CLEVELAND, Ohio — More than two decades after releasing an album called “Euphoria,” Def Leppard is feeling renewed sense of elation these days. And with good reason.
The veteran British quintet — Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2018 — publicly spent most of the pandemic pause in the past, with two retrospective box sets and a live album culled from concerts in Las Vegas and London. But the Leps were also quietly making a new album, “Diamond Star Halos,” recording remotely with co-producer Ronan McHugh tying things together. Its 14 tracks became 15 when guitarist Phil Collen came in last minute with the first single, “Kick,” and the set features guest appearances by Alison Krauss and longtime David Bowie pianist Mike Garson.
Released May 27, “Diamond Star Halos” gave Def Leppard its eighth Top 10 album on the Billboard 200, alongside the classics “Pyromania” and “Hysteria.” “Kick” and the subsequent single “Take What You Want,” meanwhile, joined the ranks of rock radio anthems such as “Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Armageddon It.” On top of that, the group has announced a band-written autobiography, “Definitely: The Official Story Of Def Leppard,” for fall and launched a Def Leppard x Rock And Roll Beauty cosmetics line.
Best of all for the band, of course, is being on the road again. Its Stadium Tour with Motley Crue, Poison and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts was twice delayed by the pandemic but finally got underway last month. It stops Thursday, July 14, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
As Collen, frontman Joe Elliott and bassist Rick Savage gather together on Zoom, they promise they’re not, er, foolin’ about this being one of the best times in the band’s 45 years together…
We’ve been waiting two years and The Stadium Tour is finally happening. Feels good?
Collen: Awesome. When we explain this tour to other people, they go, ‘What?! On the same night? The same bill?” Yeah, all of us — Motley, Joan Jett, Poison, and people, it blows their mind. They really want this to come to other countries as well, so hopefully the better we do out there, the more we can keep it rolling. We want to go for at least three years if we can.
Elliott: Y’know, had we done the tour when we were supposed to (in 2020), we’d have been doing the tour with no new music. Now we’re doing it with a new album to promote, which puts a totally different slant on it. I think the fact we’re going out there refreshed and energized by new music that we can incorporate into the show, which we wouldn’t have been able to do in 2020, is going to make a huge difference in the way we present ourselves.
Collen: We feel like we’re moving into a different league. There’s a lot of bands who have stopped touring, stopped performing or lost interest. There’s a lot bands who we have lots of respect for, but they’ve lost interest, and you can see it. We’re the complete opposite. We’re rarin’ to go. We’ve got this album, and we’re a really “live” live band, so we can’t wait to get out there and prove it.
All four of the main acts are from a similar era, or at least overlapping. Do you feel a sense of kinship with everybody?
Savage: It’s a brilliant package. It’s Motley Crue, the real guys. Same with Poison. Those are the guys that formed the bands, so you can’t get better than that. It’s genuine. It’s the biggest tour that Def Leppard will have done in our career, and after 40-years it’s just a fantastic achievement to be able to do that.
Elliott: And let’s not forget Joan Jett as well, who’s a complete ball of energy. We’ve basically been looking at this thing since it was announced as it’s like taking a festival on the road. It’s a four-band festival, and we’ve always been into the idea of everything we do being an event. We’ve toured with some amazing bands…but this is a big deal. All those three artists out there with us makes it a special tour.
You’ve had a few weeks with “Diamond Star Halos” being out in the world. How are you feeling about the way it’s been received?
Collen: It’s the best reaction we’ve ever had to anything off the bat. I remember when “Hysteria” came out (in 1987) it was a mixed bag. This has been 100 percent positive. It’s been, “Omigod, we’ve been waiting for something like this!” It’s amazing. We put a lot of work into it, so it’s nice to hear that response.
The recording was, in fact, done remotely because of the pandemic. How did you find that process?
Elliott: It was joyful to do. Everybody was at home, so you didn’t have to work on it constantly or be waiting around in a hotel room in a foreign country, waiting to do your bit. You could get on with doing other stuff, and when we were working, we could concentrate wholly on the record. It was a leisurely way of recording.
Collen: I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. There was so much more energy by not having to go to a studio or a situation where you’re always waiting while someone else is recording their part. That stops creative flow and expression. With this, everyone could do their thing; I’d be in California and Joe and Sav would be England and Ireland. I’d finish something, send it to Joe, he’d get it, put some stuff on it and we’d just be back and forth. I’d wake up in the morning and there’d be something in my inbox.
Savage: There was such a forward momentum by doing it this way. There was somebody working on the record any time of the day.
