All Access Magazine Articles

March 20, 2008

Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard :: Interview

Hits the road with a NEW release titled "Songs From The Sparkle Lounge”

By Valerie Nerres

Vivian CampbellDef Leppard, Great Britain's premiere arena rock band is back with a bang-kicking off 2008 with the release of their 14th studio album and a U.S. arena concert tour scheduled for this spring. Entitled "SONGS FROM THE SPARKLE LOUNGE" (Bludgeon Riffola/Island/UMe), the album set for release on April 29, contains 11 new songs including the highly-anticipated single "NINE LIVES" featuring a groundbreaking collaboration with country music superstar Tim McGraw. The band is set to debut the single on ABC-TV's Dancing with The Stars on April 29 and on Jimmy Kimmel Live on April 30. "SONGS FROM THE SPARKLE LOUNGE" is Def Leppard's first album of brand new material since 2002's "X" and begins yet another remarkable new chapter in the band's 30-year recording career.

Recorded last year during month-long stints at lead singer Joe Elliott's Dublin studio, the album's title refers to a backstage area called "The Sparkle Lounge" on Def Leppard's 2006 tour where the band would go to write songs. Tracks from the album have been described by the group as written in the style of "HYSTERIA", with the production of "HIGH 'N' DRY"

"The whole record's got a great '70s feel," said lead singer Joe Elliott. "By our standards, it's a very different album as we've been very adventurous, musically, on certain numbers. On the album there are classic Def Leppard songs and then there's also tracks that are very new-wave influenced while others sound like middle-to-late '70s AC/DC. There will definitely be some moments on it where anybody that's familiar with our music will go, 'Whoa! I wasn't expecting that!'"

The foundation for the album's collaboration with country music superstar Tim McGraw was layed at Def Leppard's 2006 Hollywood Bowl show where McGraw joined the band on stage for an encore performance of "POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME." The artists stayed in touch following the performance, and when the band started writing the song "NINE LIVES" they immediately thought of reaching out to McGraw to sing on it. Guitarist Phil Collen flew to Nashville to play it for McGraw who loved it and recorded the song in Nashville shortly after. Vivian CampbellOther standout tracks on the album include "GO," reminiscent of the band's classic track "ROCKET" in its power and aggressive tribal beat; "LOVE," an emotive and moving epic song; and the anthemic "TOMORROW," a song written by guitarist Collen about the death of his father.

With more than 65 million albums sold worldwide and two prestigious Diamond Awards to their credit, Def Leppard--Joe Elliott (vocals), Vivian Campbell (guitar), Phil Collen (guitar), Rick "Sav" Savage (bass) and Rick Allen (drums)-continues to be one of the most important forces in rock music. Over the course of their career, the band has produced a series of classic groundbreaking albums that set the sound for generations of music fans and artists. The group's spectacular live shows, filled with powerful melodic rock anthems, have become synonymous with their name and they are an institution in the touring industry as they continue to sell out arenas worldwide.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Def Leppard guitar player, Vivian Campbell.

First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us at “All Access Magazine”.  I’m really looking forward to seeing your show here in Las Vegas in April.

You’ve toured with some very influential musicians at such an early age, do you have any advice for younger musicians that are being thrust into the limelight, there are a few musicians that are coming out that are very young and playing with seasoned, older already established bands. What advice would you give to them about handling fame and the music industry and would you change anything about how you handled being in that position?

Vivian Campbell: Well, so much has changed, you know, in the past couple of decades, it’s a totally different thing nowadays. So I imagine that there are different expectations for a starting musician. But you know, the most important thing, purely on a musical level and has nothing to do with the business side is, I would encourage younger musicians to find their own style and I know that it’s a lot easier said than done. I remember when I first came to L.A. from Ireland; I kind of got shell-shocked because I lost a lot of my own confidence in my own ability to play because of the technical level of expertise in Los Angeles and the vast quantity of players, there were so many players who were so technically gifted and so much better than me, so for a while I think I lost my focus, I was putting my focus on the technical side. The longer I do it and the older I get, I realize that it has very little to do with the technique. It’s much, much more important to be able to hone a style that’s identifiable and unique, however idiosyncratic it is  That’s the one thing, when I go back and listen to the early Dio stuff that I did, I remember doing it at the time and not thinking it was very good and now when I go back and listen to it, now I get what was good about it, that I didn’t realize at the time and it was actually, I was working with my limitations, because I was technically limited, I was forced to be more creative. That’s the more important thing, you know? I would like to think that when people hear a couple of bars of guitar that people would know that it’s me. There were so many technically great guitar players from the 80’s; sometimes I struggle to identify one from the other.  I know that they’re extremely professional and very good, but, so many of them just put too much of their focus on the technique and not enough on their own personality.

That actually leads me into my next question; the sound on your earlier albums is very different than how you sound now on your Def Leppard recordings. Usually a guitar player has a signature sound. Do you think that when a guitar player joins a band, they have to change their style in order to contribute to a band, therefore losing that sense of personal identity?

