Def Leppard celebrated their 45th anniversary in 2022 with the release of a new album, Diamond Star Halos, the best Def Leppard album since 1992. They’ve made other strong records in the 30 years since Adrenalize, but with Diamond Star Halos they’re thinking big, and also thinking outside the box, with flat-out bangers nestled side-to-side with more experimental work. At the end of the year, Classic Rock writers voted it the Best Album of 2022.
The release of the album was followed by The Stadium Tour in the US, on which they co-headlined with Mötley Crüe. For Leppard singer Joe Elliott, another highlight was singing the band’s classic anthem Photograph with pop superstar Miley Cyrus, backed by two ex-members of Nirvana on guitar.
For Def Leppard 2022 was, as Frank Sinatra once sang, a very good year.
That would be an understatement. We were able to promote a new record by touring in stadiums, which is pretty unusual – unless you’re U2.
Diamond Star Halos has been chosen as Classic Rock’s album of the year.
Well, we’re not the kind of band to buy a round of drinks when we get a good review or hang ourselves if we get a bad review, but it’s always nice to be appreciated. And I genuinely think this is one of the best records we’ve ever done. Does it compete with Hysteria? Of course it doesn’t – that’s in everyone’s DNA forever.
But I think it’s great for a band that’s been around for as long as we have to deliver something extraordinary, where we went off on a tangent musically. The reference points went from Elton John to Led Zeppelin III to glam rock. We were embracing everything that made us want to be in band when we were kids, and that’s what gives this record more of a seventies twist.
One of the best songs on the album is This Guitar, your country-rock duet with Alison Krauss.
I did the vocal for that song on this very laptop that I’m talking to you on. I did all my demo vocals on it. Some I re-recorded, but the one for This Guitar sounded great as it was, so that’s what Alison sang to. And that really sums up the spirit of this record. Because we were recording remotely, we were using technology to the nth degree, but on a more organic level, if something was right, even if it was lo-fi, it got left on.
Take What You Want, the opening track, was also the song you opened with on The Stadium Tour. Was that an important statement to make?
Oh yeah. It was a mission statement, our way of saying this is not a victory lap. Doing the opening number, your adrenalin is off the charts. It’s magic. You have to stand where Istand to really feel what that’s like. So we had the crowd lit up, it’s a ‘Hi, we’re back!’ moment, and it’s a new song. That was pretty special.
At the start of the tour we were doing four new songs, but we realised that was one too many. You live and learn. Three in ninety minutes is fine. Stadium shows are not open-mic nights. Stadiums are like churches – you go there to celebrate. So you play it like a Rolling Stones or McCartney set. You get into the home straight and it’s all hits – bang, bang, bang! And that’s why this tour was so successful, because it was like a human jukebox.
Joan Jett is a legend – a Runaway! She’s got a great catalogue. Then out come Poison, and you know what [singer] Bret Michaels is like – this manic circus ringleader, whipping everyone into a frenzy. And then you’ve got us and Mötley, whoever went on first. And sometimes there was an argument that going on third was better, because the audience wasn’t as tired!
Did you all hang out together off stage?
Not much. The safest way for us to keep that show on the road was just to avoid human beings as best we could. I caught covid at home before the tour. It’s still out there. So all of us in Leppard travelled separately, which is the smartest decision we made. I didn’t stay in hotels. I lived on the bus, just me and Dale, my driver, in total isolation.
That’s the price of doing business in 2022. If we cancel a stadium show in Arlington, Texas at four in the afternoon, people will have travelled hundreds of miles and spent hundreds of dollars to get there. So we avoided contact, we tested every day, and it worked. We didn’t lose one gig.
So this tour wasn’t one long rock’n’roll party, like it would have been the eighties?
You know, we act like children on stage but we’re actually quite responsible people when we need to be. The one guy I hung out with a lot was Nikki [Sixx, Crüe bassist]. One night in Denver we went for sushi and talked about everything but music. It was funny, we didn’t realise Tommy [Lee, Crüe drummer] was in the same restaurant until we could hear him! He’s quite loud, you see.
I asked Nikki what he was going to do when we had a break in the tour and he said: “I’m going fishing.” Now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d hear from the mouth of Nikki Sixx! But he was the only one I spent much time with. We know the guys from Poison really well, but I never saw Bobby Dall [bassist] throughout the whole tour. And the few times I saw Joan, we were always going in different directions between the dressing rooms and the stage on these golf carts, so we’d high-five as we passed.
