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A Quietus Interview

We've Soaked Into People's DNA: Joe Elliott Of Def Leppard Speaks
Aug Stone , September 25th, 2013 07:52

Aug Stone chats to the Def Leppard frontman about revisiting Hysteria for the release of their concert film

Classic album shows have become quite the rage this past decade. But what do you do with a record that spawned seven hit singles, needed to sell four million copies just to break even, and went on to sell over 20 million? Take it to Las Vegas for a three-week residency and shoot a concert film of it, of course. Having been at one of the Vegas shows, I can honestly say that Viva Hysteria! does an excellent job of bringing on the excitable feeling of seeing the band live. One wouldn’t say ‘captures’ exactly, a concert attendee would never get those awesome 15-foot close-ups or such a huge moving sense of the proceedings that the film brings to life. But, as Joe Elliott and Rick Savage are keen to stress at the roundtable interview before the London premiere, it was all recorded completely live, "not one overdub…warts and all". The boys are being too modest, there's no evidence of any blemishes, the sound is great. Quite impressive considering the meticulous way the album was recorded. As Joe says, "on a song like Hysteria, there's eleven different guitar parts, and only two guitarists, so you go for the one that may be the most memorable".

Viva Hysteria! offers another chance to consider the album as a whole, and listen to some great songs that time may have overlooked. ‘Gods Of War’, with its killer hooks, was a regular on the Hysteria tour way back when, even at the expense of singles being included in the set. And ‘Love and Affection’, which will be released as a radio single to accompany the cd/dvd release of Viva Hysteria!, is one that stays in your head long after the film ends. And that’s even with 'Rock Of Ages' and 'Photograph' encoring after it.

I caught up with Joe on the phone from his studio in Dublin a few days before the film's worldwide release.

Hi Joe, how’s it going?

Joe Elliott: Pretty good, actually, I’m in the studio doing Down 'N' Outz Two. We have an opportunity right now with us being off the road. I’m dying to get this record finished, having a lot of fun with it at the moment.

So I was checking old set lists from the Hysteria tour and it still seemed like you were playing loads off Pyromania, even some nights more off Pyromania than Hysteria.

JE: Depending on which part of the Hysteria tour. At the front we would’ve been doing, yeah. But of course we would’ve because Hysteria was only our fourth album. It was four years since the Pyromania record had exploded in America. So we were obviously going to be playing quite a few tracks off that too. If you wanna do the comparison, it would be a little like Pink Floyd out with Wish You Were Here and obviously still playing pretty big chunks of Dark Side Of The Moon. At that time we were choosing from only four albums. It was probably about as easy as it was ever going to get for us. From that moment onwards you’re tied down to your past. Even though you want to project your future stuff. Like everybody jokes these days, from the Stones to Elton John, nobody wants to hear your new music anymore. They just want the old stuff, you know?

I was wondering at what point did you realize that Hysteria was the massive album it was, it is?

JE: Well, we didn’t. It wasn’t the massive album that we hoped it would be until almost a year after it came out. Which is really ridiculous. When we finished that album we were totally convinced that it was a great record. Totally convinced. And our record company was just chomping at the bit, going ‘I can’t believe this record, it’s amazing!’ In England it was an absolute instant success, Top five single with ‘Animal’, album went straight in at number one. But in America it was a real slow burner. We went with ‘Women’ as the first single there, which in the pop charts, other than the rock radio, died at number 80. But our management were convinced we should be establishing ourselves with the rock fans rather than the pop fans. So the second single in America was ‘Animal’, which went up the charts and started to nudge the album on.