VC: Absolutely, yeah, I mean, I replaced Steve Clark, so I immediately started having to play Steve Clarks solos. Steve’s solos were not at all technically challenging, Steve was definitely not a technical guitar player, he was very, very melodic, and as such, his solos were more themes, they were integral parts of the songs, so I didn’t feel it appropriate for me to go and change them and take liberty with them, so, I pretty much played them verbatim, as Steve did, for the most part, I think that’s appropriate and the vast majority of what we do, certainly  in the live environment, is based off the catalogue, I’d easily say that 90% of what we play live is from the Steve Clark era. Having said that though, there’s a lot more guitar playing off the new record, on “Songs from the Sparkle lounge” than there has been for many years, so that’s good. I’m glad that we’re getting a little more of that back, it’s more of a rock album with more guitars featured, but, yes, I definitely had to adapt to join this band.

How did your joining Def Leppard come about, did they pursue you or did you audition?

VC: Well, there was a very short list of guitar players that they wanted to work with, it and was kind of an audition process, but, the audition wasn’t so much to see whether at least for me, wasn’t to see whether or not I could play guitar, I think that was already established. It was mostly to see if the personalities fit and also, you know, Def Leppard is such a strong vocal band, the guys didn’t know that I could sing, I guess how it all came about was that I knew Joe socially because he lives in Dublin, we had a lot of mutual friends, so, I would occasionally have dinner with him, he was part of that social circle that I knew in Dublin and Joe said I’d be right for the band, he convinced the other members of the bands and it took a lot of convincing, because of my track record, of being fired from every band I’d been in, so, my reputation preceded me, so Joe had to lobby a lot to even get them to a state where the other guys would even consider me, we got together and it wasn’t really an audition process as such, we got together and we played, but, we spent more time just hanging out together, going to the movies, I remember we went to the IMAX to see the Rolling Stones movie, it was just more a question of personality and then the only other musical question that they had of me was, “Can Vivian Campbell sing?” and I stepped up to the plate there. I always wanted to sing, even when I was in Dio, but Ronnie would never let me. That’s why and to tie into the last question, I think I’ve lost a lot as a guitar player, not that I think it’s lost forever, but, I think it’s dormant in my work with Def Leppard, a lot of my guitar technique, but, what I’m not using there, I’m gaining in the vocal aspect, I’m a much, much better singer for having been in Def Leppard and also being a better songwriter.  I know much more about making records because Def Leppard is really a song oriented band, and obviously very vocally focused.

Yes, a lot of people don’t know that you are actually an amazing vocalist, from hearing your solo album, “Two Sides of If”, that you put out a few years ago, it’s actually very blues oriented as opposed to rock, will you continue to pursue doing solo material as well as being in Def Leppard?

VC: We’ve been a lot busier over the last several years, as a band than we’ve ever been, and that’s to do with the change in the business, it used to be that the whole cycle was a three year process, we’d do an album, then we’d do a tour to promote the record and then take a bunch of time off and that hasn’t been going on the last few years, we’ve been touring every summer, this is, I believe our 3rd or 4th consecutive year going on tour and that’s really where the business is at because the record industry is shrinking, at an alarming rate, where as the live arena is really a growing business for us, so, as such we’re a lot busier and we’re getting a lot more proficient at turning around records, like “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge”, we turned that one around really quick, we actually wrote the songs while we were on tour with Journey, a couple of years ago and we started recording immediately when the tour was finished. By Def Leppard standards, we turned it around really quick, so that really doesn’t leave a lot of time to do other things, at this point, I’m not thinking about doing another solo record, although I do continue, in my spare time to write and record a lot of material, whether or not it will end up on a record, or on a movie screen or something, I don’t know.  There’s part of that used to always think, “well what’s the point in finishing this song or recording this song unless I have a home for it”, but, I’m at a different mindset nowadays, but at this point, I don’t have any plans on doing a solo record. But, I do love to sing, and I do project bands and play with friends and things, but singing to me, it’s good for the soul.  

Well, speaking of the times now and how things have changed, bands seem to be a lot more hands on with doing their own thing, podcasts, myspace. Etc. Where do you see the future of record labels as being a part of a bands career?

VC: Well, I think the future definitely lies in how you communicate with your audience; it used to be that you left that entirely in the hands of the record company. I really think it’s important that for bands on ANY level, that it’s important for us to learn ways of communicating with our audience and informing them of what’s going on. I really don’t think that the mainstream as such really exists anymore; I think that if you play by the old rules you going to end up spinning your wheels a lot. You have to know your fan base and you have to know how to speak to them, that’s something that we’re all learning, I mean, we’re all on that learning curve, we’re no different there. We’re really trying to find different ways to interact with our audience, our established audience and our potential audience.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

VC: Well, we’re excited about the new album, "Songs from the Sparkle Lounge" because the leadoff single is a collaboration with the country artist, Tim McGraw, which is totally out of the blue, something we’ve never done before, it’s interesting times for us, Def Leppard with a guy in a cowboy hat, it was pretty unusual for us, we’re just excited about the record, we genuinely think it’s a good record and was seamless to make which is always a good sign, it’s very fresh sounding and very much on the rock side, Phil and I put a lot more guitar on this record than we have in recent years. It’s fun and we’re excited about that!

The U.S. Leg of Def Leppard's tour kicks off March 27th in Greensboro, NC and comes to Las Vegas, at "The Pearl" inside The Palms Casino on 4/25 and hits the L.A. area on 4/26 in Chula Vista at the Coors Amphitheater. Tickets for all shows can be purchased by visiting the bands website at www.defleppard.com or at all TicketMaster locations.

For more information, please visit www.viviancampbell.com or www.defleppard.com

Story by Valerie Nerres
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