Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell On The Legacy Of ‘Hysteria’, Celebrity Culture & The “Upside” Of Music Piracy

Dust off your platforms, squeeze into those leather pants and start growing out your feathered mullet: 80s rock legends Def Leppard are coming back down under!

It’s been more than 30 years since the English rockers released their iconic Hysteria record. So to celebrate, they’re playing all 12 tracks from front to back when they tour this November. A Def Leppard greatest hits compilation in its own right, Hysteria is home to killer hits like glam rock ballad ‘Love Bites’, the deliciously punny ‘Armageddon It’ and the ‘Coyote Ugly’ classic ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’. But this nostalgia tour means you’ll also get to hear a bunch of the lesser-known B-side tracks that are usually excluded from your typical Def Leppard set list. It’s safe to say that this is going to be one for the rock n roll history books.

With that being said, who better to recruit than fellow 80s icons Scorpions to join the Leppard lads on their five dates around the country? This will be the first time the German rock gods are touring multiple cities in Australia, so it’ll be a must for all Scorpions fans.

As they’re prepping to hit the road for the rest of 2018, we had a chat with Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell about three decades of Hysteria, hanging out with Scorpions and how music piracy has led to a legion of new fans.

Music Feeds: You’re coming back down under for the first time in a few years, what are you looking forward to the most about these tours?

Vivian Campbell: Australia is always a wonderful place to visit. It’s a great audience and a great country. We’re looking forward to playing with the Scorpions too. I’ve never shared a bill with the Scorpions. Early Def Leppard pre-dating my involvement with the band may have shared a bill with them but I’ve never played with them so I’m excited about that. I’m a long time fan.

And we’ll be performing the Hysteria album in its entirety which is always a bit of a challenge but one that we’ll gladly take.

MF: Why do you say it’s a challenge?

VC: It’s just the way it’s presented, it’s a bit different from our normal show. It’s a little outside our comfort zone. But you know, it’s like anything else and you get used to doing it. We’ve also got to figure out a way to present the show. The Hysteria album itself is only 40-something minutes of music, so that’s not long enough to support a whole show. So we’ll have to figure out how to present the show in two or three parts, with Hysteria being the main part of it.

Phil Collen, Rick Allen and I were just rehearsing in LA last week for a couple of days just to get a bit of a head start on some of the tricky bits on Hysteria. A lot of the Hysteria songs feature in any Def Leppard show but there are certain songs that we’ve only ever played as part of the Hysteria package like ‘Run Riot’, ‘Don’t Shoot Shotgun’, ‘Excitable’, ‘Love And Affection’. A couple of them are pretty tricky but it’s all good!

MF: That must be fun though, right? You get to air out some of those songs you haven’t played in years and that many of the fans probably haven’t even heard live before.

VC: Exactly! It’s always nice to do something different. The bulk of Def Leppard shows, particularly in North American shows which is our prime market, people expect the hits and we kind of have to play those songs and you sort of come beholden to certain songs so the set list picks itself really. So it’s always good to get something else going.

The only other time we’ve performed the Hysteria album in its entirety like this was in Las Vegas back in 2013. For those shows we actually became our own opening act, we became ‘Ded Flatbird’ [Editor’s note: Their Def Leppard cover band alias] and that was great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed that because we played some really obscure Def Leppard songs and some early Def Leppard B-sides, songs from On Through The Night and High ‘N’ Dry and songs you’d never normally hear Def Leppard play in this day and age. That was great fun, so maybe we’ll throw a few of those in.

MF: That sounds really fun. Do you ever wish you could play an entire gig of B-sides?

VC: Personally, yes. But I absolutely 100% understand why we can’t (laughs). If Def Leppard had one hit song, then we could do that and we could just play the hit song at the end of the night. Or even if we just had two hit songs, we could open with one and close with another and play anything in between. But it’s a very nice problem to have when you’re in the position that Def Leppard is in, because we genuinely have a lot of top 10 or top 20 hit songs to play and people just want to hear them.

The majority of people come to the Def Leppard shows wanting and expecting to hear those songs and they’d be disappointed if we didn’t play them. The challenge for us has always been how do we present more or less the same songs while throwing in a couple of different ones. So, like I said, it’s a nice challenge to have but having this sort of show we’ll bring to Australia and New Zealand. We’ve got to frontload it and put stuff on the backend that is different from the Hysteria album. So we’ve got to get creative here and we’ve got to come up with something else that’s going to make it a unique experience. So you never know what’s going to crawl out of the old record collection.

MF: This is the first time you’ve done a big anniversary and record tour. Three other records came before Hysteria, so what is it about this record that you you wanted to celebrate?

VC: Well, it happens to be the 30th anniversary of the release of Hysteria, so it just seemed like a good time to do it. Plus, it has been remastered and re-released, so it was kind of now or never. It’s certainly our biggest record in terms of sales worldwide, so it kind of planned itself. We had no option but to do this this year (laughs).

