Interview: Guitarist Phil Collen Looks Back on 33 Years of Def Leppard

by Alison Richter
Posted Mar 21, 2014 at 4:21pm

Three decades into a remarkably successful career, guitarist Phil Collen looks at each day as a new beginning.

Best known for his work with rock band Def Leppard, Collen is also involved with a gritty blues-rock trio, Manraze, where he is joined by Paul Cook and Simon Laffy.

Their latest EP, I Surrender, was released late last year. His newest project is a blues duo, Delta Deep, with vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook. They’re at work on an album. He is also writing his autobiography.

Last year, Def Leppard released the live CD/DVD package Viva! Hysteria, which captures their Las Vegas residency, where they performed the classic Hysteria album in its entirety. The band played a stretch of concerts for fans who traveled from all points to see them — a fact Collen doesn’t take lightly.

In this interview, Collen looks back and faces forward regarding life as a member of Def Leppard, and what’s made it possible for the band to survive both personal and professional challenges.

GUITAR WORLD: Thirty-three years. Where did they go?

It’s weird, I know. It’s still ongoing. If I were looking back at something, I think it would make me feel old, but the fact that it’s ongoing and I have serious work to do, and of course promoting Manraze, there’s a lot going on.

Do you go back mentally and emotionally when you play those classic Def Leppard songs?

Interestingly enough, I don’t, but when we did the Viva! Hysteria thing, that’s exactly what happened. When we were rehearsing the songs, I’d remember all these crazy guitar parts that Mutt Lange would have me do. He’s say, “Try this,” and I’d say, “That doesn’t exist.”

He’d say, “Tune this guitar and let’s get this harmonic and counter-rhythm and this rhythm,” so I’m listening and re-learning this stuff and all these memories came flooding back. Even on stage, we did 11 shows and it was exactly what you said. I remembered being in the parking lot of the studio, the actual studio, the control room, where my guitars were, all the gear. It was very much time transportation.

Two-part question. First, like any relationship, how do you keep things interesting and challenging when you know each other so well?

Like any relationship, you have ups and downs. We’ve had all these crazy experiences, but one thing that keeps us very much grounded is that we’ve had all of these experiences together. We’ve had amazing highs and brutal lows, like a family, but the difference is we’ve been together longer than most families exist — someone leaves home at 18, the parents split up — we’ve been here for 33 years and we’re still trucking on, so that makes a big difference.

And the fact that we can relate to each other. You eventually fall out or disagree, but you have all this experience to keep you grounded and bound together. Plus, when you have new ideas, everyone’s really excited about this recording and what they want to bring to the table. It’s been a while since we did an original album. We did three songs on the Mirror Ball thing, but I think this will be different. It’s going to be an exciting Def Leppard record or EP. Whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be really cool.

Have you chosen a producer?

We’re going to start with Ronan McHugh, who does all our other stuff. We may get someone. If we can find someone interesting enough, then we’ll definitely do that for a few songs. We have a concept already, I certainly do, of what the stuff should sound like, so I don’t want a producer coming in and putting their two cents in yet. We’ll select a few songs and have a producer come in to do that.

Second part: How do you keep going when you face some of the most difficult obstacles?

If you took anyone’s private family life, anyone in or out of the band, it’s actually worse than what we’ve been through as a band, so that’s how we view it. It’s like any family. People die, people get awful diseases, divorces, tragic and traumatic things. So we never view it as that. It just is what it is, really.

Over the years, you’ve watched the industry change: downloads, ringtones, social networking, crumbling labels, stolen music. Can you envision getting a band off the ground now?

Yeah, but on a different level. You don’t have the interruption, you don’t have A&R guys or record labels. It’s a very creative period if you want it to be. I’ve heard younger guys and musicians coming out, there’s this band in Ireland called The Stripes, they’re 15 or 16 years old, and they kind of sound like a cross between early Stones, Pretty Things and the Kinks, and so they’ve got this retro thing. I think it’s different from that point of view.

You don’t have these massive labels jumping on people too much anymore, they play it very safe, but I do think you can be very creative and expressive. I hear that a lot. It depends on what you want to do. If you want to be rich and famous, it’s probably not going to happen. If you want to express yourself and share it, then the world is your oyster, you can do anything you want. So on one hand you’ve got this golden age of creativity because you can make your own records, but you’re not going to get as much play out of it. If you want to be famous, which a lot of people want to be, it’s a bit tougher.

Is there a guitar album in your future?