Collen: We definitely don’t want to go back to whatever that standard way was that we did before. This is so much better.
What do you know about “Diamond Star Halos” now that you didn’t, or could not have, while you were making it?
Collen: We know it’s a concept album, and I don’t mean like, say, “Aqualung” or “Quadrophenia” or anything like that. But there is a theme and a thread that runs through it, and we didn’t know that at first. It’s influenced by that era when we were all baptized in music, the very early ‘70s. As we were doing the record, it became apparent that era and that feeling was readily apparent on this album as well — the vibe, the lyrics, the look, everything.
“Kick” was the last song in but the first single out. What’s the story behind that?
Elliott: Phil rang me up, and because there was no delivery date, there was no record deal yet, I said, “OK, send me an MP3. We’ve got to go band-wide with it,” and everybody loved it. It’s a stadium anthem, and we were about to go into stadiums so…“Yeah!”
Collen: It also represented where we were at as well. It’s got that glam rock feel, that hand-clap groove, big vocals. It was just a no-brainer. It was not only it’s got to be on the album, but it’s also got to be the first single.
Elliott: Sav was the first one to comment, “OMG. ‘Sugar,’ anyone?” He wasn’t comparing one song to the other. He was comparing the situation. Back in late ‘86 “Sugar” was the last song written for Hysteria. We were already done. It was an 11-track record, finished, and then the idea of “Sugar” came along, and it became arguably the most important song on the record, if not our entire career, eventually. So, with (“Kick”) it was like the same kind of feeling, that this could be a very important song for us, and it’s come right at the end when we weren’t expecting it. It’s a nice little gift, totally unplanned.
Since your last album in 2015 you’ve spent a lot of time immersed in Def Leppard’s past — a greatest hits album, box sets, etc. What kind of perspective did that give you on the group’s history?
Elliott: Our true mission was always to follow on the tailcoats, if you like, of all our great British pop-rock that came out in the ‘70s. Bowie, Bolan, Mott, Queen, Slade, Sweet…that’s where our three-minute pop-rock songs like “Photograph” and “Rock of Ages” came from. We’re always getting roped into either the L.A. hair-metal scene or the (New Wave of British Heavy Metal), but it’s not like we’re channeling (Black) Sabbath all the time. We wanted to do the harmonies and the melodies. We’re happy to be called a hybrid of AC/DC and Queen.
It’s been 45 years since the band formed in Sheffield, 42 years since the first album. Back then did you know this was built to last like it has?
Elliott: I don’t think we expected to get as far as 1983. When we formed in ‘77, Led Zeppelin was still together, the Beatles were only seven years gone, the Stones were only 15 years old and the Who were maybe 13 years old or something like that. The only thing that had been around 20 years or so would’ve been a solo artist. And you don’t see headlines like, “Frank Sinatra Splits!,” y’know? So, it’s just been a forward momentum thing, and then someone tells you it’s been 45 years and you’re like, “Oh? Really?!”
Collen: Someone has to tell you about it. It’s not something where we go, “Oh, guess what? It’s gonna be 40!” or 45 or whatever. We’re so busy doing other things, so those things are surprising us that way. It’s kind of neat.
Elliott: We haven’t achieved what we set out to do, and it’s to be kind of what we’re doing now. This is exactly what we want, and this is the stuff we want to do — an album like this, a tour like this, this frame of mind, all these things together. That’s what you want to achieve. Even with, like, massive albums, two Diamond award albums, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s still not enough.
So, what is it you still want?
Elliott: We’ve always said that what we’ve got to try and achieve before we kick it all in the head or we’re gone is to be bracketed among the greats — Lennon-McCartney, Jagger-Richards, Ray Davies, Pete Townshend. We probably never will, but we’re never gonna stop trying. We’re not interested in trying to be some second division, “Oh, that’ll do” kind of thing. We’re just gonna try our best and keep going for it.
Savage: We’re also still excited as well. We’re excited to write new songs. We’re excited to record them. We’re always excited to go back on tour. We still have that very young enthusiasm that you have when you’re a teenager. Everything’s still great, and we still feel that we’ve got places to go that are valid and we can get better and bigger and just keep going.
Collen: The singing gets better, the playing gets better, the songwriting…it’s still growing in quite a vast, speedy way. That’s so exciting, so you don’t want to put the kibosh on it. You want to keep that going. The wheels are nowhere near falling off. They’re actually well-oiled — and speeding up!
The Stadium Tour with Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Poison, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Classless Act plays at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14 at FirstEnergy Stadium, 100 Alfred Lerner Way, Cleveland. Tickets available at livenation.com.