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Def Leppard's Rock Has Aged Markedly Well

The Def boys: That's "Brad Pitt," second from left.
Ash Newell

English hard-rock act Def Leppard has turned out to be equally durable and prophetic. "It's better to burn out than to fade away" was all fine and good for a 6-year-old band to proclaim on "Rock of Ages," but nearly three decades have since passed. At the time, lead guitarist Phil Collen was a new recruit in a band that had its share of lineup changes in the early years. Now, Collen and his cohorts are fresh from a slot on Celebrity Apprentice, the Rock of Ages musical is about to become a major motion picture starring Tom Cruise, and a tour with Heart is nearly under way to support a recently dropped live album, Mirrorball.

Although Collen lives in California and spoke to New Times from London, he's got a load of love for South Florida — but more as an ideal spot for a wedding than a strip-club destination.

New Times: It's great that you guys actually give credit to all of the Florida strippers for making "Pour Some Sugar on Me" such a big hit.

Phil Collen: It's funny how the stripper thing spreads that wealth by us, but yeah, absolutely. That is actually where it came from. The album came out and kind of tanked initially, and then they started playing it for their routines, and because of that, we started getting played on local radio stations. It's one of the things that you want to watch happen to every song and say, "Yeah, that was great."

Starting the tour in Florida could be a special time to honor them.

You know, I've probably been to five strip bars in my life, and I've been taken to them. They're not really places where I'd hang out.

How familiar are you with the music of your tourmates, Heart?

All the hits, absolutely. When I started listening to music, I was aware of "Dreamboat Annie" and stuff like that. So yeah, I've definitely heard all the stuff.

Why do you think it took them so long to break in the U.K.?

The same thing happened in the '80s where a lot of bands started having international appeal and there was a format to it. You know, like Bon Jovi and Heart just changed their format into that. The '70s stuff was very different from the '80s stuff that actually Def Leppard kind of pioneered, to be honest. There were obstacles there, bands like Journey and Foreigner that had very different songs from what we had, like "Love Bites," and we definitely started a lot of other things that did not sound like a Mutt Lang-produced album.

You had a guy from Dazed and Confused play you in Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, but who would do it for a sequel?

Brad Pitt. I'd like Brad Pitt to play me. Funny story, the guy you're talking about is Esteban Powell. The guy is actually Canadian, and we were in an airport one day, and this lovely lady came up to me. She said, "Excuse me, this may be a little bit weird, but my son plays you in the Hysteria flick." It was great. She was lovely, so we invited her down to the show in Vegas. She was really nice, but she actually couldn't make it.

They're actually filming a movie adaptation of Rock of Ages in Florida right now. How do you guys feel about how far that property has gone?

I think it's great because we're getting a bunch of our songs in the movie. That's really cool. It was great. It was campy, kitschy, and fun. It was a very cool production of it. We were actually groomed to be a part of it; it's based on one of our songs. Kind of cool.

We're pretty excited about it too, just because I know it's supposed to take place in Los Angeles, but they're filming all of it in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Really?

Yep, yep. So they put the Hollywood sign on top of a big landfill for the filming.

Wow. Me and my wife got married down in Florida last year, actually.

Oh, you did? Whereabouts?

We did it at the Ritz-Carlton in West Palm Beach. We had about 66 people there, really close family members and really close friends. It wasn't like crazy. No alcohol. It was so great. It was such an amazing experience for everyone. Obviously for me and my wife, but also for everyone. The weather was really nice; it was hot. It was great — we loved it.

By the way, why do you hate playing ballads so much?

My problem with it is that I want to get amped up, and when we're playing kind of Def Leppard stuff or rock stuff, it's an adrenaline buzz. You kind of slow down for when you do ballads. You know, it's cool, everyone singing along and everything, but I just prefer playing harder stuff, really.

And yet you've recorded a Dreaming With Def Leppard album, and the whole point of that is not to get amped up.

Absolutely. I wouldn't be playing that stuff live. It's actually quite bluesy and jazzy, but yeah, I wouldn't dream of playing that stuff live. It's supposed to be to put kids asleep. It's actually so their parents can groove on it, I guess. I only played on three tracks. Yeah, they're pretty cool.

So the band's 35th anniversary is coming up pretty quick here. Have you guys thought about that or talked about that at all?

No, not at all. Someone told me it's their 25th anniversary next year and you know, it's birthdays or whatever. I'm not really a big birthday person, so it's not really a big deal. Everyone in the band is the same with stuff like that, commemorating things. It may be cool to do some kind of special version of Hysteria. I think we should do something like that. We do miss a lot of that stuff.

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