Yeah, probably, I think so, because I’ve been recording some instrumental stuff, just guitar, so I think maybe somewhere. More like soundtrack stuff, very heavy to jazz fusion to metal, all in one. Probably after next year I’ll start working on it. You know what, I’ve already started working on it. I’ve got three songs that I’ve recorded.

Read more of Phil Collen’s interview here.

— Alison Richter

Alison Richter interviews artists, producers, engineers and other music industry professionals for print and online publications. Read more of her interviews right here.

Add a Comment

Similar Guitar News

Vivian Campbell Discusses New Albums by Def Leppard and Last in Line (11/13/2015)
We recently caught up with Vivian Campbell, who was eager to discuss Def Leppard's new self-titled album and his brand-new project, Last in Line, which reunites the veteran guitarist with fellow Dio members Vinny Appice and Jimmy Bain. You can c...
Ricky Phillips of Styx Talks Def Leppard Tour and Ronnie Montrose’s Final Recordings (7/23/2015)
To fans of classic rock and arena rock, it just wouldn’t be summer without the music of Styx. For more than 40 years the band, whose hits include “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Renegade,” "Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Come Sail Away,” has...
Delta Deep, Featuring Def Leppard's Phil Collen, Premiere New Song, "Down in the Delta" — Exclusive (6/2/2015)
Today, presents the exclusive premiere of "Down in the Delta," a new song by Delta Deep, a band featuring Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and Stone Temple Pilots bassist Robert DeLeo. The self-titled debut album by the band—whi...
Def Leppard Premiere New Song, "Let's Go" (9/16/2015)
Def Leppard have premiered a song from their upcoming self-titled studio album. The track, titled “Let’s Go,” is available for streaming below, courtesy of “It has that swaggering, mid-tempo rhythm, like ‘[Pour Some] Sugar [on...
Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen's Delta Deep Dig into Blues, Funk, Soul and Rock (6/22/2015)
Guitarist Phil Collen is a certified rock-and-roller for life. Since joining Def Leppard in 1982, he's enjoyed being in a popular rock band that continues to make music to this day. However, if you talk to him, he'll quickly remind you that ...
Listen: Def Leppard Release 11-Song Teaser for New Live Album, 'Viva! Hysteria' (11/18/2013)
Late last week, Def Leppard posted an audio teaser of 11 tracks from their recently released live package, Viva! Hysteria. You can hear it below. The DVD, Blu-ray, CD/DVD digipak and digital album, which was released October 22 through Frontiers...
Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell talks cancer treatment, Last In Line band plans (7/1/2013)
Read more about Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell talks cancer treatment, Last In Line band plans at Despite celebrated stints in both Dio and Whitesnake, since joining Def Leppard in 1992, guitarist Vivian Campbell has maintained som...
Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell in recovery from cancer (6/10/2013)
Read more about Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell in recovery from cancer at Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell has revealed that he is in recovery from cancer. Announcing the news ahead of Def Leppard's summer tour, he released a ...
Def Leppard Stream "Acoustic Medley" (12/18/2012)
Def Leppard have just released a studio version of the acoustic medley performed on their recent Rock of Ages tour. You can stream the seven-and-a-half minute cut — which contains sections of "Where Does Love Go When It Dies," "Where Does Love G...
Johnny Cash, Def Leppard Autographed Guitars Up for Auction for 27th Annual Hungerthon (11/30/2012)
If you're into autographed guitars and helping to fight hunger, you're in luck. The 27th Annual Hungerthon by WhyHunger is now underway, and up for auction this year are guitars signed by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi's Richi...
Interview: Phil Collen on the Making of Def Leppard's 'Hysteria' (10/1/2012)
You know,” Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen says, “we weren’t doing what we were doing to be different. We were a bit different.” What they did was create one of the more forward-thinking, over-the-top and ultimately successful albums in rock h...
Interview: Phil Collen on recording Def Leppard's Hysteria track-by-track (7/5/2012)
Recalling the price tag for recording Def Leppard's 1987 album, Hysteria, guitarist Phil Collen is still amazed. "Four and a half million dollars!" he says, laughing slightly. "Which was ludicrous. Who knows what that would be in today's dollars...
Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen on 'Rock of Ages': "I’d Be Up for Actually Being in the House Band" (6/5/2012)
Even before Tom Cruise was set to star in the motion picture adaption of Rock of Ages, the Broadway musical has been generating serious buzz for its fun and often hilarious take on the rock music of the 1980s. Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen ...