Vassil Varbanov of Bulgaria's Tangra Mega Rock recently conducted an interview with DEF LEPPARD frontman Joe Elliott. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow.
Tangra Mega Rock: Do you feel something like a clash between the younger rock generations and you guys — I mean in terms of musicians, not the crowd?
Elliott: No. I don't ever feel competitiveness — it's thrown at me by the media. The media are always trying to make you competitive. I've been asked so many times whether we're in competition with WHITESNAKE. No, we're not! Now we're going out on a co-headlining tour as allies. It's as ridiculous as saying the British army is in competition with the American army in Iraq! They're working together for a common goal. What we are trying to achieve is 1 and 1 makes 3. We are a big band, they are a big band, and if we get together, we are bigger. This makes it more of a spectacle. It should be obvious to people that with the state of music business right now, which is just dying on its ass, the only thing that's surviving is live. We've been doing co-headlining tours for four years in the States — BRYAN ADAMS, JOURNEY — in 2005-2006 it worked brilliantly both for us and for those guys. To do it with a British band in Britain and now in Europe was a logical thing to do. You'll see over the next 4-5 years loads of people doing this. We were just the first to do it here. We did it, because in 2004 our booking agency in America had this brainwave to put BOB DYLAN and WILLIE NELSON on the same bill. What happens is that when the baseball season is closed, these massive fields do nothing, so they just suggest, "How about renting them out to the rock'n'roll industry?" This way they get something, and we get to use these fields, which cost a lot less money, so everybody's happy. So BOB DYLAN and WILLIE NELSON did it, and I saw that BOB DYLAN — BOB Fuckin' DYLAN! — is going as an opening act for WILLIE NELSON! And he's ok with this! That's brilliant! That removed all ego from the situation. So then, when we got off with BRYAN ADAMS, we played at baseball stadiums in front of 23-24 thousand people. When we went out with JOURNEY, it was a similar thing. And the same thing last year, with STYX and REO SPEEDWAGON and FOREIGNER. With this one, for the British shows we were going out last. Tonight we'll also be last, but last night in Albania we were first. There's no ego, no competition. I want everybody to be successful! This is not the Olympics! I would love to see the charts full of rock bands again. Back in 1988 there was a little period in the summer in America where any given week there was either us or GUNS N' ROSES or VAN HALEN, and we were keeping people like MARIAH CAREY and WHITNEY HOUSTON out of the charts! I'd be more interested in getting together with these people. If you have to be competitive, try to get rid of rap and R&B, which I don't have anything against, but the way that the industry has tried to shove rock aside only makes it stronger. So I don't feel any competition with any of these bands. The only time that I will say something negative about a band is when I'm just being pissy, because they say something negative about me. If Ronnie James Dio — as he did — said on that YouTube piece when somebody mentioned Vivian [Campbell, DEF LEPPARD guitarist], "I hope he fuckin' dies!" I would just say, "Ronnie James Dio, go fuck yourself!" So if somebody says, "DEF LEPPARD suck!", then I'll just back the ball like in tennis and say, "No, you suck, man!", but generally speaking, I don't have these problems. When people meet me, they normally see something beyond "Let's Get Rocked". Once they get to know us, people start to think differently about us, not just seeing what's on the surface. It's just a matter of communication, and that's the biggest problem this entire planet has — the lack of it.
Tangra Mega Rock: I believe people respect you at least for one thing — back then, after that accident with your drummer, you didn't fire him but went on with him, despite the fact that he lost his arm. I think this is probably the biggest gesture in rock'n'roll history.
Elliott: We can't take too much credit for it. We are a family unit — you don't kick a brother or a sister out after a car accident. Plus the fact that we were too scared to kick him out, ha-ha! He's got so much will power! He probably wouldn't have gone if we had fired him. Our whole attitude towards Rick's accident was that it's his choice. If he can't make it, he'll know and he won't wanna be below what it was before, so he would have quit and we wouldn't have to fire him. That's why he is still in the band. Rick is not an excuse to like this band. I'd respect the fact if somebody says that we suck more than if somebody's sorry for us. I don't want people to feel sorry for us.
Tangra Mega Rock: Back in the '80s, bands were more like a family unit, while now some of them are a lot more like a corporation...
Elliott: Oh, absolutely. Take WHITESNAKE for example — excluding David, there's probably been like 37 people in this band. It's really David Coverdale. WHITESNAKE is more like David Bowie than a real band. It's basically David Coverdale, but the name WHITESNAKE is a franchise that's gonna work. David Bowie has probably worked with more musicians than WHITESNAKE, but he doesn't get criticized for it, because he's David Bowie. This is where the solo artist always wins over a band... Everybody in the music business knows that we're good guys, we're ego-free, we don't carry security, we don't have ring of guys pushing the fans away, we go with the fans when it's raining and sign autographs... unless I'm sick like I was in Canada, ha-ha! We communicate with people in the best way we can. When somebody knows that and then they say, "Alright, but I hate their music," then I'm fine, I don't have a problem with that. I don't expect people to like our music because of us being nice people. I expect them to like our music because they like our music. These are two separate issues to me, and I don't lose sleep over either of them. It's just business. Once you put yourself in the fiery line, half the world will want to kiss you and the other half will want to kill you.
Read the entire interview from Tangra Mega Rock.