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Joe Elliott's track-by-track guide to Down 'N' Outz album This Is How We Roll

Down 'n' Outz
(Image credit: Down 'n' Outz)

It's quite a transformation for Down 'N' Outz. 

The band, formed in 2009 by Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott and friends to pay tribute to the extended Mott The Hoople family, have released two albums of covers: MyRegeneration in 2010 and The Further Adventures Of... four years later. 

And now? They're no longer a covers band. Third album This Is How We Roll is comprised entirely of original material – with the exception of a version of The Tubes' 1975 classic White Punks On Dope – but it keeps the Mott flame burning bright.

"We changed out of boredom more than anything else," says Joe. "We'd done it to death, you know? And we wanted to keep going because we enjoy each other's company." 

The result is an album very much in the spirit of Mott, reflecting Down 'N' Outz' love of 70s music, but with their own personality shining through. 

Below, Joe takes us through the album. This Is How We Roll is out now.

Another Man's War

"This was the first track I wrote for the album. I needed a starting point for where to go, and I'd just been listening to [Ian Hunter song] England Rocks. They're not the same song – by a long chalk – but they've both got that ding-ding-ding ding piano with stabbing guitars over the top. 

"And I just went in a different direction with it. It got me going. I thought it should be the first track because I was instinctively trying to write something that didn't sound like Def Leppard. And it came completely naturally. I've literally just been waiting for it to come out, you know. That combination of Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, Leon Russell, Humble Pie, Sparks, Jobriath. All that kind of stuff."

This Is How We Roll

"One of the two songs that I wrote on guitar. It was one of the first demos I did. I had the music down. It was kind of a cross between Humble Pie and Brain Capers-period Mott. It was just a straightforward rocker, a guitar-written song with piano in mind as opposed to the rest of them, which are piano-written songs with guitar in mind. 

"We were in Sheffield at the hotel where we shot the front cover for the My Regeneration album, and we were in the big bar area. We'd blocked it off, and were watching the DVD of the Hammersmith Odeon gig from 2009 on the big screen. What we thought was gonna be our first and only gig. 

"As we were watching, a pretty squiffy Guy Griffin [Down 'N' Outz guitarist] comes sliding up to the side of me, and he just nudges me and goes, 'This is how we roll.' And I thought, 'Wow! OK! I'll have some of that!'"

Goodnight Mr. Jones

"This wasn't written until a couple years after he [David Bowie] died. I was toying with the music, and I was aware of the fact that if somebody came along and put a gun to my head and asked, 'what does it sound a bit like?', I'd say, 'well it sounds a bit like Life On Mars,' at least with the tempo.  

"I wanted a few off the cuff references to previous song titles, but not too many. I remember once hearing song by Barclay James Harvest where they just literally sang every Beatles song title [Titles, from 1975's Time Honoured Ghosts], and I wanted it to be a lot more subtle than that. So I threw in a few."

"And 'Station to Station' [a line from the song] isn't just a name check of his album title. It was actually based on a photograph of Mick Rock's, where he shows you Bowie and Mick Ronson sat in a British Rail train carriage having lambchop and peas. 

"It just kept building and building, and without even saying it Paul [Guerin, guitarist] just knew we had to sound like Ronson. And when we started putting the end together, I said the tempo was perfect for the Five Years [track from Ziggy Stardust] drum part. 

"We own the master tapes of the Cybernauts [Bowie tribute act featuring Elliott, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and former Bowie drummer Woody Woodmansey], so we actually sampled him. So it's Woody Woodmansey doing the end part, which takes into all the right areas." 

Creatures

"It's so very different to what anybody would expect, yet it's so me, even down to the whistling solo. That was only a marker for a guitar originally, and when we tracked it I couldn't do it for laughing. I started having visions of John Lennon and Bryan Ferry and even Klaus Meine

"I wanted it to sound kind of like Colonel Bogey because the whole thing is very World War Two and vaudeville, leading towards Queen's Bring Back Leroy Brown. Lyrically it had to be a total change to anything Leppard did as well. I've got it all there, but it's never really had a chance to surface." 

Last Man Standing

"This was one of those things I sat at the piano and forgot to move my left hand when I moved my right hand, and then I did it the opposite way round. It sounds complicated, but basically it sounded like Joe Jackson in a very basic form, and I just start building and building and building it, and I got it all pieced together.

"Just like Mr. Jones, I'd written the whole middle section to show off Paul's playing, which is something I stole off Ian Hunter. There's a song on his first solo album called The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nuthin' But The Truth where he wrote this whole section for Ronson to blitz that solo. It's the most brilliantly emotive guitar solo you'll ever hear – apparently played after he'd read a really bad review of Play Don't Worry [Ronson's second solo album] and he was angry as fuck – and he just ripped it out.

