This week on the Kyle Meredith With... podcast, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen talks about the iconic group’s latest releases, as well as his biggest musical influences, and what's planned for the future -- with the band and on his own.
Def Leppard fans must be feeling a little spoiled lately, with the release of two dynamite albums from the U.K. rock icons -- 2023’s upcoming Drastic Symphonies with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and their first collection of original material since 2015 on last year's Diamond Star Halos. The symphonic idea came about, Phil explains, during the video-shooting period for Diamond Star Halos when the group was meeting with directors, including famed Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, best known for his work with Depeche Mode. The band was approached by label execs about a series the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was compiling featuring forever favorites like The Beach Boys, Queen, and more, who would each be getting the symphonic treatment.
The members were thrilled to take part, as long as they were able to have full control of the entire process. With their wish granted, the project went ahead, "and it was seamless," Collen admits. "The whole thing was so exciting because it was reimagining the songs. Some of the contexts didn't work; some of the song choices. Originally, 'Pour Some Sugar On Me'... it sounded comical with cellos playing the riffs. We said, 'We can't do that one.' We got around it by doing another version of it." That being the 'Stripped Version' on the release, featuring former David Bowie backing singer Emm Gryner. "The whole thing was amazing from the get-go, it really worked out."
Obviously, The Who's Quadrophenia was a major inspiration for their own version of an orchestral release, and Phil admits he and Def Lep frontman Joe Elliott had even gone to see The Who at the Hollywood Bowl, "just to get an idea of how it would work live. But, you know, Pete Townshend is a different thing. He's such an artist, and you know that he had a lot of involvement in the original recordings, whether it's 'Tommy,' or whatever."
It's not a far stretch to say Def Leppard is a kind of symphonic rock band, just without the orchestra. That's a concept Phil fully accepts, adding he and late bandmate Steve Clarke used to write guitar orchestrations after getting the idea from Queen's Brian May. "Actually having a chance to do that real thing, without it sounding gratuitous," Phil says, "was amazing. And it worked!"
Looking ahead, Phil says there are still some tracks left over from their Diamond Star Halos sessions, each influenced in some way by their own musical role models like David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, T-Rex, and more. "Before we knew it we had this album that was weird because it represented that thing without us going out of our way. It naturally kind of progressed into this thing, and before we knew it we had this celebration."
Phil is also looking forward to resurrecting and recording new covers with his Cybernauts tribute side project in the near future, along with making a guest appearance on Ian Hunter’s upcoming second volume of Defiance.
Kyle even puts a bug in Phil's ear about a possible concept album, which reminded him of the last one he had heard and enjoyed -- My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade -- although he was shocked to learn that was released almost 20 years ago. "Really, that's amazing... oh my God! But yeah, something like that. That kind of seems new still... perhaps working in the background," he says. "We may run with that!"
Hear the full chat with Def Leppard's Phil Collen on Kyle Meredith With... -- now streaming on Audacy -- an interview series in which WFPK's Kyle Meredith speaks to a wide breadth of musicians, digging deep into the artist's work to find out how the music is made and where their journey is going.
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