By Christmas I think we’d only sold just over two-and-a-half million copies. Which is relatively successful for most folk, but having done six million on the previous record - and considering we had to sell about four million to break even - it was an absolute disaster for us. But it just continued to sell. And the album really did well in Europe. By the time we went to do a European tour in late Spring/early Summer of 88, we were going into Stockholm and selling more tickets than ABBA had sold. Paris and places were going nuts. Here’s the crazy thing - while we were in Europe, the album had gone further up the charts in America, because by then ‘Sugar’ had gone to pop radio and absolutely just gone through the roof. We left America having sold about four million records and we came back eight weeks later having sold seven million. It was ridiculous. So it finally hit number one [in the States] forty-nine weeks after it came out. And spent the next two or three months going up and down from number one, swapping places with stuff like Appetite For Destruction and OU812. Us, Van Halen, and Guns N’Roses ruled the summer of 88 in America. We came back to the States and ticket sales had gone just nuts. We were doing three nights everywhere, 20,000 seaters. It was only then that we started realizing the album had finally done what we all hoped that it would do. It did what we hoped it would do in England straight away and it did really well in Europe and Japan. America and Canada was a slow burn and Australia even more so. It finally hit number one in Australia in August ’89, two years after it came out.

I wanted to ask you about the 'Women' comic from the video. Were any of those ever actually made?

JE: No, no, no. I’ve got the original one. It was just a one-off page, a piece of artwork used so they could film the kid making it look like he was reading Def Leppard And The Women Of Doom. They probably just stuck it on the front of some old Marvel comic. But no, there was no comics ever made. We had nothing to do with it in fairness. But by the time we turned up to film our bit, we were like, "Wow, that looks really cool!" And we ran with it. That piece of cardboard that was the front cover could easily have just got tossed in a bin. Because nothing’s historical until it’s old. But I made sure to grab it. I’m the archiver of the band, if anybody is. I make sure that everything, whether it’s the door sticker on the dressing room at Letterman, all the way to things like that cover that’s now iconic, I make sure to grab them just in case we ever need them.

Were there any particular highlights off Hysteria to revisit? ‘Gods Of War’ was a never a single but you would play that a lot.

JE: You’ve got to remember there’s 12 songs on that album and seven of them are regularly in the set and at least five of them are permanently in the set. So there’s anywhere between 5-7 songs that we do all the time. So they’re not that exciting to revisit cause they’re just like going to the fridge and opening the door and seeing a pint of milk that’s the same as the pint of milk you had last week. It’s more intriguing to look in the freezer and find something you haven’t had for years. That was the stuff like ‘Run Riot’, ‘Love And Affection’, ‘Don’t Shoot Shotgun’. Vivian had never played those songs. We hadn’t played them in 25 years. I do believe this line-up played ‘Excitable’ in ’99/2000. ‘Gods Of War’ comes and goes. But they were the interesting bits. Having to do all the homework on the songs that we just haven’t heard for a long time. They’re always kinda there at the back of your mind but you don’t really remember them. So you end up just walking around the house with headphones on, listening to the album, and going, "Oh! Really?! I’ve been singing the wrong words for 20 years on that one" and then revisiting things like ‘Run Riot’ and thinking ‘How the hell am I gonna sing that one?’ at the age of 53. But I did. [Viva Hysteria! is evidence that Joe can indeed still pull this off] Cause it wasn’t the easiest thing to do when I was 26. [laughs]

It’s high, isn’t it?

JE: It is pretty high, yeah. Robert Plant doesn’t go there anymore but Brian Johnson does, so I figured somewhere in the middle the twain shall meet. Luckily I don’t go there for every single song so it’s a case of pacing yourself. You just have to practice and get yourself into shape, it’s as simple as that.

Any plans to do all of Pyromania?

JE: Not specifically. We’ve been talking a lot that if we were to go back to Vegas - and I do believe they’re gonna ask us - we probably wouldn’t repeat Hysteria unless there was a huge demand to do so. Pyromania comes in at 42 minutes, so it’s not really long enough to feature as a one album show. I think we’d end up having to do two albums, taking a break in between. High N Dry and Pyromania, or Slang and Pyromania, or X and… We’ll worry about that when the offer comes in and whatever I say now will be outta date next year. So just take it for granted that possibly Pyromania but how we would dress round it either side, I don’t know.

And my standard last question is always, say you’d stolen a space shuttle and were flying it directly into the Sun, for whatever reason you had, what would you want to be listening to?

JE: I would want to be listening to Mott The Hoople and Bowie. I would have a playlist of Ziggy Stardust and Mott and The Hoople and maybe Hunky Dory going round. But as the windows started to shatter and I began to burn up, I would want the song ‘All The Young Dudes’ blaring away.

Viva Hysteria! is in cinemas worldwide from September 19th