MF: That’s awesome. And after hearing how much fun the Las Vegas Hysteria shows were, it’s only fair that you’re bringing it down under.

VC: A lot of Australians travelled to Vegas the last time we did that Hysteria show. They probably won’t come out and see us this time honestly, but that’s ok [Laughs].

MF: I think you’d be surprised! You also mentioned earlier that you’re touring with the Scorpions for what will be their first Australian tour. How did you team up with them?

VC: Well, they’re a band we haven’t played with before. The modern concert experience also has to be more than just one act. That’s kind of the way it’s grown over the last 10 or 15 years. Here in the US we’re starting a tour in about three weeks or so with Journey, which will be really strong because like Def Leppard they have a very strong catalogue with a lot of hits.

As a result of that, you bring in a lot more marginal fans as well. I would say the Scorpions are a little more hard edge than Def Leppard, so we might bring in some more hard edge rock fans. A lot of people who would come see Def Leppard might not be so familiar with Scorpions, so it’s always a win win. We are personally big Scorpions fans and I am a big fan of Matthias Jabs the guitar player. I think he’s a very underrated guitar player, so I’m very excited to see him and hear him play live and to still some of his licks [laughs]. It’ll be a good time!

MF: You mentioned that the concert experience now is very much about the package and experience, which I think is true. A lot of people even shell out big bucks to buy VIP tickets and meet you guys! Is it ever surreal meeting fans who’ve been following your band for more than three decades?

VC: Yeah, it is actually. We’ve always been a very approachable band and we’ve always tried to make as much time as is realistically possible for our fans. It always amazes me how people get star struck because I don’t think of Joe Elliot as a rock star (laughs) and I’m sure he doesn’t think of me as one. So it’s always an interesting social study to watch people lose their shit when they meet Rick Allen. I can kind of understand how people would be more amazed meeting Rick than anyone else (laughs). We think of ourselves differently than other people do I suppose and I’d like to think that that’s a good thing, otherwise we’d have a bit of a problem [laughs].

But I don’t know, I wouldn’t cross the street to meet a celebrity personally but there’s different strokes for different folks. But you’ve got to understand that I live in LA, so I actually cross the street to avoid celebrities (laughs). LA is full of celebrities and they’re all assholes. Well, they’re not all assholes but you know what I mean. You’re stepping over celebrities to get a fucking pint of milk at the supermarket.

MF: That’s brilliant. You’re obviously celebrating the Hysteria album at the moment, but it’s been a few years since the self-titled record was released in 2015. Are you working on any new tunes at the moment?

VC: Individually but not collectively. This is a really heavy touring year for us. We start rehearsal in two weeks and the week after start the US tour with Journey which is 60-something shows. Then we go all over Asia, Australia and New Zealand and the UK. So we end on December 18th in London. So there’s no time for an album this year but we’re always individually coming up with ideas and songs and stuff.

Next year I don’t anticipate that it’ll be that heavy a touring schedule, so I would think and hope that some time in 2019 we’ll be in the studio and will at least start a record.

But it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will be done because it’s Def Leppard and “how long’s a piece of string?” and all of that.

MF: You recently debuted your full catalogue on streaming services, causing Hysteria to chart again in the US and UK. Have you found that these throwback shows and streaming culture have introduced a new generation of fans to Def Leppard?

VC: Yeah, absolutely. That’s been happening for the last 15 years or more. I even remember in the old Napster days, starting to see people coming to Def Leppard shows who weren’t necessarily of our generation. And I’ve gotta say, in the last two or three years that’s grown exponentially. The amount of people in the audience who are young enough to be our kids is probably 35% to 40%.

I genuinely think this is the upside of music piracy. For many years, live music has kind of lost its value and in a lot of ways, people don’t necessarily buy records anymore or at least not in the numbers they used to. But live music is the only experience you can’t really replicate. To stand in a venue and watch and listen to live music being played by real musicians, in real time is an experience that can’t be replicated in front of a computer or with 3D goggles or anything. So that’s always going to be there and unfortunately, it’s a bit of a dying art.

Musicians of our generation and the generations that came before us have been very fortunate, because that’s what we did. We learned to play instruments and we learned to play in a band together in real time and write songs and make records and go on tour. For a young musician growing up nowadays, that experience isn’t always given. You get a computer, you get some software, you get a good microphone and you lock yourself in your bedroom and it becomes a singular and solo experience. Even if you’re in a band, the same opportunities don’t exist to hone your craft the way that they did before. I’ll get off my fucking soap box now (laughs) but I will finish by saying that we’re really good at what we do and there’s a reason for that because we’ve been doing it for a very, very, very many years. It still brings us all joy.

But to get back to your original question, there is an upside to all of this because we have seen more and more, I’ll call them kids because they are to us, joining our audience and it really is a great feeling. It’s a very symbiotic thing because it gives us new energy and a renewed exuberance when we see a younger generation being appreciative of what we do. So it’s a win, win for everyone.

Def Leppard will be in town this November performing Hysteria in full. More information here.

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