Anything else to report from the tour – any Spinal Tap-style comedy moments?
Nothing too crazy. Of course, Tommy broke his ribs and was in and out for the first couple of weeks. The only problem for us was when Phil [Collen, guitarist] broke his hand doing a Pete Townshend windmill, so for the last two weeks he had two fingers taped together – luckily on his pick hand, so it didn’t affect his playing, although it was painful.
The big thing for me was I didn’t lose my voice, or face-plant on stage. Because everything is on YouTube now, you’re always aware that you’ve got to be at the top of your game. Here’s what happens if you’re a singer: if you screw up, everybody knows about it, but if you do a good job nobody knows about it. The only time anybody puts anything online is when you’re shit. And I managed to avoid that, so for me that’s a raging success!
Shortly after The Stadium Tour ended, you, Phil Collen and bassist Rick Savage performed at the Taylor Hawkins tribute concert in LA, where you played two of your classic songs, Photograph and Rock Of Ages, with members of the Foo Fighters plus Weezer’s drummer Patrick Wilson. You even had Miley Cyrus singing with you on Photograph.
It was an amazing honour to do that gig for Taylor. Rick [Allen, Leppard drummer] was home, and Vivian [Campbell, guitarist] was doing his Last In Line stuff, so the three of us represented the band, and it was great fun to have this cross-pollination of bands that were supposed to not like each other.
These people said they hated us because they had to back in 1992. But really they all loved the stuff we did on Pyromania and High ’N’ Dry. And it was so great to see the smiles on the faces of Dave Grohl and Pat Smear in the guitar solo section of Rock Of Ages when they were playing a Nirvana lick to see if their mates in Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine would notice.
Miley Cyrus was very cool, too. She’d leaked that voicemail from Taylor Hawkins when he’d said: “I’m listening to Photograph by Def Leppard. You could fucking kill this song!” Which is why she wanted to sing it with us.”
Was that a rather surreal experience?
Totally! Us and the Foos and Weezer doing Leppard songs with Miley Cyrus! In a parallel universe you’d say that would never happen. But it did because Taylor brought so many people together. And there was a great vibe backstage that night. I hadn’t seen Lars Ulrich in thirty years and he was on great form, just lovable! And you had Tommy and Nikki and Joan all there, so it was like the tour was still on. It was a love-fest.
Away from your tour, did you see any good gigs this year?
Roxy Music were fantastic at the LA Forum. It was a US set-list, so we didn’t get Virginia Plain or Street Life, but we did get The Bogus Man and In Every Dream Home A Heartache, which kind of confused all those Americans who were all waiting for Avalon. And I bumped into my buddy John Taylor from Duran Duran. I also saw Beck there, whose dad David Campbell did the string arrangement on [Leppard’s] When Love And Hate Collide. Small world, isn’t it?
What for you is the best album of 2022?
There’s a few: Eddie Vedder’s Earthling, The White Lies [As I Try Not To Fall Apart], the Von Hertzen Brothers [Red Alert In The Blue Forest]… and – shock, horror! – I like the Jethro Tull album [The Zealot Gene]. But the one that rocks harder than anything else I’ve heard this year is Demi Lovato’s album Holy Fvck. The riffs are fantastic and her singing is off the fucking charts!
Have there been any momentous events in your personal life this year?
I haven’t had a personal life this year! I’ve been away from home for most of it. A momentous event would be the kids actually giving a shit when I dial in on FaceTime, instead of just staring at their iPads and saying “Hi dad!” as they carry on watching Encanto or Sing 2, whatever the fuck it is.
We’ve just done the biggest tour that we’ve ever done. I’m not gonna say the biggest that we’ll ever do, because it’s onwards and upwards from here. Forty-five years into our career, that’s a marvellous feeling. And there’s more to come from Def Leppard in 2023. We’ve got the beginnings of the next album percolating away on the back burner. There’s another thing we’ve been working on that will be revealed soon.
And in the summer we’re bringing The Stadium Tour to the UK – us and Mötley and a couple of other bands we’re talking to now. It’s going to be great, like a mini Donington or an Ozzfest, a gigantic show that’s like a fucking cup final. Scoring a winning goal in the ninety-sixth minute at Wembley, that’s what Def Leppard is all about.