing and perform together enough with someone. It goes above being a musician thing and almost becomes spiritual, ya know? (laughs) It's almost like being channeled or something. When that happens, it's a really cool thing, ya know? Some nights, you've just go no control over it and it's doin' its own thing. I think that's what happened with me, Joe and the rest of the guys. So if there's any comparisons, it's probably because of that, ya know? As far as the actual bands go, I think there's a completely different approach there."

BigMusicGeek.com: In hindsight, what have been the main motivations behind the decidedly prolonged lengths of time between DEF LEPPARD releases? Have the delays always been a conscious decision or simply a consequence of the creative process?

Phil: "I think in the past, it had always just been the way we'd done things, ya know? We'd record an album, put it out, tour for a year and then it'd be three years or five years or whatever before we'd do another album. We managed to cut that down with this album by starting to record it while we were on tour. That really made all the difference in the world. It made a difference in the energy of the record and also to how we broke that nasty, three year, sittin' around middle age cycle, ya know? It really wasn't appealing. The way we're working, we've never been this busy before. I kinda like it, ya know? Again, it's exciting. You can achieve things just by fulfilling little ambitions, ya know? Even if it's just stuff about t-shirts, touring or the production of the show. I get a million e-mails every day and if it's not about DEF LEPPARD, it's about MAN RAZE. Because of that, it keeps me on my toes. Yes, it's very tiring and exhausting, but it's also the reason I got into a band in the first place. It's more musical for me these days than it's ever actually been in my entire life. I'm really diggin' it."

BigMusicGeek.com: To what do you attribute DEF LEPPARD's longevity? It's obvious the group has survived more than its fair share of trials and tribulations…

Phil: "Yeah, and I think that's part of it, actually. I think it forced us to turn into grown-ups or semi-grown-ups from kids, ya know? (laughs) We're still really stupid and make each other laugh a lot, but now we have the experience, ya know? We were just talkin' about mortality…about how we lost (original co-lead guitarist) Steve (Clark), our parents…I've lost both of my parents… It's an issue and we've always been there for each other. We can talk about these things directly with each other because we've been through them together. The more we've been though, the tighter we've gotten, if you like. There's lots of things, ya know? We've always got each other's backs, so there's a nice comfort zone. It's really good that we can share all this shit with each other. It's a really nice thing."

Read the entire interview at BigMusicGeek.com.

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