"So I had all the music in place. And I've got a book full of unfinished lyrics which had the line, 'God took an axe to my family tree,' which I think I probably wrote down just after my father passed away. Lyrics and music need to match mood for mood, so as soon as I got that line and it metered well over that chord sequence, I just instantly knew: I've roped another one in. 

"The yardstick for me is lyrics like American Pie by Don McLean or Hotel California by the Eagles. That's the kind of thing that you're aiming at. Where the level never drops."

Music Box

"This was originally written in 1978, probably sometime between Wasted and Answer To The Master. It was a finger exercise that I wrote the play on the acoustic guitar when I was learning to play without a pick. 

"I thought we could put it on the record as a bit of bridge music, because we'd been discussing running orders and although the album was never going to be Quadrophenia or Tommy, I wanted it to have a thread or a musical storyline that ran through it. 

"So we put the acoustic guitar part down, then I dug out my old school recorder and added that, and then a few days later I decided it needed a fairground organ, and it started to get more and more vaudeville. More Marlene Dietrich meets Tom Waits

"The fairground organ led to to the kind of bass drum that you wear on your chest – like the Energizer Bunny – and that led to the harp, and then the Python-esque backing vocals in the middle that sound like big fat barbers. And all of a sudden it just built into this music box. And if we ever do any live shows, we have the perfect intro tape."

Boys Don't Cry

"I wrote this on the South American tour we did began at the end of 2017 and early 2018. I knew I was missing something hard and fast, and I was strumming the riff on an acoustic guitar, using my imagination to figure out what the riff would sound like electrified. After we finished the tour we demoed the track, and once I got the music down I started working on the lyrics. 

"There's no big story to Boys Don't Cry. It's more a stream of consciousness. There's nothing overtly clever about it, it doesn't really tell a story. It's just me observing how ridiculously macho some men are when they won't let their feelings show. 

"They pretend not to cry in the piano bits in movies, or when the strings come out. You know, when the kitten gets run over." 

Walking to Babylon

"It's all about when I first left Sheffield and moved to London, and it's also about certain relationships that come to an end. You get to that crossroads and you've got five choices: go back, go left, go right, go forward, or stay where you are. 

"And so you pick one. None of them are gonna be wrong – because if it doesn't work out you can always go back to the crossroads and try again – so it's about that endless hope that you've made the right decision, but also about reflection.

"I hate preaching, and I hate people asking for advice, so the lyrics are a left-handed way to say, 'look, this worked for me, and I don't want to be over-specific, but this might work for you too.' Babylon is a mystical place that might not really exist, but at least go and have a look for it."

Let It Shine

"With some of these songs I wonder where I was when I wrote them. Was I at some kind of crossroads in my life that I've moved on from? When it comes to singing them I wonder, 'Where the hell was I when I wrote this? Because I'm okay!'

"Because a lot of the times I write like a scriptwriter. It's not always about me. It might hint at me, but I'm too scared to write about me. I'm either too boring or it's nobody's fucking business. And so I embellish. 

"It's like When Love And Hate Collide by Def Leppard. A lot of people have said to me, 'You know, that song is my life. It's us rowing in the kitchen. Was that you as well?" And it's not. It's just me observing other people, but knowing that others would relate. 

"It's just me trying to shine to throw a positive light on things. If I can do what I'm doing, anybody can. I'm not the most talented guy in the world, but the enthusiasm to do it is what makes me knock doors down."

Music Box Reprise/Griff's Lament

"Like I said, this started out in 1978, and I'm sure they all looked to me like I had three heads at first. They asked me why I wanted to call it Griff's Lament, and I said because there's laments on all the early Rod Stewart albums, that I just thought it'd be cool. It just sounded good. 

"It just reminded me of An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down-period Rod. There's a thing called Henry on Every Picture Tells A Story, which should have been called Henry's Lament.

"I just liked the idea of using classic historical phrases from the bygone days of pop. Like when I was ten or eleven years old and seeing people use the word 'reprise', and thinking it was really clever."

White Punks on Dope

"We'd briefly discussed doing a third album of other people's songs years ago, and this was the only one that survived. We were discussing things we could do like Paul McCartney and Wings, 10cc or ELO, but only this song survived that conversation. 

"It was the first song that we decided we were going to record – come hell or high water – but it was the last song we recorded. We just abandoned the covers thing, but White Punks survived." 

The Destruction of Hideous Objects Part 3

"If you're observant, you'll have noticed that on the first two Down 'N' Outz albums there was two fucking mad titles: The Flipside of the Shameless Whelk and The Revenge of the Shipwrecked Hedgehog. It basically came about because of this thing that Mott did, which was The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception on the Brain Capers album.

"They took a part of You Really Got Me, the first song on their first album – which was originally 10 minutes of fucking freakout, which came out years laterand put it on at the end of the album, with Ian just screaming his head off, and I just thought it was funny, and that we needed to do something like that. Then we did it on the second album, and I just wanted to do it again the third."